The Defense Department explains its relationship with Hollywood.

Published June 28, 2001 7:33PM (EDT)

Bush league: Pentagon picture show

Since Ronald Reagan rode out of Washington more than a decade ago, Republicans have always accused Democrats of being the party in Hollywood's pocket. But Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is bringing the Bush administration closer to the entertainment industry, one movie at a time.

Just a month after sending the Navy aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis to Hawaii for the premier of "Pearl Harbor," the Pentagon has confirmed that it deployed 35 Black Hawk helicopters and 100 military personnel to Morocco to assist in filming the movie, "Black Hawk Down," based on the award-winning book by Mark Bowden. The picture will give an account of the landing of U.S. troops to Somalia in October 1993. Matt Drudge broke the story on Sunday.

According to Pentagon spokesman Marine Lt. Col. David Lapan, the production company, Revolution Studios, will ante up approximately $3 million, which will cover the cost of helicopters and other equipment, as well as the soldiers' expenses. Salaries, however, are excluded from the bill.

Lapan assured Salon that this deployment wasn't an anomaly. It turns out that the military maintains an office in Hollywood that routinely handles requests from film and television producers looking for training, equipment and technical experts to provide that authentic military touch for their features. The CBS program "JAG" is a steady customer.

But the Pentagon won't send America's soldiers off to shoot just any show. "The determination from the department varies on a case-by-case basis," said Lapan. "It's generally based on the willingness of the film crew or the production company not only to take our physical assistance, but also our technical assistance in making adjustments to the script," he said. "We realize that we cannot dictate to filmmakers, but we want to make sure that it's an accurate portrayal of the military."

Pressed on the standard for accuracy, Lapan acknowledged that films that fudged on technical perfection, but accurately depicted the "dedication and values" of the armed forces, were more likely to get approved. The most important question that Defense Department script reviews ask is, "Does this [movie] portray the military in a positive light?" And the Defense Department doesn't leave that to chance. Even after a production company finishes work with troops and equipment, a military liaison hangs around the to make sure that the script stays defense-friendly .

Lapan insists that American troops are still subject to military codes of conduct while they participate in filming, and that they are expected to report any inappropriate requests from directors to the military liaison. "We don't do stunts," he said. As to the wisdom of sending soldiers to do their duty for Hollywood, Lapan believes that the practice is far safer than having actors or stunt people playact military scenes. "Who better to do something like this than the people who are trained to do it?" he asked.

-- Alicia Montgomery

Rant: Bush embraces the Balkans

So much for campaign rhetoric. After spending last year railing against the Clinton administration's involvement in the Balkans, President Bush is now vowing to maintain a U.S. presence in the region indefinitely. In fact, Bush may even expand the U.S. role in the region, offering American troops for a possible new NATO force in Macedonia.

This of course is a far cry from the campaign trail, when candidate Bush said he would not have gotten involved in the ongoing conflict because American national interests were not at stake. Al Gore also expressed some hesitancy about Balkan involvement, but defended the administration's role in Kosovo.

Bush's supporters will hail his policy shift as an example of adaptability and resilience. They will point out that Bill Clinton was guilty of this as well. Indeed, after crusading against Chinese leaders as "the butchers of Beijing," Clinton embraced those same leaders with open arms, fighting for permanent "most favored nation" trading status for China.

But two wrongs certainly don't make a right, and Bush should be taken to task -- not for his new policy per se, but for using the Balkan issue during the campaign to play to conservative isolationists.

-- Anthony York

Daily line

"There are some other alternatives that are working their way -- being debated in the House and the Senate -- that will run up the cost of health insurance for American workers, and could conceivably cost millions of people their health insurance. I can't accept that kind of legislation."
-- President Bush speaking at a White House meeting with congressional Republicans about patients' rights

Bush buzz

The president and Senate Democrats have moved closer to a final showdown on the patients' bill of rights authored by Sens. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., John McCain, R-Ariz., and John Edwards, D-N.C. So far, the bill's supporters have been able to thwart GOP attempts to significantly modify its provisions. On Wednesday, moderate Republicans and Democrats in the Senate crafted a compromise that would tighten the limit on damage awards, hoping such a change might encourage Bush to drop his veto threat. A Senate vote on the new language could come as early as Thursday.

There's already been some talk of compromise on the issue by the White House, with the president now actively endorsing a House GOP version of the legislation that would allow patients to sue in state court, but under much more restricted circumstances than are set forth in the Senate version of the bill.

Meanwhile, Bush hopes to regain the nation's attention on his energy policy by delivering a major address on the topic on Thursday morning, and dispatching Vice President Cheney to hype the plan in interviews. The president will renew his calls to expand domestic power production by removing regulatory restrictions that energy companies find burdensome. Bush will also discuss conservation and the creation of new energy-efficient technologies. But Democrats dismiss the entire effort as Republican payback to big donors in the power industry.

While some Republicans blame new Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., for stalling progress on energy policy and other priorities in the Bush agenda, the president's recent troubles are causing some of his allies to question whether the president is on the right track. His poll numbers have been sluggish or have fallen in recent weeks, and the president received more bad news on that front from a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, which shows that 50 percent of Americans now approve of his job performance, a seven-point slide since March.

Those weak numbers could be one reason why the president is facing such resistance to his trade policy. Bush pledged to fight back after more than 80 GOP House members joined Democrats in blocking Bush's plan to open up American roads to Mexican truckers, a provision of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The president says that the House vote is damaging to free trade and the nation's relationship with an important ally. But Senate Democrats are unlikely to heed Bush's warning, and have already discussed passing their own version of the House roadblock.

Bush's public opinion and policy problems haven't hampered his fundraising ability. The president and vice president headlined a "black tie and boots" donor dinner in Washington on Wednesday evening that netted $20 million for the Republican Senate and House campaign war chest. The tally shatters the previous record of $11.7 million set last year.

And don't miss an imaginary president flirting with jail time. Actor Martin Sheen was formally sentenced on Wednesday for his part in an October protest against missile defense. The actor, who plays President Josiah Bartlet on television's "The West Wing," pleaded guilty to trespassing and was ordered to pay a $500 fine.

In the Senate, Republicans and Democrats are still arguing over office space. With the situation complicated first by provisions of the Senate's December power-sharing agreement, and again bedeviled by the recent switch to Democratic control, each side is accusing the other of hogging the good offices for themselves. In the case of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., however, there should be little dispute. Though Bushed! ran an item on her "battle" for office space in Wednesday's edition, the two offices she has recently occupied were part of her original allotment.

Thursday schedule: The president makes a major energy policy speech in the morning and meets with the presidents of Ghana, Mali and Senegal at the White House in the afternoon. The vice president tapes interviews for Western radio stations about energy policy.

-- Alicia Montgomery This day in Bush history

June 28, 1996: Republican presidential candidate Robert Dole tapped Gov. George W. Bush to head up his Texas campaign. "I look forward to carrying the state for Senator Dole," Bush said. "He will have to carry it himself. I'm just going to put the plan in place to see that he does. I'm confident he will win the state of Texas." Dole went on to beat Bill Clinton in Texas by a margin of 5 percent.

Burning Bush

Links to the Web's best sites for hardcore Bush watchers.

Send scoops to bushed@salon.com.

Bushed! contributors: Eric Boehlert, Karen Croft, Gary Kamiya, Kerry Lauerman, Daryl Lindsey, Alicia Montgomery, Fiona Morgan, Scott Rosenberg, Jake Tapper, Joan Walsh, Anthony York

Take a look at the previous edition of Bushed!

By Salon Staff

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