Not everyone will remember “Death of a President,” the 2006 movie that included a controversial scene in which President George W. Bush was killed by a sniper. (I, on the other hand, can’t forget it because my fiancé is an actress and had a big role in that movie).
Another thing I can’t forget is the outrage that DOAP sparked among some conservative commentators, including some of those very same people who are now defending Sony’s film “The Interview,” about the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“Death of a President” won an award at the prestigious Toronto Film Festival and was slated to play in several theater chains in America. That is, until some on the right went ballistic over it.
Rush Limbaugh slammed the movie, reportedly calling the film’s director a “sicko” and saying the movie was part of an “age of insanity.” Fox News’ Michelle Malkin denounced the film in an article she penned for the conservative website, “Town Hall” titled, “Kill Bush Mania.” Matt Drudge used the word “SHOCK” (all in caps) to describe the film on the front page of his Drudge Report. And Sean Hannity grilled the film’s director on his Fox News show with questions like “Do you not have a responsibility to think of the impact, the impressions that could be made on people” by depicting the shooting of Bush?
The outrage wasn’t confined to the media. Rep. Peter King of New York, then chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, dubbed the film disgusting, claimed it “could incite real violence” and reportedly warned that the filmmakers “would have blood on their hands if anything should ever happen.” King went on to call for no movie theater or TV network in America to show the film: “Any theater that would show this, any TV station that would show this, is acting irresponsibly. It would be a disgrace for it to be shown anywhere.”
In response to this outrage, the film was indeed pulled from the big theater chains and relegated to a handful of art house theaters. As a then-spokesperson for Regal Entertainment Group, one of the movie theater chains that caved into the pressure, reportedly stated, “We do not feel it is appropriate to portray the future assassination of a president, therefore we do not intend to program this film at any of our cinemas.”
Yet fast forward to 2014, and The Drudge Report reads, “SURRENDER: SONY PULLS ‘INTERVIEW.” (Apparently Drudge’s computer is stuck in “caps lock” mode.) Malkin’s Twitter feed, meanwhile, is filled with retweets that denounce Sony’s puling of the film.
But the award for the biggest flip-flopper of them all goes to Peter King. The man who in 2006 called for theaters to not screen the film that portrayed Bush being assassinated sang a far different tune when interviewed earlier this week by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. When Blitzer asked King if it was appropriate for a film to depict a world leader being assassinated, King responded, “There’s no reason not to do it.”
King went on to state — as if he had no recollection of what he said in 2006 — that there have “been terrible things said about our presidents and our leaders in movies. … This is something that, in a free society, we tolerate.”
Look, if you are going to credibly defend freedom of expression, it requires that you be consistent. You can’t just defend the words or images you agree with. That’s not how freedom of expression works. And deep down, I know that King and the pundits on the right know this. But too often they are playing to their political base or the consumers of their media outlets at the expense of intellectual honesty. (And to be candid, some on the left are just as guilty, though typically not in the area of freedom of expression.)
Will the future bring any changes? Tough to say, although to be honest it seems unlikely. It’s how some of them remain in office and attract fans to their websites and TV shows.
But thanks to a thing called Google we can discover in a matter of minutes the selective outrage and outright hypocrisy of these people. At least then we can dismiss their words as being nothing more than hollow pandering.