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Mickey Mouse Freedom Crackers, the Corporate Crime-Fighting Chicken, meets Donald Duck
by Bryan Zepp Jamieson
Zepps Commentaries
May 9, 2004

By all accounts, Michael Moore's new documentary, "Fahrenheit 9/11," figures to have an even bigger impact than his previous efforts, including "Roger and Me" and "Bowling for Columbine." It is supposed to examine the ties that exist between the Bush family and the bin Ladens, and takes a close look at some of the events that occurred on 9/11 and in the weeks subsequent.

If you are wondering why the greatest crime committed against Americans since 1941 has gone so long with little or no examination by the government or the media (even Pearl Harbor had four different congressional investigations going in the year following), you are not alone. Millions of people are wondering the same thing. Conspiracy theories proliferate, and while many are as loony-sounding as one expects, there's dozens of very pertinent questions that have never been answered satisfactorily, or even properly asked. Why didn't NORAD scramble that morning? Why did Putsch behave so oddly (imagine FDR going on the air, as he sometimes did on Sunday mornings, to read comics, after hearing about Pearl Harbor and before meeting with advisors to consider options) that morning? Why, exactly, did the Towers collapse? Why did the relatively unscathed building seven collapse hours later? Why do the photos from the Pentagon wreck show absolutely no evidence that a large commercial airliner struck the building? If that flight didn't hit the Pentagon, where did it go? Why did the bin Ladens get government provided flights out of America when every other private plane in the country was grounded?

Moore wasn't about to answer even that short list in just two hours, but his documentary probably has the sort of impact needed to rouse Americans from their lethargy and to start demanding answers.

The documentary is completed, and is to be the premiere showing at Cannes next week. It's the first time they've ever led with a documentary, although Moore keeps breaking through barriers. "Bowling for Columbine" not only won Cannes two years ago, but became the biggest-grossing documentary in history, not only in the US, but in Canada, Britain, and Europe.

There was every reason to believe that "Fahrenheit 9/11," which cost $6 million to make (compare with the average movie production budget of $80 million) would be both a commercial and critical success. A huge success.

Moore signed a contract with Miramax, the mostly autonomous daughter corporation of Disney. Miramax spent the money for the production of the film, and set the release date, later this month.

Michael Eisner, the besieged CEO of Disney, fresh off a board fight in which he barely survived, and in the middle of a messy catfight with Pixar Studios, the animation people responsible for some of Disney's biggest recent hits, was reportedly furious that Miramax had signed Moore. This according to Moore. But there wasn't anything Eisner could do, legally. Disney had the right to veto a Miramax distribution contract only under two circumstances: if the movie was running severely over budget (and it was "in the can" as mentioned, for about $6 million, on budget) or if it was rated NC-17 (Moore expects it to be rated either PG-13 or perhaps R).

According to Moore, Miramax assured him that Eisner's opinion would not translate into the project being stopped, and the project continued right up until May 3rd, when Disney announced it was stopping distribution of the film. The reason given by Disney was "Disney caters to families of all political stripes and that many of them might be alienated by the film."

Disney distributes Sean Hannity. As a liberal, I consider the man to be a right wing pig and a vicious demagogue, and I'm certainly alienated by him. So how about it, Disney? Isn't "liberal" a political stripe?

It isn't exactly the first time something like this has happened to Moore. Back in October, 2001, Harper-Collins decided that criticism of the president was "inappropriate," and announced it wasn't going to distribute "Stupid White Men." The resulting wave of outrage and publicity assured the book would find a new distributor, and it went on to become the best non-fiction seller of the year, staying in the top ten for almost a full year. It was markedly more successful than any of Moore's previous efforts, and moved him from the ranks of minor celebrity with a cult following to something approaching a national icon.

So it isn't unreasonable to ask if this incident isn't, in some way, staged. My first thought when I head that Disney wasn't going to distribute the movie was, "Mike, you lucky sumbitch! How many people have lightning strike twice like that?"

So you have to wonder if the whole thing was set up. Moore does like to promote himself, and isn't adverse to taking a little corporate mistreatment in order to gain some publicity. But the problem is that Eisner was, until recently, considered the smartest marketing genius CEO around, and it's hard to imagine him waiting until interest in the new film was already at a fever pitch and then giving a capricious reason for undercutting it -- unless, of course, either Disney was in on the scam, or he really is that stupid.

Moore's agent, Ari Emanuel, says Eisner wanted to pull out of the deal last spring, saying it might endanger lucrative tax breaks Disney receives for its theme park, hotels and so on in Florida, where Bushco brother Jebediah is the governor. If so, why didn't he act then, and minimize the damage?

Pixar. That messy proxy fight. Now this. OK, so maybe Eisner IS that stupid and arrogant.

Moore will get a distributor, and hopefully the movie will come out, not next week, but in late September, when it will maximize damage to the Putsch campaign, assuming Putsch hasn't been impeached by then.

But Senator Frank Lautenberg put his finger on the real big issue here when he noted "a disturbing pattern of politically based corporate censorship of the news media and the entertainment industry."

Right wingers have this notion that the constitution only forbids the government from stepping on people's rights, but that anyone else, corporations in particular, can overrule those same rights just by arguing that their own rights take precedence. Thus they prattle on about Disney's "right" not to distribute Moore's film. And Disney WOULD have such a right had Miramax not already signed a contract with Moore to distribute it.

The corporation uber alles mentality of the right would be just another crackpot idiocy that makes up so much of the right's charm if it were not for the fact that they: a) want to privatize everything except the military and b) control the White House and Congress. They have absolutely no problem with a handful of corporations controlling everything Americans get to hear and see in the mass media. Tyranny is fine, so long as it's privatized. The notion that the government exists to protect the rights of the people from the depredations of the corporations (known as "the aristocracy" back in the 1780s) and big religion (known as "the church" back then) is totally foreign to them.

Disney provides a prime example of what's wrong here. Either through fear of economic reprisals from the right, or out of simple corporate cowardice, Disney let the American people down, and showed that it is, in the end, just a vast enterprise that started with a mouse and, vast as it has become, is still nothing more than an enterprise designed to entertain kids and draw money from their parents. Disney has absolutely no business playing a major role in the national media (it owns ABC and all their cable affiliates, along with Miramax and a myriad other news and entertainment venues). A company that is too cowardly to let the American people decide for themselves the merits of Moore's film (Eisner has not seen it, incidently) has no business playing any serious role in the realm of information for adults.

Disney should sell off their news appendages, and go back to enticing kids into nagging their parents to spend too much for cheap toys and animated movies. They don't belong in the grown up world.

Posted: May 10, 2004


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