I am deeply disappointed that CBS, the network that in 1964 gave me complete artistic control in creating television specials, now caved in to right wing Republican pressure to cancel the network broadcast of the movie The Reagans. (And I say MOVIE – because this is NOT a documentary – it’s a television drama.) The movie will now be aired on Showtime, where the difference in viewership is in the millions.
One can only imagine the kind of pressure that would compel CBS to take such an extraordinary action. This was an organized Republican spin machine at work. Remember the Dixie Chicks controversy? It wasn’t the larger general public that called in to radio stations and burned CDs, it was a small group of right wing activists. In fact, now the band is more popular than ever, with a sold out summer tour.
I don’t believe Democrats often, if ever, try to muscle the First Amendment like this. For example, in 1983, no one stopped NBC from airing Kennedy, a biopic that portrayed President Kennedy and other members of his family and administration as deeply flawed, even though the movie could have potentially been hurtful to Jackie Kennedy, who was still alive to see it, as well as to her children.
This is censorship, pure and simple. Well, maybe not all that pure. Censorship never is. Due to their experience with the restrictive English government, the framers of our constitution specifically included a ban on prior restraint in the First Amendment, which is an attempt to stop information from getting out there before the public has a chance to see it at all – exactly what is going on in this case. Of course, CBS as a company has the legal right to make decisions about what they do and do not air. However, these important decisions should be based on artistic integrity rather than an attempt to appease a small group of vocal dissidents. Indeed, today marks a sad day for artistic freedom – one of the most important elements of an open and democratic society.