Last night our family went to see the new Harry Potter movie, upholding my tradition of being among the last to see a new movie. However, I want to be one of the first to see the new Michael Moore documentary film, "Fahrenheit 9/11," which takes direct aim at the performance of President Bush and his administration before, during, and after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
It may not be easy for some people to see it, though. Efforts to manipulate public viewing of this movie are just one more flagrant example of how media are controlled and messages governed by well-financed and conservative corporate and political forces.
Earlier this year, the company that funded "Fahrenheit 9/11" backed out of its continued production and distribution, due to pressure from Republican leaders. The Disney subsidiary Miramax picked it up for awhile, only to have Disney chairman Michael Eisner block the film's release. After hunting for another distributor, the film got taken up again, this time by IFC Films, and it's due to be released Friday.
But last week Moore said in a widely circulated letter that "a Republican PR firm has formed a fake grass-roots front group called Move America Forward to harass and intimidate theater owners" into not showing it.
Why the suppression? If the documentary accuses President Bush and his administration falsely or distorts his record, those claims can be challenged legally as well as in public debates.
But isn't this a democracy? Isn't it appropriate in a presidential election, especially one involving a president who claimed the office without a majority of the nation's voters behind him, to have open debate about his record? Might Republican leaders be afraid of exactly that?
A few reporters and others have previewed the film, including one reporter who has covered the 9/11 commission in detail. Writing for the New York Times, Philip Shenon said Sunday that the film's central factual assertions are supported by the public record.
The documentary describes the close relationship between the Bush family and the bin Laden family, including asserting that the Bush administration bent some of the no-fly rules that followed the 9/11 disaster in order to get members of the bin Laden family out of the country quickly.
In explaining the administration's unpreparedness for the disaster, Moore revisits the Washington Post statistic that President Bush spent 42 percent of his first eight months in office on vacation. Moore says his production crew painstakingly reviewed these and many other assertions in the film for accuracy and that he is prepared to defend them aggressively.
Clearly, "Fahrenheit 9/11" is a legitimate part of public discussion, and the public is entitled to see it. But increasing concentration of media ownership, with a few corporations controlling the majority of the nation's radio and television stations and movie theaters makes it easy for some to put the clamps on its being seen. Two theaters in Madison will show the film, Westgate Art Cinemas and Eastgate.
The Bush campaign just finished a record-breaking $85 million, three-month attack campaign against Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, including ads distorting Kerry's voting record. These 30-second spots were nonetheless considered a legitimate part of the political process.
Something is seriously amiss with our media options when a long and in-depth look at a candidate's record, which allows for more substantive debate and response, is forced out of public discussion.
I like a good fantasy, so our family enjoyed the latest Harry Potter movie, even though I frequently gripped my daughter's and husband's arms. But a far more nightmarish scene is playing out in theaters around the nation.
Spectral visions of Dementors sucking the soul out of their victims in the Potter film can't compare to the very real horror of political heavies squeezing the life from our democracy by suppressing the informed debates that are its lifeblood.
Margaret Krome of Madison writes a semimonthly column for The Capital Times.
Copyright 2003 The Capital Times