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On Point

Why Censor Disney?


by Austin Bay
September 13, 2006

This year, Iran's theocratic dictators celebrated Sept. 11 by banning several opposition newspapers, including Iran's leading "reformist" daily, Shargh.

Shargh had committed political sin and published a cartoon that Tehran's robed dictators found insulting to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Associated Press reported the cartoon featured a chessboard with a white horse confronting a black donkey. "In Iranian culture," the AP opined, "the donkey is a symbol of ignorance. Iranian judiciary officials apparently took the donkey to represent Iran in negotiations with the West over nuclear issues."

Americans may be dismayed, but the urge to censor runs deep in politicians of all stripes. A week earlier, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., threatened to use government powers to censor ABC Television and prevent ABC and its owner, Disney, from showing its "docudrama," "The Path to 9/11."

On his Website, Reid urged Disney/ABC to cancel the miniseries. Reid damned the show's writer-producer, Cyrus Nowrasteh, by name and questioned "the motivations" of the show's creators. He also mentioned invoking the Communications Act of 1934 -- a not-too-subtle threat of government action.

"The usual voices" who claim to defend artistic freedom and free speech didn't speak out for Nowrasteh. Remember their silence next time conservatives gripe about faux-art like Andres Serrano's infamous "Piss Christ." Serrano's unimaginative presentation was lauded by the self-described "arts community" as a great, courageous statement. Alas, if urine on a crucifix is courage, I'd like to see cowardice.

But back to ABC's "Path to 9/11." Reid's threat of censorship, followed by a series of threats and protests by former Clinton administration officials, ensured I'd give the docudrama at least a short look-see.

I can't say I'm not a fan of the "docudrama" genre, per se. Shakespeare's history plays are docudramas of a sort. For the sake of poetry and plot, "Henry V" substitutes imagination for fact, as does "Julius Caesar."

There's a limit, however, to phony facts. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Clinton National Security Adviser Sandy Berger complained -- after a number of journalists and politicians saw the film in preview -- that they never spoke several of the lines attributed to them. Unlike "Henry V," Albright and Berger aren't ancient history, and having actors portraying them speak inaccurate words -- particularly craven words -- is a blow too low. Apparently, ABC edited those scenes, and it should have.

ABC also added a label to its product, informing the consumer that the movie was, well, a movie -- a dramatization, where events and characters were condensed in the interest of storytelling. This might be an encouraging trend. Some of the more execrable television "news" programs, which are little more than sensationalist claims of doom and gloom, need to carry the same label.

So -- with these caveats -- I watched the ABC docudrama instead of the Sunday night football game.

As a thriller, the movie was mediocre. However, its re-enactment of the assassination of North Alliance leader and U.S. ally Ahmed Shah Masood on Sept. 9, 2001, was particularly compelling. Mahsood had done far more to defeat the USSR in Afghanistan than any of Osama bin Laden's "Arab Afghans." His murder -- a historical fact -- demonstrated that al-Qaida and the Taliban fear Muslims who don't buy their poisoned brand of Islam, and especially fear them when they are allies of the United States. The movie conveyed that.

The flick wasn't much of a political statement, either, unless the viewer happened to believe Islamo-fascists aren't at war with the civilized world. As for the folks who believe the West or George W. Bush created Islamo-fascist terrorism, then their own conspiracy theories are far more fictional than this movie.

The movie did dramatize several of al-Qaida's pre-9/11 terror attacks. The 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in East Africa and the bombing of the USS Cole aren't Hollywood fantasies, they are horrible facts.

It's also a fact the Clinton administration spent eight years and the Bush administration eight months playing cops and robbers, while al-Qaida was implementing unrestricted warfare. Both administrations treated Islamo-fascist terrorism as a law enforcement issue.

Perhaps Sen. Reid still believes in a cops and robbers strategy. If so, then he must also censor history.

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