Democrats as Censors?

I get a lot of e-mails from the Democratic party. Howard Dean, Rahm Emmanuel and a guy named Tom McMahon are frequent visitors to my in-box.  This one was from McMahon and it was called “RE: A Despicable, Irresponsible Fraud.” Here’s how it started:

Dear John,

This is it: crunch time for getting the slanderous ABC television docudrama “The Path to 9/11” yanked off the air. The network schedule has this slanderous attack on Democrats slated to start on Sunday night, September 10, at 8 o’clock — and as long as it stays on the schedule, we have work to do. Take a minute right now and tell Disney president Robert Iger to keep this right-wing propaganda off our airwaves:

Here’s the good news: the suits at ABC and the Walt Disney Company have started panicking under pressure, thanks to your ferocious response to the outrageous decision to put this irresponsible miniseries on the air. But until Disney quits defending its plan to broadcast conservative propaganda — fraudulently presented to Americans as “based on the 9/11 Commission Report” — the company should plan to keep taking every bit of heat we dish out.

I really don’t get the party’s strategy — at all. Here are the problems with it that I see:

1) They’re calling attention to something that they don’t want people to see. Which means curious people are more likely to want to see it. Human nature.

2) They’re associating the Democratic Party with censorship, e.g. boycotts and pressure to push for prior restraint of a program. Why aren’t they mindful of the precedent they’re setting? “If we don’t like it, take it off the air,” is now an official party position. I have a feeling that’s going to come back to haunt them when the right wing objects to a pending TV program that offends them. Dems are supposed to be for free speech.

3) A related point: Will the entertainment leaders so critical to the party’s fund-raising agree that such pressure tactics are appropriate? Has anyone asked Rob Reiner, or David Geffen, or Larry David how they feel about this?

4) The position they’re defending isn’t credible. Clinton turned over the White House keys to Bush in January 2001. The attack was in September 2001. It’s pretty apparent the plannng for the attack started before 2001, and was preceded by a number of Al Queda-sponsored attacks on American assets that all took place during Clinton’s tenure. So why is it out of bounds to criticize the Clinton Administration’s record on this issue? How could you review the “path to 9/11” and avoid doing so? I don’t hear Bush people complaining about what is supposed to be some very harsh criticism aimed their way in this show. Which leads to…

5) The program is going to air. People will watch it, more than would have because of curiousity. Many will be expecting it to live up to the description: “Right-wing propaganda.” But I bet it won’t strike most viewers that way. “What are they fussing about?” will be the response, I bet. Or worse: “What were they trying to hide?”  The net effect will be to give the show more credibility than perhaps it deserves. If “The Path to 9/11” isn’t a drooling right-wing fantasy, it will be regarded as fair, and its critics will be taken as over-sensitive.

Could be that the party is once again trying to catch up with the left-wing blogosphere, which has been hysterical on this topic, and probably has been pressuring the party to “stand tough.”  It’s fine for grassroots, independent people to be upset. But the party itself should be above this sort of thing. It should have adopted a more sober “wait and see” approach, keeping powder dry until after the show aired rather than demanding that the show be censored. Really, the Democratic Party, as an institution, should have done nothing whatsoever to call attention to it.

Am I wrong?  If you understand the point of the party’s strategy, please, enlighten me in the comment section below.


15 thoughts on “Democrats as Censors?

  1. Here’s part of it, from Digby:

    If this nonsense is allowed to stick, we will be battling these inaccurate demagogic, phantoms for another 50 years — and I don’t think the country will survive it. These new rightwingers make the red-baiters of the 50’s look like Gandhi. In order for the Republicans to maintain power as often and as much as possible, they must find a way to blame the Democrats for terrorism and ensure that neither party can ever stray from the most hard line they can possibly maintain. It’s the same formula that killed over 50,000 Americans in Vietnam and it’s going to do far worse this time out if we let it happen again.

    Remember “Who Lost China?” Remember the “giveaway” at Yalta?

  2. If this documentary has bad ideas or lies in it, then they will exposed through public discussion. That’s how we’ve done things in this country, and I see zero rationale to change it now. Digby’s scenario is based on a lot of assumptions, and seems to me to be an extremely weak case for censorship. I am far more frightened that the left and the Democratic party have been so quick to embrace the notion that it’s okay to demand censorship than I am by any political fallout from what’s said in this show.

