antiTainment NEWS: Michael Moore Lied About Disney Ban

05-08-04 Keavin / editorial
Update: Michael Moore made a big stink earlier this week when he accused Disney of pulling the plug on his latest film, �Fahrenheit 911�. He decried Disney�s decision not to distribute the film as politically motivate censorship. However, Moore was crying wolf. He admitted in a CNN interview that he knew almost a year ago that Disney would not distribute the film, according to a report from independent.co.uk. 

Moore told CNN, "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."

The lightning rod film producer claims that he had a contract with Disney for distribution, but according to independent.co.uk, a source close to Miramax (the subsidiary involved in the film) said that the deal was for financing, not for distribution. 

In a statement Moore made Wednesday on his website, he told his fans that he was informed on Tuesday that Disney had �officially� decided to prohibit Miramax from distributing the film. Moore then pointed to a New York Times article for a reason for Disney's decision, "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." Moore however, did not disclose that New York Times source was actually his agent. The Times article reported that Moore's agent said that Eisner told him that Disney was afraid to lose tax breaks from Florida. The article then quoted a senior Disney executive that said the reason Disney did not want to distribute the film is because the company, "caters to families of all political stripes and that many of them might be alienated by the film." Moore then made the statements in the interview with CNN, where he expanded his story and admitted that Disney chairman, Michael Eisner, had informed his agent almost a year ago that Disney would not distribute the film. The real dishonesty comes from the statement ,"According to today's (May 5) New York Times," when in fact it was according to Mr. Moore's agent, who was sourced in the New York Times article. (It must be pointed out that the headline for this article was used as an example of how to spin a story to create controvery, in much the same way Mr. Moore's statement was spun.)

Some Moore supporters discount the official Disney explanation by pointing out that the company runs shows by conservative commentators like Rush Limbaugh on radio stations that they control. 

Moore�s admission that he knew prior to his outcry prompts the question; why all the outrage now? Easy answer? Publicity baby! The film is set to premier at the Cannes Film Festival later this month. The politically charged film can easily generate controversy and press on its own. It is reportedly an attack film against the Bush administration that questions the President�s handling of the War on Terror and the events surrounding the 9/11 attacks. According to some news outlets, the film links the Bush family with the family of Osama Bin Laden. 

This publicity stunt may backfire. If Moore will take a year old event and use it to drum up publicity, it might lead to questions regarding the credibility of some of the issues covered in his film and the spin Moore puts on them. Especially when you look at how he spun his statement with the �according to today�s New York Times�� line and selectively quoting from that article, making it sound like the Times writer had uncovered this information, when the accusations actually came from quotes the Times writer received from Moore�s agent. 

Regardless, Moore remains a polarizing figure. His supporters are not likely to jump ship and his detractors will continue to question his credibility. Moore will win in the end because controversy will help sell tickets to his film. 

Update 5/8/04: Michael Moore Posted a letter to his website on Friday (May 9), expanding his explanation of what transpired with Disney (as he promised in the original statement). In the new letter, he did clarify the points that were misleading in his original message: That in May of 2003, Michael Eisner informed his agent that Disney would never distribute the film. And he pointed out that it was his agent, not the New York Times that said that the decision was made because Eisner did not want to anger Jeb Bush.  He also addressed the contract issue and stated that his contract called for Miramax to distribute the film and that Eisner �did not call Miramax and tell them to stop my film.� They instead kept funding it. 

Below are the excerpts links to Michael Moore�s statements (click the links to read the full text). 

May 5th message with the misleading information, where he announced that Disney would not allow Miramax to release the film by saying that he was informed Disney had �officially decided� to prohibit Miramax from distributing the film, and his �according to the New York Times� statement. That misleading attribution is the reason this article questions his honesty on this matter. Although, it is good to see that he followed up with his promise to explain things in further details �as the days and weeks go on�.  And while his new message offers more details, it still does not clear up why he said �According to today's (May 5) New York Times�, when he could have written a more honest statement explaining that Eisner reportedly told his agent these things. While it is rather strong to say that he lied about this in his statement, which many of his supporters discount, it is clear that the attribution was at the very minimum, a misleading presentation of the facts, because the accusations about Eisner were clearly not "according to the New York Times," but according to his agent. To be fair about the timing of when he knew Disney would not allow Miramax to release the film, Moore did allude to the fact that he knew this was coming (see third paragraph below) and used the qualifier �officially decided� in his original statement. 

