In a discussion with Fox News correspondent Ed Henry on The O’Reilly Factor for April 30th, Bill O’Reilly argued that “selling heroin is not nonviolent.”
Eliminating the double negative, O’Reilly is saying that the act of selling heroin is an act of violence.
Bill O’Reilly, one of the most highly watched TV pundits of our time, either doesn’t understand English language usage or he’s deliberately conflating non-violent and violent acts in a misuse of language that would alarm George Orwell, who in his novel Nineteen-eighty-four warned of a “Newspeak” that equates opposites: “War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.” Eric Blair, writing with the pen name George Orwell, argued that the confusion of opposites is a precondition to negating thoughtful resistance to totalitarianism.
On the premise that Bill O’Reilly is, himself, confused — rather than deliberately misusing his platform to disarm his audience intellectually — let me clarify.
Here — Bill O’Reilly — are acts of violence:
- Throwing a punch at someone.
- Stabbing someone.
- Holding down someone and forcing a sexual act.
- Shooting someone.
- Exploding a bomb in a crowd.
- Flying jetliners into an office tower.
- Holding someone down and making them consume a toxic substance or injecting a toxic substance into their body against their will.
Here — Bill O’Reilly — are acts that contain no element of violence:
- Possessing something.
- Transporting something.
- Concealing something.
- Offering something in exchange for something else.
- Giving something in exchange for something else.
- Accepting something in exchange for something else.
- Applying to someone’s body, at their request or with their consent, a medicinal, pharmacological, or otherwise biologically active substance.
Violence does not exist without force. Selling heroin to a consenting buyer is not a forcible act.
If I sell someone a car, it’s not my responsibility to make sure the buyer won’t drive that car drunk, or while texting.
If I sell someone guitar strings it’s not my responsibility to anticipate the possibility the E string would be used as a Garrote wire to assassinate someone.
If I sell someone cutlery it’s not my job to run a criminal background check to make sure a carving knife will not be used to commit a murder.
Heroin is merely one of dozens of opiates that can be used for pain management. Like cars, guitar strings, and dinnerware it can also be misused.
A free civilization attempts no more than preventing individuals by force or deceit from injuring others. When, instead, some people impose their will on others, whether for reasons of avarice or altruism, it is always the hubris of those who think themselves better than others and thus should rule their inferiors.
There’s an old word for that in the English language: aristocracy.
There are other words: busybody and meddler are the kindest; bully and fascist are less kind.
You have a voice. Freedom allows you to attempt to convince others that you have something to teach them, and your large audience suggests you’re good at that. You want to tell your big audience that heroin is habit-forming, and that it’s also risky using it because heroin distribution is controlled by violent illegal cartels, that’s accurate information.
John Stossel would also argue that decriminalization of a product monopolized by violent illegal cartels — as the word “decriminalize” defines — would make selling heroin in a Walmart no more violent than selling ibuprofen, single-malt scotch, or Redline.
But when you go beyond your rhetorical gift of moral persuasion and avuncular advice — when you use your position to advocate for the use of force to impose your beliefs on others — you’re no different than the criminal or terrorist co-conspirator who also believes the civilized restraint of foregoing force in dealing with others doesn’t apply to them, either.
Cross that line — even using the excuse that you’ve engaged police, bureaucrats, and soldiers to do the dirty work for you — you’re a megalomaniac criminal sociopath and an enemy of the free.
“We are no longer scattered among the nations, powerless to defend ourselves. We restored our sovereignty in our ancient home. And the soldiers who defend our home have boundless courage. For the first time in 100 generations, we, the Jewish people, can defend ourselves. This is why — this is why, as a prime minister of Israel, I can promise you one more thing: Even if Israel has to stand alone, Israel will stand.”
–Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Speech to Joint Session of the United States Congress, March 3, 2015
Q: If Israel attacked Iran to prevent Tehran from getting nuclear weapons, would you help?
REP. RON PAUL: I wouldn’t do that, because I don’t expect it to happen. A Mossad leader said it would be the stupidest thing to do in the world. They’re not about to do this. And you’re supposing that if it did, why does Israel need our help? We need to get out of their way. When they want to have peace treaties, we tell them what they can do because we buy their allegiance and they sacrifice their sovereignty to us. And then they decide they want to bomb something, that’s their business, but they should suffer the consequences. When they bombed the Iraqi nuclear site, back in the ’80s, I was one of the few in Congress that said it’s none of our business and Israel should take care of themselves. Why do we have this automatic commitment that we’re going to send our kids and send our money endlessly to Israel?
–2011 CNN National Security GOP primary debate Nov 22, 2011
I just saw on Turner Movie Classics Humphrey Bogart’s last movie, as a sports writer turned boxing promoter, from 1956, The Harder They Fall. It’s about an oversized South American named Toro Moreno (Mike Lane) who, despite having zero boxing skills and a glass jaw, wins 23 heavyweight fights by the simple expedient of all 23 opponents being paid to take dives. So when Toro Moreno is finally in a real bout against the real world heavyweight boxing champion, he goes down in the third round with a broken jaw, and lasting that long only because his strategy is to stay away from the champ as long as possible.
The State of Israel has prevailed in all its wars to date beginning in 1948 against the combined military forces of Egypt, Syria, Transjordan and Iraq; in 1967′s Six Day War against Egypt, Jordan, Syria and Iraq; in 1973′s Yom Kippur War against Egyptian and Syrian forces; in 1976 Israeli commandos successfully rescued 102 Israeli hostages from Entebbe, Uganda; and Israel prevailed against the Palestinian Liberation Organization attacking from Lebanon in 1978 and various additional attacks from Palestinian Arabs, including rocket attacks, in the years since. In 1981 the Israeli air force destroyed Iraq’s sole nuclear reactor, under construction outside Baghdad.
Israel is rumored to possess a nuclear arsenal as well as chemical and biological weapons — but rumor is all it is since Israel has never admitted to it and no objective proof of Israel’s status as a nuclear power has ever been offered.
So I imagine a poker game in which the players are U.S. President Barack Obama; Supreme leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei; King Salman of Saudi Arabia; Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu; and Dr. Ron Paul.
King Salman is holding markers from the United States and Barack Obama is holding markers from Israel. It’s an open secret that it’s not entirely an honest game because some players can signal other players; yet it’s still interesting because the players do conceal their true hands and the game is based almost entirely on the ability of several of the players to bluff the others. Dr. Ron Paul, the only player who’s not a Head of State, has been allowed into the game only because he’s willing to play all his cards openly and his cards inform the other players.
Iran and Israel both have to convince the other players that they have powerful hands (military forces) to remain in the game. Israel has to convince the other players that it has a nuclear arsenal and Iran has to convince the other players that it can have a nuclear arsenal in short order.
The United States has a massive nuclear arsenal and the most deployable, effective, and well-armed military in human history. But the United States is in massive debt and to avoid what I’ve termed Yankruptcy has to use its military in ways pleasing to foreign powers such as Saudi Arabia, which is willing to inject massive amounts of investment capital into the United States economy all the while financing radical Wahabis whose agenda is an Islamic caliphate that attacks or at least dominates the United States and as many other powers as possible.
Dr. Ron Paul is showing four Aces in Hearts.
King Salman has four Aces in Diamonds.
Ali Khamenei has a pair of jacks in Clubs.
Barack Obama is holding a Royal Flush in Spades. (Racial reference acknowledged but unavoidable — it’s simply the highest hand possible in Poker.)
Barack Obama is the only player who actually knows the cards in Netanyahu’s hand.
King Salman is using his markers to signal Barack Obama both to fold and to use its markers with Israel to signal Netanyahu to fold.
The outcome of this game is entirely in the hands of Benjamin Netanyahu because Neyanyahu is the best player at the table and is utterly willing to raise to the maximum regardless of his hand.
But ironically, if Obama successfully uses his marker to get Netanyahu to fold, and himself folds because King Salman wants him to, then Ron Paul wins the hand.
There is something inherently wrong with the armed forces that defend us. We now know the Veterans Administration ignored hundreds of sick veterans begging for medical care to the point where some, perhaps many, lingered and died while waiting for treatment in a rigged system. At the same time we know the Pentagon is knocking itself out to render special treatment for a homosexual/transexual private convicted under the Espionage Act — a traitor, not a whistleblower. Let’s review. Private Bradley Manning, now known as Chelsea Elizabeth Manning, is serving a 30-year sentence at Fort Leavenworth for making public more than 700,000 classified documents. He did this while serving as a low-level intelligence officer in Iraq. He also latched on to an Apache helicopter mission that resulted in civilian casualties. Manning passed on this mountain of explosive secrets to Wikileaks traitor Julian Assange and another fellow computer hacker who ultimately turned him into the feds. Considering time already spent in the brig Private Manning, who is diagnosed as suffering from gender dysphoria, will be eligible for parole in seven years. In the meantime he’s demanding transfer to a civilian prison so he can avail himself of hormone therapy, something the Army does not do. In fact, Army policy prohibits transgenders from serving. Figure that one out. The feckless Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, is bent on banishing this restriction and allowing transgenders in he Army so the public would be forced to pay for expensive transgender medical treatment, including sex-change operations. You might call this idea just one more iteration of Obamacare. Private Manning says he wants to live life as a woman from now on and the ever-willing left, along with their cohorts in the media, now refer to Private Manning as “her” and “she.” His legal name change is seen as enough reason to change his gender. He even posed for a picture wearing a blonde wig and lipstick. Policy makers for our military forces especially in the Army have created a public square to experiment with social change. Inevitably they have had to face the consequences of caving in to the latest fashion forced on them by liberal agendas. Private Manning’s story is that of a mentally disturbed young man with a history of trouble in and out of the Army whose ego led him to betray his country. Why must taxpayers indulge him?
