Michael Moore claims that the Walt Disney Co. is blocking the distribution of his new film, "Fahrenheit 9/11," by a Disney subsidiary, Miramax.
While I’m no fan of the present-day Disney corporation, it has a right to block the distribution of any film by its own subsidiaries. Moore, a pseudo-blue-collar multimillionaire, apparently does not understand the First Amendment. Many Americans don’t.
The First Amendment gives us the right to speak and to write. It does not give anyone the right to command that others listen to or publish or distribute what he or she says or writes or produces. The best way to understand the difference between a true right and a falsely claimed right is that a true right does not compel anyone else to do anything except leave us alone.
That’s why it is wrong to say that people have a "right to medical care." To say this implies that someone else must be compelled to provide it. Medical care that is affordable is a desirable social goal, but it is not a right. Ditto education, housing, jobs and other economic benefits.
I have the right to write an opinion column. That right, however, does not impose an obligation on anyone to publish it or to read it. If a newspaper declines to publish my column, it is in no way abridging my First Amendment rights. Nor is it engaging in censorship (only the government can censor). It is instead exercising its right to choose what it will and won’t publish at its own expense.
All true rights are essentially negative in that they prohibit others, mainly the government, from interfering in our personal lives. The right to keep and bear arms doesn’t mean that we have to own guns or that anyone has to sell them to us. It simply means the government cannot prohibit us from owning a gun.
There is — and always has been, it seems — a lot of talk about the liberal press and, these days, right-wing radio and television. Forgotten in this discussion is the fact that a newspaper has a right to be liberal or conservative, and so do television and radio shows. As consumers, we have the right to read or not read, to listen or not listen, to watch or not watch.
Objective journalism, meaning journalism without any bias, is a myth. Journalism is a subjective business from start to finish. Editors exercise judgment as to what stories they assign. Reporters exercise judgment as to how much information they will collect and what parts they will emphasize. All of these judgments will be influenced by subjective factors.
What can be striven for is a clear separation of opinion from factual reports. On the whole, the press does a poorer job of that than it used to, but that is a technical problem within the industry and has nothing to do with rights.
A truly free society is one in which people can think, say and do what they please as long as they don’t infringe on other people’s rights to think, say and do what they please. No one has a right to not be offended. No one has a right to demand that others agree with him or her. No one has a right to utter defamatory falsehoods. The reason maintaining a free society is so difficult is that it butts heads with the itch many people have to control other people.
I don’t care for Moore’s infantile version of liberalism, so I don’t read his books or watch his movies. If the Walt Disney Co. believes that distributing his film would cause any harm to its legitimate business interests, it has a perfect right to decline to distribute it. Moore, of course, can seek other distributors. In the meantime, Moore is becoming what I so despise about many professional athletes — a multimillionaire whiner.
Charley Reese has been a journalist for 49 years, reporting on everything from sports to politics. From 1969—71, he worked as a campaign staffer for gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional races in several states. He was an editor, assistant to the publisher, and columnist for the Orlando Sentinel from 1971 to 2001. He now writes a syndicated column which is carried on LewRockwell.com. Reese served two years active duty in the U.S. Army as a tank gunner. Write to Charley Reese at P.O. Box 2446, Orlando, FL 32802.
© 2004 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.