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2004-05-11

Did Saudi Investors Pressure Disney To Drop Michael Moore’s New Film on 9/11?

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Disney has been widely criticized for barring its subsidiary Miramax from distributing Fahrenheit 911, Moore’s new documentary examining 9/11 and the ties between the Bushes and the Bin Ladens. Peter Hart from Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) reveals that a powerful member of the House of Saud, Al-Walid bin Talal, owns a major stake in Eurodisney. [includes rush transcript]

In a letter to his fans and supporters this week, filmmaker Michael Moore said his latest film Farenheight 9/11 will hit American theaters well before November’s presidential election despite what Moore calls the Disney Corporation’s attempts to censor the film. The New York Times revealed last week that Disney executives have forbid Miramax films from distributing it. The film explores the Bush family’s close personal and financial ties to the Saudi royal family, and describes how the current Bush administration helped evacuate relatives of Osama bin Laden from the United States after the September 11 attacks in 2001.

Disney executives were quoted in the New York Times as saying that when Michael Eisner was the company’s top executive, he "expressed particular concern that it would endanger tax breaks Disney receives for its theme park, hotels and other ventures in Florida, where President Bush’s brother, Jeb, is governor." But the media watchgroup FAIR released a statement giving another potential motive. FAIR said, "Disney may have another reason, not mentioned by the Times, to reject a film that might offend the Saudi royal family: A powerful member of the family, Al-Walid bin Talal, owns a major stake in Eurodisney and has been instrumental in the past in bailing out the financially troubled amusement park. The project is facing a new cash crunch, and Al-Walid has been mentioned as a potential rescuer. In a moment, we will be joined by Peter Hart from FAIR.

But first, we turn to an interview I had with Michael Moore last October. We discussed an incident that happened in the days after the September 11th attacks when all flights in the U.S. were grounded.

American skies were empty, yet at the same time 140 influential Saudis were effectively chaperoned out of the country, without ever being questioned by the FBI. Among them, were several dozen members of the bin Laden family.

Despite the fact that 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, top White House officials approved the evacuation of Saudi citizens at a time when all other planes were grounded. This is what Michael Moore had to say.

  • Michael Moore, speaking on Democracy Now! October 15, 2003.
  • Peter Hart, analyst at the media watchgroup Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. He is author of "The Oh Really Factor."

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is what Michael Moore had to say.

MICHAEL MOORE: So, here’s Bush trying to deal with everything on September 11, 12, 13. You and everyone remember it was a total state of chaos and people — everyone, all of us were discombobulated by the whole thing. He had the time to be thinking, what can I do to help the Bin Ladens right now? You know. Let’s meet and all of these elaborate plans were made so that — because they were spread out throughout the country to be able to pick them up, get them to Boston and then get them to Paris.

Of course, what they’ll say, if you were to ask them, they will say, we did it for their protection. Americans may respond in a hostile way to anyone named bin Laden. Well, first of all, I’m glad he has a high opinion of us American citizens. That — is that really how people are?

Secondly, let me use the Clinton example. Imagine after the days of Oklahoma City, Clinton sitting around the White House going, I wonder how the McVeigh family is doing in Buffalo right now. I hope they’re okay. Maybe we should be worried — we don’t want anything to happen. Why don’t we give them a free trip to Paris. How about that? Yep, call them up and arrange free planes to get the McVeighs to Paris.

That’s exactly what happened with Bush and the Bin Ladens. The F.B.I. — I’m making this film that hopefully will get out sometime next year. I just interviewed one of the F.B.I. agents. They were appalled, too. They couldn’t believe that procedures were not followed. I said what is the procedure in a case like this. He said the procedure would be that each of the Bin Ladens who are here would have been subpoenaed. They would have testified. We would have subpoenaed their phone records and done a check. He says more than likely, you know, none of them were involved and everybody is okay; but what we would then do is say look, when you go back to Saudi Arabia, or when you go back to wherever you are going, can we just have a relationship so that if you do find out anything or if you do know anything, could you please tell us?