–Liz Trotta, America’s News Headquarters Commentary, FNC, May 17, 2014
I’ve been aware for a long time that commentators on the Fox News Channel get away with the most extremely jingoistic, the most atavistic, the most bigoted opinions in weekend commentaries that would make even the average weekday Fox viewer cringe.
But the commentary quoted above from FNC’s Liz Trotta managed to surprise even me.
My friend, Brad Linaweaver, calls Fox News the Pentagon Channel because of all the 24-hour news channels Fox is the one that tends to support the agenda of those who find the Pentagon’s ungodly budget always too small, no projection of military force anywhere in the world too unattractive, and no invasion of privacy or restriction of liberty unnecessary. After seeing lively debates on Fox on all these subjects — often dragging in quasi-libertarians like Senator Rand Paul or in-house personalities like Bob Beckel or Kennedy to take the opposition — I’d have to say that Brad is being only slightly sardonic.
But unquestionably Fox, like much of the degraded talk-radio right today, has adopted the worst propaganda techniques that used to be the patented reserve of party-line Communists and World War II era Nazis. It’s a perfect storm of spinning half truths or facts presented in a misleading context, tunnel-vision ideology, and ad hominem slurs replacing reasoned discourse.
This was the technique perfected by Hitler’s propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, but for those not a student of history like Mr. Linaweaver, one needs go no further than the average anonymous Internet troll to find this level of vile attack.
In the above commentary Ms. Trotta manages to conflate the Department of Veterans Affairs — which does not treat active military — with the Army’s healthcare policies for active-duty military, and conflates both with the Affordable Care Act that addresses only civilian medical care.
Ms. Trotta manages to forget that homosexuals now serve openly in the U.S. military forces so a “feckless” Defense Secretary (who as an Army volunteer serving in combat earned two Purple Hearts) considering extending this policy to transgenders isn’t that much of a stretch.
But Ms. Trotta — in both managing to dismiss “gender dysphoria” as a treatable medical condition while simultaneously dismissing transgendering as a passing fashion — also does not know or chooses to ignore that as late as 1973 the American Psychiatric Association listed homosexuality in its official diagnostic manual as a mental illness.
Private Chelsea Manning formerly Specialist Bradley Manning
Visible on uniform: National Defense Service Medal,
Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal,
Army Service Ribbon, Army Overseas Service Ribbon,
10th Mountain Division Combat Service Identification Badge,
One Overseas Service Bar, One Service stripe
As recently as last year’s Libertopia conference I objected publicly to the pre-name-change Bradley Manning being referred to as “her” or “she.” My reason — ineloquently expressed in an inappropriately caustic tone of voice — was that I considered it an Orwellian demand to ignore the evidence of the senses and refer to a biological male using feminine pronouns. My objection was not to transgendering but that transgendering — actual gender reassignment of a biological male into a biological female capable of achieving a natural pregnancy — was not yet medically possible.
Stand a naked man and a naked woman up in front of a child. Ask the child to identify the gender of each. I think it would be a crime against the human mind to correct the child who sees a human being with male genitalia and demand that the child refer to that person as “she” or “her.”
But I was not a child when I made my angry remarks and I should have been capable of parsing the issues of gender reassignment without using as a rhetorical device a human being I consider a hero — Chelsea Manning.
Chelsea Manning is listed by that name in the Special Thanks of my movie, Alongside Night.
My own past mistakes aside, I regard that Liz Trotta’s objections to Chelsea Manning being referred to as “her” or “she” is unadulterated bigotry.
Trotta’s wrapping herself in the flag while attacking both a Vietnam-era Purple-Heart veteran and branding as a traitor and sexually slurring an Iraq War Army volunteer whose conscience led her to expose video of war crimes buried by being classified is vile.
Exercise of conscience in defense of justice, Ms. Trotta, is not exercise of ego. It’s an American value and should be a Fox News value.
Calling Private Manning a traitor is also a lie. Private Manning was never charged with treason, much less convicted of it.
Referring to Wikileaks editor, Julian Assange, as a traitor is worse than a lie. It’s moronic, inasmuch as Julian Assange is not and never has been an American.
I am revolted by supposedly “conservative” commentators like Liz Trotta who — if they’d been reporting events at the Old North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts April 19. 1775, would have commented that the Americans shooting at British military were traitors. What values does Liz Trotta wish to “conserve” — the mindless support for tyranny that this country fought a bloody revolution to end?
Respect for individual differences is an American value and should be a Fox News value, Ms. Trotta.
Belief in acting to achieve justice above robotic obedience to authority is an American value and should be a Fox News value, Ms. Trotta.
And respect for heroes who put themselves in harm’s way to protect you is an American value and should be a Fox News value, Ms. Trotta.
If Fox News wants to criticize the Army, let it be that the Army still disarms soldiers on base so they have to dial 911 for civilian police to defend them from crazy people shooting at them.
The right of human beings — much less Americans, much less the Army — to defend themselves against enemies shooting at them should also be a Fox News value, Ms. Trotta.
My fellow libertarian friend, the multi-talented Brad Linaweaver, called me up today more upset than usual with one of his favorite pin cushions, Bill O’Reilly, host of the Fox News Channel’s The O’Reilly Factor, which — as Fox endlessly tells us — has dominated its time slot now for 14 years. On today’s show O’Reilly, a drug warrior nonpareil — managed to shock even fellow drug warrior Charles Krauthammer with his suggestions that if he, O’Reilly, were the Drug Czar there would be drug dealers hanging in the United States and drug addicts would be doing multi-year rehabs in Singapore style concentration camps.
I’ve written about O’Reilly before, in an article first published in the July 15, 2009 issue of The New Gun Week, and reprinted here, titled “A Shadow on the Second Amendment.”
In that article I wrote:
The Second Amendment movement just can’t tolerate a Bill O’Reilly who – knowing that Dr. Tiller had previously been shot at and his clinic bombed — repeatedly and editorially called George Tiller a “baby killer.” O’Reilly boasts The O’Reilly Factor has the highest ratings in cable/satellite television news. O’Reilly knew there are always psychotics waiting for a justification to commit mad violence and it was as foreseeable endlessly repeating “Tiller the Baby Killer” was inviting murder as it was for King Henry II’s infamous remark that led to the assassination of Thomas à Becket: “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?”
Brad and I agree that a homicidal habit of fantasizing or even encouraging people’s deaths should be a deal killer for a responsible network, regardless of how high Better Dead Lists drive a show’s ratings.
Nevertheless ratings are what drives commercial television so if Fox were finally to get weary of their high-rated sociopath, maybe there’s a TV star who just lost his job that might be a high-ratings replacement, himself. I wrote about this star in my previous article here.
Jay Leno / Bill O’Reilly
Last Thursday, February 6th, NBC’s number-one-late-night star — Tonight Show host Jay Leno — did his last show. As I previously wrote, with rare exception The Tonight Show with Jay Leno held first place in the 11:35 PM ET/PT late-night time slot ratings since 1995, winning the late-night war for NBC against competition such as David Letterman on CBS, Jimmy Kimmel on ABC, and currently syndicated reruns on Fox. At the time of his last Tonight Show Jay Leno was considered one of the top-five most popular TV stars.
A lot of people have speculated that after it sinks in with Jay that he’s not going to be happy tinkering around with his cars, and that club and Vegas gigs won’t satisfy his addiction to being a comedy star, he’s going to want a new TV show. They’ve suggested that Fox might be a new home for Leno.
They’re right, but it’s the wrong Fox.
Jay Leno has all the qualifications — plus a massive existing fan base who already miss him — to take over Bill O’Reilly’s time slot on the Fox News Channel.
Jay Leno is wittier than Bill O’Reilly. He’s as used to interviewing presidents, experts, and celebrities as Bill O’Reilly. He’s been a ratings king even longer than Bill O’Reilly. He’s a conservative populist like Bill O’Reilly acceptable to the Fox News older demographic. And — best of all — Jay’s not a bullying fascist like Bill O’Reilly, whom I’ve felt for a long time is Burt Lancaster’s J.J. Hunsecker in 1957′s The Sweet Smell of Success or Andy Griffith’s ‘Lonesome’ Rhodes in that same year’s A Face in the Crowd.
Roger Ailes — I got your Bill O’Reilly problem solved right here. You might want to make the call fast, though, before CNN grabs Jay and puts O’Reilly’s ratings into the Tail Spin Zone.
Addendum, February 12th: On today’s O’Reilly Factor during the mail segment O’Reilly managed to come down on both sides of the death penalty for drug dealers. First he responded to a viewer letter asking if he favored the death penalty for drug dealers by saying he opposed the death penalty but favored harsh prison sentences. Then afterwards he read a reader letter: “Having been to Singapore where drug smuggling brings a death sentence, I can tell you that it works” — O’Reilly said nothing. This juxtaposition of letters in which O’Reilly’s final word is quoted from a viewer without objection — with the preplanned backstop that, “Well, I’d just said I was opposed to the death penalty for drug dealers” — is the sort of rhetorical loop-de-loop that is the hallmark of a master propagandist who admires the unfettered efficiency of homicidal totalitarians but hides behind ambiguity because unambiguous clarity would end him.
