Nadler: Disney Should Uphold First Amendment Rights

May 4, 2004

Washington, DC -- Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) today urged the Walt Disney Company to reverse its recently announced decision to prevent its subsidiary Miramax from distributing Michael Moore's new documentary, "Farenheit 9/11." In a letter to Senator George Mitchell, Nadler stated that Disney's refusal to release the film stands at odds with America's most cherished values. The text of the letter follows:

May 5, 2004

Honorable George Mitchell
Walt Disney Company
77 West 66th Street - 22nd Floor
New York, New York 10023

Dear Senator Mitchell:

Throughout your distinguished career you have been an outspoken and tireless champion of the fundamental principle of free speech. Your work is a testament to our nation’s core belief that democracy only thrives when robust and open debate is allowed to flourish.

It is in this spirit that I am turning to you now to ask for your assistance in initiating a review of Disney’s recently announced decision to prevent its subsidiary Miramax from distributing Michael Moore’s new documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11."

Whatever concerns Disney may have about the content of the film, or the potential reaction of some viewers to it, these concerns cannot and must not be allowed to trump the basic right of a film-maker to distribute his film, and the American people to have access to that film. "Fahrenheit 9/11" may very well provoke controversy. It will probably spark debate and discussion. It may be a lightning rod for criticism. All these are good things - they are the lifeblood of our public dialogue.

Disney may want to avoid offending some of its viewers. But in barring this film from release Disney is standing at odds with our most valued principles.

Americans were reminded of the importance of this principle just this past week when a local television broadcaster took the extraordinary step of banning the ABC program Nightline because of that show's decision to dedicate its broadcast to reading a roll call of the fallen in Iraq. This action was a direct challenge to viewers’ right to see programming that may be challenging and hard to bear, yet of critical importance. In that case, your colleague Senator John McCain stood up and spoke the plain truth: denying American viewers the right to see and hear all sides of an issue is a betrayal of our most cherished values.

The debate surrounding "Fahrenheit/ 911" is no less such a test. This film raises issues about the Bush administration and its conduct in the war on terror and the war in Iraq. The public has a right to hear these arguments and make their own judgments. Americans will choose whether to watch Mr. Moore’s film, or to stand outside and protest it. Both exercises are perfectly legitimate. Trying to quell these voices is not.

I am hopeful that you will make your voice heard on this important matter. You will be doing a great service for the cause you have fought for your whole life. And you will be standing up for a principle that is more basic and more important than any film.


Jerrold Nadler
Member of Congress