    The hard line has become dominant in the total absence of any coherent opposing ideas for dealing with the threat of Islamic extremism. Rather than trying to shut other people’s mouths, I’m waiting for the Democrats to open theirs and tell me what they would do differently. Kerry’s campaign utterly failed at this, which is the only reason Bush could beat him. Bad ideas can only be defeated by good ideas; not by trying to censor the bad ideas.

    As a long-time Democrat, I am extremely put off by the party’s recent emphasis on “the narrative.” If the party put 1/10th the energy into developing compelling policies for today that they are expending on controlling how history is perceived, they’d find a lot more success.

  3. I hope you’re wrong about it airing. If they actually succeed in killing it, it becomes fifty times more valuable to my insidious right-wing brethren than if they don’t. Plus, then I don’t have to watch six hours worth of a movie I wouldn’t have even considered watching before this started. Now the thing to do is figure out how to convince Democrats that According to Jim is a neo-con plot.

  4. John, you say “If this documentary has bad ideas or lies in it, then they will exposed through public discussion

    See, already you’re buying it. It’s not a documentary at all. Not even ABC claims that.

    People still say Ronald Reagan won the Cold War, even though we know the Soviet Union collapsed of its own weight. Hell, it didn’t even happen during his Presidency.

    Mythology sticks.

  5. “Documentary”…actually I typed that word in haste because I knew my family wanted to leave on an outing! It’s their fault!

    The Path to 9/11 is not a documentary. It is a “docu-drama,” which in all cases, not just this one, should be regarded as a fictionalized account of real events, and not as strictly factual.

    You’ve brought up some interesting examples to bolster your case. My sense is some of them aren’t as settled as you’re representing them. I attended a left-leaning university (Cal), with a left-leaning history teacher who demonstrated that, in fact, Roosevelt did give away Poland at Yalta. (It was more a concession to reality, and also partly a result of his illness.) And while I agree with you that the Soviet Union did collapse of its own weight, the fact is, in 1980, Reagan was saying this was about to happen, and was hooted at by foreign policy experts in both parties, including some who became part of his Administration. Reagan’s policies in office were based on the idea of Soviet weakness–that’s why they were succesful. The concept of detente, which preceded Reaganism, was predictated on Soviet strength, i.e. the only route to peace is through accomodation. That was still the prevailing philosophy behind most of Reagan’s rivals in both parties; if one of them had won, it is likely that detente would have been continued with who knows what results.

  6. Ralph,

    Nothing like an ad hominem attack (anonymous!) to lend tremendous credibility to your point of view.

    But it’s a bit off-target. Some of the most prominent spokespersons opposed to this TV program have also taken tours recently of this nation’s criminal justice system. Or did I miss your anonymous dismissals of what Bill Clinton and Sandy Berger had to say?

  7. To balance the results of the performance of the all time world class incompetence of bush, the best that they could do to Clinton was to fabricate scenes & scenarios that never happened. Perhaps in your warped prospective of right & wrong this is fair play and free speech. Make no mistake, this movie has a serious agenda and makes serious charges. This thing was toally unvetted. It should never be allowed be broadcast over the public airwaves.

    Who is calling who credible?

  8. Ralph apparently has seen this program. I have not, so I cannot comment on what I presume are his authoritative descriptions.

    Whatever is in the show, I don’t think it takes a warped perspective to call it “free speech.” The Democratic Party I belong to used to take great pains to defend “free speech” for everyone, even those whose views are widely abhorred. I pray they have not abandoned this position just because they can’t take a little criticism.

    I just don’t understand the extreme defensiveness. In the light of 9/11, who in our political system thru the 90s looked good? It was a bipartisan, systemic failure to notice what in retrospect seems obvious. It would be nice for Democrats if Clinton, Berger, Albright, Gore, et. al. had been focused on this and effective, but they weren’t. It would be nice for Republicans, I suppose if Gingrich, Bush and Bob Dole had been out campaigning, as Churchill did in the 30s, to shake the public loose of its complacency. But they didn’t. It would be nice if the media had been more aggressive about connecting the dots, performing their supposedly sacred duty. But they didn’t. The foreign policy establishment, the law enforcement establishment, the international institutions like the UN all failed. Speaking for myself, I certainly didn’t go around warning everyone about Osama bin Laden. Until 9/11 I’m not sure I even knew who he was.

