Why Did Fox Censor Sally Field's Emmy Speech?

Sunday night at the Emmy Awards, Sally Field, in accepting her honor for best performance in a dramatic series, gave the best performance as a real-life thinking mother who found herself in the privileged position of being center stage with an audience of millions. Before the Fox Network cut off her speech, she attempted to squeeze in a few words about the war in Iraq. What American viewers did not hear her say was: " ... if the mothers ruled the world there would be no goddamn wars in the first place."

Why did the Fox Network censor her words? Was it because of the use of the mild expletive "goddamn"? The awards show censors were definitely on the alert last night to make sure no offensive expletives slipped by. But the producers used a clumsy process of "bleeping" out the words, cutting away from the speaker to wide shots, and excising not only the offending words but whole sentences, thereby effectively silencing a number of speakers. The network that served as the Bush Administration's house organ in the lead-up to the Iraq war -- and is currently trying to spin support for a war against Iran -- must have relished the excuse to block Sally's particular message. Canadian television's airing of the Emmys included her speech uncensored.

In her series Brothers and Sisters, there is an emblematic moment between Field and one of her sons who chooses the military. She referred to this scene earlier in her acceptance speech: "At the heart of [her character] Nora Walker, she is a mother," Field said. "May they be seen, may their work be valued and raised ... especially the mothers who stand with an open heart and wait -- wait for their children to come home from danger, from harm's way and from war." As the music began to swell, signaling she should wrap-up her remarks, she exclaimed, "I'm not finished. I have to finish talking ... if the mothers ruled the world there would be no god . . ." The rest was silenced. Afterwards, informed that she had been cut off, she seemed to take it well: "I've been there before," she said. "If [mothers] ruled the world we wouldn't be sending our children off to be slaughtered. I shouldn't have said the 'god' before the damn."

As she made her speech, some of world's outstanding women leaders, including four Nobel laureates, had just concluded a meeting in Rhinebeck, New York. Sally Field was scheduled to attend the conference titled Women, Power and Peace, organized by activist playwright Eve Ensler and the Omega Institute. The three-day gathering concentrated on "the necessity for women to stand up for what we have always known: that while conflict may be inevitable, war is not; and while disagreement can foster understanding and growth, violence does not." What the Fox censor highlighted was the mainstream media's reluctance to give airtime to antiwar voices. In a notable exception, Cindy Sheehan's pleas to speak with President George Bush about the irretrievable loss of her son temporarily broke through the soundproof wall erected by broadcasters who feed off the Washington elite. But we don't hear much from all the other mothers who have stood firm against the war in Iraq and, indeed, against war in general. We hear all the time from policy analysts, military commanders, and commentators for whom the war in Iraq is an issue for debate.

Even though her words were censored in the moment, the controversy caused by Fox's actions turned Sally Field's message into the headline from the Emmy Awards, instead of a footnote, and opened a much needed conversation that allows mothers, who tend to think first and foremost of the human costs of war, to speak and be heard.

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