Meet John Doe

Gary Cooper played John Doe in the Frank Capra film “Meet John Doe.” It’s a timely film about media manipulation driven by a sinister newspaper mogul with cynical political purposes. The media manipulation nevertheless takes on a life of its own in the flowering of the “John Doe Movement.”
Many of us think that the case of the flyling imams begins with another case of media manipulation. In her Star Tribune column today, Katherine Kersten takes a look at the complaint they have filed against US Airways in Minnesota federal district court. Kathy discovers some John Doe defendants — defendants whose identity plaintiffs do not know at present, but may later include in the lawsuit:

[T]he most alarming aspect of the imams’ suit is buried in paragraph 21 of their complaint. It describes “John Doe” defendants whose identity the imams’ attorneys are still investigating. It reads: “Defendants ‘John Does’ were passengers … who contacted U.S. Airways to report the alleged ‘suspicious’ behavior of Plaintiffs’ performing their prayer at the airport terminal.”
Paragraph 22 adds: “Plaintiffs will seek leave to amend this Complaint to allege true names, capacities, and circumstances supporting [these defendants’] liability … at such time as Plaintiffs ascertain the same.”
In plain English, the imams plan to sue the “John Does,” too.
Who are these unnamed culprits? The complaint describes them as “an older couple who was sitting [near the imams] and purposely turn[ed] around to watch” as they prayed. “The gentleman (‘John Doe’) in the couple … picked up his cellular phone and made a phone call while watching the Plaintiffs pray,” then “moved to a corner” and “kept talking into his cellular phone.”
In retribution for this action, the unnamed couple probably will be dragged into court soon and face the prospect of hiring a lawyer, enduring hostile questioning and paying huge legal bills. The same fate could await other as-yet-unnamed passengers on the US Airways flight who came forward as witnesses.
The imams’ attempt to bully ordinary passengers marks an alarming new front in the war on airline security. Average folks, “John Does” like you and me, initially observed and reported the imams’ suspicious behavior on Nov. 20. Such people are our “first responders” against terrorism. But the imams’ suit may frighten such individuals into silence, as they seek to avoid the nightmare of being labeled bigots and named as defendants.

Unlike Frank Capra’s John Doe, these John Does are the real deal. Like Capra’s John Doe, however, they represent a genuine citizens’ movement. If identified and added to the lawsuit, they may have a claim or two of their own to assert against the flying imams, or a movement to start.
UPDATE: My colleague Peter Swanson helps me here with the “Meet John Doe” reference:

[Johnson’s] reference to Frank Capra’s 1941 classic, Meet John Doe, is very fitting. This speech is from a scene when the bum (recruited by the newspaper to pose as John Doe) really begins to believe his words. It may describe the average citizens who apparently did the right thing in reporting the unusual behavior of the imams. It certainly describes the individuals on Flight 93.

He’s the man the ads are written for. He’s the fella everybody sells things to. He’s Joe Doakes, the world’s greatest stooge and the world’s greatest strength. Yes sir, yes sir, we’re a great family, the John Does. We are the meek who are supposed to inherit the earth. You’ll find us everywhere. We raise the crops, we dig the mines, work the factories, keep the books, fly the planes and drive the buses, and when the cop yells, ‘Stand back there you,’ he means us – the John Does. We’ve existed since time began. We built the pyramids. We saw Christ crucified, pulled the oars for Roman emperors, sailed the boats for Columbus, retreated from Moscow with Napoleon, and froze with Washington at Valley Forge. Yes sir, we’ve been in there dodging left hooks since before History began to walk. In our struggle for freedom, we’ve hit the canvas many a time, but we always bounced back because we’re the people – and we’re tough. (Applause)…
They’ve started a lot of talk about free people goin’ soft, that we can’t take it. That’s a lot of hooey! A free people can beat the world at anything, from war to tiddlywinks, if we all pull in the same direction. (Applause)
I know a lot of you are saying, ‘What can I do? I’m just a little punk. I don’t count. Well, you’re dead wrong. The little punks have always counted because in the long run, the character of a country is the sum total of the character of its little punks. (Applause)
But we’ve all got to get in there and pitch. We can’t win the old ball game unless we have teamwork. And that’s where every John Doe comes in. It’s up to him to get together with his teammate, and your teammate, my friends, is the guy next door to ya. Your neighbor – he’s a terribly important guy, that guy next door. You’re gonna need him and he’s gonna need you, so look him up. If he’s sick, call on him. If he’s hungry, feed him. If he’s out of a job, find him one. To most of you, your neighbor is a stranger, a guy with a barkin’ dog and a high fence around him. Now you can’t be a stranger to any guy that’s on your own team. So tear down the fence that separates you. Tear down the fence and you’ll tear down a lot of hates and prejudices. Tear down all the fences in the country and you’ll really have teamwork. (Applause)
I know a lot of you are saying to yourselves: ‘He’s askin’ for a miracle to happen. He’s expecting people to change all of a sudden.’ Well, you’re wrong. It’s no miracle.
…Yes sir, my friends, the meek can only inherit the earth when the John Does start loving their neighbors. You’d better start right now. Don’t wait till the game is called on account of darkness. Wake up, John Doe, you’re the hope of the world.

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