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Eisner's Fantasyland Excuse for Censorship

by FAIR Saturday, May. 08, 2004 at 7:00 PM

Disney put the kibosh on new Michael Moore film connecting Saudis to Bushes. The rich oil barons fingered are investors in Disney.

May 7, 2004

On the television network that his company owns, Disney CEO Michael Eisner

dismissed the idea that forbidding Disney subsidiary Miramax to distribute

a controversial new documentary by Michael Moore was a form of censorship.

"We informed both the agency that represented the film and all of our

companies that we just didn't want to be in the middle of a

politically-oriented film during an election year," he told ABC World News

Tonight (5/5/04), referring to Moore's Fahrenheit 911, which examines the

connections between the Bush family and the House of Saud that rules Saudi


On its face, Eisner's statement will have a chilling effect. A major

movie studio with an announced policy of only releasing apolitical films,

in an election year or any other year, will discourage filmmakers from

tackling important themes and impoverish the American political debate.

(That Moore and Miramax were given advance warning of this policy hardly

mitigates its censorious impact.)

But Eisner's statement cannot be taken at face value, because Disney,

through its various subsidiaries, is one of the largest distributors of

political, often highly partisan media content in the country-- virtually

all of it right-wing. Consider:

* Almost all of Disney's major talk radio stations-- WABC in New York,

WMAL in D.C., WLS in Chicago, WBAP in Dallas/Ft. Worth and KSFO in San

Francisco-- broadcast Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. Indeed, WABC is

considered the home station for both of these shows, which promote an

unremitting Republican political agenda. (Disney's KABC in L.A. carries

Hannity, but has Bill O'Reilly instead of Limbaugh.) Disney's news/talk

stations are dominated by a variety of other partisan Republican hosts,

both local and national, including Laura Ingraham, Larry Elder and Matt


* Disney's Family Channel carries Pat Robertson's 700 Club, which

routinely equates Christianity with Republican causes. After the September

11 attacks, Robertson's guest Jerry Falwell (9/13/01) blamed the attacks

on those who "make God mad": "the pagans and the abortionists and the

feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make

that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all

of them who try to secularize America." Robertson's response was, "I

totally concur." It's hard to imagine that anything in Moore's film will

be more controversial than that.

* Disney's ABC News prominently features John Stossel, who, though not

explicitly partisan, advocates for a conservative philosophy in almost all

his work: "It is my job to explain the beauties of the free market," he

has explained (Oregonian, 10/26/94). No journalist is allowed to advocate

for a balancing point of view on ABC's news programs.

Given the considerable amount of right-wing material distributed by

Disney, much of it openly promoting Republican candidates and issues, it's

impossible to believe that Disney is preventing Miramax from distributing

Fahrenheit 911 because, as a Disney executive told the New York Times

(5/5/04), "It's not in the interest of any major corporation to be dragged

into a highly charged partisan political battle." Disney, in fact, makes

a great deal of money off of highly charged partisan political battles,

although it generally provides access to only one side of the war.

So what is the real reason it won't distribute Moore's movie? The

explanation that Moore's agent said he was offered by Eisner-- that Disney

was afraid of losing tax breaks from Florida Gov. Jeb Bush-- is more

persuasive than Eisner's obviously false public rationale. But more

relevant may be Disney's financial involvement with a member of the same

Saudi family whose connections to the Bush dynasty are investigated by

Moore. Prince Al-Walid bin Talal, a billionaire investor who is a

grandson of Saudi Arabia's King Fahd, became a major investor in Disney's

Eurodisney theme park when it was in financial trouble, and may be asked

to bail out the troubled project again.

It's not unprecedented for Disney to respond favorably to a political

request from its Saudi business partner; when Disney's EPCOT Center

planned to describe Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in an exhibit on

Israeli culture, Al-Walid says that he had personally asked Eisner to

intervene in the decision. That same week, Disney announced that the

pavilion would not refer to Jerusalem as Israel's capital (BBC, 9/14/99).

Whatever the true motive of Disney's decision to reject Moore's film, it's

not the one that Eisner and other company spokespersons are advancing in

public. Journalists covering the issue should go beyond Disney's

transparent PR stance and explore the real motivations involved.


See "Michael Moore Film Faces Disney Censorship" (FAIR Action Alert,



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