I know, I know … who would have ever guessed that a blockbuster film about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden and was scheduled to open just before the election might have been used for political propaganda? Well … everyone did, including Maureen Dowd last August when the film’s schedule and subject matter came to light. At the time, the filmmakers insisted that they didn’t want to produce a hagiography of Barack Obama for his role in the film, but Judicial Watch discovered something very different when it got hold of e-mails between the production company and the administration, as reported by Josh Gerstein at Politico:
Just weeks after Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency officials warned publicly of the dangers posed by leaks about the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, top officials at both agencies and at the White House granted Hollywood filmmakers unusual access to those involved in planning the raid and some of the methods they used to do it, newly released government records show.
At a briefing in July 2011, Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Mike Vickers told filmmakers Michael Boal and Katherine Bigelow that the leaders of the the Special Operations Command couldn’t speak to them for appearances’ sake. However, Vickers said that the Pentagon would make available a Navy SEAL who was involved in planning the raid from its earliest stages.
“On the operators side, Adm. McRaven and Adm. Olson do not want to talk directly, because it’s just a bad, their [sic] just concerned as commanders of the force and they’re telling them all the time—don’t you dare talk to anybody, that it’s just a bad example if it gets out—even with all sorts of restrictions and everything,” Vickers said, according to a transcript of the meeting released Friday to Judicial Watch. The conservative watchdog group filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit demanding the documents.
In other words, while the Obama administration demanded a leak-free environment — for good reasons, too — they leaked the very same information to filmmakers in order to make themselves look good. That didn’t come with a change of policy either, Gerstein notes:
The Pentagon is now withholding from the public and the press the same name DoD gave the filmmakers. The response sent to Judicial Watch explains the deletion by citing privacy concerns as well as a statute allowing the Secretary of Defense to protect the names of members of “routinely deployable” and “sensitive” units. It is unclear whether the court will uphold such a withholding given that the name was already disclosed to a member of the public by a senior official, apparently with some forethought.
Judicial Watch has much more, including the declared intent to use “White House talking points” to shape the film:
Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers told Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Douglas Wilson and two other DOD communications staffers in a June 13, 2011, email that “[DOD] would like to shape the story to prevent any gross inaccuracies, but do not want to make it look like the commanders think it’s okay to talk to the media.” The email went on to say: “For the intelligence case, they are basically using the WH-approved talking points we used the night of the operation.” The talking points called the raid “a ‘Gutsy Decision’ by the POTUS,” adding that “WH involvement was critical.”
I’ll bet it was! But that’s not the only critical involvement in this exchange. How did Boal and the filmmakers get connected so well? The answer is rather ironic for a President who regularly thunders about the undue influence of lobbyists:
- A July 13, 2011, email to Commander Bob Mehal, Public Affairs Officer for Defense Press Operations, indicates that Sarah Zukowski, an associate for The Glover Park Group, arranged the July 14, 2011 visit by Bigelow and Boal to the DOD and the CIA. The Glover Park Group is described by Politico as a “Democratic-leaning advocacy firm.”
- A June 27, 2011, email to an official at the Office of the Secretary of Defense suggests that the request from Bigelow and Boal to meet with Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Michael Vickers came via the White House press office. A June 22, 2011, email to Commander Bob Mehal, Public Affairs Officer for Defense Press Operations notes, “The White House does want to engage with Mark but it probably won’t be for a few more weeks. We should provide them a read-out of the session you do with Vickers.” The name of the White House official who forwarded the request is blacked out.
Eventually, the bad publicity surrounding the obvious intent of scheduling the film’s release for the second week of October forced the studio to push it back into 2013. Perhaps the entire project should get shelved, or at least released as a cautionary tale about propaganda.