Whoa, Pentagon Influences TV Shows Like 'American Idol'? New Documents Show Scary Collaboration

It's a little-known fact that the Pentagon has for years directly influenced the production of a wide variety of television programming. In fact, in instances where the producing companies are accessing military hardware, the Department of Defense requires approval of the scripts, a process which can result in line-by-line edits by the government of film and television plots and dialogue.


SpyCulture.com's Tom Secker filed a series of Freedom of Information Act requests with various branches of the military, seeking information about how often and to what extent the Department of Defense coordinates with programming. The results are revealing. Secker's FOIA produced over 1,400 pages of documents from the Army's Entertainment Liason Office and another 100 pages from the US Air Force's office.

The documents reveal coordination not only on the type of programming we've come to expect—e.g. military war films— but also well-watched programs from numerous genres. For example, this entry on "American Idol," where a contestant with a military background is referred to as a PSYOP specialist (meaning psychological operations) who was “unfortunately voted off of the show”:

[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"601850","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"162","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"480"}}]]

Another covers how the military influenced the blockbuster hit The Avengers, providing input they said the producers were “very receptive” toward with respect to one character, Captain America, and his relationship with the Army:[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"601851","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"119","style":"font-size: 12px;","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"480"}}]]

Another talks about advising on the satirical series "Veep" (whose writer Armando Iannucci made the antiwar satirical film In The Loop):[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"601852","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"141","style":"font-size: 12px;","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"480"}}]]

Even video games made the cut, with one company reaching out to the military rather than the other way around:[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_large","fid":"601853","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image","height":"194","style":"font-size: 12px;","typeof":"foaf:Image","width":"480"}}]]

Secker's takeaway from the FOIA results is that the military is virtually everywhere in our arts and entertainment looking for a way to promote its public relations agenda:

The sheer scale of the Army and the Air Force’s involvement in TV shows, particularly reality TV shows, is the most remarkable thing about these files. "American Idol," "The X-Factor," "Masterchef," "Cupcake Wars," numerous Oprah Winfrey shows, "Ice Road Truckers," "Battlefield Priests," "America’s Got Talent," "Hawaii Five-O," lots of BBC, History Channel and National Geographic documentaries, "War Dogs," "Big Kitchens" — the list is almost endless. Alongside these shows are blockbuster movies like GodzillaTransformersAloha and Superman: Man of Steel.

Spy Culture goes on to note that the military quickly shreds documentation relating to these activities, noting that the rival Department of Homeland Security destroys documents from its entertainment office after six years.

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