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November 05, 2003

From the comments sections:

[...] it is to me utterly incomprehensible how people over there can accept that political pressure is allowed to stop a TV-show! So what if it gives an unfair picture of the Reagan presidency? You have to fight that on an objective basis, not by censorship.

I understand the confusion, but I think there are some misconceptions embedded here.

#1 – The USofA is not a "free" society, it's a capitalist society. That means things happen, or don't happen, in the private sector based on revenue. That is, "will money be made from this?"

The press gave the publicity for the situation to the right-wing extremists, because that makes better headlines, but I promise you that the network's actual decision was made based on whether or not they thought advertisers would be willing to buy ad time during the show.

(I'm not denying the possibility of "behind the scenes" influence between powerful men but that is not, after all, a flaw exclusive to the USofA. That happens everywhere and has more to do with human nature than any system of government.)

#2 – The "censorship" in this case was purely voluntary. That is, the network made its own choice not to air the project. The fact is, anyone has the freedom to cave in to pressure if they decide to.

(Yes, if the media were half as liberal as right-wing alarmists pretend it is, there would have been a greater public outcry against this informal censorship from the Left. The resulting publicity would have guaranteed the show good ratings, the advertisers would have been happy to sign on, and the miniseries would have aired. The problem was that the Left is too busy hating Bush. Also? The current Democratic leadership just doesn't care that much about the legacy of the crime-riddled Reagan Administration.)

In response to your suggestion that Reagan's defenders conduct the fight on an objective basis, I have to say that I don't see that happening.

First, the Reagan Administration was, to a large extent, indefensible. The criminal investigations and the convictions are a matter of public record. No miniseries in the world is going to erase that.

Also, the Right is not, and I think a lot of their apologists would have to admit this, the Vocal Extremist Right is not prone to fighting facts with facts. They're not about being objective.

They're about waving the flag and taping the President in a flight suit so they can make him look like a war hero instead of...no, not going there.

The Right's current strategy is about speeches with short sentences and simple, emotionally hyperactive catchphrases that people can repeat without having to think about the words too much.

The Right's leadership doesn't want their voter base thinking and remembering the crimes of the Reagan years. (From Reagan to Bush I is barely a step, and from Bush I to Bush II...well, it's a natural progression. No one in the leadership wants anyone thinking of "Bush II" and "criminality" in the same sentence and they've had to fight this more than once during his campaign and his presidency so far.) They have to "lock in" those voters before they turn their attention to the "swing" voters in the middle. Bush is going to have to work hard to win their votes next year, so the Right has to ensure the continuing support of their extremist voters now, so they can ignore them later.

Caveat: I'm making a lot of sweeping generalizations. There are plenty of people on the Left who are less interested in facts than in revenge, bush-bashing, and partisan infighting. There are plenty of people on the Right who are sane, thoughtful, truth-loving individuals.

Anyhow, in the end, the point is that the network made its own decision to pull the show.

And, in fact, they did not do it as an act of censorship. They did it to avoid a situation where someone was demanding censorship rights.

The Vocal Extremist Right was demanding the power to approve the content of the program in advance, and, failing that, threatening to ask that a "crawl" be added to the tape, disclaiming historical accuracy.

Let's be clear. There was no reason, no reason in law or in society, that the network had to do anything more than just throw that demand in the trash. They made their own decision.

While I would have preferred that the network show more courage and run the show their own way, without allowing any third parties to review and approve the content in advance, I have to say that their decision to pull the miniseries (understand, they already paid to have it made) is braver than caving in to the demands of a vocal minority.

Okay, I have a couple more thoughts.

First, I suspect that the finished quality of the miniseries wasn't as good as it might have been. It's quite possible that the network was happy to have a legitimate excuse to refuse to show it. This way, they reap the publicity without having to commit to showing four hours of programming that, if it really wasn't very good, would fail in the ratings.

Second, regardless of the efforts of those on the Right or the Left to change us, the fundamental nature of our society remains.

Now that this controversy has erupted, I can promise you that one day, in the not-too-distant future, a more talented filmmaker who might not otherwise have been interested in the Reagan years is going to decide to undertake a much more frank look at the Reagan Administration.

And an equally talented body of crew and actors who wouldn't sign on for a vanity piece about the former president are also going to be interested in the new project.

I predict that this current controversy will result, in the long run, in a much higher quality movie or miniseries in the end.

(For the record, I also predict that FOX or a network of their ilk will show up with a vanity piece movie before long, painting Reagan and all of his cohorts in the glowing Red, White, and True-Blue of American Patriotism. And half the audience will turn it on to bask in the glory while the other half will tune in to laugh.)

I've rambled a lot, I know, and I hope the "explanation" hasn’t been as confusing as I suspect it is. For what it's worth, it was twice as long, but I took pity on you before I posted it.

I should let this sit for a while and think over what I've said, but I really need to get to work, so I'll just post it and wait for more intelligent people to point out the places where I've been unfair or am just plain wrong.

(And, you know, happy birthday to me! again.)

Posted by AnneZook at 10:29 AM


A very happy birthday to you Anne! Thank you for what looks like a really interesting posting. I will read it carefully and get back to you.

Once more:many happy returns.

Posted by: Bengt at November 5, 2003 12:15 PM

*sigh* I have to catch up on my blog reading! Happy belated, dear heart. Hey, where's your Amazon wishlist? :)

Posted by: Elayne Riggs at November 6, 2003 06:02 AM

An old Chinese thinker once said."Nothing is as dead as a blogpost that has scrolled off the screen." This notwithstanding I would like to point out that I have just given my reactions to Anne's article on "Censorship" on my own blog called "Off Topic". This is the link

Posted by: Bengt at November 8, 2003 03:45 AM