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Senators on 9/11 movie – “Public interest” is what makes us look good

No matter what anyone thought of the ABC's “The Path to 9/11,” the actions of certain senators who objected to the miniseries should give everyone who values the First Amendment a big chill. A letter signed by Democratic Senators Harry Reid, Dick Durbin, Chuck Schumer, Debbie Stabenow, and Byron Dorgan not-so-implicitly threatened ABC's broadcast license if it aired the drama that was deemed to be critical of the Clinton Administration. The letter they sent to Robert Iger, CEO of ABC parent Disney, stated bluntly that “[p]resenting such deeply flawed and factually inaccurate misinformation to the American public and to children would be a gross miscarriage of your corporate and civic responsibility to the law, to your shareholders, and to this nation.” The letter spent the whole second paragraph explaining to Iger that ABC was a beneficiary of a “free broadcast license” granted by the FCC to serve “the public interest.” The concluding paragraph again reminded Iger that ABC was “a beneficiary of the free use of the public airwaves.” Interesting definition of “public interest,” huh? It seems from the minds of these senators that anything that presents a presidency of their party in a critical light is by definition against the “public interest.” As Stephen Spruiell writes in National Review Online, “Who in the press will stick up for ABC's right to air this miniseries without having its broadcast license threatened?” A broader lesson from the letter is this is what happens when we let the government --- and politicians of any party --- define what the “public interest” is in certain media. This is why we should scrutinize any regulation that would give the government more control over media operations and content — such as the so-called Fairness Doctrine and ownership limitations. ABC aired its documentary with only slight editing, and there are plenty of programs on broadcast and cable critical of Republicans too. But this is because the market is to some extent free of government control. We should keep the freedoms the media has and work to make the media freer. Because in an age of blogs and message boards, the media is us, and measures that increase government control over it end up hurting all of us.