What If They Made a Propaganda Film
and Nobody Noticed?
By Brad Linaweaver and J. Neil Schulman
On March 30, 1981 outside the Washington Hilton Hotel, an insane young man named John Hinckley, Jr., in an attempt to assassinate President Ronald Reagan, shot the President, the White House press secretary, James Brady, Secret Service Agent Timothy McCarthy, and DC Police Officer Thomas Delanty.
The president’s life was saved by emergency surgery at George Washington University Hospital, as were Agent McCarthy’s and Officer Delanty’s. Press Secretary Brady suffered incapacitating and permanent brain injury.
When asked why he attempted to kill the president, Hinckley claimed he was trying to impress actress Jodie Foster. These are all historical facts.
Now. We’re writers of “what if” novels, short stories, and screenplays.
What if we screenwriters were to portray in a major motion picture reminiscent of the cold war thriller, The Manchurian Candidate, that Jodie Foster had seduced and brainwashed John Hinckley, Jr., into shooting President Reagan?
Since our movie would be clearly labeled as fiction, should anyone take our movie seriously? Should Jodie Foster have a cause of action against us for portraying her inaccurately and negatively in a movie? Would public rebuke and protests be forthcoming? Should we have an expectation that the movie studio releasing our movie would receive loud protests from Nancy Reagan and Sarah Brady?
Let’s ask another “what if.”
It’s 1943, and the United States is at war with Nazi Germany.
Walt Disney Studios releases an Alfred Hitchcock-style thriller in which German Americans on a cross-country air flight are wrongly suspected of sabotaging the plane, and it turns out the saboteur is actually an American soldier engaged in an elaborate robbery scheme.
Would President Roosevelt have considered such a movie to be Nazi propaganda? Would the House UnAmerican Activities Committee have subpoenaed Walt Disney to explain why Nazi propaganda was appearing in an American wartime movie?
Would American pilots have been painting over the Mickey Mouse cartoons on their warplanes, and the American public boycotting Dumbo?
Would Walt Disney have ended up in prison, charged with sedition during wartime?
Of course, except in our imaginations, none of this happened.
In real life Jodie Foster never had anything to do with the insane John Hinckley’s fixation on her, and in real life Walt Disney spent World War II producing patriotic films such as Victory Through Air Power and Private Pluto.
Then why, during a War on Terror that began on September 11, 2001, when a cabal of Arab terrorists hijacked four American commercial passenger jetliners, destroying the planes, murdering all passengers, bringing down the the World Trade Center in New York City, and severely damaging the Pentagon – murdering thousands -- do Jodie Foster, the Disney Studios (as Touchstone Pictures and Buena Vista Pictures), and the others involved with the production of the Number One Box Office hit, Flightplan, believe that it’s not enemy propaganda to portray a United States Federal Air Marshal and a flight attendant aboard a flight from Germany to New York as conspirators willing to commit murder, child kidnapping, and acts of terrorism, while the Arab passengers aboard the flight are portrayed as innocent victims of unfair suspicion and bigotry?
We asked this question of David M. Adams, Special Agent in Charge, Office of the Director, United States Federal Air Marshal Service.
Agent Adams told us, "The producers of Flightplan intially inquired whether the Federal Air Marshal Service would provide input to the portrayal of Air Marshals in the film. We agreed to do so but they never got back to us. … The inaccurate portrayal of Federal Air Marshals in Flightplan is unhelpful in that its negative portrayal of what I know to be dedicated law-enforcement professionals may potentially undermine domestic and foreign airline passengers' confidence in our mission to safeguard passengers and crew from terrorist threats."
So why has there been not one word of protest against what during World War II would have been called enemy propaganda, and during our current War on Terror is, at the very least, a vicious slander against the soldiers on the front line of defense – the Federal Air Marshals?
Why, apparently, do no prominent figures see it as their mission to identify and protest enemy propaganda when it hits the number one spot in box office revenues? Where’s the President? Where are the victims of the 9/11 attacks? Where are Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Bill O’Reilly?
Don’t tell us that “it’s only a movie.”
Hitler and Stalin both understood the ideological value of Hollywood movies. The original mission of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee included rooting out Nazi propagandists. It’s only when World War II ended and the Cold War began that HUAC’s focus shifted from Nazi Party members conspiring to aid the Third Reich to Communist Party members conspiring to aid the Soviet Union.
And, yes. We’re aware that this article contains a spoiler, revealing the “plot twist” of Flightplan.
Isn’t attempting to financially hurt the supporters of terrorist propaganda supposed to be part of the War on Terror?
Brad Linaweaver and J. Neil Schulman are award-winning science-fiction writers working in Hollywood. An early article by Linaweaver was praised by Ronald Reagan in a radio broadcast that is in print in the book Stories in His Own Hand: The Everyday Wisdom of Ronald Reagan; and many of Linaweaver’s stories have been praised by Ray Bradbury. Schulman’s books have been praised by Charlton Heston, Milton Friedman, and Anthony Burgess. Schulman wrote one of the best remembered Twilight Zones and Linaweaver is co-author of the Doom novels.