National Geographic Is the Big Winner of the Bin Laden Movie Controversy

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If there's no such thing as bad publicity, the National Geographic Channel's decision to premiere an action film about the killing of Osama bin Laden two days before the election was a stroke of marketing genius. Not only is the premier of SEAL Team Six: The Raid on Osama bin Laden gobbling up head lines but it's also lavishing NatGeo's carriers with election season advertising dollars. 

Three weeks after the channel's president went on record with The New York Times to allay criticisms that NatGeo was supporting the president's re-election bid with the timing of the film, the channel is now going on a media blitz hauling out its cast and crew to defend the film's impartiality. In interviews with the Associated Press, Freddy Rodriguez, who plays a Navy SEAL in the film, dismissed accusations of a political agenda as inaccurate yet inevitable in comments published today. "I think people who are in the opposing party are going to say that, of course ... It's almost expected," he said. The channel also hauled out its CEO David Lyle and Rodriguez's female co-start Kathleen Robertson to hit the message home. "I think the end titles run longer than Obama's time on screen," Lyle said.

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Apparently relishing a media scrap, the channel also took a shot at The New York Times' Michael Cieply and Brian Stelter last night for reporting that the movie "may step toward the risk zone" by portraying Muslim children who were present during the raid on bin Laden's compound. In a statement to Politico, director John Stockwell blasted the throw away line as "nonsensical."  

"The insinuation by The New York Times that our film ‘SEAL Team Six,’ contains scenes that might be incendiary to the Muslim world, because of the ‘jeopardy to Muslim children during the assault on Osama bin Laden’s compound’ is nonsensical and took us all by surprise — as we went to great lengths to highlight the care and the control that the SEALs showed during the chaos of the raid — not to harm any women and children,” Stockwell. “This film is dedicated to the men and women of the armed forces and intelligence community who sacrifice, for us, everyday. We have tried to portray them accurately and with respect.”

Of course, the reason the film is controversial is not because of scenes with Muslim children but because of the film's principal financial backer Harvey Weinstein, a longtime Democrat and agressive fundraiser for President Obama. The aspect of the Times report that really caught attention this week was the revelation that the film was re-edited to give President Obama a "starring role" in the 90-minute film as well as the uncut version's use of Mitt Romney "appearing to oppose the raid."

The report lit up the blogosphere and raised the profile of the channel looking to boost its exposure ahead of its fall lineup. (The channel, available in 85 million homes, is relatively low rated at 37th among cable channels at prime time.) Now, a conservative Navy SEAL group called Special Operations OPSEC Education Fund is buying up advertisements from NatGeo carriers in swing states to oppose President Obama. According to The Daily Caller, the carrier cities include "Tampa, Orlando, Miami, Denver, Las Vegas, Charlotte, Raleigh, Cincinnati and Richmond." The ad is called "A Bump in the Road" narrated by the group's president Scott Taylor who says the president leaked classified secrets to filmmaker's as LA's Hollywood sign flashes in the background.

Say what you want about the film's political motivations—Weinstein has a demonstrated affinity for playing politics for Team Obama, while Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., which owns NatGeo, does not—but it's becoming clear that running the film ahead of the election had plenty of incentives outside of mere politics. “Other than being commercially opportunistic, we weren’t considering the election,” NatGeo's Howard Owens told the Times. And all this media attention doesn't hurt either.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.