Updated below with statement from Leahy
Quick, Robin! To the Patmobile!
U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy's cameo in the forthcoming The Dark Knight Rises is shining a bat-signal-sized spotlight on the senator's coziness with Hollywood. Seven Days' Paul Heintz broke down the senator's Tinseltown ties in his Fair Game column two weeks ago.
Now a bunch of jokers from the internet group Demand Progress have launched a website called HolyConflictOfInterest.com devoted to highlighting Leahy's fondness for Hollywood-friendly legislation (and Warner Bros. fondness for casting Leahy in its Batman films), and featuring a Batman-style comic strip mocking Vermont's senior senator.
Demand Progress slams Vermont's senior senator for his steadfast support of the proposed Protect IP Act and its companion in the Senate, the Stop Online Piracy Act, which would empower the Justice Department to block web traffic to sites hosting pirated content such as copyrighted movies and music. From HolyConflictOfInterest:
Hollywood spends millions of dollars trying to buy off politicians. They've even repeatedly let Senator Patrick Leahy — the sponsor of the Senate version of SOPA (called PIPA) and the chairman of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over most bills that Hollywood cares about — appear in their summer blockbusters. He's in The Dark Knight Rises, and was also in the last Batman movie.
On its website, Demand Progress describes itself as an organizing and lobbying group that focuses on "civil liberaties, civil rights and government reform. We run online campaigns to rally people to take action on the news that affects them — by contacting Congress and other leaders, funding pressure tactics, and spreading the word in their own communities."
But wait — there's another dark knight in this story!
Last year, Demand Progress' founder and advisory board director, Aaron Swartz, was indicted on federal wire fraud and computer fraud charges for allegedly hacking into servers at the Massachusettts Institute of Technology and downloading 4.8 million scholarly articles from JSTOR, an online service connecting researchers with articles.
From a New York Times story:
In 2008, Mr. Swartz released a “Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto,” calling for activists to “fight back” against the sequestering of scholarly papers and information behind pay walls.
“It’s time to come into the light and, in the grand tradition of civil disobedience, declare our opposition to this private theft of public culture,” he wrote. One goal: “We need to download scientific journals and upload them to file-sharing networks.”
So, who's the super-villian now?
Seven Days put in a request to Leahy's office for a reaction to the website and comic, but hadn't heard back as of Thursday afternoon. The conservative web outlet the Daily Caller managed to catch up with Leahy in D.C. this week and asked him about the questions that his Bat-cameo are raising.
In a brief interview outside the Senate floor this week, Leahy brushed off the suggestion that it may be inappropriate for him to accept a movie role when the Senate Judiciary Committee he chairs has jurisdiction over issues affecting the movie industry.
He denied that his cameo could be seen as a gift from those in the movie industry.
“No, it’s not a gift from the film industry,” Leahy told The Daily Caller. “It’s a huge gift to the children’s library in Montpelier, Vermont.”
Leahy has said he’s donating all royalties and fees to the Kellogg-Hubbard Library — the Vermont library where he first read comic books as a child.
Leahy spokesman David Carle responded with a written statement Thursday afternoon:
“Batman’s connection to Vermont and Patrick Leahy and the children’s wing of the Kellogg-Hubbard Library is a great thing that spans many years. Along the way it has led as well to such other projects as warning kids in conflict zones about the dangers of landmines.
“In Senator Leahy view, theft is theft, regardless of whether it takes place in the physical world or online. The hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars lost to digital theft by overseas websites and organized crime is a serious and worsening concern. It touches everyone. It affects law enforcement, consumer safety and countless jobs across the country. He has invited and continues to invite to the table those who offer constructive solutions.”