Here’s how a premeditated slant turned a news story into a lie. But it was for the sake of selling more comic books, so that makes it okay, right?
BOOM! Studios mid-May press release about one of its writer’s experience being screened by airport security begins:
Comics writer Mark Sable was detained by TSA security guards at LAX this past weekend when they discovered inflammatory material in a script for Sable’s new BOOM Studios miniseries Unthinkable. The comic series follows members of a government think tank that was tasked with coming up with 9/11-type “unthinkable” terrorist scenarios that now are coming true.
Lots of comics bloggers ran the press release verbatim as a news story, and so did SF Scope. David Klaus sent me a link to the place he’d read it, plus his outraged response: “It’s a chilling effect when in Los Angeles, of all places, possession of a script gets you flagged as a possible terrorist by semi-literate ‘security guards’.”
That’s exactly the reaction BOOM! Studios was angling for. Yes, once more the ignorant powers of tyranny are trampling the freedoms of a comic book creator — hurry and buy this forbidden stuff while you still can!
Now study the story more closely. Was comics writer Mark Sable detained by TSA security guards at LAX because in his belongings he carried the script for Unthinkable, a comic about a government think tank tasked with imagining 9/11-type terrorist scenarios? Here’s how Sable told it in remarks made part of the press release:
Flying from Los Angeles to New York for a signing at Jim Hanley’s Universe Wednesday (May 13th), I was flagged at the gate for ‘extra screening’. I was subjected to not one, but two invasive searches of my person and belongings. TSA agents then “discovered” the script for UNTHINKABLE #3. They sat and read the script while I stood there, without any personal items, identification or ticket, which had all been confiscated.
The minute I saw the faces of the agents, I knew I was in trouble. The first page of the Unthinkable script mentioned 9/11, terror plots and the fact that the (fictional) world had become a police state. The TSA agents then proceeded to interrogate me, having a hard time understanding that a comic book could be about anything other than superheroes, let alone that anyone actually wrote scripts for comics.
I cooperated politely and tried to explain to them the irony of the situation. While Unthinkable blurs the line between fiction and reality, the story is based on a real-life government think tank where a writer was tasked to design worst-case terror scenarios. The fictional story of Unthinkable unfolds when the writer’s scenarios come true, and he becomes a suspect in the terrorist attacks.
There are things that just don’t connect. Sable was selected for “extra screening” before TSA knew he had this comic book script on him. Therefore, the script was not the cause of the screening. We don’t know what led to it except that it cannot have been prompted by something TSA had yet to discover in his belongings.
I’ve had experiences with extra screening myself. The suitcase I used on my 2004 trip to Turkey has, ever since, consistently triggered the interest of TSA baggage inspectors. That’s a nuisance, but it’s never made me miss my flight. And Sable doesn’t say he missed his flight, either. The press release uses the word “detained” to create an impression that what happened was more dramatic than actually was the case.
Sable and his belongings were given an “invasive” search. Sable doesn’t say it was physically forced upon him (indeed, he says he fully cooperated). Yet that’s where the reader’s imagination is invited to go, despite there being no reason to think TSA did anything more “invasive” than open his belongings and look in them.
That’s when TSA discovered the “inflammatory material,” Sable’s script containing terrorist scenarios. What’s TSA supposed to do at that point? Ask no questions? Ignore it? Because we know that nothing written on a piece of paper could be dangerous, right?
And they sat down and read his script! This is supposed to make me indignant, that TSA verified Sable’s explanation on the spot then let him board his plane?
This time it’s the TSA guys I feel sorry for and — as Ben Bradlee says about someone in All The President’s Men — I didn’t think that was possible.
[Thanks to David Klaus for the story.]