ABC's 'Boston Legal' Airs Anti-Bush Tirade, Takes Shot at FNC & Raises McCarthy Era

Another episode of ABC's prime time drama Boston Legal will air tonight (Tuesday). Last week's episode featured a plot line with over-the-top lawyer "Alan Shore," played by James Spader, delivering a five-minute-long closing argument, in defense of a woman who wouldn't pay income taxes, railing against the war on terrorism. Earlier, explaining to Shore her reasoning, the woman, "Melissa Hughes," cited how her grandfather, who fought in World War I, would be "embarrassed" by "what's happening today." She listed "us torturing people, spying on our own people, squashing everybody's civil liberties. My grandfather would weep." To which Shore got in an obvious slap at FNC: "You need to change the channel. The awful things you speak of never happen on the 'fair and balanced' newscasts."

In his closing, Shore cited a litany of misdeeds, including: "When the weapons of mass destruction thing turned out not to be true, I expected the American people to rise up....And, now it's been discovered the executive branch has been conducting massive, illegal, domestic surveillance on its own citizens -- you and me. And I at least consoled myself that finally, FINALLY, the American people will have had enough. Evidently, we haven't." Shore soon compared the current climate to that of the McCarthy era, recalling what he read in a book by Adlai Stevenson: "Too often, sinister threats to the bill of rights, to freedom of the mind, 'are concealed under the patriotic cloak of anti-communism.' Today, it's the cloak of anti-terrorism."

Video excerpt #1, “Shore” listing misdeeds (1:25): Real (2.5 MB) or Windows Media (2.9 MB)

Video excerpt #2, “Shore” making McCarthy era comparison (1:15): Real (2.2 MB) or Windows Media (2.5 MB)

NewsBuster Noel Sheppard last week first posted an item on this episode, “From Abu Ghraib to Terrorist Surveillance, Boston Legal Takes on President Bush,” with a link to an outside video clip. My item here provides a longer transcript of the scene recounted by Sheppard, as well as additional scenes and video.

This item was posted earlier today (with MP3 audio in addition to the video) as part of the March 21 MRC CyberAlert.

Boston Legal, created and produced by David Kelley, is set at the imaginary Boston law firm of Crane, Poole and Schmidt were the Crane is "Denny Crane," played by William Shatner.

ABC's page for the series. The Internet Movie Database's page for the show. ABC's bio page for Spader. IMDb's page for Spader.

Boston Legal wasn't the only prime time drama last week to work in some left-wing political advocacy from a leading character. As recounted in a March 16 NewsBusters item:
On the March 16 ER, a leading character on the NBC drama set in a Chicago hospital, declared in reference to her husband being deployed to Iraq: "My duty is to be a good doctor and to be a good wife, not to be brainwashed into falling in line with some pseudo-patriotic delusion." The blast from "Dr. Neela Rasgotra," played by Parminder Nagra, came at the end of a scene of a gathering of spouses of deployed soldiers. When one woman, whose husband would not be home for the impending birth of their child, proclaimed that "our loved ones are serving our country, and it's a small price to pay," Dr. Rasgotra replied: "I think it's a huge price to pay, especially under the circumstances." The woman wondered: "What circumstances?" Dr. Rasgotra explained: "Well, the way the whole thing's been handled, how we got into it, how it's been managed....I still haven't seen any weapons of mass destruction, have you?" As they all sat in a home's living room, Dr. Rasgotra pleaded with the group: "You can't tell me that you believe 100 percent in your heart that we should be in Iraq, can any of you?"

Now, the relevant scenes from the March 14 Boston Legal:
# "Melissa Hughes," a secretary at the law firm, in a jail cell explaining why her grandfather, who fought in WWI, wouldn't want her to pay taxes: "He was such a proud American and I just start thinking how embarrassed he would be by what's happening today."

Lawyer "Alan Shore": "What's happening?"

Hughes: "Us torturing people, spying on our own people, squashing everybody's civil liberties. My grandfather would weep. It makes me weep."

Shore: "Melissa, you need to change the channel. The awful things you speak of never happen on the 'fair and balanced' newscasts."


# In court, Hughes testifies about how she was "embarrassed" by the "whole weapons of mass destruction thing. Maybe we lied, maybe we made a mistake, but either way, as goofs go, to start a war? Hello?"

