Lincoln screenwriter and legendary playwright Tony Kushner has a bit of a bone to pick with politicians who dare criticize the reality of Oscar-nominated cinema. On Monday Kushner's name appeared on a scolding letter sent to 100 U.S. Senators, some of whom — including Dianne Feinstein and John McCain — continue to criticize the depiction of torture in the Zero Dark Thirty. According to the New York Times, the letter was penned by New York lawyer Norman Siegel and signed by a bunch of other lawyers, too. An excerpt:

A letter from United States Senators to a private citizen that includes the words “please consider correcting...” has an inevitable chilling, coercive and intimidating effect on citizens, including a private film company, a screenwriter and a film director. It is an inappropriate and uncalled for effort by government officials to control viewpoints expressed by private citizens, and to conform those viewpoints to what government officials think is correct.

The letter came two days after Kushner responded to Connecticut Congressman and Lincoln fact-checker Joe Courtney over the screenplay of Lincoln, authored by Kushner, in which two Congressmen from Connecticut vote against the Thirteenth Amendment — a significant deviation from the historical record. (All four representatives from Connecticut voted for the amendment, which abolished slavery.) In response to Courtney's (very legitimate) complaint, Kushner wrote:

I’m sorry if anyone in Connecticut felt insulted by these 15 seconds of the movie, although issuing a Congressional press release startlingly headlined “Before The Oscars…” seems a rather flamboyant way to make that known. I’m deeply heartened that the vast majority of moviegoers seem to have understood that this is a dramatic film and not an attack on their home state.

It's a bit strange that Tony Kushner, whose work in theater and film has never shied away from politics, is disturbed by the fact that his screenplay — when caught in an historical inaccuracy — provoked a political response. The letter he signed on Monday, reproduced in full below, is equally odd. It warns of the "inevitable chilling effect" occasioned by politicians critiquing Zero Dark Thirty yet downplays the same government's considerable involvement in the same film. Senators Feinstein, Levin, and McCain weren't simply criticizing the film's depiction of torture in hopes to making the government look better; they were afraid that the C.I.A. had intentionally misled Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal in the course of advising them.

Here's the full text of the letter Kushner signed:

Dear Senator:

The recent controversy over the film “Zero Dark Thirty” implicates free expression, artistic freedom and public policy issues that are of great concern to us.

Many, if not most, of us who have signed this letter, do not take second place to anyone in our opposition to torture.  And many, if not most, of us are persuaded by the evidence we have seen, including the evidence cited in the letter from United States Senators Dianne Feinstein, Carl Levin and John McCain, that torture is generally not a reliable producer of useful information. But the three Senators telling the producers of “Zero Dark Thirty” that their film was “factually inaccurate” and that Sony Pictures had “an obligation” to conform its film to the Senators’ view of what was “factually accurate” as well as their request for Sony Pictures to alter the film’s content crosses the line of appropriate and constitutional action.  History demonstrates, in particular the 1950's McCarthy period, that government officials should not employ their official status and power to attempt to censor, alter or pressure artists to change their expressions, beliefs, presentations of facts or political viewpoints. This bedrock principle is on point here where the Senators wrote the following to Sony Pictures: “Please consider correcting the impression that the CIA’s use of coercive interrogation techniques led to the operation against Usama Bin Laden.”

A letter from United States Senators to a private citizen that includes the words “please consider correcting...” has an inevitable chilling, coercive and intimidating effect on citizens, including a private film company, a screenwriter and a film director. It is an inappropriate and uncalled for effort by government officials to control viewpoints expressed by private citizens, and to conform those viewpoints to what government officials think is correct.

If the Senators want to investigate what role CIA officials played in the making of the film, they have a right to investigate the CIA.  If they want to issue a public report designed to persuade the public that torture did not, and does not generally, produce reliable or critically useful information, and to cite what evidence they can to support that view, they can certainly appropriately do that.  But they should not be “requesting" that artists or any other private citizens conform their views to what the Senators believe, nor should they be investigating, or even threatening to investigate the film makers. Once allowed to do that, they and all other government officials would, now and prospectively, gain the authority to pressure other filmmakers, as well as book, newspaper and magazine publishers on other issues. How this would differ from the pressures brought upon Hollywood during the fifties is difficult to discern.  One need only imagine similar moves made against a wide range of historical films and books, whose implications displeased some government officials, to see where this would lead.

We, as a nation committed to open and robust freedom of expression, should have learned by now that the concept of an open marketplace of ideas means that we allow all viewpoints to be expressed in the belief that the good ideas defeat the bad ideas.  We have learned that censoring ideas or artistic expression that some find offensive, inappropriate or wrong-minded is antithetical to democratic principles, and that utilizing the power of government to alter such expression is always mischievous and short-sighted.  If the First Amendment means anything, it means that.

Very truly yours,

[Signatories]