The plot description on my DirecTV says it all: “A rape victim refuses to cooperate.”
The show is the immensely popular NBC police procedural, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, about a New York City squad of detectives from a fictitious New York City Police Department 16th Precinct, assigned to investigate rapes, sexual assaults, and other sexually-related crimes. The show described above is the 327th episode with an original scheduled air date of November 13, 2013.
Cast of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit
But how does that plot description even make sense? Isn’t rape, by definition, such that if there is consent by a person over the “age of consent,” there could be no rape? And that means that the general plot description of “A rape victim refuses to cooperate” would apply to every rape?
Logic dictates that refusal to cooperate lies elsewhere.
And it does. It is the police investigation that the victim is refusing to cooperate with.
But if the victim is not laying a charge of rape before the police to begin with, how is there even a crime for the Special Victims Unit to investigate?
There is an assumption in criminal law that every television writer or producer or director or actor never questions: that the police detective, empowered with a shield and a gun issued by the government, has authority to investigate a crime regardless of the victim’s wishes. There is an eminent domain, or nationalization, of crime, such that the victim is no longer the private person but the State.
The very concept of “criminal” as opposed to “tort” law demands this assumption. In suits at common law not involving a breach of contract, a private person claiming to have been damaged by another person sues in court for a monetary award in reparation of the damages.
But in criminal law a crime committed by Party A against Party B substitutes a third party — the State — as a new Party C. This substitution does not require the consent of the actual, real-world victim — Party B. The State does not need to compensate Party B in any way; Party B is on his or her own to pursue damages in a civil lawsuit which is not in any way paid for by the State. The State is not obligated to provide a lawyer to the victim, nor pay for deposition of witnesses or expert witnesses, and if the lawsuit fails the victim might be additionally damaged by the State with a bill for court costs.
Yet, in the State’s pursuit of Party A for the crime against Party B, the State uses taxpayer funds to pay police to investigate, and prosecutors to charge and try, Party A — then to apply punishment upon conviction to Party A, also at taxpayer expense.
The idiocy and injustice of the concept of criminal “justice” where the real-world victim is nothing but an unwilling spectator is so apparent that in recent years criminal trials often involve “victim impact statements” and the attempt to redirect a modicum of reparation from the offender to the real victim. Nonetheless, the primary victim in criminal law is the State, sometimes euphemized as The People.
This bullshit is what makes anarchists and Agorists. Anarchists and Agorists see the nudity behind this Emperor’s New Clothes scheme that dwarfs any Ponzi scheme committed by a Bernie Madoff.
And now, you who are not an anarchist or Agorist, may see it too, and realize how everyday television is so fish-in-water that this Larceny of Crime isn’t even questioned.
Morality demands that a crime victim not be revictimized with a second crime by depriving the victim of the sole right to determine whether or not to proceed with a claim against the attacker, and to define in a claim what might be an attempt at reparation.
Of course some crimes are so heinous that no reparation can be made. It’s the flimflam of inventing the concept of punishment inflicted upon a perpetrator by the State that we all become victims of State Larceny — a theft of victimhood that only total abolition of any “Law & Order” separate from a victim’s individual rights and conducted by a criminal conspiracy of police and prosecutors can begin to correct. And these moral criminals being made heroes in Statist Propaganda TV is how the flimflam is made Unquestionable.
As we approach November 22, 2013 — the fiftieth anniversary of the JFK assassination — I thought it was appropriate for me to remind those who follow me as an author and filmmaker that the thing I’ve written that has reached a wider audience than anything else in my four decade career was the script for The Twilight Zone I wrote in 1985, “Profile in Silver,” that the CBS television network broadcast in prime time on March 7, 1986.
New documentaries and docudramas being cranked out for this grim anniversary focus on the question of whether Lee Harvey Oswald was a lone assassin or whether there was a conspiracy to end the JFK presidency — a coup d’etat as Oliver Stone most-effectively proposed in his 1991 film, JFK. As you can read below in my first-draft script I wrote a second gunman firing from the grassy knoll that was cut out on the demand of a CBS executive who wrote in a memo read to me on the phone, “The CBS television network is not going to rewrite history.”
That establishment history the CBS television network was unwilling to rewrite was the Warren Commission Report intended — depending who one asks — either to implement President Lyndon Johnson’s order that the Soviet Union and Cuba be exonerated to prevent escalation of the Cold War into a nuclear third world war, or to end speculation that the Vice President from Texas ascended to the presidency by conspiring with others who saw advantage in killing Kennedy on the Vice President’s home turf.
For me, my little science-fiction drama asked a different question: what is the nature of political power and following the Second World War had the presidency devolved into the imperial office the framers of the United States had worked so hard to prevent. I asked that question by the story device of unKilling Kennedy for a half hour.
I think it’s clear — half a century later — that whether or not the JFK assassination was at the hands of a Lone Gunman or a conspiracy of Lone Gunmen, what happened in Dallas a half-century ago was only the beginning of normalized clandestinely organized violence that has reached from the rice paddies of Southeast Asia to the mountains of Afghanistan to the core financial district in New York City to the Political Zone in Washington DC.
The following article was first published here June 15th, 2010, and includes links to watch “Profile in Silver” as it was aired on CBS 26 years ago.
– J. Neil Schulman, November 11, 2013
Update: The complete episode just as broadcast in prime time by the CBS Television Network on March 7, 1986 is now on YouTube as a single video.
–J. Neil Schulman, November 15, 2013
This is excerpted from my book Profile In Silver
And Other Screenwritings (Pulpless.Com, 1999).
I got the idea for “Profile in Silver” while driving to a lunch meeting with Robert Jaffe of Vista Films, the production company that was attempting to find a studio to finance All the King’s Horses. Over lunch at Hamburger Hamlet in late 1983, I pitched Rob the idea as a feature and he loved it, but aside from sharing my notes with him, nothing concrete ever came of the pitch.
I also told the idea to my friend Alan Brennert and, two years later when Alan was on staff as executive story consulant for the revived Twilight Zone, and I was living in New Jersey, Alan phoned me and asked me if I could write my script for it at under an hour’s length for the show. I said yes and Alan assigned me to write a story outline.
For the first time, I was officially employed as a Hollywood screenwriter. But I was still living 3,000 miles away, and that was a significant element in everything that followed.
“Profile in Silver” was controversial, inasmuch as nobody at that time had ever used the JFK assassination as a plot element in a TV show, or portrayed President Kennedy and his family in a fictional context. All previous portrayals of John F. Kennedy had stayed extremely close to real life, from PT-109 to The Missiles of October.
How things have changed now! Oliver Stone’s JFK portrayed the assassination from the point of view of New Orleans District Attorney, Jim Garrison, who believed in a conspiracy. Quantum Leap put us inside the body of Lee Harvey Oswald, and the series lead character, Sam Beckett, changes history by preventing Jackie Kennedy from being assassinated, also. The X-Files has the Cigarette Smoking Man assassinating JFK from an underground sewer and setting up Oswald as a patsy. And NBC’s new series Dark Skies has JFK assassinated because he’s been told the truth behind the UFO landing at Roswell. I sometimes wonder whether any of these projects could have made it past industry executives if “Profile in Silver” hadn’t been on CBS prime-time first.
Alan was concerned enough with the JFK element that I wrote two versions of the story, one with real names and history, and another version with what Alan and I called a “Greek Tycoon” approach, where the events and names were fictitious but close enough to reality that everyone would know what we were doing anyway. The Greek Tycoon had been a recent movie which had fictionalized Jackie’s marriage to Aristotle Onassis using just that approach.
I wrote the outlines and Alan submitted them to Carla Singer, who was the executive at CBS Entertainment in charge of developing The Twilight Zone before it actually aired. Carla turned it down, on the grounds that using the JFK assassination as a plot element was in bad taste. Alan told me we would try again after the show was on the air and a different CBS executive was in charge of the show, and told me to develop a second story for the show in the meantime. I did, and it became “Colorblind.”
Carla Singer turned that down, also. I was the only writer who had had any stories rejected, which caused Alan and Harlan Ellison, who was on the show as a creative consultant, to write several long memos to CBS complaining about being made to force the show into a straitjacket.
When Twilight Zone made it onto the CBS schedule, Carla Singer was replaced as overseer of the show by Tony Barr, who approved me to go to script on “Profile.” But there were several story restrictions, the most emphatic was: the second assassin had to be removed from the story. Tony Barr’s memo, which Alan read to me over the phone, said, “The CBS television network is not going to rewrite history.”
Harlan wanted me to fight to keep the second assassin in, but there were other story elements I was more concerned about keeping in, most specifically, JFK’s discussion of political power with Professor Fitzgerald on Air Force One. Alan fought for, and kept in, the story elements I most cared about.
I wrote two drafts of the script. I wrote the second draft after a telephone story conference with Alan, Harlan Ellison, story editor Rockne O’Bannon (who later wrote the movie Alien Nation), executive producer Phil DeGuere, and producer James Crocker.
Then, because of a production deadline, and my being 3,000 miles away where I couldn’t meet their production needs, Alan did the final polish himself.
