By Ed Rampell on February 25, 2013

The three top professions that specialize in "make believe" -- Hollywood, intelligence agencies and the Executive Branch -- collided Sunday at the Dolby Theatre as the president's wife announced that the pro-CIA agitprop movie "Argo" won the Best Picture Oscar.

"Welcome to the White House everyone," Michelle Obama declared towards the end of the live Academy Awards ceremony via remote camera, cutting away from her co-presenter Jack Nicholson to the Executive Mansion, where she was surrounded by uniformed personnel.

The First Lady's odd, historically unprecedented intrusion into what is supposed to be an entertainment event during one of the most-watched telecasts of the year came as the Senate was considering Pres. Obama's nominee for the CIA.

Furthermore, one of the nine movies nominated for Best Picture, "Zero Dark Thirty," portrayed a mission ordered by her own husband.

Although there have been other appearances by a First Lady and presidents at the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences' annual ritual of patting itself on its back, none have ever announced the Best Picture winner.

Mrs. Obama is the first to do so in an act that Tom Hayden described as "showing the prominence of Hollywood in political culture."

And, one could say, vice versa.

The awards ceremony celebrated cinematic espionage in a number of other ways. There was a long homage to James Bond, depicting 007's derring-do and the virile, handsome stars from Sean Connery to Daniel Craig, who have played the supposedly suave British secret agent for five decades.

The tribute was capped by 76-year-old Shirley Bassey reprising live the famous theme song for 1964's "Goldfinger." The British singer Adele went on to belt out her hit from the latest Bond flick, "Skyfall," for which she also won the golden statuette for Best Original Song.

On the surface the occasion for the Bond salutation was the 50th anniversary of the first 007 thriller, 1962's "Dr. No" -- but it might have been a salute to Hollywood's love affair with cloak and dagger and those spies who dupe us on the big and little screens, on and off of Her Majesty's -- and His President's -- secret service.

One of the Oscar ceremony's other award presenters was Jennifer Garner, who from 2001-2006 portrayed spy Sydney Bristow on the TV series "Alias." Garner also appeared in a recruiting ad for the Central Intelligence Agency around the time the CIA was involved in falsifying disinformation about Iraq's fictitious WMDs. During her husband Ben Affleck's Best Picture acceptance speech, he acknowledged his wife and the camera cut to Garner, the TV spy who loved him.

"Argo" also won in other Oscar categories, including Film Editing and Adapted Screenplay. Never mind that the tense inter-cutting between those Iranian Revolutionary Guards chasing that Swiss Air flight down the airport tarmac in a well-written scene is a flight of fancy concocted by screenwriter Chris Terrio.

Or that this paean to the CIA is what Andrew O'Hehir called in Salon "a propaganda fable" and "wholesale fictionalization."

In an interview with The Progressive Magazine, Tom Hayden noted that while a brief intro to "Argo" mentions the U.S. and U.K. role in overthrowing the democratically elected prime minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953, it does not specifically cite the role the CIA played in that coup and in installing a regime that wreaked so much CIA-supported torture and brutality on Iran that it spawned the chain of events that led not only to the 1979 revolution, but to the very hostage taking depicted in the film. (And while we're at it, forget about the fact that agent Tony Mendez, "the Mexican-American hero was played by a white guy anyway," as O'Hehir put it.)

Mired in controversy because of its depictions of torture and the contested allegation that these enhanced interrogation techniques helped hunt down Osama Bin Laden, "Zero Dark Thirty" lost in all five Oscar categories.

By picking "Argo" over "Zero," the liberal wing of the Academy seemed to be signaling that it had zero tolerance for torture, and preferred the kinder, gentler CIA depicted in "Argo" than the Agency that had journeyed over to the Bush/Cheney dark side of cruel and unusual punishment in "Zero."

But liberals such as Affleck, and his "Argo" co-producers George Clooney (who reportedly uses satellites to monitor Sudan) and Grant Heslov, are still lauding the Agency.

With liberal propagandists like this, who needs reactionaries?

Ironically, another of the evening's award presenters was that icon of the Hollywood Left, two-time Oscar winner Jane Fonda, Hayden's former wife. As the Chicago Seven alum told The Progressive, "the CIA had files on both of us," because of the couple's activism and, presumably, Fonda's influence in movies, with films such as 1979's anti-nuclear "The China Syndrome" and the 1978 antiwar feature "Coming Home" and the suppressed 1972 anti-Vietnam War documentary "FTA."

There's a good reason why the spies who dupe us with propaganda disguised as mass entertainment haven't been played in onscreen dramas by, say, Jerry Lewis, Karl Malden or Melissa McCarthy.

From Sean Connery to Roger Moore to "24's" Kiefer Sutherland to Jennifer Garner to "Zero's" Jessica Chastain to Claire Danes of the Showtime CIA series "Homeland," Hayden said: "The Left has become incredibly marginalized in popular culture since the 'War on Terrorism' broke out. These [TV] projects like '24' and 'Alias' and whole series of movies culminating in last night have created a favorable impression of the CIA... Overall, it's not so much the content; it's the image of very attractive people. Hollywood, above all, knows that image trumps fact. Political consultants know that, too. You can get away with quite a lot if you're personable, attractive, and charismatic. It's not a good position to be in if you're a longtime critic of the CIA."

Over the years, from the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine to the Gulf of Tonkin incident to Iraq's confabulated weapons of mass destruction, the White House and clandestine agencies have, like Tinseltown, mass produced and disseminated fiction, disinformation, lies and fables that purport themselves to be "news" or "entertainment." Just like the Hollywood filmmakers portrayed by Oscar nominee Alan Arkin and John Goodman, who deceptively collaborate with the deceptive CIA covert mission that "Argo" apotheosizes, deception is justified in La-La-Land -- if it helps the CIA catch its man.

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Editor's note: This contribution by the late journalist I.F. Stone first appeared in our January 1975 magazine.

On November 20 every year for the last fifteen years, transgender people gather for vigil ceremonies to acknowledge...

Yesterday the U.S. Senate narrowly defeated a bill that would approve construction on the Keystone XL pipeline.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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