TEXT OF COMMENTARY
SCOTT JAGOW: A movie opening this Friday is about as controversial as you can get. Some theater chains have refused to show “Death of a President.” A few broadcasters have rejected advertising for the film. Commentator Robert Reich shares his thoughts.
ROBERT REICH: I’ve only seen the trailer, but from what I’ve seen I can tell you “Death of a President” is as tasteless as it is obscene.
It’s styled as an “investigative documentary,” mixing real news footage with dramatized segments, it depicts a fictional 2007 assassination of President Bush.
Now, I’m a libertarian when it comes to what people can see or hear, but this film tests my principles. And to release the film days before a midterm election is shameless and exploitative.
A civilized society sets some limits on what can be sold in the market. It’s illegal to sell babies or body parts, narcotics, prostitution or hard-core pornography. Well, maybe it should be illegal to sell a movie about assassinating a sitting president.
Yet we’re also democracy, and I don’t like the idea of banning any form of speech, no matter how sick and warped it may be. This film doesn’t try to make a political point, but suppose it did?
Suppose a film portrayed scenes of political violence as a means of conveying a political message.
Once we start banning this kind of thing we’re on a slippery slope to Big Brother, deciding what kind of speech should be banned on the basis of its content.
So my reluctant conclusion is that — as long as it doesn’t incite violence — the film should be allowed to be released.
But that doesn’t mean we have watch it. In fact, we ought to teach the producers and movie houses a lesson they won’t forget. Let’s show them shameful sensationalism like this doesn’t sell.
So here’s my strong recommendation: Don’t pay good money to see this movie.
JAGOW: Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich teaches public policy at the University of California Berkeley.
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