The main change that Alan introduced in his polish was taking the futuristic scenes from the beginning of my second draft and placing them in 1963. This was done because of the budget limitations on attempting to portray the Harvard campus 200 years in the future. I missed the parallel frame of having the story begin and end in the same future classroom, but Alan preserved a lot of that by beginning the story in a similar Harvard classroom in 1963, with Fitzgerald lecturing on inflation during the American revolution. Alan and I are both American Revolution history buffs, and Alan had pleasantly surprised me by taking a conversation the two of us had several weeks earlier and using my half of the conversation, almost verbatim, as Fitzgerald’s lecture to his 1963 students.
Alan also felt that having Fitzgerald be too specific about the future in the Oval Office conversation with JFK was too distracting from the emotional content of the scene, so he cut that dialogue. It made the script less explicit about the author’s political intent in writing the story, but dramatically stronger.
A word to budding writers: you have to be a top-level producer to have the control over your own screenwriting that a novelist takes for granted.
I flew to Los Angeles for the two-weeks filming of “Profile in Silver,” and the experience was wonderful thanks initially both to the Twilight Zone production staff and director, John Hancock. John’s major work has been as a stage and feature film director–Bang the Drum Slowly, Weeds, and Prancer among them.
John and I hit it off right away because my father is a violinist who had played ten years in the Boston Symphony, and John Hancock, a Harvard graduate himself, had been a violinist while at Harvard and had been concertmaster of the student orchestra at the Boston Symphony’s summer residence, Tanglewood. I developed a warm relationship with him on the set, where he gave me a personal education in directing, with such wisdom as, “When the Director sits down, production comes to a halt.”
John didn’t sit down more than a couple of minutes for the entire shoot.
John invited me to stand as close to him as I wanted to during the entire shoot, and frequently consulted me about my opinion, in essence giving me authorial input into the final form of the production. John also invited me to discuss my interpretations on the scenes and characters with the actors.
I ran lines with Barbara Baxley, who had been cast as Dr. Kate Wang just 24-hours before her first scene, and hadn’t yet had time to understand the time-travel elements of the story. Additionally, the character had been written for an Asian actress, but due to an error in the CBS casting memo describing the part, the talent agency representing most Asian actors had never sent over any Asian actresses in the right age-range to read for it. I improvised dialogue implying that “Wang” was a married name and Barbara added the words “a phrase my husband taught me” to cover the change in her ethnicity.
I also got a chance to discuss character elements both with Lane Smith, who played Professor Fitzgerald, and Andrew Robinson, who played JFK.
One of the first scenes filmed was the scene in Fitzgerald’s office when Kate Wang materializes, and they discuss Fitzgerald’s upcoming trip to Dallas. Lane was having trouble with his extensive speeches in that scene because Lane has a natural Southern accent which he was having to change to a Boston accent for the role. I suggested to him that he let his natural accent come out in the office scene, because it would be exactly like an actor coming out of a role for Fitzgerald to talk with someone from his own time.
Lane took my suggestion, with John Hancock’s approval.
I also got a chance to discuss my story intents with Andy Robinson before the scene between JFK and Professor Fitzgerald on Air Force One that set-up the entire emotional context of the story.
Through interpretation, Andy was able to restore much of the meaning of my earlier drafts, even with JFK dialogue that was no longer explicitly in the Oval Office scene.
Many people have wondered why Andy Robinson, who had been best known as the bad guy Scorpio in the Clint Eastwood movie Dirty Harry, had been cast as JFK. Andy told me that he had played JFK, previously, replacing William Devane in the Broadway production of the satirical anti-war play, MacBird.
(Devane, who starred in The Missiles of October about the Cuban missile crisis, later went on to play a time-travelling historian in a TV movie who was trying to prevent the JFK assassination — but could never prevent it. That movie was based on a book written after my original 1983 outline for “Profile,” and was produced after “Profile” had already been shown on CBS.)
There are several milestones in the production of “Profile in Silver” that are worth mentioning.
The first is that I wrote into both drafts of my script JFK delivering the speech he was scheduled to give on November 22nd, 1963 at the Dallas Trade Mart. As filmed, we hear the speech in the background on the car radio, as the secret service agent is accompanying Fitzgerald to Love Field to meet Kennedy. Andrew Robinson recorded the entire speech so that CBS sound editors could lay it in the background of that scene. To the best of my knowledge, it is the only time that the speech JFK never got to make has ever been delivered by anyone in a motion picture or theatrical production.
Also noteworthy about that speech is that CBS’s broadcast standards department sent a note to the Twilight Zone production staff questioning the authenticity of the Dallas Trade Mart Speech. The note said the speech didn’t sound like authentic JFK. How time changes our perceptions! I had gotten the Trade Mart speech from a book of JFK speeches, and it’s what you would expect: a speech meant to kick off JFK’s bid for re-election in 1964.
CBS broadcast standards didn’t have a single question about the authenticity of the speech I have JFK give at the end of “Profile,” in a Harvard classroom 200 years in the future. I made that speech up completely, but it was inspirational in tone — the way we remember JFK’s speeches through the lenses of time.
I was also able to make use of a wonderful coincidence. November 22nd, 1963 was a Friday — and on the CBS schedule for that night, as usual in its 7:30 PM time slot, was the original Rod Serling Twilight Zone. All regularly scheduled programming for that night was pre empted by the JFK assassination in the universe we lived through — but in the universe in which my futuristic history professor prevents the assassination, CBS decides to end its news coverage of the day’s events just in time for that evening’s airing of The Twilight Zone.
In the scene in the Treasury inspector’s office where the secret service agent who found the Kennedy Half Dollar is having a fellow Treasury agent inspect the coin, we hear a special news bulletin cut back to regularly scheduled programming, and we hear the opening notes of the famous Twilight Zone theme just as the scene cuts to the Oval Office and JFK says he finds Fitzgerald being a Soviet spy “hard to believe.”
Later, in the Dallas hospital scene after the assassination, in the filmed version, you can see a white-coated doctor looking directly into the camera for a moment. That doctor is Yours Truly, who submitted to a 1963-style short haircut just before the scene was filmed, so I could pull an Alfred Hitchcock. I was not overacting. John Hancock told me to look directly into the camera, and I was just doing what the Director told me.
As edited by John Hancock for broadcast, “Profile in Silver” came in at 26 minutes and 52 seconds. Scenes are short and cut quickly, so it plays more like a theatrical motion picture than an episode of a TV series. It took ten days to film and cost about $900,000 to produce — very expensive for a TV series in 1986. When commercials were inserted, it broke the half hour and came in at 35 minutes — which left the balance of the hour for “Button, Button,” starring Mare Winningham.
USA Today ran a feature on “Profile in Silver” in its March 3, 1986 television
column, and I was interviewed about the show by Gene Burns on a Boston radio talk show.
Lane Smith, who plays Professor Fitzgerald, went on to play Nixon in a TV biography, the prosecutor in My Cousin Vinny, and a corrupt senator in the Eddie Murphy comedy The Distinguished Gentleman. Lane now plays Perry White on Lois & Clark.
Andrew Robinson, who plays JFK, can now be seen (through a thick layer of theatrical appliances and makeup) as Garak, on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. In a recent interview in Psychotronic Video, Andy Robinson spoke extensively about how much playing JFK in that episode meant to him, and how much he liked the script.
Alan Brennert, who bought the script and polished it, later shared an Emmy as Supervising Producer for LA Law, and is now writing feature film scripts.
And Carla Singer, who as the first CBS Executive in charge of the revived Twilight Zone turned down the story for “Profile in Silver”?
When she finally saw it, she changed her mind, and decided it was one of the best episodes.
CBS must have agreed: the hour containing “Profile in Silver” was the only one which they ran three times in prime time, before the show went into syndication, where it has run another dozen or so times in a half-hour edition.
That third airing of “Profile in Silver” was seen by the veteran TV producer who gave Rod Serling his first job in television. He thought my script was one of the few that carried the spirit of the original Twlight Zone series, and that’s how I got the assignment for The Mars Story.
I have written two novels, short stories, and articles published in major magazines and newspapers. But the power of television is such that even a single episode of a series show that never got more than mediocre ratings after the first week or so has been seen by so many millions of people that it’s probably the only thing of mine that most people have ever seen. The episode has been syndicated worldwide and sold on videotape overseas. I was in Paris just a few weeks before it was broadcast there.
It may only be 26 minutes and 52 seconds long, but if a writer has to be remembered for a single script, I’m delighted that the one I’m remembered for is “Profile in Silver.” — JNS, 1999
THE TWILIGHT ZONE
“Profile In Silver”
by J. Neil Schulman
EXT. CAMPUS – HARVARD UNIVERSITY – 2163 A.D. – DAY
SERIES OF SHOTS and SUPERIMPOSED TITLES–
“HARVARD UNIVERSITY – 2163 A.D.”–
to establish. Even almost two centuries in the future, Harvard
still has ivy-covered buildings and students running late to class–or
taking advantage of warm, sunny weather to study outside. The only
obvious indication of a future century–aside from odd clothing and
hairstyles–is that after a group of students climb into a beat-up car
and rev the engine, the car shoots off vertically.
INT. “DEPARTMENT OF HISTORY” LECTURE HALL
and this, too, has changed little. Students are seated at tablet
armchairs listening to a lecture. That is, those students who aren’t
catching up on sleep or secretly finishing work for their next class.
