Aaron Sorkin, You Magnificent Bastard!
The title of this essay is a paraphrase from the 1970 movie Patton, dialogue in which World War II General George S. Patton, Jr., says, referring to Rommel’s book, “Infantry Attacks”: “Rommel… you magnificent bastard, I read your book!
Aaron Sorkin is quite possibly the best screenwriter working in Hollywood today.
I look at his IMDb filmography and I see movie after movie that I love, including Charlie Wilson’s War, The Social Network, Moneyball, and — yes — The American President. I watched every episode of his signature TV series, The West Wing, watched most episodes of his sitcom Sports Night, and I’ve set my DVR to record all first-run episodes of the TV series he’s created, writes, and executive produces on HBO, The Newsroom.
When I’ve given talks to libertarian audiences about why they need to support libertarian authors and filmmakers like me in getting our projects financed and distributed, Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue in The American President is often one of the examples I use as to how “the other side” uses mass entertainment media to present their propaganda as unchallenged facts. Sorkin’s screenplay for The American President peppers Michael J. Fox’s character’s dialogue (a presidential advisor) with false-to-fact propaganda from the Brady campaign about how privately held guns increase violent crime, but has no problem with his fictitious President Andrew Shepherd (Michael Douglas) sending weapons systems to Israel for their defense. Then in a climactic press conference President Shepherd advocates that the Second Amendment be trashed by having government soldiers going door-to-door to collect Americans’ privately-owned handguns, because — in this Imperial President’s personal opinion — private gun ownership is a clear and present danger to public safety.
Oh, yeah. The rest of the sparkling political dialogue Sorkin gives his characters in The American President is horseshit about how the internal combustion engine needs to be eliminated because man-made carbon dioxide emissions — a greenhouse gas that represents less than one percent of ordinary cloud-carried water vapor — is threatening life on this planet.
Don’t misunderstand me. The American President is a brilliantly written high-concept romantic comedy wonderfully directed by Rob Reiner with superb acting performances throughout by a sterling cast led by Michael Douglas, Annette Bening, Martin Sheen, Michael J. Fox, and Richard Dreyfuss. It has a great Korngoldesque film score by Marc Shaiman. It’s one of my favorite movies that I’ve watched probably two dozen times. It’s just that when I’m watching it I realize that in about half a day I could rewrite the script retaining all the exact same plot points and character interactions, except that it would be a Republican President falling in love with the chief lobbyist of the NRA. The propaganda in this movie is just a fill-in-the-blank operation, the politics grafted on without affecting plot or character arcs, and the exact same characters and storyline could be used to propagandize anything.
Alfred Hitchcock called that which motivates the plot as “the McGuffin.”
Aaron Sorkin uses politics in his scripts solely as a McGuffin.
Sorkin just pulled the same crap on the latest episode of his new series, The Newsroom, but I need a few more paragraphs before I get to that. Apologies if I’m burying my lead; but I’m writing commentary, not news.
On the day I’m writing this the Los Angeles Times is reporting in its national news section on an incident in an Internet cafe in Florida, where a 71-year-old man with a handgun-license-to-carry used his pocket policeman to chase two armed robbers out of the store, slightly wounding one of them. This was particularly notable to me because back in the 1990′s, when I was writing Op-Eds on handgun-related topics for the Los Angeles Times, the Times would not report defensive-gun-uses on its news pages, and I stopped selling Op-Eds to the Times‘ editors after I organized a lunch-hour demonstration in front of the Times‘ downtown L.A. editorial offices when they ran a five-day editorial series calling for a complete gun ban.
I’m also writing this as the Fox News Channel is covering a just-released (but classified) FBI report on the November 5, 2009 shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, where a single military officer with a handgun he’d illegally brought onto the base was able to reduce dozens of disarmed army soldiers — some of them just returning from deployment in Iraqi and Afghani war zones — to running away, crawling away, and screaming like teenagers at Columbine High School. This happened because classified regulations put into place at the same time the Clinton administration was pushing the Brady Act and the Assaults Weapons Ban, not altered during the eight years of the George W. Bush administration, and not declassified until the Obama administration — removed from base commanders the decision to authorize soldiers on base to carry sidearms or rifles with them, and transferred that authority to the politically-appointed Secretary of the Army with a civilian-pro-gun-control agenda guaranteeing it would never happen.
Now to Aaron Sorkin’s current series, The Newsroom.
The Newsroom is about a network anchorman (Jeff Daniels) whose nightly news casts have been tabloidish to increase ratings, but whose boss (Sam Waterston) decides to return the program to the earlier standards of Murrow, Cronkite, and Huntley-Brinkley, and report the news focusing only on facts and information informed voters need. In fact, this is not what the plot shows them doing; the news reports in the show instead follow in the muckraker tradition of Pulitzer and Hearst, columnists like Drew Pearson, and CBS’s Mike Wallace.
