Briefing

Herocrats Steal the Show

Network television's new season begins this fall, and government employees are center stage, wearing (mostly) white hats. The USA Network debuts White Collar, a drama about a con artist-turned-FBI informant, while NBC's Parks and Recreation returns for its sophomore season of bureaucratic, though well-meaning, hijinks. NCIS-as in Naval Criminal Investigative Service-returns to CBS with its band of quirky federal detectives led by a gruff Mark Harmon, as Special Agent Jethro Gibbs, and debuts a spinoff series set in Los Angeles and starring rapper LL Cool J. Fox's popular Kiefer Sutherland drama 24, which chronicles a day in the life of a counterterrorism squad, starts its new season in January.

Government employees are portrayed so often in entertainment that it has piqued the interest of academics. Beth Wielde of Minnesota State University and David Schultz of Hamline University have evaluated the depiction of feds and elected officials in movies, and identified several common archetypes.

In Air Force One, the Harrison Ford drama in which Russian terrorists hijack the president's plane en route from Moscow, most of the staffers are "herocrats" dedicated to the man they serve. But one is portrayed as an evil, self-involved "hatocrat" willing to betray his duties, according to the analysis from Wielde and Schultz. The American President, about a lonely commander in chief's romance with a lobbyist, is full of staffers dubbed "obsessocrats," who live to work and have no personal lives. And All the President's Men, a detailed look at the Watergate scandal, features an "ethicrat" in Deep Throat, a fed dedicated to doing the right thing. Overall, Wielde and Schultz have concluded that Hollywood has been kind to public servants, since the bad guys in government-driven entertainment generally get their due.

-Emily Long

Spotlight

WHO: Kathleen Sebelius, Health and Human Services secretary

WHY: As if responsibility for President Obama's top domestic priority-health care reform-isn't enough to keep her awake at night, Sebelius also is on the hook for managing the national response to H1N1 flu. The president's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology estimated as many as 120 million Americans could fall ill with the virus and 90,000 could die, mostly children and young adults. The two issues are not unrelated-the government's response to H1N1 likely will affect Americans' view of government's capacity for large-scale health care reform.

WHAT SHE SAYS: In an Aug. 4 op-ed in The Washington Post, Sebelius wrote: "With some insurers raising premiums by more than 25 percent and 14,000 people losing their health insurance every day, Americans want to hear something more from their leaders than 'wait and see' and 'more of the same.'. . . . Americans deserve the peace of mind that only health care reform can provide." That and a flu shot.

-Katherine McIntire Peters

New Coinage

October is chock-full of national holidays and celebrations commemorating everything from pretzels and pet peeves to fire prevention and infection control. It's also National Disability Employment Awareness Month, an observance that dates back to 1945, when Congress set aside a week to educate the public on disability in the workplace. Since 1988, the month of October has been dedicated to celebrating the accomplishments and contributions of employees with all forms of disabilities.

In addition, disabled veterans were honored this summer with a commemorative coin. The U.S. Mint introduced the 2010 American Veterans Disabled for Life silver dollar as a tribute to those disabled while serving in the military. On one side are the legs of three vets in uniform under the phrase "They Stood Up for Us." On the other side, an oak branch wreath and forget-me-not flower symbolizing fallen soldiers are depicted. The dollar, available in a limited release of 350,000, joins the 2009 Abraham Lincoln and 2004 Lewis and Clark silver dollars, along with many other commemorative coins, in a collection whose proceeds go toward the development of national programs and projects. The $10 surcharge for the 2010 coin will be used to build a monument to disabled veterans in Washington.

-Emily Long

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