In recent years the Navy has begun to break it’s own vow of silence, helping create films such as “Act of Valor,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” and “Captain Phillips.”
Why does Hollywood have more access to military secrets than journalists?
It’s a question ABC News Chief Global Affairs Correspondent Martha Raddatz posed during a roundtable discussion on ABC’s Sunday news program “This Week,” while discussing a new Hollywood movie detailing the inside story of a special Navy SEAL military operation from 2005.
Along with Vice Admiral Robert Harward, Navy (Ret.) and Col. Steve Ganyard, USMC (Ret.), Raddatz and “This Week” host George Stephanopoulos were discussing the new Mark Wahlberg movie “Lone Survivor,” which is based on a real-life Navy SEAL mission.
Written by lone survivor Marcus Luttrell, who watched three of his friends die during a 2005 mission in Afghanistan, the movie follows a Hollywood trend of exposing military secrets and tactics that journalists like Raddatz say is nearly impossible for them to learn.
Though the Navy SEALs have been in confirmed existence since 1962, their work has largely remained a secret, with military officials citing a conflict of interest for keeping their mouths shut. Even the group’s code is all about secrecy in the name of protecting the U.S.: “I do not advertise the nature of my work, nor seek recognition for my actions.”
But in recent years, the Navy has begun to break it’s own vow of silence, citing recruitment reasons. In order to enlist new SEAL members, the Navy’s in-house media team has begun working with Hollywood producers and helped create films such as “Act of Valor,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” and “Captain Phillips.”
However, when former SEAL-team members, such as Matt Bissonnette, broke their vow of silence and exposed a darker side to the organization, or gave video game developers advice on how to build a bomb or reload assault rifles, the Navy threatened legal action against them.
But it was too late, the public was already interested in the SEALs, especially since a SEAL team was responsible for the death of Osama bin Laden, and “Now the SEAL leadership is trying to rein it back in,” said former SEAL and ‘The Red Circle’ author Brandon Webb. “[B]ut they’ve already been participating with Hollywood, without setting guidelines for what is acceptable or not. It’s gotten out of control, and it starts with the leadership.”
Though the Navy is the latest government agency to get caught-up in publicizing its work via Hollywood, the Pentagon has worked with insiders in the entertainment for years. According to a report in the Guardian, the Pentagon has promised filmmakers advice, manpower and hardware, including aircraft carriers and state-of-the-art helicopters, if they make the military look good.
The CIA even has an Entertainment Liaison Office, which advises filmmakers and in some cases makes large financial payouts. For example, the CIA’s entertainment agency bought the rights to George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” in 1950, allowing the agency to control the story.
So how does Hollywood convince military officials to give them information so they can make a movie?
According to Luttrell, the Navy told him that Hollywood was interested in turning his book of the same name, into a movie. Although director Peter Berg said he wanted the military’s help in telling the story as accurately as possible, he said he would continue with the movie whether the military helped or not.
“We obviously came to the conclusion it would probably be better if we were involved as opposed to not being there to make it authentic as possible,” Luttrell said.
“[Berg] took his time with it and he made sure that he did all the research he could possibly do. He worked his butt off and he actually got into our community and went over to Iraq and got embedded with one of the SEAL teams over there, talked to all the families, read all the literature and just did his homework.
“He was the professional, and I respected his decision on everything that he did,” Luttrell said. “Obviously he was very receptive to comments from me and the other SEALs that were helping out on the set. It wasn’t just him: the whole cast, the crew, everybody that was out there as a part of this would walk up to me every day and say, ‘Thank you, it’s just an honor to be out here.’”
But as Berg told Moviefone news, he got a lot more information out of the military than just their opinion. In addition to the year-and-a-half he spent with a Navy SEAL platoon, which included a month-long stay in Western Iraq, Berg obtained copies of autopsy reports from the Navy to determine “how brutal their deaths were.”
Berg says he even had Navy SEAL consultants on set every day of filming so that “if we ever had any issues or we were doing something that wasn’t accurate, we had guys to straighten us out.”
This isn’t the first time the government has gone out of its way to help Hollywood tell an “accurate” depiction of an event. According to Fred Rustman, a retired CIA officer, “Days after the [SEAL Team 6] raid, Hollywood was invited into the White House so that they could receive a briefing on exactly how the raid took place,” where Rustman says Hollywood was told “What kind of sources we had. What kind of methods we used. All for the purpose of making a Hollywood movie.”
Journalists, on the other hand, often have to file freedom of information act requests to obtain once-classified documents. And when reporters get their hands on the documents, they are often heavily redacted and are poorly photocopied, making the visible text hard to read.
According to Webb, who trained some of the men the movie is based on, this is one military movie that does right by the military men and women. However, another review by On Violence — a blog on counter-insurgency warfare, military and foreign affairs, art, and violence, written by two brothers–one a soldier and the other a pacifist — said that there are at least seven glaring errors in both the print and film version of the story.
Though it could be viewed as a nitpicking detail, the On Violence review says that Lattrell got the name of the mission wrong — Redwing vs. Red Wings — allowing one to argue that the film is more propaganda for a military that is struggling to maintain public support for the longest war in U.S. history than an accurate depiction of a true event.
But why would Luttrell massage the true story of what happened if he allegedly wrote the story to help the military squash rumors and set the record straight about what happened during Operation Red Wings?
For starters, Luttrell had the help of ghostwriter Patrick Robertson to write his story. And in an interview with military.com, Luttrell says the military pushed him to write the story, helped him find legal counsel and Robertson, so he could write the book.
And according to Ed Darack, “the narrative of a four-man Navy SEAL team being deployed to take on a group of hundreds under the leadership of the right-hand man of the world’s most wanted individual has all the makings of an edge-of-your-seat military action thriller. But it doesn’t happen in reality. And it certainly wasn’t the case in Red Wings.”
Still, Luttrell says that the movie is “as real as it can be,” since Berg had to cram five days of events and emotions into an almost four-hour package.
“It happened and that’s what I did for a living,” he said. “It’s business as usual.”