We are repeatedly informed by Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue that Jeff Daniel’s anchorman character, Will McAvoy, is a conservative Republican, but every target of his ire is one that is anathema to the progressive left and labor movement — George W. Bush, Karl Rove, Wall Street bankers, the Tea Party, the NRA, Charles and David Koch, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Halliburton, Dick Cheney, Bill O’Reilly, and just about everyone else on Fox News and talk radio. In a country in which Neocons have brought to the American right all the lying scumbag tactics the Wilsonian/Stalinst/Castroist hard left refined for close to a century, there’s plenty of lies, corruption, and hypocrisy to be exposed.
I, myself, spend much of my time writing about the lies of the Neocon/Pentagon/Homeland Security axis-of-evil — a lot of my ire was directed at all the right-wing talking heads asking only whether Fort Hood shooter Major Nidal Hasan was a Muslim terrorist or just a wack-job, and never asking why our own army was disarmed and had to dial 911 to wait for a female civilian cop to show up and save them — and most recently have criticized the NRA for abandoning its forever-used bumper-sticker “Guns Don’t Kill, People Kill” by blaming the BATFE Project Gunrunner firearms possibly authorized by President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder — and not blaming the criminals who shot U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.
The problem is, when you expose only the lies and hypocrisy of your enemies, you’re an in-the-tank partisan propagandist.
When you never acknowledge the virtues of your enemies it’s also propaganda.
Sorkin pulled this in Charlie Wilson’s War by passing over Charlie Wilson’s alliance with President Ronald Reagan in arming the Afghan rebels during the Soviet occupation with shoulder-fired missiles they used to bring down Soviet attack helicopters.
It’s a sin of omission that General Patton never made with respect to his German counterpart.
Today I finally got around to watching the episode of The Newsroom my DVR recorded this past Sunday, July 15th, titled, “I’ll Try to Fix You.” The “lie” exposed on this program broadcast in 2012 is a truth for the 2010 time period the show takes place, when it was a Fox News, right-wing talk radio, and NRA mantra that “Obama is coming for your guns.” During that period, the Obama administration was — correctly portrayed on the show — not pushing a pro-gun-control legislative agenda before Congress.
But that’s a lie by omission.
On March 18, 2008, U.S. Solicitor General Paul D. Clement represented the Obama administration in oral arguments before the Supreme Court of the United States in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), arguing that the Second Amendment was not intended to protect an individual right to keep and bear arms, but that the intent of the amendment was merely to ensure an armed militia with officers appointed by the President and no longer present in contemporary America — an attempt by the Obama administration to neuter constitutional recognition of private ownership of guns as an individual right … a necessary precondition to any such legislative agenda.
The Supreme Court ruled otherwise, and again treated the Second Amendment as protecting an individual right to own guns in McDonald v. Chicago, 130 S. Ct. 3020 (2010).
Nor, on the date of first broadcast of this episode of The Newsroom, when the Obama administration’s Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is attempting to bypass the Constitutional protection by supporting the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs proposed Treaty on Small Arms that would ban private gun ownership worldwide, it’s another lie-by-omission to write a fictitious 2010 news report ridiculing the NRA, Glenn Beck, and Rush Limbaugh for sounding an alarm that the Obama administration favored banning American private gun ownership.
Sorkin could argue that as a writer, and an American citizen, he has the right to disagree with the Supreme Court. I agree. But his method of writing on these topics is entirely one-sided. He always puts the strongest face possible on the arguments he agrees with, and either doesn’t present any argument for the other side or presents its weakest rebuttal.
But then Aaron Sorkin puts dialogue into his characters’ mouths that are just outright lies.
In a scene in this episode Will McAvoy is invited by a woman to go into her purse looking for a joint, and he instead finds a loaded handgun in the purse. He asks her about it.
Here’s the exact scene, dialogue injected by Aaron Sorkin into the mouths of the actor’s he’s paying:
Her: I’m a Southern liberal, dude. It’s Northern liberals who are afraid of sex and guns.
Him: Well, both at the same time and I’m a Republican from Nebraska. But do you mind if I — ?
He unloads the gun and hands it to her; she accepts the gun without checking herself to make sure it’s unloaded, violating a basic safety rule taught in all NRA pistol safety courses.
Her: You’re disarming. Get it?
Him: Here’s the thing –
Her: (interrupting): Yeah, yeah. I saw the show tonight. I’m a liberal’s liberal; I worked for Hillary. You were dead wrong on guns.
Him: I didn’t take a position on guns. I took a position on lying. I came out against it.
Her: “Well, if I’m walking the streets of Manhattan at night and a guy your size wants to rape me (raising gun, pointing it at Him) then this is gonna happen.
Him: Actually, statistics show that this is gonna happen.
He slaps the gun into the air and catches it.
Aaron Sorkin can write anything he wants to in his script, and as the showrunner the director and actors have to say the words he’s written and play the action the way he wrote it.
