Death Of A Prez Ads Nixed By CNN, NPR

Death of a President is a new film that has been generating both controversy and acclaim. It is the winner of the International Critics’ Award from the Toronto Film Festival. The film’s web site describes it as…

“a fictional TV documentary broadcast in 2008, reflecting on another monstrously despicable and cataclysmic event: the assassination of President George W. Bush on October 19th, 2007.”

Sadly, the media’s martinets of virtue are again patrolling the avenues of our psyches, deciding what is safe for our aesthetic consumption.

CNN and NPR are refusing to air advertisements for the film. There is nothing in the ads that is inappropriate for broadcast. Indeed, the ads were approved by the Motion Picture Association of America for all audiences. But that fact has not deterred the programmers from engaging in censorship. CNN issued a brief statement that virtually admits its intention to censor, saying that…

“CNN has decided not to take the ad because of the extreme nature of the movie’s subject matter.”

By basing their decision on the movie’s “subject matter”, they have installed themselves as the public’s nanny. They believe that they are in the best position to decide for us which subjects matter. While they are a couple of yards further over the line than NPR, the public radio network’s excuse is not much better:

“The movie is fairly likely to generate significant controversy and we’ll cover it as a news story. To take a sponsorship spot would raise questions and cause confusion.”

One wonders if that criteria also applies to sponsorships from Ford or McDonald’s. Surely they have generated controversy connected to their products. Has their sponsorship raised questions or caused confusion?

This film already has an uncommon burden to overcome as a result of its premise. Two of the nation’s biggest movie exhibitors, Regal Entertainment and Cinemark USA, have announced that they will not play the movie in any of their ~8000 theaters. Newmarket Films, the movie’s distributor, insists that they will be able to open in plenty of theaters. They say that they are getting support from many exhibitors including the Landmark Theater chain.

These broadcasters and exhibitors, who have appointed themselves the protectors of the public’s tender sensibilities, deny that any partisan motive is at play. But an objective observer would note that they all previously played nice with another controversial release distributed by Newmarket, “The Passion of the Christ.”

So what is the reason that this film is getting such a different reception? It couldn’t be the subject matter, could it? Look at the trends:

  • The Dixie Chicks criticize the president and they’re thrown off the radio. Has that ever happend to a right wing artist?
  • A network TV biopic about Ronald Reagan is protested by conservatives and it gets shuttled off to cable. But ABC’s Path To 9/11 airs despite opposition.
  • An artist exhibits a work entitled, “The Proper Way to Display the Flag,” and the gallery is told to shut it down. But when Bush walks on a flag at Ground Zero, it’s just another photo-op.

It appears that everyone has an equal right to protest, but only Republicans can turn their protests into edicts that deny all Americans access to the embattled works. It’s called censorship, and it’s alive and well in America.

Update: Tim Graham at NewsBusters takes issue with this story. Responding to my criticism of NPR he asks…

“Can’t this blogger differentiate between a Bush assassin and Ronald McDonald?”

Tim is veering off on a detour to address a point that’s right in the middle of the road. If NPR declines an ad for this movie because of the appearance of bias in the event that they cover it editorially, doesn’t that same consideration come into play for any sponsor that they might cover editorially? And by the way, I can differentiate between a Bush assassin and Ronald McDonald. The Bush assassin in the movie harms no one except another character in the film. Ronald McDonald’s influence on real children harms thousands of them every year.

Deep In The Heart Of Dixie Chicks

The Toronto International Film Festival recently screened the documentary, Shut Up and Sing, chronicling the travails of the Dixie Chicks after their righteous slap at Crawford’s Lost Idiot. In remarks at a post-screening news conference, the Chicks demonstrate their grasp of the hazards of institutional media:

…the Chicks say they have absolutely no regrets about speaking their mind. If anything, the experience made them realize just how vulnerable to censorship we are in the world of consolidated media ownership and nationally uniform radio playlists.

“Consolidation means one guy at the top decides everything and I don’t think the media has been successful in pointing out why it’s so dangerous,” [Emily] Robison says.

Of course “the media has been [un]successful in pointing out why it’s so dangerous.” The handful of corporations that control the media are the architects and beneficiaries of consolidation. That the Dixies recognize the significance of this issue speaks to the fact that they are well informed and aware of the forces that they have learned, the hard way, are dangerously encroaching on press and creative freedom.

Since the media cannot be depended on to act in the interests of the public, it is up to all of us to act in our own interests. Visit Stop Big Media, bookmark it, and email the link to your friends and family. Contact the FCC and tell them that more consolidation does not create competition. It is critically important that people realize that we cannot solve any of our society’s problems without solving the problem of the media first. No matter what your pet issue is, you need access to communication channels to produce movement. Without a free, diverse and independent media, those channels will be denied to us.

The Dixie Chicks get it. They continue to be impressive, both artistically and socially. Their honesty and courage shines through the mud that is hurled at them. And throughout the ordeal they’ve refused to back down as evidenced by their hit single “Not Ready To Make Nice” and by the audacious declaration in the documentary that Bush is a dumbfuck.

Ah…the simplicity of truth.