05/0504 ACTION ALERT: Michael Moore Film Faces Disney Censorship

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting
Media analysis, critiques and activism

May 5, 2004

The Disney corporation is forbidding its subsidiary, Miramax Films, to distribute Michael Moore's new documentary, the New York Times reported today.

The film, Fahrenheit 911, explores the Bush family's close personal and financial ties to the Saudi royal family, and describes how the current Bush administration helped evacuate relatives of Osama bin Laden from the United States after the September 11 attacks in 2001. A Disney executive told the New York Times that it was blocking the distribution of the film in the United States and Canada because, in the paper's words, “Disney caters to families of all political stripes and believes Mr. Moore's film…could alienate many.”

The executive is quoted: “It's not in the interest of any major corporation to be dragged into a highly charged partisan political battle.”

Given that corporations like Disney control much of the public discussion in the U.S., this avowed unwillingness to air controversial viewpoints that might challenge the views of some customers is chilling enough. But Moore's agent, Ari Emanuel, charges that Disney has an even more disturbing reason for blocking the film. According to Emanuel, he had a conversation last spring with Disney chief executive Michael Eisner, who asked him to cancel his deal with Miramax and “expressed particular concern that it would endanger tax breaks Disney receives for its theme park, hotels and other ventures in Florida, where Mr. Bush's brother, Jeb, is governor.”

Disney may have another reason, not mentioned by the Times, to reject a film that might offend the Saudi royal family: A powerful member of the family, Al-Walid bin Talal, owns a major stake in Eurodisney and has been instrumental in the past in bailing out the financially troubled amusement park (AFP, 6/1/94). The project is facing a new cash crunch, and Al-Walid has been mentioned as a potential rescuer again (L.A. Times, 1/26/04).

Whatever Disney's motivations for not wanting to release the film, it's not because there is no audience waiting to see it. Moore's last film, Bowling for Columbine, grossed $58 million worldwide. Unfortunately, when giant corporations are making the decisions, the fact that millions of people might want to see a film doesn't necessarily mean that they'll be able to— if that film might conflict with the corporation's other interests.

ACTION: Please contact Disney and urge the company to allow Miramax to distribute Fahrenheit 911.

George Mitchell
The Walt Disney Company
Phone: 818-560-1000

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