It was the kind of story the media love: Glamorous liberal celebrities mingling with glamorous liberal politicians.
In 2009 the White House hosted an exclusive, lavish Halloween party themed around the new “Alice in Wonderland” movie. Director Tim Burton designed the elaborate decorations, and star Johnny Depp (in full Mad Hatter getup) hobnobbed with guests. Someone worked the East Room dressed in the authentic “Chewbacca” costume from the “Star Wars” movies, on loan from creator George Lucas.
The Obama administration, fearing how the party would appear to a nation still deep in recession, kept the story from the press. It remained unknown until January 2012, when it was disclosed in a book titled “The Obamas” by New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor. Publications across the country covered it, complete with photos of Burton and Depp posing with administration figures.
But viewers of ABC “World News Sunday.” would have had to be paying close attention to catch the 30-word mention the party got. NBC and CBS viewers weren’t told about it at all.
The Halloween party is just one example of the broadcast network evening news programs refusing to cover the Washington-Hollywood connection in liberal politics. Hollywood is an important, deep-pocketed part of the Democratic party’s base. Giving $9.2 million to his campaign, Tinsel Town enthusiastically backed Obama in 2008, giving. It still does.
OpenSecrets.org reported the 2011 Academy Award nominees’ “campaign cash benefited Democrats or left-leaning groups 99 percent of the time.” Wealth and status buy left-wing celebrities influence and access to the highest levels of government, where they advocate for a variety of liberal causes. The White House has in turn looked to the entertainment industry to help get its message out on economic recovery and health care. The networks simply don’t cover it.
The flagship evening news programs on ABC, NBC and CBS report extensively on politics. They also frequently mention Hollywood’s people, products and business. But they almost never report when those spheres come together.
If a GOP president received the same financial and political support from the members of another industry – say oil, or Wall Street – and coordinated his policies with them, there’d be an outcry from the press and a surge in investigative reporting from journalists.
The Media Research Center’s Culture and Media Institute studied the broadcast network evening news broadcasts for the year between Feb. 1, 2011, and Feb. 1, 2012, to see how they covered Hollywood’s influence on politics. Essentially, they didn’t. More than 95 percent of network stories mentioning Hollywood or actors and actresses (106 of 111) ignored celebrity activism or lobbying. Just one story mentioned Hollywood’s cash value to Obama and other Democrats.
Fit to Print, But Not to Broadcast?
Hollywood stars have been supporters of Obama since his first presidential campaign, but as the 2012 presidential campaign heats up, the president’s fans in the entertainment business are giving him even more star power and cash.
And a lot of cash it is. According to Open Secrets, the TV, movie and music industry gave $48.7 million in political contributions in 2008 – 78 percent of it to Democrats. This time around there are plenty of examples of celebrity support for Obama, just not on network evening news.
Obama has attended at least five show business-related fundraisers just since September 2011. This February, Politico reported on the host of A-list celebrities whose names show up in the Obama Campaign’s fundraising records: Tom Hanks, George Lucas, Leonardo DiCaprio, Cynthia Nixon, Sharon Stone, Ed Harris and Hilary Duff, among others.
In mid-February, Obama visited Hollywood for two $36,000-a-plate fundraisers that featured Grammy-winning rock band The Foo Fighters and A-list celebrities like George Clooney and Will Ferrell. The events were widely publicized beforehand, and well covered after the fact. Just not on the evening news shows.
The Washington Post described the trip as part of Obama’s “efforts to keep his big-money Hollywood backers in the fold” after anti-piracy bills failed in Congress. The Los Angeles Times noted “the ties that bind many in the entertainment industry to the Democratic president on topics such as abortion rights and the environment. Because much of Hollywood political giving is ideological, campaign donations are not usually tied to short-term legislative items.”
The events reportedly bought in $3 million for Obama’s 2012 campaign. NBC anchor Brian Williams merely told viewers the president was on an “eight-stop West Coast fundraising tour.”
The AP reported in mid-January that director Spike Lee hosted a $35,800 per person fundraiser at his home for Obama, followed by a star-studded campaign event at Harlem’s Apollo Theatre. Networks dutifully reported on Obama's spontaneous rendition of an Al Green song at the Apollo, but ignored the fundraiser and the gaggle of celebrities present.
Back in October, according to The Hill, Obama warned guests at another Hollywood fundraiser (including actor Will Smith and former NBA star Magic Johnson) that “The election will not be as sexy as the first one.” The same night, Obama spoke at a $5,000-per-ticket fundraiser at the home of Melanie Griffith and Antonio Banderas.