Delivering the lecture is their professor, DR. JOSEPH K. FITZGERALD, a
handsome man in his mid-forties, whose suit and hairstyle is obviously
professorial, but still, somehow, futuristic. While he lectures, as a
nervous habit, Fitzgerald is flipping a silver coin in his hand.
Living today in worldwide freedom, peace, and
prosperity, it’s almost impossible for us to
comprehend political violence two centuries
ago. The Twentieth Century was a time of
world wars, brushfire wars–the everpresent
threat of nuclear war. Genocide, riots,
hijackings, tyranny–political terrorism. But
there was one event which encapsulates the mad
violence of that period: the assassination in
November, Nineteen-sixty-three of the American
President, John F. Kennedy.
A STUDENT wearing a LETTER SWEATER raises his hand with perhaps a
touch of arrogance. Fitzgerald recognises him.
Your ancestor, Professor Fitzgerald?
Yes, I am proud to say. While I can hardly
expect you to approve the politics of that
insane era, John Fitzgerald Kennedy rose above
the insanities of his time by being a man of
vision and a man of courage. Most important
to you, John F. Kennedy was a Harvard man.
STUDENTS laugh appreciatively.
When they stop, Fitzgerald waves his hand in an odd way; suddenly the
lights dim and WE SEE FILM PROJECTED behind him: STOCK NEWS
FOOTAGE of that fateful day in Dallas–the motorcade, the shots, screams,
the limousine tearing out into traffic.
(continuing over film)
There have always been unanswered questions.
Was Lee Harvey Oswald the assassin? Was there
a conspiracy? Did this relate to other
political killings of that era–Diem of
Vietnam, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King?
Until now, we could only speculate.
Fitzgerald pauses, then resumes flipping his coin nervously.
After trying for six years, my historical-
research grant from the Rand Institute has
come through. I leave for the past tonight.
In the next lecture, I hope to bring you some
As Fitzgerald continues lecturing, his VOICE FADES AND
Dr. Joseph Kennedy Fitzgerald, a Professor of
History at Harvard … descendant of a man who
graduated Harvard and went on to make some of
the history the Professor teaches. In a few
hours, Dr. Fitzgerald will make a journey back
in time to a fateful day in history …
November twenty-second, Nineteen-sixty three.
Dr. Fitzgerald is searching for an ending to a
history lesson. But the ending he finds will
go beyond history … it will go beyond
politics … it will stretch the limits of
human courage. Perhaps it will stretch even
the boundless dimensions of …
CLOSE ON THE COIN
as it drops into Dr. Fitzgerald’s hand. WE SEE that it is a 1964
KENNEDY HALF DOLLAR.
… The Twilight Zone.
ESTABLISHING SHOT “RAND INSTITUTE FOR TEMPORAL
STUDIES” – NIGHT
a formidable-looking hi-tech glass-and-steel office complex, still
active at night, its sign also glowing in the darkness.
EXT. “TEMPORAL DISPLACEMENT PLATFORM” – NIGHT
which looks like a sports arena during a night game, with a floodlit
riser at its center–the PLATFORM. But except for two TECHNICIANS
sitting at a control console near the Platform, it is vastly empty.
We follow Dr. Fitzgerald–now styled and dressed in a suit-and-tie
appropriate for 1963–as he walks toward the Platform with DR. KATE
WANG, a distinguished, Chinese woman in 2163 garb.
On a table near the Platform are a MAN’S LEATHER BELT with a
rectangular buckle, a SIGNET RING, A WALLET, AN ANALOG
WRISTWATCH, and what looks to be a 1963 MODEL 8-MILLIMETER
MOVIE CAMERA. Wang shows Fitzgerald the Belt first–it matches his
We’ve imbedded the temporal displacement
circuit inside the belt, and hidden the
control panel in its buckle. Proper I.D. in
the wallet. The wristwatch is your computer.
Dr. Fitzgerald puts the Wallet into his jacket, then starts putting on
the Wristwatch and the Belt.
Will it tell time?
That’s a very old joke.
Sorry. Where have you hidden the emergency
In a Harvard signet ring. If the displacement
circuit in the belt fails or is separated from
the ring it will home back here directly.
We’ve set it on five minutes failsafe.
Dr. Fitzgerald nods, placing the Ring on his right hand. Wang hands
Fitzgerald the “Movie” Camera. He straps it over his shoulder.
An F-minus-infinity retina, auto-zoom with
three-sixty peripheral. Only a fifty gigabyte
disk, but you won’t need more. Ready?
I’ve been ready for the last six years.
Feel lucky you’re going at all. After the
Sodom and Gomorrah meltdown, our insurance
Fitzgerald’s only reaction is to frown and step onto the Platform.
Dr. Wang joins the Technicians at the control console. The console
starts to VIBRATE with the force of great amounts of energy being
gathered; the Platform starts to PULSE in changing colors.
Dr. Wang, I read a few grams unexpected mass.
What is it, Joe?
A family keepsake–a good luck charm.
Fitzgerald reaches into a jacket pocket and pulls out his KENNEDY
HALF DOLLAR. Dr. Wang walks up to the platform and examines it.
It’s dated one year after your destination.
But not strictly forbidden. No anachronisms
found in any historical document. I ran a
He puts the COIN back into his jacket.
Don’t get involved back there, Joe. You’re an
historian. Stick to your job.
What are you worried about, Kate? Afraid I’m
Frankly, yes. You have a very Chinese view of
She steps back to console and nods to the Chief Technician.
All circuits test positive … Tachyon
modulation positive … Phasing five point
five nominal … Plasma bottle charged …
Displacement on command–Ready.
The Chief Technician nods to the Second Technician who pulls a lever.
On the Platform, Dr. Fitzgerald flashes bright red.
… We have temporal coherence.
Suddenly, Dr. Fitzgerald shrinks to infinity and a super-powerful
laser beam shoots up from the platform to the starlit night sky,
punching a hole in Time.
FLASH CUT TO:
EXT. DEALY PLAZA – DALLAS – NOVEMBER 22, 1963 –
JUST BEFORE 12:30 PM
as Dr. Fitzgerald materializes on the sidewalk near the Grassy Knoll,
just as the Presidential motorcade is approaching.
A TEXAN does a double-take as Fitzgerald pops in next to him.
Where in Sam Hill did you come from?
Before the Texan can get any further into it, Fitzgerald lifts his
“movie” camera up to his eye and starts recording. The Texan goes
back to watching the approaching motorcade.
FITZGERALD’S POV THROUGH RANGEFINDER
VARIOUS SHOTS as he ZOOMS IN ON the open Presidential limousine and
sees (our actor) PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY.
[NOTE: for reasons that will become apparent later, the two Actors
playing KENNEDY and FITZGERALD should bear strong physical resemblance.]
To the President’s left–our actors–JACKIE KENNEDY (in her famous pink
suit), on the jumpseat in front of JFK, TEXAS GOVERNOR
CONNALLY. SECRET SERVICE AGENT GREER is driving the limo,
SECRET SERVICE AGENT KELLERMAN is on Kennedy’s right.
SECRET SERVICE AGENT RAY KINGMAN is walking alongside the Presidential
limo, on Fitzgerald’s side of the street.
Additional limousines follow in the motorcade with more Secret
Service, VICE PRESIDENT LYNDON JOHNSON (our actor),
press and dignitaries.
Crowds line the street, waving flags, shouting greetings to the
A “DALLAS POLICEMAN” (our actor) steps into Fitzgerald’s POV and
Fitzgerald ZOOMS CLOSE IN on the crucial window of the TEXAS
SCHOOL BOOK DEPOSITORY COMPANY, and WE SEE (our actor)
LEE HARVEY OSWALD taking aim with a rifle on the Presidential
FITZGERALD’S POV – IN RAPID SEQUENCE
THE “DALLAS POLICEMAN” is surreptitiously–with his pistol still
holstered–raising his pistol.
Oswald FIRES his rifle, hitting Texas Governor Connally–the SOUND of
the SHOT is delayed.
The “Policeman” now has his still-holstered pistol aimed directly at
SMASH CUT TO:
RAPID SEQUENCE – FITZGERALD AND THE “POLICEMAN”
as Fitzgerald drops his camera onto its shoulder strap and instantly
realizes–emotionally–that the man in front of him is not a Dallas
policeman but a Second Assassin–and this assassin is about to murder
John F. Kennedy.
To Fitzgerald, for the first time, this is no longer the dispassionate
study of the long-dead past: this is happening now. He hesitates,
realizing that he’s just an observer, then the emotional pain becomes
And with that bellow, Fitzgerald leaps forward onto the disguised
gunman just as he FIRES.
RAPID SEQUENCE – SECRET SERVICE AGENT KINGMAN
as he HEARS Fitzgerald’s shout and spins around just as the
“Policeman” FIRES, to SEE Fitzgerald jump him.
RAPID SEQUENCE – FITZGERALD AND “POLICEMAN”
As Fitzgerald tackles him, the “Policeman’s” GUNSHOT is redirected
away from Kennedy’s head and impacts harmlessly on the limo.
RAPID SEQUENCE – SCREAMING BYSTANDERS
At the SOUND of the two GUNSHOTS.
RAPID SEQUENCE – IN LIMO – AGENT KELLERMAN
as he throws himself onto JFK and Jackie.
