Topic: Sports & Entertainment

Michael Moore vs. Disney

Ethics Scoreboard is inclined toward high tolerance of ethical shenanigans from the Hollywood crowd: most of it is trivial, and one would have to be newly arrived from Neptune to expect anything else. Still, there are those with large mouths and pretensions of ultimate wisdom whose cheats are especially deplorable, like Michael Moore, the talented documentary-maker. Once his satire was refreshing and amusing, before he started to take himself literally. Now Moore is a bona-fide working class hero of the Bush-hating left, and officially running amuck. When Disney President ( last time I checked) Michael Eisner told Moore that the studio would not permit its subsidiary Miramax to distribute Moore’s latest film, a presumably funny Bush-bash called “Fahrenheit 9/11”, Moore immediately cried censorship and conspiracy.

Here’s what he wrote his fans on his website:


I would have hoped by now that I would be able to put my work out to the public without having to experience the profound censorship obstacles I often seem to encounter. Yesterday I was told that Disney, the studio that owns Miramax, has officially decided to prohibit our producer, Miramax, from distributing my new film, “Fahrenheit 9/11.” The reason? According to today’s (May 5) New York Times, it might “endanger” millions of dollars of tax breaks Disney receives from the state of Florida because the film will “anger” the Governor of Florida, Jeb Bush. The story is on page one of the Times and you can read it here (Disney Forbidding Distribution of Film That Criticizes Bush)… The whole story behind this (and other attempts) to kill our movie will be told in more detail as the days and weeks go on. For nearly a year, this struggle has been a lesson in just how difficult it is in this country to create a piece of art that might upset those in chargeĀ…

The May 6 Times editorial he references said this:

Disney’s Craven Behavior

Give the Walt Disney Company a gold medal for cowardice for blocking its Miramax division from distributing a film that criticizes President Bush and his family. A company that ought to be championing free expression has instead chosen to censor a documentary that clearly falls within the bounds of acceptable political commentary.

The documentary was prepared by Michael Moore, a controversial filmmaker who likes to skewer the rich and powerful. As described by Jim Rutenberg yesterday in The Times, the film, “Fahrenheit 9/11,” links the Bush family with prominent Saudis, including the family of Osama bin Laden. It describes financial ties that go back three decades and explores the role of the government in evacuating relatives of Mr. bin Laden from the United States shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The film was financed by Miramax and was expected to be released this summer.

Mr. Moore’s agent said that Michael Eisner, Disney’s chief executive, had expressed concern that the film might jeopardize tax breaks granted to Disney for its theme park, hotels and other ventures in Florida, where Jeb Bush is governor. If that is the reason for Disney’s move, it would underscore the dangers of allowing huge conglomerates to gobble up diverse media companies.

On the other hand, a senior Disney executive says the real reason is that Disney caters to families of all political stripes and that many of them might be alienated by the film. Those families, of course, would not have to watch the documentary.

It is hard to say which rationale for blocking distribution is more depressing. But it is clear that Disney loves its bottom line more than the freedom of political discourse.

Wow. But it is all just part of a film promotion! Having gotten his controversy and his Times editorial (more about that in a moment), Moore went on CNN and stated that:

“Almost a year ago, after we’d started making the film, the chairman of Disney, Michael Eisner, told my agent he was upset Miramax had made the film and he will not distribute it.”

So this didn’t happen “yesterday.” “Yesterday” was just the day Moore decided he wanted to use the always vulnerable Disney and the hanging-on-by-his-fingernails Eisner to get some publicity before his movie opened at Cannes. Moreover, it now appears that, contrary to Moore’s statements, Disney never contracted with Moore to distribute the film, and that Miramax had funded “Fahrenheit 9/11” but never committed to distribute it either. These facts did not stop Moore from denigrating everyone in sight, including by-standers like Jeb Bush, simply to create a “buzz.”

And he’s still sticking to his story. Yes, Moore admits in his follow-up piece on his website, Eisner did tell him a year ago that he wouldn’t allow the movie to be released by Miramax, but Eisner allowed Miramax to keep funding it. But rather than taking his movie elsewhere and saying “Thank you!” Moore claims that the continued funding was some kind of dastardly trick to lead him on. Then, after that NASA centrifuge-worthy spin job, Moore goes on to accuse Disney of “spinning.”

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that Eisner, who on Disney’s behalf is involved in negotiations with the state of Florida over many financial and land issues, has chosen as a matter of business prudence not to stick his finger in the eye of President Bush in an election year when Bush’s brother happens to be governor of Florida. This isn’t unethical, cowardly, or dastardly: it is practical. It is a legitimate business decision, and Eisner has the right to make it. Censorship? Ridiculous. Moore’s films make money, and Disney and Hollywood and Moore know he will have no trouble finding a distributor.

For anyone who bothers to read them, Moore’s statements are dishonest on their face. He first writes of being told “yesterday” of Disney’s decision, then writes that the decision was made a year ago. He cites the Times as the source of the claim that Eisner is afraid of angering Jeb Bush, but the Times cites Moore’s agent as the source. He isn’t even very good at covering his tracks.

Moore’s demeanor is that of a petulant child, and perhaps we shouldn’t take his self-serving deceptions too seriously. But what can one say about the New York Times? Why is the Times, which has its name on one of the pivotal Supreme Court censorship cases, screaming “Censorship!” when it knows none is taking place? Disney isn’t “blocking distribution” of Moore’s film by deciding not to distribute it, any more than a studio is “preventing an actor from working” by not hiring him. The actor has other options. So does Moore.

The Times’ evident detestation of All Things Bush is interfering with its analytical judgment and its ability to smell a rat. Moore, the rat the Times failed to smell, got everything he wanted: promotion for the movie, a chance for gratuitous Bush attacks, and publicity for himself. It shouldn’t stop us from going and laughing at his movie, but a documentary maker who is so willing to lie and distort for his own ends has surrendered his credibility. In the long run, that will silence Moore far more effectively than anything Disney has done.

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