The FBI needs PR. And it needs it now to start restoring its once prestigious image. President Trump has criticized the agency from the day he took office. This past week the Inspector General of the Department of Justice issued a scathing report. And now Hollywood is in the act.
Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, Inspector General Michael Horowitz justified the FBI’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election but told of his serious concern regarding the FBI’s failure to adhere to its standards of accuracy and completeness. President Trump said the report revealed “outrageous, scandalous and unprecedented abuses of power,” but Attorney General Bill Barry disagreed.
Based on the IG report, FBI Director Christopher Wray has ordered more than 40 changes in the way it handles secret surveillance warrants and other matters.
Three movies in release now are all based on true events and negatively portray the FBI. Clint Eastwood directed “Richard Jewell,” the story of how the reputation and life of a security guard at Atlanta’s Centennial Park during the 1996 Olympic Games was destroyed by the FBI and the media. Jewell discovered a suspicious backpack under a bench with a bomb and immediately alerted the police. He then began to evacuate the area before the bomb exploded, killing two and injuring 111 people. His action saved hundreds of others from harm.
An early movie scene shows Jon Hamm of “Mad Men” fame as the FBI field officer leaking Jewell’s name as the prime suspect to a girlfriend reporter from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution played by Olivia Wilde. The newspaper’s page one story the next day set off a media firestorm and ruined Jewell’s life. The FBI never officially charged Jewell when he should have been named a hero. Kathy Bates plays his mother. In 2005 the real bomber was arrested.
Warner Bros., the writers and producers and those involved with the movie soon may be in litigation with the newspaper calling the portrayal of its reporter as false. The movie identified reporter Kathy Scruggs but did not use the real name of the FBI agent. Scruggs, the daughter of a prominent Georgia family, was 42 years old when she died in 2001, reportedly from a drug overdose.
“Seberg” is the story of actress Jean Seberg whose performance in Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960 classic movie “Breathless” made her an icon of French New Wave cinema. She was only 19 years old when she played the role with a boyish haircut. Born in Iowa, she lived most of her life in France and became the target of the FBI in the 1960s because of her support of the civil rights movement and her romantic involvement with Hakim Jamal, a leader of the Black Panthers.
Kristin Stewart does a remarkable job playing Seberg. The Amazon movie shows J. Edgar Hoover deliberately planting lies to destroy her image and ruin her movie career. The overwhelming surveillance and harassment so impacted her life and career and that she filmed her last movie in 1974. She was only 40 years old when she died in 1979. Her death was ruled a “probable” and “suspicious” suicide or homicide.
“The Report” reveals collaboration between the FBI and CIA to cover up the detention and torture of suspected 9/11 terrorists. Also an Amazon release, the movie chronicles the investigation by Senate Intelligence Committee staffer Daniel J. Jones, played by Adam Driver, and a seven-year project, when George W. Bush was president, as well as a struggle with the Obama administration to release his findings.
Annette Bening plays California Senator and Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein and Jon Hamm plays Obama’s Chief of Staff Denis McDonough, who worked to undermine efforts to make the report public. Jones and his team reviewed about 6.3 million pages of internal CIA documents and wrote a 6,700-page report on their findings, commonly called “The Torture Report,” which is still classified today.
The film shows how justice was obstructed with page after page of blacked-out redactions. In 2009 the FBI, CIA and Department of Defense established the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group to bring together intelligence professionals to conduct interrogations that strengthen national security and are consistent with the rule of law. An FBI representative heads the HIG.
Today many movies last for years being replayed on cable channels and streaming networks. People who did not see these movies when first released will have a chance to do so many times in years to come.
A story yet to be told will be why the FBI failed to investigate the complaints of three world-class Olympic gymnasts in July 2015 who were sexually abused by Michigan State’s Dr. Larry Nassar. The New York Times identified at least 40 girls and women who were molested while the FBI moved with little urgency on information from the girl gymnasts. The Indianapolis Star exposed Nassar in September 2016. The mother of one victim, who the FBI ignored for nearly 11 months, provided information that has led to a federal inquiry.
I have always had the greatest respect for the FBI. To be an agent, once required a college degree in law or accounting. Hoover had a dress code of suit, tie and hat. It now will take years for the agency and those in intelligence to regain the public’s trust and respect.
I wonder if Hoover were being buried today if the casket would be draped by a multicolored LGBT flag.
Rene A. Henry spent more than six decades of his career as a public relations executive. He is the author of 10 books and has been a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.