And that artificially created reality is how propaganda in entertainment works. If it honestly reflects reality, no harm, no foul. If it represents the writer’s honest opinion, it’s the First Amendment, babe.
But when the statistic quoted is provably false, then the writer has a moral obligation to fact check, even in fiction, or it’s a God damned lie.
I’ve written non-fiction on guns and criminology. A lot.
My 1994 book Stopping Power: Why 70 Million Americans Own Guns made me a celebrity to the Second Amendment movement. Charlton Heston wrote of the book, “”Mr. Schulman’s book is the most cogent explanation of the gun issue I have yet read. He presents the assault on the Second Amendment in frighteningly clear terms. Even the extremists who would ban firearms will learn from his lucid prose.”
Dennis Prager who had opposed private ownership of guns, told his national radio audience, “He has truly helped change my mind on guns and self-defense.”
Liberal Los Angeles talk-show host Michael Jackson said of me on his KABC radio show, “His research is impeccable. Nobody expresses the other side better.”
My writings on firearms have been used by witnesses on both sides of the gun-control debate in congressional hearings before the House Subcommittee on Crime.
One chapter from Stopping Power was chosen to be reprinted in the book Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Controversial Issues in Health and Society, Second Edition, Edited by Eileen K. Daniel, (Dushkin Publishing Group/Brown & Benchmark Publishers, 1996), as rebuttal to “Guns in the Household” by Jerome P. Kassirer, MD, editor of the New England Journal of Medicine. Another chapter, “Talk At Temple Beth Shir Shalom,” was reprinted in the book, Guns in America : A Reader , Jan E. Dizard, editor (New York University Press, 1999), and my chapter was praised in the Village Voice’s review as “a tough Jew manifesto.”
And, I’m webmaster of The World Wide Web Gun Defense Clock that calculates and comparies the number of defensive-gun-uses to criminal uses, suicides, and accidents, based on peer-reviewed academic, and law-enforcement, criminological studies.
Here are the actual facts on Defensive Gun Use that Aaron Sorkin has spent his professional career as a screenwriter ignoring or lying about:
According to the National Self Defense Survey conducted by Florida State University criminologists in 1994, the rate of Defensive Gun Uses can be projected nationwide to approximately 2.5 million per year — one Defensive Gun Use every 13 seconds.
Among 15.7% of gun defenders interviewed nationwide during The National Self Defense Survey, the defender believed that someone “almost certainly” would have died had the gun not been used for protection — a life saved by a privately held gun about once every 1.3 minutes. (In another 14.2% cases, the defender believed someone “probably” would have died if the gun hadn’t been used in defense.)
In 83.5% of these successful gun defenses, the attacker either threatened or used force first — disproving the myth that having a gun available for defense wouldn’t make any difference.
In 91.7% of these incidents the defensive use of a gun did not wound or kill the criminal attacker (and the gun defense wouldn’t be called “newsworthy” by newspaper or TV news editors). In 64.2% of these gun-defense cases, the police learned of the defense, which means that the media could also find out and report on them if they chose to.
In 73.4% of these gun-defense incidents, the attacker was a stranger to the intended victim. (Defenses against a family member or intimate were rare — well under 10%.) This disproves the myth that a gun kept for defense will most likely be used against a family member or someone you love.
In over half of these gun defense incidents, the defender was facing two or more attackers — and three or more attackers in over a quarter of these cases. (No means of defense other than a firearm — martial arts, pepper spray, or stun guns — gives a potential victim a decent chance of getting away uninjured when facing multiple attackers.)
In 79.7% of these gun defenses, the defender used a concealable handgun. A quarter of the gun defenses occured in places away from the defender’s home.
Source: “Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self-Defense with a Gun,” by Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz, in The Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology, Northwestern University School of Law, Volume 86, Number 1, Fall, 1995
So, the statistic put into Jeff Daniels mouth, along with directed action which “proves” it, turns out to be a lie.
And on a TV show the theme of which is that Aaron Sorkin’s political foes are liars, Mr. Sorkin is lying.
Note: I wrote this the day before the mass theater shootings in Aurora, Colorado. You can count on gun-control advocates like Aaron Sorkin to argue as they have after previous shootings that gun-control could have stopped this. It’s another provable lie, since the strictest gun control in Dunblane, Scotland — or even mass killings using a knife in Akihabara and Osaka, Japan — have never stopped these kinds of unprovoked massacres.
A public with a critical mass of individuals carrying handguns, ready at all times to shoot back at sudden attackers, has worked to minimize casualties from terrorist attacks in Israel. See The Israeli Answer to Terrorism by Massad Ayoob
I cover the Aurora shootings in detail in my next article, Stopping the jokers– JNS
Winner of the Special Jury Prize for Libertarian Ideals from the 2011 Anthem Film Festival! My comic thriller Lady Magdalene’s — a movie I wrote, produced, directed, and acted in it — is now available free on the web linked from the official movie website. If you like the way I think, I think you’ll like this movie. Check it out!