Tuning in and blending in
November 23, 2012
I wasn’t surprised when I heard that Paula Broadwell, General Petraeus’s biographer, had hired a PR company to help her through the media maze after finding herself in the middle of a very public storm as evidence of her affair with the general was revealed and he resigned as the director of the CIA. No, I wasn’t surprised by her need to have a smart, experienced firm help her spin and fix. I was just taken aback she didn’t go for the recognized gold standard there in DC Olivia Pope’s misfit crew.
I don’t remember exactly when I learned of them last year. It was a dark and stormy night, I’m fairly certain of that. It was late and I watched amazed at both their stealth moves and their labyrinth knowledge of DC-and beyond-connections. Having a former CIA operative/assassin as part of your team certainly can clean up problems that have no other solution. And having the head of your company being beautiful and sleeping with the president doesn’t hurt your access issues either. If you find yourself in the heart of a Scandal, you might be in the middle of the crisis that defines your life, or watching the popular hit television show of the same name.
It is a guilty, guilty pleasure. And were it not for the magic of watching past episodes on demand, I might never have known about these characters who, each week, try to clean up extraordinary messes made by high-powered folks. Olivia Pope’s team shows her more than loyalty; it is a kind of crazy devotion that suspends all workplace rules. There is mystery around each of her hires and what she might have done to save them from their former lives. In fact, there is a great deal of mystery as to all the relationships on the show. Tangled and messy, it is everything we somehow know takes place in politics but would rather not think about. Except, of course, as escapist fiction on the screen.
But for someone who spent years hardly turning the television on, the on-demand feature matches my crazy schedule perfectly. I can view shows several episodes at time. When I can’t sleep, or it is a rainy Sunday afternoon and I’ve finished The New York Times, then I can be swept away by problems clearly greater than my own and involving national security.
Which leads me to wonder if the Benghazi situation couldn’t best be explained by the Homeland team which has operatives the world over. Claire Danes, having outgrown her So-Called Life, has emerged as a bipolar (is there any other kind) CIA agent who really does sleep with the enemy. Mandy Patinkin, who spent years dissecting Criminal Minds, is now her handler in the Agency. The two march to the beat of a different SUV exploding. If anyone knows what happened to the folks at the embassy in Libya, I suspect it is these two.
When I heard on the news this week that General Petraeus had been to Congress to testify what he knew about Benghazi, my head started to hurt. Can we trust any information these days to not be so filtered that we could ever find the truth buried underneath the verbal rubble? And unless we have talked to someone who was there, on the ground, before and after the attack, how will we ever know exactly what happened? There is, at the very least, a made-for-TV movie somewhere in this story.
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I watched Anderson Cooper reporting from Gaza as the bombs were bursting in air all around him. He is handsome enough to be an actor in a show. And for a suspended moment, I imagined he was. And that he might connect somehow with spunky Annie Walker, another CIA operative who is busy working in/on Covert Affairs. Annie has traveled the world this season and worked in Russia and Israel even Cuba and other places mysterious and exotic. She could tell Anderson when to keep his head down and where to find a great cup of coffee. We have seen her get out of what appeared to be the most impossible situations the world over. And the gal can run in heels. Talk about suspending belief!
I know it all sounds rather crazy, this blending of real-life drama with well-written television scripts. But the truth is probably a shade of each. Writing those heart-pounding, believable plots has to come from folks with some working knowledge of how things work inside The Company. Former spies must be the most frustrated of creatures no longer involved in the action and duty-bound not to talk about what they did back in the day. I am fairly certain only a handful of current and former spies work in Park City. The guy who lives around the corner from me; the other one, up the hill, in the fancy home.
What I am certain of is this the truth is no stranger to fiction. And vice versa. So when we see a news report from Washington about what happened in some foreign corner of the world or the foreign behavior of a highly decorated, lifelong military man, we can conclude there is a story behind the story and another one, most likely so unlikely, underneath and behind that. It is something to consider the next time you see/read/imagine the news any day, even on a deliciously dreary Sunday in the Park …
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the director of the organization that provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.