An earlier swing through Hollywood in September took in $7 million from stars like Quincy Jones, Jamie Foxx, Danny Devito and Eva Longoria, “West Wing” writer Aaron Sorkin and producer Jon Landau.
None of those events made it on the evening news
Not Ready for Prime Time
When the network evening news broadcasts don’t report on the intersection of entertainment and politics, it isn’t a question of resources or lack of interest from the networks. Their morning shows and websites covered many of these stories. That was the case with the Halloween party, which NBC and ABC reported on “Today” and “Good Morning America,” respectively. On “Today,” Matt Lauer even interviewed Jodi Kantor and asked about the party.
Another example was when stars Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie visited Obama in the Oval Office on Jan. 9. They were photographed and filmed through the White House windows, and photos made the front page of The Washington Post the next day. Politico reported that, “according to a White House aide, the president ‘spoke with Ms. Jolie about her work to raise the profile of preventing mass atrocities and combating sexual violence against women.’” CBS put the raw video footage on its website, but “Evening News” didn’t bother reporting the story that night.
Pitt and Jolie are far from alone in pushing causes before government. As The Washington Examiner put it in December, “Every year Hollywood’s celebrities visit Washington to testify before Congress, visit the White House or attend a gala for their various pet causes.” The Examiner provided “a sampling of who visited the District and what they were advocating for throughout 2011.” Predictably, a majority of the list were concerned with liberal causes, including,
Harrison Ford: environmental conservation
Hayden Panettiere: D.C. voting rights
Lady Gaga: anti-bullying initiatives
Kevin Spacey and Alec Baldwin: arts funding
James Cameron: energy conservation
Meryl Streep: building a National Women’s Museum
Diane von Furstenberg, AnnaLynne McCord and Sally Field: “women of the world”
Then there are some of the more hard-left celebrities like Sean Penn, Danny Glover and Oliver Stone, who openly admire socialist dictators like Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez. Rosanne Barr threw in her lot with the Occupy Wall Street protesters in October, and publicly suggested that bankers deserve the guillotine. Rosie O’Donnell has said the Bush administration engineered the 9/11 attacks.
Network news viewers rarely hear that celebrities entertain such fringe and even unhinged political notions.
The Plot Thickens
By not reporting on the Hollywood-Washington liberal axis, the networks do their viewers a serious disservice, because the cozy relationship has real implications.
Take, for example, Sony Pictures’ upcoming film about hunting and killing Osama Bin Laden. Sony originally scheduled the movie, tentatively called “Kill Bin Laden,” for October release, just two weeks before the presidential election. Big Hollywood’s John Nolte called the movie “an in-kind propaganda contribution” to the Obama campaign and wrote:
Sony’s plan was an obvious one. Not only would the release of the film in the crucial weeks leading up to the election bring this event back to the forefront of voter’s minds, it would also give Obama’s Media Palace Guards the excuse and cover they desire to resurrect this story just when the President might need it most. This was cynical, sinister, and the worst kind of exploitation of our Military.
Outcry forced Sony to push the release date back to December. But the Pentagon is investigating whether someone in the administration gave director Kathryn Bigelow and screenwriter Mark Boal access to classified information for the film.
Contrast that situation with what happened when Bush adviser Karl Rove “approached Jack Valenti, then head of the Motion Picture Association of America, in November 2001,” according to the Washington Times. “Mr. Rove hoped to gin up a repeat of Hollywood’s response to World War II, but the effort never gained traction.”
Appeals to war-time patriotism didn’t stir Hollywood, but narrow concerns over pet liberal issues seem to. Actor and director Ron Howard did the voice-over for a web video for the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The creation of the bureau was bitterly contested by Republicans, who held that it was unaccountable to Congressional oversight and therefore unconstitutional. Senate Republicans held up the nomination of its first director until Obama made a highly disputed recess appointment in January.
According to The Hill, “Howard has been a longtime advocate for a consumer protection bureau, and pushed for such an agency in a pair of web videos he directed last year.”
And after the ObamaCare bill passed Congress, the White House enlisted actor Andy Griffith to assure senior citizens that the bill wouldn’t harm Medicare.
Those were just some of the most visible collaborations between Obama and his Hollywood friends. During his October Hollywood fundraising trip, the president had a “secret meeting” with “some of Hollywood’s power players,” as reported by the Hollywood Reporter and picked up by The Hill. The meeting included “Harvey Weinstein, ICM president Chris Silbermann, ‘Modern Family” creator Steve Levitan, Atlantic Records chairman Craig Kallman and others.”
