I usually agree with my good friends who are fellow contributors to the CSP
website. However, recently I read an essay, written by Dave, that I
thought deserved a rebuttal. We'll see if Dave posts this or not. I know
he will, but it would certainly be ironic if he didn't (you'll understand
why if you read his essasy). The essay in question, by the way, is "We are
Liars and Traitors," written about CBS network's decision not to air a
miniseries about the Reagans.
The decision by CBS, a privately-owned company, to pull the plug on the
Reagan miniseries is hardly "a blow to art and free speech," as Dave
characterized it. CBS simply responded to market forces and elected to
avoid controversy. The decision may have been cowardly, but it's hardly
censorship. If the Bush administration had pressured the FCC to threaten
CBS with revocation of license or some such thing if it aired the
miniseries, then we could label it an act of censorship.
When MTV chose not to air a Madonna video in 1990, she told Nightline's Ted
Koppel that she was being "censored." Again, MTV is a private company and
they can choose to air or not air what they choose. Interestingly,
Nightline aired the video to show their viewers what all the fuss was
about. Too racy for MTV, but not for ABC, apparently.
Clearly, any show about Ronald Reagan is going to be controversial. His
administration is not ancient history. Many Americans have very strong
feelings -- one way or another -- about the Reagan years. CBS was probably being
naive to think a movie about a politically conservative icon with James
Brolin and Judy Davis in the lead roles would not rustle some feathers.
To be fair, CBS should have tried to ensure that a movie about Reagan would
be balanced. He and his family members are still living (though he is so
ill he is unable to defend himself). Those who worked with and for him are
still alive and well, many still in government. Can't CBS make sure that
they don't air a hatchet job? In fact, the series contains some episodes
of dubious historical accuracy. While it is true that Reagan may have said
something like "They that live in sin shall die in sin" with regards to
AIDS victims, his biographers say that he certainly did not supply names to
the Hollywood blacklist of communists, as the miniseries claims. And
according to one article I read, in the miniseries Reagan refers to himself
as "the Antichrist," in case we miss the point.
The writers and producers say they are merely taking the literary licenses
required to make a good television drama. But many will ask why literary
license must be taken at all when dealing with such recent events, much
less dealing with a beloved former American president who is still living.
For example, there is virtually no historical evidence to illuminate the
real nature of the Thomas Jefferson/Sally Hemmings relationship. As
such, writer have taken more liberties and concocted all kinds of stories
about them, including some that I have found offensive. But Mr. Reagan,
his wife, his children, friends, etc. are still alive. What did the folks
at CBS think was going to happen?
Now, I'm not saying that the miniseries should not air. I'm only saying
that under these circumstances, CBS should have understood that many
advertisers would be wary of this program. Further, they are perfectly
within their rights to object to this program and say they will not
advertise with CBS if the network goes forward with the broadcast. And CBS
is within their rights to take that information into account as it decides
what to air and what not to air.
For those who think I'm letting CBS off the hook, let me suggest an
alternative scenario. Let's say that a network decides to air a program
about Anne Frank. Only in this version, she holds some Nazi sympathies and
tries to sneak out of hiding in order to bed a young Aryan soldier in order
to produce "half-pure" children. She says she can't tell any of her family
of this feeling because she knows they wouldn't understand. She starts to
write about it in her diary, but crosses it out because she's too
A writer could say he is simply taking some literary licenses in order to
make the story "more dramatic." After all, the old Anne Frank story has
been told a million times. "Time to add some ol' sex and pepper to the
tale," he tells TV Digest.
Think of how outraged and offended the world would be by this program.
Think of the protests that would be organized. Advertisers and many other
groups would rally and would demand that the network not run the
miniseries. In all likelihood, the network would relent and the show would
be shelved (or burned).
As a former president, Ronald Reagan is a prime candidate for a biopic, no
doubt. But because there are so many people who love him and many who most
definitely do not love him, let's leave it to the History Channel to do a
show about his life, not CBS.