Why are some of the Senate’s most prominent members seeking to intimidate film studios and writers from discussing an issue of critical national importance? That’s my question after reading the intemperate letter sent Wednesday by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, Carl Levin and John McCain complaining about the depiction of torture in the film “Zero Dark Thirty.”
“The use of torture should be banished from serious public discourse,” write the senators. I agree with them that torture should be banned. Surely that’s a position more suitable for an authoritarian government than a nation that cherishes the right to speak, even about unpopular topics.What is intimidating about the letter? The movie is from Sony Pictures, whose website explains:
Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE) is a subsidiary of Sony Corporation of America, a subsidiary of Tokyo-based Sony Corporation. SPE's global operations encompass motion picture production and distribution; television production and distribution; home entertainment acquisition and distribution; a global channel network; digital content creation and distribution; operation of studio facilities; development of new entertainment products, services and technologies; and distribution of entertainment in 159 countries.Accordingly, the corporation is subject to government regulation in a wide variety of ways.
A comparable incident occurred in 2006. At RealClearPolitics, Austin Bay wrote:
This year, Iran's theocratic dictators celebrated Sept. 11 by banning several opposition newspapers, including Iran's leading "reformist" daily, Shargh.
Shargh had committed political sin and published a cartoon that Tehran's robed dictators found insulting to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Associated Press reported the cartoon featured a chessboard with a white horse confronting a black donkey. "In Iranian culture," the AP opined, "the donkey is a symbol of ignorance. Iranian judiciary officials apparently took the donkey to represent Iran in negotiations with the West over nuclear issues."
Americans may be dismayed, but the urge to censor runs deep in politicians of all stripes. A week earlier, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., threatened to use government powers to censor ABC Television and prevent ABC and its owner, Disney, from showing its "docudrama," "The Path to 9/11."
On his Website, Reid urged Disney/ABC to cancel the miniseries. Reid damned the show's writer-producer, Cyrus Nowrasteh, by name and questioned "the motivations" of the show's creators. He also mentioned invoking the Communications Act of 1934 -- a not-too-subtle threat of government action.