It was reported to be a “casual affair with ‘influencers’ who could help the president’s reelection campaign.”
Another “influencer” is Dreamworks CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg. Obama, according to The Washington Times, praised Katzenberg at the September fundraiser for “helping us consistently move an agenda forward that creates a more just and fair and more competitive America.”
The president didn’t give specifics about Katzenberg’s contributions, but the administration has given its Hollywood friends plenty of opportunities to pitch in.
During the health care debate in October 2009, the Huffington Post reported that “President Barack Obama is enlisting Hollywood celebrities including actress Rosario Dawson and musician Will.I.Am to draw attention to his health care overhaul agenda.” They would join “actors John Cho, Dule Hill, Brandon Routh, Kate Walsh and Olivia Wilde, and ‘Family Guy’ creator Seth MacFarlane” as celebrity judges for an ObamaCare ad contest run by Obama’s Organizing for America political group.
Around the same time, the Entertainment Industry Foundation issued a press release stating “from October 19-25, more than 60 network TV shows [will] spotlight the power and personal benefits of service,” and that this “unprecedented block of TV programming is the first wave of a multi-year ‘I Participate’ campaign.”
Nolte at Big Hollywood had plenty to say about that too:
Doing the work the Kamikaze Media (many of whom are participating in this event rather than digging for the story) refuses, and with the help of Big Government’s Dana Loesch , Patrick and Stage Right have discovered that when it comes to this White House – whether it’s the NEA conference calls or EIF’s iParticipate  programming — all roads funnel into one place: online volunteer portals, including Serve.gov , where if you plug in “health care” all kinds of Planned Parenthood openings pop up along with a video dispelling those ugly “myths” knocking ObamaCare.
Prior to a debate over whether the administration was indeed enlisting Hollywood’s help, Fox New’s Juan Williams, guest hosting “The O’Reilly Factor” played a clip from the sitcom, “The New Adventures of Old Christine,” that clearly used administration talking points about health care:
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, what are we supposed to do? People can't go around without health insurance. This is America.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And 45 million people don't have health insurance.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What? Man, I missed reading the paper for two days. Why isn't anyone talking about this?
The NEA conference calls Nolte alluded to were attempts by the White House and the National Endowment for the Arts to “encourage a handpicked, pro-Obama arts group to address politically controversial issues under contentious national debate,” according to Big Hollywood’s Patrick Courrielche
How much of this Hollywood-Washington collusion has been reported on the network evening news? Not one bit.
There is no shortage of reasons why ABC, CBS, and NBC should cover the relationship between Obama and the entertainment industry. Viewers should know who’s influencing the president of the Unites States. And they should be aware when the president is using entertainment to influence them. Networks that pursued these stories would improve their journalistic reputation and attract viewers.
The networks’ reluctance to report on it may be because, in some cases, the celebrities work for the same parent company (NBC-Universal or ABC Disney) and their advocacy for polarizing issues can harm the organization. Or it may be that the networks don’t want to show the politicians they support being influenced by often ill-informed and unserious performers.
Not everybody in Hollywood is still infatuated with Obama. There are those who criticize him – even from the left. Before her visit to the Oval Office, Jolie said that “there are a few things I am disappointed in” with Obama. Left wing actor Matt Damon has said he was “disappointed in the health care plan and the troop buildup in Afghanistan.” Hollywood legend Robert Redford doesn’t think Obama has done enough on the environment and alternative energy.
But by and large, Obama’s Hollywood support is solid. If another, less reliably liberal industry were so close to a Republican administration, it would come in for close scrutiny from the networks.
When Celebrities Act Like Politicians, Report it – Hollywood is full left-wing activists. They have every right to their opinions, but when their celebrity and wealth allow them access to politicians that most Americans don’t enjoy, networks should let viewers know.
Disclose Fully and Report Bravely – If networks faithfully report on the activism of celebrities, they may sometimes be doing so against the broader company’s interests. ABC might report the inflammatory statements of an actress on an ABC sitcom or the director of Disney film. But thorough journalism demands nothing less.
Go for “Gritty Realism” – From environmental extremists like Robert Redford and Daryl Hannah to socialist dictator admirers like Sean Penn and Danny Glover, to gay rights advocates and anti-war agitators, entertainers often take positions at least half their audience find repellent. Some are more extreme than others. Their audiences have a right to know it.
Follow the Money – Few industries give as heavily to one side of the political aisle as does entertainment, and none have anywhere near the glamour that would get the attention of the political establishment. A news organization that explored the implications of loading all that money and star power on one side of the political divide would be doing the nation a service, and presenting viewers with compelling journalism.