The White House has vigorously denied granting special favours to its friends in Hollywood after it emerged that officials are helping Kathryn Bigelow to research a movie about the supposedly top-secret assassination of Osama bin Laden.
Peter King, the senior Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, claimed yesterday to have "hit a sensitive nerve" in calling for an investigation into whether the Obama administration had released classified information to the Oscar-winning film-maker.
Ms Bigelow and the screenwriter Mark Boal, who collaborated on The Hurt Locker, plan to release the picture – which has the working title "Killing Bin Laden" and is being financed by Sony Pictures – in October 2012, just before the presidential election.
Mr King smells a rat about that timing, since he believes the film will portray Mr Obama in a positive light. He now wants an inquiry to establish whether Bigelow and Boal were given information by the White House which could compromise national security.
"The administration's first duty in declassifying material is to provide full reporting to Congress and the American people, in an effort to build public trust," he wrote, adding that the film should be vetted by the CIA before being allowed into cinemas.
His complaint was inspired by an article in The New York Times which claimed Bigelow and Boal "are getting top-level access to the most classified mission in history", and said their film would "reflect the president's cool, gutsy decision against shaky odds". The article added the movie would be "perfectly timed to give a home-stretch boost to a campaign that has grown tougher".
In truth, there is nothing unusual about the Defense Department collaborating with the makers of Hollywood movies. Officials routinely brief studios and often provide equipment and locations to film-makers. At least two other upcoming movies about the Navy Seals – Lone Survivor and Act of Valor – have benefited from official assistance in recent months. And no one complained when Republican administrations helped such gung-ho titles as Top Gun and Pearl Harbor to get off the ground.
But partisan posturing is the order of the day in Washington. And the White House duly used its press briefing to brand the criticisms "ridiculous".
"When people are working on articles, books, documentaries or movies that involve the president, ask to speak to administration officials, we do our best to accommodate them to make sure the facts are correct," said White House spokesman Jay Carney. Bigelow and Boal, who are romantic as well as professional partners, released a statement stressing a film was in development long before Bin Laden's death.
"Our upcoming film project... integrates the collective efforts of three administrations, including those of Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama," they wrote. "This was an American triumph, both heroic and non-partisan, and there is no basis to suggest that our film will represent this enormous victory otherwise."