Agent Kingman and ANOTHER AGENT arrive at the spot where Fitzgerald
has tackled the “Policeman”. KINGMAN grabs Fitzgerald and pulls
him toward the President’s limo; the other Agent holds the assassin.
RAPID SEQUENCE – KINGMAN AND FITZGERALD
RAPID SEQUENCE – THE PRESIDENTIAL LIMO
as Kingman pulls Fitzgerald onto the Presidential limousine just as
everyone realizes that Governor Connally has been shot.
(to agent driving)
The Governor has been hit! Get him to a
(driving; to radio)
I’m pulling out!
LONG ON THE LIMO
as it pulls out of the motorcade and accelerates.
BACK IN SPEEDING LIMO
as Kingman and Fitzgerald are settled in the front seat, quietly
TALKING to each other in the b.g. WE SEE Fitzgerald reach into his
jacket, take out the Wallet, and hand a 1963 Harvard “Faculty I.D.
Card” to Agent Kingman.
(continuing; to radio)
Alert Parkland Memorial Hospital that the
Governor will be there in four minutes.
President Kennedy nods, satisfied, then notices Agent Kingman and
Mr. Kingman, who is this man?
Mr. President, this is Dr. Joseph Fitzgerald,
one of your constituents from Harvard. He
just saved your life.
KENNEDY AND FITZGERALD
as they look at each other for the first time.
Dr. Fitzgerald, Harvard, and I, are in your
CLOSE ON FITZGERALD
as he realizes the full impact of what he has done.
EXT. EMERGENCY ENTRANCE – PARKLAND MEMORIAL
HOSPITAL – DAY
as the limousine pulls up. A stretcher crew immediately takes the
wounded Governor out.
JFK gestures to Agent Kellerman that he wishes to get out of the
limousine, but Jackie stops him.
You can’t do any good in there, Jack.
The others wait expectantly for a moment while JFK decides, then
Kennedy nods determinedly.
Mr. Greer, radio ahead to the Dallas Trade
Mart. I’ll speak as scheduled.
INT. THE DALLAS TRADE MART
where President John F. Kennedy is delivering the luncheon address
that history had never intended him to give.
Dr. Fitzgerald stands on the sidelines, an historian still, recording
it all in his “camera.”
We in this country, in this generation are–by
destiny rather than choice–the watchmen of
the walls of world freedom. We ask,
therefore, that we may be worthy of our power
and responsibility–that we may exercise our
strength with wisdom and restraint–and that
we may achieve it in our time, and for all
time, the ancient vision of peace on Earth,
goodwill toward men.
MASSIVE LUNCHEON AUDIENCE (FROM STOCK FOOTAGE)
There is APPLAUSE.
CLOSE ON FITZGERALD’S FACE
as he realizes that Kennedy’s vision was destined to be fulfilled–but
will it be, now that history has been changed?
PRESIDENT KENNEDY AGAIN
That must always be our goal–and the
righteousness of our cause must always
underlie our strength. For as was written
long ago: “Except the Lord keep the city, the
watchman waketh but in vain.”
As APPLAUSE greets the end of Kennedy’s speech, we
SIDE WINGS OF TRADE MART
As JFK, Jackie, Vice President Johnson, Fitzgerald, and the rest of
the Presidential entourage are walking out.
AN AIDE rushes up to the Vice President and addresses Johnson
Mr. Vice President, we’ve got more problems!
Tornadoes have sprung up all around the state!
One is heading here, another just ripped its
way through downtown Austin, and another just
hit your ranch!
(grimly, to Aide)
Better get the choppers ready, son.
The Aide runs off.
Mr. President, if I were you, I’d hightail it
back to Washington and mind the store. It
looks like fate is set on spoiling our
He knows it’s not fate that’s doing this.
Take care of your people, Lyndon. Let me know
how I can help.
Yes, Mr. President.
Johnson rushes out. Kennedy turns to Fitzgerald.
Dr. Fitzgerald, I can use an extra Harvard
professor in my Brain Trust right now. Are
you free to be my guest at the White House?
Uh, yes, sir.
Then let’s get going. This is turning out to
be “one of those days.”
As they rush out of the Trade Mart, we
EXT. (LOVE) AIR FIELD – STORM – AFTERNOON
as strong rain and winds surround AIR FORCE ONE while it takes off.
STOCK FOOTAGE – TORNADOES
As they wind their way through Texan cities.
EXT. AIR FORCE ONE – BREAKING ABOVE CLOUDS – AFTERNOON
INT. AIR FORCE ONE – IN FLIGHT
this time, not carrying a flag-draped casket and a just-sworn-in new
president, but with JFK still alive and well.
Jackie is sitting forward, being interviewed by a reporter.
Kennedy is sitting catercorner to Fitzgerald in a living room area.
Both men have drinks. Agent Kingman is seated nearby, reading.
AN AIDE comes up to the President.
Mr. President, news out of Texas is bad.
Parts of Dallas, San Antonio, Austin–gone.
Hundreds dead, more missing. The Lieutenant
Governor is requesting federal disaster
relief. The only good news is that Parkland
Memorial was untouched. Governor Connally is
out of surgery in stable condition.
Thank God for that, at least. Okay, get the
paperwork going. I want disaster relief on my
desk before I go to bed tonight.
Yes, sir. One more thing. In addition to the
fake policeman Dr. Fitzgerald apprehended,
Dallas police arrested a man named Lee Oswald.
They’ve charged Oswald not only with shooting
the Governor, but with murdering a Dallas
Kennedy nods seriously.
The Aide leaves. The historian from the future can’t resist asking.
Mr. President, do you have any idea–
Jack. Men who’ve saved my life call me
“Jack.” … I’m “Joe” to everyone but my
Good name. My Dad’s name. Also my late
I … know.
You were asking something?
If you have any idea who would have reason to
shoot at you?
Kennedy takes a sip of his drink before answering.
Considering the awesome power wielded by the
President, who wouldn’t? Two centuries ago,
the Founding Fathers tried to set things up so
we wouldn’t have a king anymore. Now, because
we’re always a pushbutton away from war, the
President has been stuck with more power than
any king in history. It’s no wonder my
administration has been called “Camelot.”
Like King Arthur, you had to win your office.
It must gratify you, no?
What gratified me was getting the world
through the Cuban Missile Crisis in one piece.
Providence was with us that time. But
Scripture tells us to “put not your trust in
princes.” Maybe someday people will take that
That would leave you unemployed.
This job gives me few moments of great joy.
I’ll tell you, Joe, after I’m out of office
what I’d best like to do is help you Harvard
professors find a way to beat nuclear bombs
A century from now, nuclear bombs will power
We’ve studied that idea. But how do you
prevent enemy nations from regarding nuclear
rockets as weapons?
Insurance companies. Next century, people
will replace nation-states with insurance
You have a wicked sense of humor, Joe. I’ll
have to tell that one to Senator Goldwater
when I see him.
Fitzgerald is puzzling out that remark when the Aide returns.
Mr. President, there’s a radiophone call for
you from Defense Secretary McNamara.
Excuse me. (still chuckling) Insurance
The President gets up and walks aft, leaving Dr. Fitzgerald alone with
his thoughts. Without thinking, Fitzgerald sticks his hand into his
jacket pocket, pulling out his Kennedy Half Dollar, and automatically
starts to flip it in his hands.
Suddenly, the plane is hit by turbulence, and Fitzgerald misses
catching the coin. The coin rolls to where Agent Kingman is sitting.
Agent Kingman sees the coin, and looks up to meet Fitzgerald’s frantic
gaze; Fitzgerald looks away quickly. Kingman picks the coin up.
CLOSE ON KINGMAN
as he sees what the coin is.
KINGMAN AND FITZGERALD
As Kingman–seeing Fitzgerald trying to look innocent–realizes that
this must be Fitzgerald’s property.
as President Kennedy returns to the seat next to Fitzgerald, JFK
passes his Aide and waves him over.
(quiet but urgently)
Listen carefully. I’ve just placed our
Strategic Forces on Yellow Alert. Set up an
Emergency Cabinet meeting for tonight at ten.
Rusk is on a plane to Japan–see if you can
get him back. Tell Bundy, Taylor, Sorensen.
And Bobby! But act normally and do it
quietly–I don’t want the press onboard to
know anything’s wrong.
As the Aide leaves, Kennedy straps himself in again and turns to
Fitzgerald, likewise speaking quietly but with urgency.
How familiar are you with the history of our
Completely. My specialty is this era.
Fitzgerald sees Kennedy’s confusion and corrects himself quickly.
I mean this area. Why do you ask?
Soviet troops just captured West Berlin. The
Russian premier is demanding we pull our
forces out of the rest of Germany or they’ll
kill every American in Berlin.
But Khrushchev never would have done that!
(nods with finality)
Premier Khrushchev was assassinated today.
On Fitzgerald’s startled look, we
EXT. AIR FORCE ONE – ON THE GROUND – AFTERNOON
as the door opens. The Secret Service, JFK and Jackie, Fitzgerald,
the Warrant Officer with the “Black Bag,” and the rest of the
entourage begin deplaning.
as he watches Fitzgerald getting into the Presidential limousine with
the Kennedys, then LOOKS DOWN again at the mysterious Kennedy Half
Dollar. Kingman slips the coin into his pocket then walks up to
another SECRET SERVICE AGENT.
I need to do some research at Treasury before
it closes. Can you spare me?
