WASHINGTON, Jan. 30 (UPI) -- Hollywood, it would appear, is always ready to jump to the rescue of the American public, allowing celluloid to succeed when reality fails.
Remember the hostage crisis of the 1980s, back when Ronald Reagan was president? Remember when a number of American and other foreign nationals were snatched off the streets of Beirut and held captive in Lebanon by pro-Iranian Shiite militias?
Some of these ill-fated detainees, such as Terry Anderson, the Associated Press bureau chief in Beirut, ended up spending as many as eight years in captivity, most of the time locked alone in a tiny cell and chained to a radiator.
Others, like William Buckley, the CIA station chief in Beirut was far less fortunate. He ended up being shipped to Tehran where he was horribly tortured, and eventually killed. And every effort by the U.S. government to obtain the hostages' release met with failure, or with scandal, as was the case in the "arms for hostages" fiasco when the U.S. government became involved in a bizarre transaction to sell arms to Iran in exchange for the hostages.
When the military, the intelligence community and the State Department all failed to obtain the desired results and freedom for the hostages, Hollywood, much like the proverbial cavalry in Western movies, rushed to the rescue.
Enter Chuck Norris and his "Delta Force," backed up by Golan-Globus Productions. (I believe there were at least 10 different Delta Force films.) Enter Charlie Sheen and his "Navy Seals" that, just as Norris' karate-chopping warriors, were dispatched to Beirut to kick the villains' backsides, liberate the hostages, blow up everything in their way and largely satiate the public's demand for revenge, which was otherwise unobtainable.
That was then.
Today there is a new enemy as al Qaida and mastermind terror planner Osama bin Laden have set out to declare holy war on America and all infidels. More than a year-and-a-half into the war on terror, bin Laden and his top lieutenants remain unaccounted for, and have yet to be brought before American justice. They could be dead and buried in their Afghan grottos, or, as some intelligence sources believe, they could be hiding in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier province waiting for the proper moment to re-enter the scene. We don't really know for sure.
To settle that nagging uncertainty and mounting frustration, Hollywood jumped into the fray once again.
NBC's "War Stories" which aired Wednesday night, combined real life situations of war correspondents, but portrayed them in a fictitious civil war taking place in the central Asian republic of Uzbekistan, as journalists from around the world congregated to report on this latest hot spot.
Jeff Goldblum (of "Jurassic Park" fame) portrays a tough, no-nonsense veteran newspaper reporter caught in a web of intrigue, espionage, romance and violence as he tries to figure out who the real bad guys are and just who is leading him on, and why.
Aside from the elaborate espionage web that the film weaves around Ben, Goldblum's character, and Nora, his bland female photographer who is on her first war (played by Lake Bell), the film is realistic enough in the way it depicts war reporters, their emotions, and how they spend much of their downtime congregating around the hotel's bar. I can attest to this particular fact, having been guilty of the same while covering numerous conflicts.
Then there are, as might be expected from Hollywood, scenes that stretch the imagination and the truth, such as when a group of reporters are shot at almost point-blank range with AK27 machine guns, and survive without as much as a broken bone or a bruised chest! Unlikely. I would have liked to have owned such a vest. But as several of the reporters in the movie like to sarcastically point out when referring to their front-line dispatches, "that's why they are called 'stories.'"
And having seen how a few integrity-deficient "war correspondents" behaved over the conflicts and over the years, filing their dispatches from their favorite downtime watering holes, sometimes that's just what these reports are: "stories."
"War Stories," the made for TV film, falls well under that genre. In typical Hollywood fashion, the U.S. military and the CIA, which are actively assisting one side in the Uzbeki civil war against the other -- but publicly denying it -- manage to track down, (thanks to Goldblum -- but unbeknownst to him) the al Qaida leader responsible for the Sept. 11 terror attacks. This, of course, is all accomplished within a couple of days.
"Sept. 11 was my idea," boasts the al Qaida chieftain -- a cross between Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al Zawahiri -- to Ben and Nora, the tenderfoot photographer, whose sister was killed in Tower Two on that fateful day in September 2001.
Minutes later, the terrorists are annihilated inside their Tora Bora-look alike cavernous complex by a massive U.S. aerial bombardment. Once again, Hollywood succeeds where real life falls short. Maybe the CIA should fire their field operatives and hire instead the film's scriptwriters.
(Claude Salhani is a senior editor with UPI, who has covered a dozen conflicts around the world, sampling numerous waterholes along the way.)