    So why, of all those institutions and personages who failed, and who basically have admitted they failed, does the left and the Democratic party get so aroused by a docu-drama that includes the President during that period in its systemic portrait of lassitude and confusion? Whether or not Sandy Berger hung up a telephone is a matter of dramatic license perhaps being stretched too far. But whether or not the Clinton Admininstration did a great job preventing the growth of Al Queda isn’t in dispute. They didn’t. Get over it.

  9. whether or not the Clinton Admininstration did a great job preventing the growth of Al Queda isn’t in dispute. They didn’t. Get over it.
    Except that it specifically warned its successors of the danger and those warnings were dismissed. Worse, the incoming A-G focused on pornography rather than terrorism, which I think registered about 8th or lower on his list of priorities, if I remember correctly.

  10. Right. But that’s my point. The failure was systemic. The amplitude of this “warning” is somewhat in dispute — certainly it wasn’t something the public heard from Clinton’s own mouth as his term ended. Nor was it much of an issue in the 2000 election. For that matter, I don’t recall that there much public outcry after the Cole bombing. No one held the Administration accountable for not responding, including the opposition party, including the media.

    But there were exigencies as there always are in democracies. There was Monica Lewinsky and the wacky impeachment trial. There were the Republicans wanting tax cuts. There were polls to watch and obey.

    What I’m hoping I’ll see tonight is a portrait of a nation asleep, including but not limited to its president. I suspect it is nowhere near as partisan a show as its detractors are saying. It’ll be interesting to see whether its detractors will eat their words; or if a depiction of Clinton’s people as anything but heroic leaders who had perfectly good excuses for failing to prevent 9/11 will be considered “right wing propaganda.”

  11. The only actual warning I remember was the pop-science book, The Lucifer Principle. (Hope I didn’t screw the link up) I read it in ’98 and remember liking the first two thirds, and thinking the last third (the part about a coming war between the West and Islam) was a bit racist. It’s possible, actually, that I was right, I don’t have the book any more, and haven’t seen it in seven years. But that’s the only thing I remember before 9/11 that indicated that, outside of Israel’s problems, terrorism was more than a few cliques of wackjobs playing soldier in desert camps. Anyway, I agree with John.

  12. If anybody should be upset about this movie (besides the people who’ve sat through it, I mean), it ought to be Richard Clarke. He’s not that fat I understand they wanted a famous actor, but still.

  13. If ABC or the producer of the thing has a beef with Clinton, then why not just say so? Broadcast the “I hate Clinton, and here’s why” show instead of this backdoor propaganda. Dressing up actors to play the parts of real people doing things they never actually did is chickenshit.

    Since you have admitted that you didn’t know who Bin Laden was Prior to 9/11, your opinion of Clinton’s performance has no merit.

  14. After seeing it, I am more baffled than ever about the Democratic uproar. It is an eternal story of the battle between the civil servants, representing by Dick Clark and John O’Neil, and the political appointees — Albright, Berger, Rice — who are depicted as 1) somewhat dim and 2) always thinking politically. In the middle are less-motivated civil servants, the rules-following judges, the egotistical ambassador to Yemen, who more out of ignorance than political affiliation, put needless obstacles in the way of the two heroes. The oft-quoted O’Neil line to the effect that there aren’t any “men” in government anymore is not aimed at the Democratic party, but instead to the staff pukes and political brown-nosers who populate EVERY administration of both parties. I would think a similar look at Katrina would shed a similarly harsh light on various Bush appointees, and I have no doubt that such is in the works.

    Just because you’re a Democrat (and so am I) doesn’t mean we have to reflexively defend everything the government did during a Democratic administration. Government operates pretty much the same way under both parties and, for that matter, at all levels.

    I’ll probably make this point more at length in a new post when I have time.

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