Shore: "It seems as though you oppose the war."

Hughes: "Actually, I don't. If the government had said, 'we need to do anything to get rid of Saddam,' I would've said, 'let's roll.' And if we had apologized after making such a humongous gaffe with the whole weapons thingy, I'm sure I could've accepted that, too. But instead, we were so arrogant. It was embarrassing."

Shore: "Yes. Anything else?"

Hughes: "Torture. Our military tortured prisoners. Aren't we supposed to be the country that stands for human rights? I mean, doesn't it just make you want to hide?...And spying. Okay, we spy on our own citizens now? All this to fight terrorists because they're a threat to freedom as we know it? I mean, talk about burning down the barn to kill the rats. Am I the only one embarrassed by this?"

Prosecutor: "What about the military, Ms. Hughes? Have our soldiers embarrassed you?"

Hughes: "I have always been as proud of our troops as I am grateful."

Prosecutor: "Now I believe you said that you're actually for the war. I guess you'd be for winning it."

Hughes: "Of course."

Prosecutor: "Well, what chance do you think we'd have of victory if people started not paying their taxes?"

Hughes: "Not good."

Prosecutor: "But I guess if you're ashamed enough to be an American, it's okay-"

Shore, jumping up: "She never said she was 'ashamed' to be. She said she was 'embarrassed' as, a distinction often missed by those who confuse dissent for disloyalty."


# Shore's closing statement consumed almost exactly five minutes, a very long time in TV time. Here's virtually all of it, saving space by skipping some of his banter with the judge:

"When the weapons of mass destruction thing turned out not to be true, I expected the American people to rise up. They didn't. Then, when the Abu Ghraib torture thing surfaced, and it was revealed that our government participated in rendition -- a practice where we kidnap people, and turn them over to regimes who specialize in torture -- I was sure then that the American people would be heard from. We stood mute.

"Then came the news that we jailed thousands of so-called terrorist suspects. Locked them up without the right to a trial, or even the right to confront their accusers. Certainly, we would never stand for that. We did. And, now it's been discovered the executive branch has been conducting massive, illegal, domestic surveillance on its own citizens -- you and me. And I at least consoled myself that finally, FINALLY, the American people will have had enough. Evidently, we haven't.

"In fact, if the people of this country have spoken, the message is: We're okay with it all -- torture, warrant-less search and seizures, illegal wiretappings, prison without a fair trial, or any trial, war on false pretenses. We as a citizenry are apparently not offended."

"There are no demonstrations on college campuses. In fact, there's no clear indication that young people even seem to notice. Well, Melissa Hughes noticed. Now you might think, instead of withholding her taxes, she could've protested the old-fashioned way -- made a placard and demonstrated at a presidential or vice presidential appearance. But we've lost the right to that as well. The Secret Service can now declare 'free speech zones,' to contain, control and, in effect, criminalize protest. Stop for a second and try to fathom that. At a presidential rally, parade or appearance, if you have on a supportive T-shirt, you can be there. If you're wearing or carrying something in protest, you can be removed.

"This in the United States of America! This in the United states of America! Is Melissa Hughes the only one embarrassed?"...

"And what I'm most sick and tired of, is how every time somebody disagrees with how the government is running things, he or she is labeled 'Un-American.'"...

"I object to government abusing its power to squash the constitutional freedoms of its citizenry. And God forbid, anybody challenge it, they're smeared as being a heretic. Melissa Hughes is an American. Melissa Hughes is an American."...

"Last night, I went to bed with a book. Not as much fun as a 29 year old, but the book contained a speech by Adlai Stevenson. The year was 1952. He said, 'the tragedy of our day is the climate of fear in which we live,' and 'fear breeds repression.' Too often, sinister threats to the bill of rights, to freedom of the mind, 'are concealed under the patriotic cloak of anti-communism.' Today, it's the cloak of anti-terrorism. Stevenson also remarked, 'it's far easier to fight for principles than to live up to them.' I know we are all afraid, but the Bill of Rights, we have to live up to that. We simply must. That's all Melissa Hughes was trying to say. She was speaking for you. I would ask you now to go back to that room and speak for her."
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center