As you know, my previous column dealt with the apparent efforts by Michael Moore and Canadian and publicly held company Lions Gate, the “Fahrenheit 9/11” distributor, to make it easier for children to see the film without their parents influence. This effort was made primarily in the form of an appeal to the MPAA’s got the film’s R rating to be reduced to a PG-13. Mr. Tom Ortenberg, the president of Lions Gate, personally argued the case himself, according to the Associated Press.
Moore and Ortenberg made comments to the press after they lost that appeal which either left the impression that they hoped children would ignore their parents and see the film, or in Moore’s case, deliberately encouraged children to circumvent their parents or guardians and sneak in to see the film.
In my column, I encouraged many of you to share your thoughts about parental responsibility with Mr. Ortenberg. Many of you did, and to his credit he responded to some of you. I, too, had e-mailed him and asked him to repudiate his comments, or clarify them, and did not receive an answer. My guess is that after he heard from so many of you he felt he needed to respond. Many of you shared your letters with me as well. All respectful, powerful and clear.
Realizing he may have a newfound willingness to answer my direct questions, I e-mailed him again. To my surprise, he answered and in a way which I think is worth sharing with you. Mr. Ortenberg has agreed to allow this reprint of his letter to me, and I’m happy to do so.
I open with my second e-mail to him, his response follows, and my answer to him is last. I make some further comments at the end, so read on:
I e-mailed you earlier regarding your comments as the president of Lions Gate, which, while subtler than Michael Moore's, seem to encourage children to ignore the R rating your film, "Fahrenheit 9/11," has been given. For a publicly held company, that seems like a rather precarious position to take, to say the least.
I understand you have e-mailed some stating that there has been a "misunderstanding here as I have not encouraged any youngster to ignore a parental wish." In case it has slipped your mind, here is what you said to an Associated Press reporter after the MPAA upheld the R rating:
"We'll just have to hope the teenagers we're encouraging to see this picture find their way in through parents or adult guardians."
Did you not say that?
Here is what the AP reported Mr. Moore had to say:
"I encourage all teenagers to come see my movie, by any means necessary. If you need me to sneak you in, let me know."
Is that a statement you repudiate? If there has been a "misunderstanding" perhaps you do.
If so, I'd love to know and so would my listeners and readers. I am a nationally syndicated radio talk show host, syndicated columnist and New York Times best selling author. My radio program airs Saturdays from 4-7pm PT. My flagship is KABC here in Los Angeles.
I would like to invite you to come on so you can perhaps clarify what you meant and whether or not you support Mr. Moore's encouragement for children to see the film and ignore their parents' wishes. After all, they wouldn't have to use Mr. Moore to get in if their parents are willing to take them to see it now would they?
You're more than welcome to e-mail me with your answer or call my producer, David Ruben, to make an arrangement for Saturday. We can do this by telephone so you don't even need to leave your home. You can choose the time that best suits you. You can stay to answer people's questions or not. It's up to you.
The program is live and heard in 44 states, 132 stations. I *will* be discussing this, and considering your answer to some e-mails, it appears as though you *are* repudiating (or rejecting) the impression made by your earlier statement. But I must say those comments and what you're e-mailing to people do seem to be in direct contradiction.
I'd love to give you airtime to clarify things, and perhaps remind children that they should respect their parents decision regarding this film, not yours.
Of course, you are also welcome to defend your and Mr. Moore's position that children should see this film despite what their parents say. You seemed rather comfortable intimating that yesterday.
I look forward to hearing from you.
I can not speak for Michael Moore.
As for myself, when doing several interviews back to back, I sometimes speak more eloquently than others. When I said "through their parents (or guardians)," I did not mean to imply that children should go "around" their parents or "despite" any parental wishes, but rather with their parents. Of course some parents will feel this film is appropriate for their teenage children, and some will not. I personally am not asking and in fact would discourage children from going to any film, regardless of rating, that their parents do not approve of.
I take my responsibility as a parent and film marketer very seriously. There have been several recent films rated PG13, such as Lord of the Rings, Hellboy and Van Helsing, that I refuse to let my children see, and I respect the right of parents to make those same choices for their children as it relates to Fahrenheit 9/11 or any other film, regardless of rating.
I have received no other complaints about my remarks from anyone besides those associated with you. Regardless of whether we agree on any other issue, on the issue of parental responsibility and respect I believe we are in agreement.
Thanks for getting back to me so quickly. I had a feeling you would be working late this evening, as perhaps you will for some time to come.
I appreciate your thoughtful answer, and yet I think you can understand how children should "find their way through" sends a bit of a different message than "find their way with" their parents.
It's a difference, though, I would be happy to share with my readers and listeners. Do I have your permission to share your note to me with my audience? I would be happy to do so.
As far as Michael Moore, I realize you don't speak for him, but you are in business with him and his attitude and comments will affect impressions of Lions Gate. You make choices about with whom you will associate and you've clearly made one here. His encouragement of children to ignore and go behind the backs of their parents cast a further impression on your remarks.
At any rate, your comments are helpful and certainly clarifying. And while you may have heard only from people 'associated' with me, you do understand that many Americans do not realize the access they have when it comes to issues like this, and with Hollywood especially. I am an organizer and like to remind people that they can, and should, chime in on important social issues. I think you know that even when you may not hear from people, they are out there and affected by your work, and the decisions you make.
Thank you again, and if I receive your permission I will make sure your thoughtful response to me is shared with the same outreach as my complaint of your comments. The offer for the radio show remains open by the way.
In the last letter he sent he agreed to my sharing his letter with you and indicated he would continue to consider coming onto Tammy Radio to answer questions about this issue.
Considering Tom Ortenberg must have received a bit of a deluge of e-mail, I think his response was indeed thoughtful, and at the same time, rather careful. While I appreciated his clear response to the issue of parental responsibility, you noticed how he did not feel compelled to repudiate Mr. Moore’s comments. It would have been easy to have done so, even diplomatically, but he did not. That was disappointing, but not entirely surprising, You don’t need to “speak” for someone to say you disagree with what they’ve said.
While he asserts in his letter that there are films, regardless of rating, that he would not let his children see, he has made direct comments that “Fahrenheit 9/11” should be seen by children, and specifically, not with their parents.
As the Associated Press reported, “Tom Ortenberg, president of Lions Gate Films, had argued to the appeals board that 15- and 16-year-olds should be free to see the film on their own [emphasis added] because they could end up in military service in Iraq in the next few years.”
Ultimately, I appreciate, as should you, the fact that Mr. Ortenberg and Lions Gate, have heard you. The least this accomplishes is reminding film producers and distributors that they do not make decisions in a vacuum, and you are awake and ready to respond.
On another note, I cannot stress the importance of thanking the people at the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) for having an initial panel of parents who knew to give F-9/11 an R, and then for not caving under what must have been extreme pressure from Moore and Lions Gate. Joan Graves (firstname.lastname@example.org), the Chair of the MPAA Rating Council, deserves to be thanked. They should be reminded that we know their work is important, helps you as parents, and how our newly vigorous involvement in our culture did not stop with Janet Jackson, the Super Bowl and the FCC.