Criticism of film won't deter Cuban

James Ragland
dallasnews.com
Thursday, March 29, 2007

Before I get started, let me say this column is not a critique of Loose Change, the independent Internet film that suggests some U.S. government officials may have staged the 9/11 attacks.

I know, the very thought makes you cringe.

Nor is this about Screw Loose Change, an equally delightful documentary that responds to the conspiracy theories and speculation contained in the aforementioned flick. If nothing else, you've got to love the in-your-face title.

This column is mostly about our very own Mark Cuban, billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks, who is planning to use his media muscle to distribute Loose Change in theaters this year.

His potential involvement has set the local jock kingdom on its heels, with some talk-show hosts and callers wondering if Mr. Cuban has a screw loose.

At least one elderly reader of this paper called our sports desk this week to say she would no longer be a fan of Mr. Cuban's team. Her question to a Sports Day editor: How could someone of Mr. Cuban's stature support a movie with this message?

Other critics, including Fox News host Bill O'Reilly, have chastised Mr. Cuban for offering to finance the distribution of Loose Change, a documentary that Mr. O'Reilly described as "absurd."

"And it doesn't deserve the platform you're going to give it," Mr. O'Reilly told Mr. Cuban during a lively radio debate last Friday.

Mr. Cuban firmly disagreed, saying the public could judge for itself whether the film has merit. And he won't retreat, he said, just because it's incendiary: "I'm not going to back away from a topic because it's controversial."

This is what most of us love – and hate – about Mark Cuban. He's his own man, unafraid of the sort of risks that would make the average businessman quake and shiver in his boots.

Not Mark.

He digs in his heels, offering a spirited defense of everything he does – whether that's jumping on NBA referees for blowing a call or jumping on board a film project that's bound to make some people downright mad.

All of which got me interested.

I sent Mr. Cuban a long list of questions asking how and why he was involved with Loose Change, a project that reportedly started out as a work of fiction then morphed into a documentary that drew some 10 million Internet viewers last year.

Initially, Mr. Cuban gave me the old stiff arm, sending a terse e-mail in which he quotes the late John F. Kennedy, an odd and apt choice given the conspiracy theories surrounding Kennedy's assassination right around the corner from where I'm writing this column.

"[M]y only response is to quote JFK: 'We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.' "

I'm not going to be lured into a debate with JFK. So I sent Mr. Cuban a follow-up email in which I said the real issue is not about the film per se but rather his involvement.

"Are you concerned," I asked, "that this will cause, for lack of a better term, a political backlash against you or your team?"

To his credit, Mr. Cuban fired back: "I guess I give the people in Dallas more credit for being smart and making up their own minds than you do."

That's not true, people.

I also asked whether his association with the movie might lend credibility to the controversial way it connects the dots of its conspiracy theory?

"I don't believe the movie. Not at all," Mr. Cuban explained. "But I do believe that lies in the shadows are far more dangerous than lies you can confront and refute. There probably will be a movie that responds to this one, and we would be more than happy to distribute it as well, for the very same reason."

For what it's worth, I don't consider Mr. Cuban a loose – make that looser – cannon for financing the distribution of the flick. I watched Loose Change, and its rival, on the Internet and found them both to be quite – how should I put this – amusing.

Both films address probing, provocative questions. The problem I have with Loose Change lies in its answers, many of which are based on loosely strung-together facts, speculations and inferences that, when mixed together, drive conspiracy theorists wild.

That's OK with Mr. Cuban, who doesn't seem to think his role in distributing the film will hurt his image or his team's.

"I happen to think we live in a city of smart and educated people who don't need anyone to censor for them," he said. "They can make up their own minds. Don't you?"

We'll soon find out.

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