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The FBI In Pop Culture


If confirmed, Christopher Wray will head an agency that the public knows through popular culture. NPR's Vanessa Romo reports on the FBI in TV and movies.

VANESSA ROMO, BYLINE: There's an image that comes to mind when you think about the FBI lawman. And it's this guy.


BARTON MACLANE: (As Collins) I heard something about you today, lawyer.

JAMES CAGNEY: (As Brick Davis) You did? What?

MACLANE: (As Collins) You're going to be a big 'G' man.

CAGNEY: (As Brick Davis) That's right.

MACLANE: (As Collins) Remember to keep your tin badge in Washington. If you come around here sticking your puss into our affairs, you'll get a belly full of this.

ROMO: That's the 1935 hit "'G'-Men." And that image of the clean-cut and uncorruptible agent was the invention of J. Edgar Hoover, the father of the agency. And by the way, G 'man' stands for government man. Here's Ronald Kessler, the author of "Secrets Of The FBI."

RONALD KESSLER: He realized that he could create these images of the 'G' men as superheroes - like Superman. And that helped him stay in office, and it also helped the FBI do its work.

ROMO: Apparently, along with some highly illegal abuses of power - investigating anyone he found threatening - Hoover was also acting as a sort of Hollywood movie producer - even taking an active hand in comic-book representations of the agency.


ROMO: More recently, Hollywood has suggested that there are special agents devoted to the paranormal - you know what I'm talking about.


GILLIAN ANDERSON: (As Dana Scully) Agent Mulder, I'm Dana Scully. I've been assigned to work with you.

DAVID DUCHOVNY: (As Fox Mulder) So who did you tick off to get stuck with this detail, Scully?

ROMO: So my question to Kessler, does this kind of department exist?

KESSLER: No, no, nothing like that. No.

ROMO: It's imperative I get a second opinion. So I turn to Annie Jacobsen, national security journalist and author of the book "Phenomena."

I'm really hoping that you can tell me that there is sort of an "X-Files" type of department within the FBI.

ANNIE JACOBSEN: I would have to say that there is.

ROMO: Just to reiterate here, Jacobsen is an expert on the government's investigations into extra-sensory perception and psychokinesis. That's when you can move things with your mind.

JACOBSEN: My reasoning is this. We know that there is that department inside the CIA and also inside the Pentagon. And history tells us that this department existed in the '50s. I write about it in my book.


ROMO: Then there are the profilers, which audiences love. The most famous was technically a trainee.


JODIE FOSTER: (As Clarice Starling) Dr. Lecter, my name is Clarice Starling. May I speak with you?

ANTHONY HOPKINS: (As Hannibal Lecter) May I see your credentials?

FOSTER: (As Clarice Starling) Certainly.

ROMO: And let's not forget cherry-pie-loving Special Agent Dale Cooper, who's returned to "Twin Peaks" 25 years after Laura Palmer's gruesome death.


KYLE MACLACHLAN: (As Dale Cooper) Lunch was $6.31 at the Lamplighter Inn - damn good food. Diane, if you ever get up this way, that cherry pie is worth a stop.

ROMO: Obviously, neither Agent Cooper nor Scully and Mulder - or even Johnny Utah - will be reporting to Christopher Wray, but there's one man who could be - acting Director Andrew McCabe. He recently said this about the agency.


ANDREW MCCABE: You cannot stop the men and women of the FBI from doing the right thing, protecting the American people and upholding the Constitution.

ROMO: Now, that's a line from the movies. Vanessa Romo, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE FLASHBULB'S "TRAVELOGUE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.