The Agent nods.
THE PRESIDENTIAL LIMOUSINE
as it departs.
EXT. THE WHITE HOUSE – THE LIMOUSINE ARRIVING – AFTERNOON
as JFK and Jackie get out of the limousine first and two children run
to meet them: six-year-old CAROLINE and three-year-old JOHN, JR.
CLOSE ON THE COIN
as we see it being held in a man’s hand.
WIDER – INT. OFFICE – AFTERNOON
as Agent Kingman is sitting across a desk from another TREASURY MAN.
The T-MAN is looking at the coin through a watchmaker’s loupe screwed
into his eye, then removes the loupe and leans back in his chair.
Remarkable. Utterly remarkable. I’ve never
seen counterfeit work this faithful to Mint
standards. Whoever did this is a real artist.
Then it is a counterfeit? It’s not something
our Mint has in the works for next year?
Of course not. How could it be? Other
countries stamp reigning sovereigns on their
coins, but it’s against U.S. law to mint the
image of any living person.
Could it be a practical joke of some sort? Or
a prototype of a campaign handout? Maybe one
of the President’s brothers … or the
I doubt it very much. They’d have to know
it’s a felony … and possibly treason, since
it implies President Kennedy is going to die
by Sixty-four. This man who lost it … you
saw him save the President’s life?
Absolutely. Or I wouldn’t have allowed him
anywhere near the President until his
credentials had been confirmed.
And were they?
I checked during the President’s speech.
Matched Fitzgerald’s prints with FBI. Clean.
Checked Harvard, Internal Revenue, the Army.
All in order. But that’s the really odd
thing. The documents are all there, but I
can’t find anyone who’s ever heard of
Fitzgerald. It’s like somebody got into the
records and just dropped him in. And yeah, I
checked with CIA. They’ve never heard of him.
It wouldn’t be the first time the Company
didn’t tell us about one of their Spooks.
Maybe. Still, this Harvard professor is
Johnny-on-the-Spot to save the President’s
life … he loses a coin that shouldn’t exist
… he’s got three of the President’s family
names … he even looks like the President.
Now, with a crisis more dangerous that Cuba
coming on, the President is confiding in this
stranger like a long-lost brother. If you ask
Suddenly, the office starts shaking violently with a rolling motion
Californians are too familiar with … but that shouldn’t be happening
in Washington D.C.
An earthquake. Lamps fall over, fixtures swing …
Kingman and the T-Man both jump up, startled out of their wits.
My God … an earthquake in Washington?
INT. OVAL OFFICE – THE WHITE HOUSE – SAME TIME
as JFK sits behind his desk talking on the telephone … and the
earthquake hits here, too.
Kennedy drops the phone and jumps to his feet … and by doing so
saves his life again as a massive BOOKSHELF topples onto his chair
where he was sitting.
The Presidential Aide runs into the Oval Office in a flash, as the
RUMBLING DIES AWAY.
Sir, are you all right?
I’m fine! Find out if my kids are okay!
The Aide runs out. Kennedy pulls the phone out from under some books
and picks up the receiver again.
You still there, Bobby? (beat) You’re damn
right we felt it here! (beat) Yeah, I’ll
talk to you later.
The President hangs up just as the Aide returns.
Nobody hurt, sir … the children weren’t even
really frightened. I’m afraid the First Lady
isn’t doing quite as well … we just lost
half her favorite bone china.
Tell her to break out the paper plates!
What the Devil is going on today?
I don’t know, sir. But my father’s a minister
and I can bet you his sermon this Sunday is
going to be on the Apocalypse … if we make
it to Sunday.
as he wearily drops his face into his hands. HOLD on him, then
INT. WHITE HOUSE GUEST BEDROOM – FITZGERALD
as he turns a lamp upright again then starts talking to his Wristwatch
Computer, rubbing his back as if it’s been injured.
Resume program … Last parameter, three-
times-ten-to-the-ninth non-parallel vectors.
Compute time-line status.
(Voice like HAL 9000)
After pressure release by tornadoes at
intervention site, Stable Two was achieved by
Stable, my aching back! What about the
earthquake just now?
Shockwave backwash from first intervention in
time line. No major effects.
All right, then. With Khrushchev
assassination as Stable Two, give me worst-
and-best-case outcomes on this time-line, with
Worst-case scenario: Three-hundred megaton
nuclear exchange between the Superpowers
within nine days, resulting in total
annihilation of biosphere. Probability:
seventy-seven percent. Best-case scenario:
surrender of Western Europe to the Soviet
Union within six years, resulting in collapse
of Soviet economy. In desperation, Soviets
blackmail West for food, West is provoked into
agro-bacterial war between the Superpowers,
resulting in total annihilation of biosphere
within century. Probability: twelve percent.
There’s only an eleven percent possibility of
avoiding total war on this time-line?
Three percent. Eight percent
includes all other scenarios leading to–
–Total annihilation of biosphere.
GIRL’S VOICE (O.S.)
Why are you talking to your watch?
Fitzgerald looks up, startled.
IN DOORWAY – CAROLINE
as she walks into
GUEST ROOM – FITZGERALD AND CAROLINE
Because it gives me smarter answers than I get
from most people.
You should talk to my Daddy instead. He gives
me smart answers on everything.
Yes, I’m sure he does.
JACKIE’S VOICE (O.S.)
Caroline, dear! It’s time for your dinner!
I’ll be right there, Mommy!
I talk to my pony Macaroni, sometimes. But I
never get any answers. See ya!
Caroline ducks out.
Fitzgerald checks the corridor, then resumes talking to his
Wristwatch, more quietly.
Since this time-line is non-viable, give me
all options for repairing original time-line.
There exists only one viable option for
repairing original time-line. The
assassination of President John F. Kennedy
must occur as history originally recorded.
ON FITZGERALD’S HORROR
as the thoughts of the little girl he just met–and the answers she
gets only from her “Daddy”–hit him hard. He drops his face into his
hands exactly like JFK did.
INT. THE OVAL OFFICE – NIGHT
JFK is alone, in his famous ROCKING CHAIR, puffing on a cigar and
thinking. A TELEVISION next to his desk is on in the b.g., a CBS
TELEVISION SPECIAL NEWS REPORT.
ANCHORMAN (ON TV)
–certainly an indication of a conspiracy by
Soviet hard-liners. However, the tornadoes in
Texas and the earthquake in the Capital would
certainly have to be put down to one of those
unbelievable coincidences that you meet so
often in the news business.
There is a knock at the office door. (TV SOUND continues UNDER.)
Agent Kingman enters.
Hi, Ray. (Indicates chair) Take a load off.
Want a drink?
Thank you, sir, but I’m still on duty.
I won’t tell on you.
Kingman remains standing and smiles … letting us know that this is a
game the two of them have played before.
Mr. President, I have some concerns about Dr.
Fitzgerald. I’ve checked with Harvard, and
even though they have him in their records as
a full professor on sabbatical, nobody there
has ever heard of him. It’s possible that Dr.
Fitzgerald is a spy.
(used to being
I don’t know for who, sir, but I wouldn’t
eliminate the Soviets. I can’t think of a
better way to get an agent close to the
President than to set up an assassination and
have your man save the President’s life.
I know people, and Joe Fitzgerald is no Soviet
spy. Also, the Soviets are subtler than that
… if they wanted to pull something this big
they’d use sleeper agents who’d been in place
for twenty years.
There’s more, sir.
Kingman reaches into his pocket, pulls out the KENNEDY HALF DOLLAR,
and hands it to Kennedy.
Dr. Fitzgerald lost this on Air Force One.
CLOSE ON KENNEDY – IN PROFILE
as he LOOKS at HIS OWN FACE IN PROFILE on the half dollar.
I think someone is taking this Camelot stuff a
bit too far.
All right. You’d better get Fitzgerald in
STANDING IN DOORWAY – FITZGERALD
Fitzgerald has his “camera” strapped over his shoulder.
I was already on my way here, Mr. President.
OVAL OFFICE – ALL
In the b.g., WE HEAR
–This concludes this CBS News Special Report.
We now return to our regularly scheduled
Kennedy gestures Fitzgerald into the office.
Dr. Fitzgerald, were you part of an
assassination conspiracy in Dallas today?
No, sir, I was not. But I knew about the
assassination before I came to Dallas.
Excuse me, sir.
Where did you get that coin?
It’s been in my family for almost two hundred
You’ll pardon me if I say that’s a little
IN THE B.G.., we HEAR the original “Twilight Zone” THEME MUSIC and:
ROD SERLING’S VOICE
There is a fifth dimension beyond that which
is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as
space and as timeless as infinity. It is the
middle ground between light and shadow–
between science and superstition–
(gesturing toward TV)
People of your generation should have paid
more attention to the classics.
My generation? You’re the same generation as
Fitzgerald walks over to the TV set.
ROD SERLING’S VOICE
–And it lies between the pit of man’s fears
and the summit of his imagination. It is an
area which we call–
Fitzgerald switches off the set just before we hear the words “The
Twilight Zone.” Then he faces his ancestor directly.
No, Mr. President, I am not. I am of a
generation that won’t be your age for another
two-hundred years. I am a time-traveler from
the future … and your direct descendant by
two converging lines.
Dr. Fitzgerald, the matters we are discussing
are much too serious for you to joke about
I’m not joking, sir.
Fitzgerald picks up his camera.
