WASHINGTON — Homeland security is going Hollywood.
Following the Pentagon, CIA, FBI and other government agencies, the Department
of Homeland Security has hired a Hollywood liaison to work with moviemakers
Bobbie Faye Ferguson, a onetime actress who worked with Hollywood at NASA for
seven years, is now reviewing 14 movie, TV and documentary projects. If she
approves of a script or idea, the department will offer advice and technical
help to the directors, producers and actors about portraying the nation's homeland
defenders. (Related story: Hollywood, Pentagon share rich past)
Demand for her services is high. Although Homeland Security's Border Patrol
agents and airport baggage screeners may not seem as daring as CIA spies or
as brave as Pentagon warriors, fighting terrorism is a hot topic in the entertainment
industry these days.
"I've had dozens and dozens of inquiries," says Ferguson, who was
touring the California-Mexico border Monday with two screenwriters. "It's
always been a topic they've been interested in, but more so now."
Already, the department has given guidance to last year's The Terminal, in
which Tom Hanks played an immigrant stranded at JFK airport in New York, and
to the TV shows CSI: Miami and NCIS.
At least a half-dozen other government agencies have long had employees charged
with promoting their image and providing technical help on documentaries, movies
and TV shows and in novels. The Pentagon, which has had an entertainment office
since it was created in 1947, often allows moviemakers to film its planes, ships
and other equipment.
Some critics say the government shouldn't spend money trying to burnish the
image of its agencies.
In Operation Hollywood: How the Pentagon Shapes and Censors the Movies, author
David Robb last year portrayed the Pentagon's office as a propaganda machine
that cajoles Hollywood into showing the military only in a positive light. In
addition to the main office, each branch of the military has a Hollywood office
in Los Angeles.
Phil Strub, who runs the Pentagon's office, says he hopes the movies he works
on will "make the American public a little more aware of its military and
possibly be of benefit to its recruiting." He disputes the notion that
the military interferes with the creative process: "If this was so coercive
and onerous, why would people keep coming back?"
Homeland Security spokesman Brian Roehrkasse says Ferguson will help "give
the public a better understanding of how the department ... protects the country."
She was hired in October at a top government salary and makes more than $100,000.
For now, she is a one-woman show. As a result, Homeland Security is spending
less than other agencies on its entertainment office.
Still, Keith Ashdown of Taxpayers for Common Sense complains about the expense.
He says the department should focus all its attention on securing the nation's
vulnerable sites — not its reputation. "Agencies pay for public relations
and spin to make the public like them more, but it doesn't mean it's a good
expenditure," he says.