So, while we’re being told that the hunt is on for Osama bin Laden, what’s really going on when you have got 24 bin Ladens here, you know, none of them are asked for any help. None of them are interrogated, and they’re given the literally the royal red carpet treatment in the days after September 11. My question is, why? What is really going on here?

And then as we saw as the months went by and we forgot about bin Laden and no longer — bin Laden wasn’t the main thing. And we know from the things that Wesley Clarke has said that in the days right after September 11, he got a call from people in the Bush administration, connected to the Bush administration, telling him to go on CNN and connect this to Saddam Hussein. This was September 12, 13. Connect this to Saddam Hussein.

AMY GOODMAN: Michael Moore speaking on the day that his book, "Dude, Where’s My Country," was published. Now the question is who will distribute his new film, "Fahrenheit 9-11." Again, Disney saying that its subsidiary, Miramax, cannot do it, forbidding it to do it. Miramax has also produced the film.

We are joined in the studio by Peter Hart, an analyst with the media watchgroup FAIR, that’s Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting.

PETER HART: Good morning, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Your assessment of what’s going on.

PETER HART: Disney’s explanation via Michael Eisner was that they didn’t want to get involved in politics in an election year. That’s chilling enough saying a media company doesn’t want to bring up challenging ideas. The argument doesn’t make sense when you look at what ABC and Disney offers across its media holdings across the country, everyday of the week.

If you are here in New York of if you are listening to another Disney station around the country, you are likely to hear three hours of Rush Limbaugh followed by three hours of Sean Hannity. This is a media company that has politics in mind; particularly right wing politics.

If you watch the family channel, Disney’s cable channel, you get to watch the 700 club, which obviously promotes a conservative Christian ideology. You get to see John Stossel on ABC, their free market zealot. He runs commentaries and journalism that is unopposed. ABC is very involved in partisan programming. They just do it all on one side of the political spectrum.

AMY GOODMAN: And just to focus on a few of the points that you have put out in a press release, Disney’s family channel, as you said, carrying Pat Robertson’s 700 club, which routinely equates Christianity with Republican causes. After the September 11 attacks, Robertson’s guest, Jerry Falwell blamed the attacks on those who make god mad.

PETER HART: Like the ACLU, Gays and Lesbians, People for the American Way. You can’t imagine that Michael Moore is going to say anything that is more controversial than that, yet Disney is putting the brakes on the project because they don’t like Moore’s politics.

AMY GOODMAN: What is FAIR calling to happen now?

PETER HART: We are asking people to contact Disney and let them know they want Disney to release the film as intended by Miramax and get the film out there, even if it’s an election year and even if it’s going to ask tough questions that other folks in the media don’t want to ask right now.

AMY GOODMAN: You also raise this other issue, the issue of the Saudi connection.

PETER HART: Yeah. This is interesting, because if you reject Disney’s rationale, which I think any sensible person would do, that they don’t want to get involved in politics, you are left with other theories. Michael Moore’s agent mentioned these tax breaks in Florida.

AMY GOODMAN: For Disneyworld.

PETER HART: There’s probably something to that, but more importantly is the connections to the Saudi royal family. This particular member of the Saudi royal family has been a big supporter of Disney. I think he’s the fifth richest man in the world according to Forbes last year. $300 million he has invested in the so far failed Eurodisney project.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Prince Al-Walid bin Talal.

PETER HART: Earlier this year, he was meeting with Michael Eisner to discuss other investments. Perhaps Michael Moore’s movie came up. I think any sensible journalist would be pursuing that angle right now and not bringing up these ridiculous arguments about Disney not wanting to get into politics.

AMY GOODMAN: You say that the Eurodisney park was in trouble before he invested and may well be in trouble again.

PETER HART: Exactly. He invested $300 million in the mid 1990’s. The park is not doing well. The folks don’t want to go to Eurodisney and it looks like they’re asking him to bail them out again.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to turn after our break to Craig Unger.

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