In a split-second, Agent Kingman has his gun out, pointed at
This isn’t a weapon.
Fitzgerald points his “camera” toward the wall–away from both
Kennedy and Kingman–and turns it on.
IN FRONT OF WALL – KENNEDY GIVING SPEECH
AT TRADE MART
in a Full-size, 3-D, Full-color and Sound Playback.
We in this country, in this generation are–by
destiny rather than choice–the watchmen of
the walls of world freedom. We ask,
therefore, that we may be worthy of our power
KENNEDY AND AGENT KINGMAN
as they watch this phenomenon, open-mouthed.
–that we may exercise our strength with
wisdom and restraint–and that we may achieve
it in our time, and for all time, the ancient
vision of peace on Earth, goodwill toward men.
Fitzgerald turns the “camera” off and the Kennedy Hologram
Kingman holsters his pistol again. After a pause, he speaks first.
Mr. President, request permission to go off
Granted. For both of us, also.
Kingman immediately goes over to the liquor and pours three stiff
drinks. He hands one each to Kennedy and Fitzgerald.
He has time to ponder his remark as the three men drink.
Fitzgerald and Kingman draw up chairs. Kennedy breaks the tension
in the room.
Insurance companies, huh?
That’s only a transitional phase. By my time
we’ve put together a social system I’m sure
you’d consider much-more bizarre than that.
But we have achieved your dreams. We’ve
eliminated war, poverty, and tyranny. Your
dream of humankind moving into space has
become a reality … I took my graduate degree
out near the orbit of Jupiter.
I never thought humanity would achieve that
sort of Utopia.
It’s not even close to being Utopia, sir.
We’ve taken the Biblical advice about not
putting our trust in princes, but we haven’t
beaten our swords into plowshares. We just
finally got it through our skulls that it’s
safer to avoid princes with big swords.
Kennedy gets up (Kingman and Fitzgerald rise immediately) and JFK
starts pacing near his desk. He is still holding the Kennedy Half
Dollar and he looks at it thoughtfully.
You come from the future. Did you come back
to tell me what I’m supposed to do about the
Berlin crisis today?
(suddenly choked up)
I … didn’t know about that.
Didn’t know? How could you not know?
Kennedy looks at the Coin one more time.
ZOOM IN ON THE COIN’S DATE – 1964
as Kennedy sees it and suddenly realizes what it means.
You came to Dallas to observe an
assassination. My assassination.
Dear God in heaven.
Kennedy looks down and sees–on his desk where the earthquake left
it–a copy of his book, Profiles in Courage.
This Berlin crisis would be the end of the
world, wouldn’t it?
Kennedy picks up Profiles in Courage, then puts in down again,
firmly. When he speaks again, it’s with the firm resolve of a P.T. boat
You’re here, which proves that it wasn’t.
You’ll have to take me back. Can you take me
back? Can you make it like it was intended to
Fitzgerald drops his head forward. Then he looks up again and removes
his Harvard Signet Ring, extending it toward Kennedy.
You’ll have to put this ring on.
Agent Kingman, stay out of this!
If there’s anyone you need to say goodbye to–
I couldn’t make myself leave them if I did.
And they wouldn’t remember, would they?
President Kennedy takes the ring, closes his eyes, and slips the ring
onto his right hand.
as he flashes, on-and-off, bright red, and
freezes in place.
What’s happening to him?
You’ve taken an oath to protect the life of
Only Secret Service know that code name for
What do we have to do?
We’ve got to go back.
After several long beats,
EXT. DEALY PLAZA – DALLAS – NOVEMBER 22, 1963 –
JUST BEFORE 12:30 PM
just as the Presidential motorcade is approaching.
watching the approaching motorcade. This time Fitzgerald is nowhere
on the open Presidential limousine, AS BEFORE.
as before, walking alongside the Presidential limo, but suddenly–
momentarily–he FLASHES BRIGHT RED.
Additional limousines follow in the motorcade.
Crowds line the street, waving flags, shouting greetings to the
The “Dallas Policeman” steps forward and pauses.
ZOOM CLOSE IN
on the crucial window of the TEXAS SCHOOL BOOK DEPOSITORY
COMPANY, and WE SEE (our actor) LEE HARVEY OSWALD
taking aim with a rifle on the Presidential limousine.
RAPID SEQUENCE – THE “DALLAS POLICEMAN”
surreptitiously–with his pistol still holstered–raising his pistol.
RAPID SEQUENCE – OSWALD
as he FIRES his rifle, hitting Texas Governor Connally–the SOUND of
the SHOT is delayed.
RAPID SEQUENCE – THE “POLICEMAN”
as he now has his still-holstered pistol aimed directly at JFK’s head.
RAPID SEQUENCE – LONG ON THE PRESIDENTIAL LIMOUSINE
as WE SEE a FLASH OF RED LIGHT surrounding the limousine.
RAPID SEQUENCE – THE DISGUISED GUNMAN
just as he FIRES.
RAPID SEQUENCE – SCREAMING BYSTANDERS
At the SOUND of the two GUNSHOTS.
RAPID SEQUENCE – AGENT KINGMAN
as he jumps onto the Presidential limousine.
RAPID SEQUENCE – FRONT SEAT OF
THE PRESIDENTIAL LIMO
(driving; to radio)
The President’s been hit! I’m pulling out!
RAPID SEQUENCE – LONG ON THE LIMO
as it pulls out of the motorcade and accelerates toward the hospital.
INT. SIDE ROOM – PARKLAND MEMORIAL HOSPITAL
as a gurney holds A SLAIN BODY COVERED BY A SHEET.
Agent Kingman is next to the gurney in conference with an
EMERGENCY ROOM DOCTOR.
Of course there were serious head wounds, but
still, that doesn’t account for–
Use logic, Doctor. It couldn’t be anyone else
… and the country will be traumatized enough
without raising silly questions about the face
on that body. This man is President John F.
The Doctor pulls back the sheet on the body … and we
ZOOM IN ON
THE SERENE FACE OF DR. JOSEPH K. FITZGERALD.
INT. LECTURE HALL – HARVARD – 2163 A.D. – DAY
as WE SEE THE BACK of a man dressed in 2163 garb, delivering a
lecture–in a wholly distinctive voice–to the HISTORY CLASS.
History records many facts … some of them
right, some of them wrong. But let the record
show that, in any age, good or bad, there are
men of high ideals … men of courage … men
who do more than that for which they are
CLOSE ON THE LECTURER’S HAND
as WE SEE that on it is A HARVARD SIGNET RING.
You will not always know their names. But let
their deeds stand as a monument, so that when
the human race is called to judgment, we may
say–this, too, was humanity.
and WE SEE that the MAN delivering the lecture is JOHN F. KENNEDY.
as they RISE TO THEIR FEET IN APPLAUSE, WE HEAR:
A fitting tribute of the sort only to be found
in … The Twilight Zone.
The Twilight Zone: “Profile in Silver” is available on the DVD collection, The Twilight Zone – Season 1 (1985 – 1986).
A fan has posted it onto YouTube.
I received a certified letter from my physician yesterday.
This letter will serve as notification to you that (clinic name) is withdrawing you from further treatment as of the date of this letter. You are hereby discharged from care by all of our physicians and treatment locations. … We suggest that you place yourself under the care of another physician and medical facility immediately.
My doctor was firing me as a patient? What was up? Was I dying from some disease they had failed to properly diagnose, and they were hoping I was dead before I discovered their malpractice and sued? Did the nurse who couldn’t draw blood from my arm file a grievance against me as a preemptive move? Had I failed to pay a bill?
None of the above.
I phoned the doctor’s office today. They are no longer accepting any patient who doesn’t sign up for their “Concierge Service” — a yearly fee in four figures for unlimited clinic visits.
No medical insurance accepted, no Medicare, total opting out from any part of the 2010 Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — ObamaCare.
Welcome to the future of private medical practice in the United States.
Now in post-production: Alongside Night. Look for it later this year!
“I can’t remember ever listening to a presidential debate where I never heard a single cough from the audience.”
In the half hour before Wednesday’s presidential debate between President Barack Obama and challenger Governor Mitt Romney, representatives of the Commission on Presidential Debates and moderator Jim Lehrer threatened the University of Denver audience with everything short of waterboarding if they uttered a single squeak during the debates.
Denver Presidential Debate, October 3, 2012
It’s obvious this policy is intended to suppress stocking the audience with partisans for each of the candidates who would turn this into just another campaign rally; but the problem is that this demand for absolute silence would have denatured the best moments of prior debates, particularly the 1980 debate when Ronald Reagan told Jimmy Carter, “Well, there you go again!” and in 1988 when Vice Presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen told Dan Quayle, “I knew Jack Kennedy and, Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy.”
It foils the whole purpose of the debates if the wit of the candidate lays eggs because the audience has been forbidden to laugh.
This process is made worse by audio technology that with highly directional mikes for the candidates and moderator, combined with background noise threshold suppressors, effectively censors audience reaction for the listening TV and radio audiences.
The result as applied to this past Wednesday’s debate — despite the usual tropes from Fox News pundits that the debate format favored President Obama — is that Obama delivered two to three times as many laugh lines as Romney … and it worked to the advantage of Romney that the rules silenced not only the audience but censored one of the two candidates’ superior debate tools.
Now in production: Alongside Night. Look for it in 2013!
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!