A Comical Slant

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.]

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3 thoughts on “A Comical Slant

  1. Well, I guess you think me the fool for falling for what you regard as a false account, but I’d rather be the fool on the same side as the Bill of Rights (all ten amendments), thank you — in this particular context the Fourth, about us being secure from search of our persons and property by agents of the federal government without probable cause and a judicially-signed warrant.

    I believe it likely to be a true account because of what I’ve seen of the TSA, the Theft from your Suitcase Associates. Entire rings of TSA thieves stealing from checked luggage have been arrested according to news reports from both Los Angeles and St. Louis airports, as well as in Seattle, Milwaukee, Las Vegas, and more. I personally witnessed on the Metro Link train to the airport here three uniformed TSA screeners on their way to “work”, one literally bouncing up and down in his seat with glee, so excited he looked like Eddie Deezen on Benzedrine, yapping a mile-a-minute about all the suitcases he was going to get to open and all the “private stuff” he was going to get to see. Of the other two, one ignored him but the other grinned at him and nodded.

    In St. Louis, because of the way the building is constructed, international arrivals deplane eventually onto a concourse which departing passengers also use, and so there’s a screening for those arriving as well as departing. When my family and I arrived back from London and our Harry Potter sweepstakes trip, first we were barked orders on how to set our luggage down in rows so the drug dog could sniff our baggage, with the clear attitude that we were all considered mules until the dog “proved” our innocence. Then Customs x-rayed all the bags, opening some. Then we had to carry our bags through a doorway into literally the very next room, where the screeners x-rayed and opened them again, in case we planted something in them in the twenty feet between the Customs desk search and theirs, before we would be allowed to enter the concourse, exit the concourse, and go home.

    There I witnessed a tired three-year-old who with his family had just come back from vacation in Cozumel, Mexico. It was August, it was hot, and the kid was wearing only a t-shirt, pocket-less shorts, and rubber flip-flops, no socks. He was tired, he was cranky, and he was frightened by the stranger waving a big black box in his face as she tried to magnet-wand him. He wouldn’t stand still, he was clearly unable to have been hiding even a gum wrapper on his person, and the screener told the father that if the child didn’t stand still, she would arrest the child! She finally agreed to let the father physically hold the screaming, crying boy down to be wanded, but only after wanding the father twice.

    None of this made me or my family safer, all of it assumed we were guilty of felony crime and they just hadn’t found it yet.

    So, yeah, I believed Mr. Sable’s account of ignorant, hostile TSA screeners: it exactly matched my own personal observation and experience. More fool, me, for believing my lying eyes and ears.

  2. That so many people resent TSA screening is what made it so easy for BOOM! Studios to pump gas into an ordinary travel incident and pass it off as an outrage against humanity. I simply figure you are one of many fans with libertarian sentiments BOOM! has cynically taken advantage of.

    Whether you resent TSA’s treatment of you, or know some TSA employees have been prosecuted for crimes, BOOM!’s press release is still engaging in a false attempt to put the focus on the comic book script as if it had something to do with Sable’s interaction with TSA or the searches. It obviously could not have been the cause.

    You pointed me to a Wikipedia article that devotes hundreds of words to court decisions about the Fourth Amendment. If it would be helpful, I can point you to the online text of several federal court decisions that have determined these TSA warrantless searches are lawful.

  3. > That so many people resent TSA screening is what made it so easy for
    > BOOM! Studios to pump gas into an ordinary travel incident and pass it
    > off as an outrage against humanity. I simply figure you are one of
    > many fans with libertarian sentiments BOOM! has cynically taken
    > advantage of.

    Perhaps you are correct. Perhaps I misread what I took to be personal criticism, which hit me in a sensitive spot. I do know you to be an honest and decent man with whom I can have a legitimate but still friendly disagreement. I have no personal knowledge of them at all.

    I would read any page links you wish to share. I suspect I won’t agree with them, as I don’t believe the Founders would have written words absolutely forbidding the government to do certain things if they hadn’t meant the government to be absolutely forbidden to do those things, but I welcome the opportunity to learn what others think.

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