Josh Hawley And Other Republicans Want To End Special “Handouts” To Disney And Other Corporations, But As Punishment Not Policy (Analysis)
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) followed up on his attack on Disney last week with an op-ed on FoxNews.com in which he argued that corporations were attacking American values by weighing in on divisive social issues. “Big business is no friend to conservatives — that’s been clear for years. And it’s increasingly no friend to America,” he wrote.
His solution is to reverse copyright protections for Disney after it came out against Florida’s parental rights law, dubbed the “don’t say gay” law by opponents.
In this and other instances, Hawley and others on the right are seizing on long-raging wonkish policy debates and weaponizing them as retribution against companies for going “woke.”
One of Hawley’s arguments — that Disney and other companies have been granted special favors — is actually rooted in what went down in 1998: The Mouse House, along with other companies, lobbied heavily for extending the terms of copyrights by 20 years.
At the time, the copyright on Steamboat Willie, the first film appearance of Mickey Mouse, was facing expiration, and Disney’s push for the extension became so notorious that the legislation came to be known by detractors as the “Mickey Mouse Protection Act.” Instead of losing protections for the corporate mascot in 2003, they were able to kick the can to 2023.
Hawley argues that the lengthy copyright term is giving Disney a “stranglehold” on its intellectual property. On that front, he will have some agreement among public interest groups, including those on the left, which have long argued that the framers of the Constitution never intended copyright terms to last so long.
Hawley’s bill, though, is written in such a way to make it apply almost exclusively to Disney, as if the company was the sole beneficiary of the copyright extension. The 1998 legislation applied to all works, from George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” to Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises.
Aaron Moss of Greenberg Glusker wrote that Hawley’s bill was “performative theater,” likely unconstitutional, yet treated in some of the reporting on it as a “legitimate attempt to legislate.”
Even groups that have been at odds with the studios over copyright issues found Hawley’s proposal a bit absurd. John Bergmayer, legal director at public interest group Public Knowledge, said that “while I agree that copyright terms should be shorter, Public Knowledge does not ‘support’ such an unserious bill, particularly one that is plainly motivated by a desire to punish a company for political (and unconstitutional) reasons.”
Take another of Hawley’s examples: China.
He chides Hollywood for having “pander” to Beijing censors to gain access to the marketplace for the movies.
He’s not wrong. There is a long history and a slew of examples where that is the case, sometimes to the point of embarrassment and ridicule. Through the years the industry itself has had little official to say about it, other than it’s long been a practice across the world to edit movies to conform to local tastes.
Yet the practice is hardly exclusive to Disney. Back in the 1990s, Rupert Murdoch was among the first media moguls to woo Chinese leaders and, when he owned the studio, there were 20th Century Fox films that were trimmed to enter the Chinese marketplace. Among them: 2017’s Alien: Covenant, in which a gay kiss was removed as well as footage of … aliens.
Murdoch told Neil Cavuto in 2009 that he didn’t have a problem with companies having to take extra steps to get into the marketplace — even if it meant altering their product. At the time, there were concerns over China requirements that PC manufacturers include software to block offensive material. “I don’t object to that … you can’t expect great companies like Dell or Hewlett-Packard or others to say, ‘We’re going to sell no computers in China at all.’ It’s too big. It’s too big a part of the world,” Murdoch said.
Perhaps no policy point has gotten more recent attention than Section 230. That’s the provision of a 1996 law that gives tech companies immunity for the way that they moderate third-party content.
Hawley is among a chorus of voices on the right who want Section 230 reformed or repealed in response to alleged Facebook and Twitter bias against conservative viewpoints. That policy desire crosses partisan lines, as some Democrats, including President Joe Biden, also want to see Section 230 reforms, albeit for different reasons.
Curiously, though, there is a social media platform, created in response to alleged platform bias, that embraces the protections of Section 230: Truth Social, Donald Trump’s start up. Its terms of service includes a host of content moderation policies, including the right to remove posts that are “false, inaccurate or misleading,” and another to prohibit content that is obscene, lewd posts or “otherwise objectionable.”
Bias complaints on the right have focused on the “otherwise objectionable” term, with the argument that it gives platforms too much leeway in their policing of content. Likewise, Hawley’s attacks are rooted in the idea that there is a set of political beliefs — his — that can be deemed “American values” while other beliefs are hostile to them. Florida’s curriculum didn’t include gender identity or sexual orientation instruction for K-3 grades, per PolitiFact, but that didn’t stop the passage of the law prohibiting it. The law’s champion’s cast it as common sense protections for kids, but its passage also reactivated the trope — that the LGBTQ community is out to indoctrinate your kids, or even “groom” them — on the right. Hawley equates opposition to the Florida law to support of “sex education classes for younger and younger children.” Opponents see it another way, part of the long history of targeting the LGBTQ community for political gain.
There’s also a lot of selectivity in which companies are deemed supportive of American values and which are not. Murdoch’s companies benefited from special FCC waivers and media ownership carve-outs. Fox Corp., meanwhile, provides benefits to employees for gender reassignment surgeries. Does that make Fox Corp. “woke”? Hawley’s office did not respond to a request for comment on his definition of the term.