His statement: �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 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 charge (well, OK, sorry -- it WILL upset them...big time. Did I mention it's a comedy?). All I can say is, thank God for Harvey Weinstein and Miramax who have stood by me during the entire production of this movie." - Read the full message

May 7th message with the expanded explanation included: 

�In April of 2003, I signed a deal with Miramax, a division of the Walt Disney Co., to finance and distribute my next movie, Fahrenheit 9/11. (The original financier had backed out; I will tell that story at a later date.) In my contract it is stated that Miramax will distribute my film in the U.S. through Disney's distribution arm, Buena Vista Distribution. It also gives Miramax the rights to distribute and sell the movie around the world.

�A month later, after shooting started, Michael Eisner insisted on meeting with my agent, Ari Emanuel. Eisner was furious that Miramax signed this deal with me. According to Mr. Emanuel, Eisner said he would never let my film be distributed through Disney even though Mr. Eisner had not seen any footage or even read the outline of the film. Eisner told my agent that he did not want to anger Jeb Bush, the governor of Florida. The movie, he believed, would complicate an already complicated situation with current and future Disney projects in Florida, and that many millions of dollars of tax breaks and incentives were at stake.

�But Michael Eisner did not call Miramax and tell them to stop my film. Not only that, for the next year, SIX MILLION dollars of DISNEY money continued to flow into the production of making my movie. Miramax assured me that there were no distribution problems with my film.�- Read the full message

Follow-up comment 5/9: This article stirred the pot on both sides. The most venom was displayed by Moore supporters, who immediately jumped into attack mode. That�s understandable. Although, if you read some of comments left in the fan speak below you will see some hypocrisy. Some want to �ban� us, but isn�t that what upset his supporters in the first place with Disney �banning� Mr. Moore�s film?  Some have called me hypocritical because I only used the facts that backed up my argument and presented them in such a way to bolster that argument. That is entirely correct and intentional. That was done to illustrate the point that Mr. Moore�s statement of May 5th was misleading by doing exactly the same thing. It is done all the time, as some have pointed out, but it still doesn�t make it right. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to find truly objective reporting, as all reporting on this story has demonstrated (on both sides). Everyone has a bias and you can craft your language and message in such a way to inject that bias into any article. 

A free and open media is absolutely vital to democracy. It is our right and rather our obligation to question our leaders. The good news is that purpose is served by the Internet. If one article puts a certain spin on an issue, you can easily find another article that includes facts that were left out of the first report, and/or spins the other way. You can get both sides and then make your determination. Mr. Moore has every right to make his views known, in the media and in his film. By that same token, those that disagree with him have that the same right to counter his claims. While Disney shied away from distributing this film--for whatever reason-- you can be certain that another company will happily come along and pick it up.  In the end, his voice will not be silenced and this will only fuel interest in the film. 

Was Michael Moore�s original statement misleading? Of course, and in the end it served the purpose he want it to serve. But it also gave his detractors more fuel for their fire. You can call on his voice to be silenced, or those voices that oppose him to be silenced, but in the end, that goes against the very nature of an open society. The more politically informed and active people in this country the better. That goes for both sides of the fence. People should get all the facts and make their determinations. You can read reporting that backs up your point of view all day long, but in the end your shortchanging yourself by doing so.  It is far better to know what the other side thinks and why they think it, it may even solidify your own beliefs.  While I�m personally not a fan of Mr. Moore and his way of presenting his arguments (nor am I a �Bushy�), I will watch this film and try to obtain the counter arguments to make an informed determination about the topics he brings up in his movie. I say that knowing full well that I go in with a bias and a skeptic mind. Everyone should view things in such a way, even with things you already agree with. Either that or lose objectivity and become a �cheerleader� for the cause, which isn�t a very informed way to go through life.

It is good and healthy to ask questions. That�s the foundation of what makes democracy work. There are far too many apathetic people in America that simply don�t bother or don�t care. When more people in this country watched the final episode of �Friends� then voted for either of the two major party candidates in the last election, that tells us that more people need to get involved, ask questions, and simple care enough to make this grand experiment called democracy work. While we may not always agree with the message, it is vital that we allow any opinion to be made. Unless of course, you want to delegate your rights and determination of your freedom to a few. And "banning" opinions that differ from your own, no matter what they are, would not be very American.

We will never stop spin used to bolster a political opinion, but we can always look deeper and listen to the other side of the argument.