All three network morning shows on Tuesday spun American Sniper as controversial and possibly as a movie that "glorifies killing." ABC, CBS and NBC played up attacks by Michael Moore, but they ignored the most incendiary part of the liberal filmmaker's comments.
Good Morning America co-host George Stephanopoulos opened the show by hyping, "Taking fire. American Sniper, the record setting blockbuster burning up the box office, feeling the heat from Hollywood heavyweights who say it glorifies killing." Co-host Robin Roberts chastised, "Some are asking if the record-setting movie glorifies a hero or a killer."
Neither host pointed out that the obvious point: Glorifying killing is something Hollywood routinely does. Both ABC and CBS This Morning highlighted a billboard in Los Angeles "spray painted with the word murder." All three networks touted left-wing criticism of the movie. ABC's Byron Pitts explained:
BYRON PITTS: Online, a firestorm after comedian Seth Rogen and filmmaker Michael Moore both appeared to take aim at the film. Rogen saying it reminded him of a scene about Nazi propaganda in the film Inglorious Basterds [sic]. And Moore tweeting, quote, "We were taught snipers were cowards who will shoot you in the back. Snipers aren't heroes."
Left out of the reports on Moore's comments were his snide Facebook remarks connecting it to Martin Luther King's holiday:
Lots of talk about snipers this weekend (the holiday weekend of a great man, killed by a sniper)...Hopefully not on this weekend when we remember that man in Memphis, Tennessee, who was killed by a sniper's bullet.
The director now denies his original remarks were actually about the movie American Sniper.
CBS This Morning co-host Gayle King offered unqualified praise, saying of Chris Kyle and the film: "I really loved the movie and at the end of the day he saved a lot of lives. Chris Kyle saved a lot of lives."
In the 9am hour of Today, Tamron Hall hit Moore for trying to take back his comments. According to Hall, Moore is a "toothless tiger" who should own his comments and not pretend his topic was something other than the movie.
This Morning offered a follow-up segment with famous producer Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein, who has worked on some of Moore's movies, spun, "I think Michael Moore may have gotten misquoted."
On NBC's Today, Matt Lauer lectured that American Sniper's success is "leading to a debate over the film's message about war." On Monday, Lauer's MSNBC colleague Ed Schultz said he was "disturbed" by how the movie contributes to the "normalizing of Islamophobia."
In 2006, the Media Research Center found that the same networks didn't find much controversial about The Da Vinci Code, a movie that asserts Christianity is based on a lie and Jesus Christ did not rise from the dead.
A transcript of the January 20 GMA segment is below:
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: And taking fire. American Sniper, the record setting blockbuster burning up the box office, feeling the heat from Hollywood heavyweights who say it glorifies killing. Will the controversy help or hurt its Oscar hopes?
ABC GRAPHIC: Buzz & Backlash for "American Sniper"
ROBIN ROBERTS: Now to best picture Oscar nominee American Sniper generating big buzz. Major questions right now. Some are asking if the record-setting movie glorifies a hero or a killer. ABC's Byron Pitts has that story for us.
[Clip from American Sniper.]
BYRON PITTS: It's the blockbuster hit shattering records this morning. American Sniper, raking in $105 million in just four days. Now, the largest opening weekend ever for a drama. Not to mention its six Oscar nods, including best picture and best actor for Bradley Cooper who plays Chris Kyle the real life Navy S.E.A.L. with the most kills in U.S. history.
BRADLEY COOPER: He is a clearly an individual that you would never, ever want to mess with.
PITTS: But the film, directed Clint Eastwood, is generating drama off screen this morning. This billboard in Los Angeles spray painted with the word murder. And online, a firestorm after comedian Seth Rogen and filmmaker Michael Moore both appeared to take aim at the film. Rogen saying it reminded him of a scene about Nazi propaganda in the film Inglorious Basterds [sic]. And Moore tweeting, quote, "We were taught snipers were cowards who will shoot you in the back. Snipers aren't heroes." Both Rogen and Moore later saying their comments were taken out of context. But the implication was enough to put celebrities and politicians on the defensive. Rob Lowe responding in disbelief to Moore's tweet."He's kidding, right?" And overnight, Sarah Palin slamming what she calls "Hollywood leftists" on Facebook. But also thanking Cooper and Eastwood for, quote, "respecting the United States military."
REBECCA SUN (Senior reporter, Hollywood Reporter): People still have very passionate and polarized opinions about the rightness of going to war in Iraq, whether or not celebrating sniper kills is something that we should be doing.
PITTS: But while the controversy rages on this morning, Chris Kyle's widow says she's proud of her late husband and Cooper's job portraying him.
TAYA KYLE (Chris Kyle's widow): The heart of the man, the ability to laugh through it all, Bradley captured all of that.
PITTS: For Good Morning America, Bryon Pitts, ABC News, New York.