Or read the transcript below:
Interview with Ben Shapiro by Roger Aronoff
The “Take AIM” show on BlogTalkRadio, July 28, 2011.
ROGER ARONOFF: Good morning, and welcome to Take AIM, Accuracy in Media’s weekly talk show on BlogTalkRadio. AIM is America’s original media watchdog, and every week we point out biased coverage and bring you the stories the mainstream media ignore. I’m Roger Aronoff, the Editor of Accuracy in Media and of The AIM Report, which you can subscribe to at aim.org. We also encourage you to visit our website, aim.org, and sign up to receive our latest daily E-mail so you can keep track of what the media are up to. Our guest today is Ben Shapiro, the author of Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How the Left Took Over Your TV. Good morning, Ben! We’re very pleased to have you with us today on Take AIM!
BEN SHAPIRO: Thanks so much for having me.
ARONOFF: Great. Let me tell our listeners a little more about you. Ben was hired at age seventeen, and became the youngest nationally syndicated columnist in the country. His columns can be read in major newspapers and on websites throughout the country. He’s also been a frequent guest on many national TV and radio shows. He is also the author of the national bestsellers Brainwashed: How Universities Indoctrinate America’s Youth; Porn Generation: How Social Liberalism is Corrupting our Future; and Project President: Bad Hair and Botox on the Road to the White House. He went to college at the age of sixteen, graduated from UCLA in 2004 with a BA in political science, and graduated from Harvard Law School cum laude in June of 2007. So welcome to the show. I recently interviewed Andrew Breitbart on this show. There aren’t, really, a whole lot of us Jewish conservative writers and activists, so it’s great to have you on here, talking about this new book. You grew up in Hollywood with a family that worked in the business, and you went to Harvard, Harvard Law School. What was your political journey to become a conservative? Seems like you defied the odds.
SHAPIRO: Yes, it would seem that way, but I have to give a lot of credit to my parents. My parents, they’re very conservative in orientation. They’re kind of Reagan Republicans. I think they voted for Clinton in ’92, but that was the last time they voted for a Democrat—and they only voted for Clinton in ’92 because they were ticked off that Bush raised taxes and sold AWACS to the Saudis. We’re religious Jews, and in the religious community, the orthodox community tends to split pretty heavily along Republican lines, actually. Both my parents work in Hollywood. My mom does business affairs for a bunch of reality TV shows, including Hell’s Kitchen. My dad has done scoring, TV scoring. My whole family is in the industry, at least the ones who live in Los Angeles. So I did grow up in this milieu. I grew up politically conservative, I got more politically conservative as I got older and I got more economically savvy, and, yeah, I was able to withstand, and fight back and have fun with, the people at UCLA and Harvard Law.
ARONOFF: So how did you come to write Primetime Propaganda? What was your approach?
SHAPIRO: My approach was pretty simple. It was, “Get into the door with these people, and talk to them.” That’s what distinguishes Primetime Propaganda from any other book that’s ever been written on TV—I actually went and spoke with the people who are involved in the making of these shows. I asked them, “What did you mean when you made the show? What was your political intent here? What were you trying to do?” They were kind enough to have me there, and to answer the questions. Now, they probably did that because they were stereotyping me—my last name is Shapiro, I went to Harvard Law School, I live in Los Angeles, I have parents who work in Hollywood—as you said, there’s a really good shot that I’d be a liberal! Especially based on the Jewish thing. They probably assume that, because I’m Jewish—if my name had been Bill White, from Alabama, the chances of me getting through the door would have been pretty slim, but they had me through the door, and they answered the questions openly and honestly. That was the methodology I used—it was mostly an oral history. I went through and talked with most of the major players in network and cable TV over the last 50 years, and the results were Primetime Propaganda. The way the book came about, it was interesting. It came about because HarperCollins requested it. Basically, I had written a column in—I guess it would have been 2008, no, 2009—about Sean Penn at the Oscars. You remember when Sean Penn made that idiotic speech at the Oscars where he talked about President Obama? It was just so great that we had an elegant man in the White House again. You remember that?
ARONOFF: Right. Yes.
SHAPIRO: So Sean Penn made that silly speech. I wrote a column about that, not saying that he’s silly—which he is—but saying, “What happened to Sean Penn?” About six months prior to that, he’d been saying that President Obama would be the worst thing ever—and he wasn’t even a Hillary supporter, he was just saying he didn’t like then-Senator Obama, he thought that he was an empty suit, a hack. So what changed for Sean Penn? The answer is, of course, that Sean Penn, like everybody else in Hollywood, is reliant on the federal government giving all sorts of largesse and fame and fortune to people in Hollywood. So he was basically waiting for his kickback—that’s the essence of the argument. Harper saw that, they thought it was a creative take on the problem, so they called me up and said, “What book do you want to write?” I said, “I’d like to write a book called Cult, about how Obama’s followers are a cult. Use the ‘Hope’ poster on the cover, but instead of HOPE, have it say CULT.” They said, “No, we’d rather have you write something on Hollywood.” So I ended up writing on Hollywood, and Ann Coulter ended up writing the one on cults, and did a better job than I would—Demonic.
ARONOFF: Mm-hmm. So you got a lot of people to talk to you, but this wasn’t James O’Keefe style—you didn’t go in with an undercover camera and capture them surreptitiously. You were right out there, you just didn’t have the discussion with them before on what was your agenda, what was your point of view and the book’s—so they just assumed, like you said, that you were on their side?
SHAPIRO: Yup. Exactly. As a lawyer, the last thing I wanted to do was secretly tape anybody. You can’t do that in the state of California, it’s a two party consent state. I would have had to get permission to tape in any case. But I also, because I’d worked a little bit in Hollywood, didn’t really want to go in there in an undercover fashion. I didn’t want to lie about it. I didn’t want to say I was somebody I wasn’t. So I just didn’t mention my politics. Some people in Hollywood got kind of upset about that. They said, “Oh, you should have mentioned your politics up front.” I said, “Why? Why is it relevant? Would you have answered the questions differently if you’d known I was a conservative? Would you have lied to me? Would you have not let me through the door?” It just reinforced the whole point, which was that they weren’t going to speak honestly with me if they knew I was a conservative, because they’re a bunch of liberals who discriminate against conservatives on a regular basis.
ARONOFF: Give me a couple of the best examples of these people admitting their bias to you. What were the ones that stuck out most in your mind?
SHAPIRO: The ones who were the most blatant about it—in terms of their shows, or in terms of their personal bias? In terms of their personal bias, Vin Di Bona, who was a producer of MacGyver and America’s Funniest Home Videos, said to me that, yes, there’s discrimination against conservatives in Hollywood, and he’s actually happy about it. Nick Meyer—his tape I still haven’t released for some reason, I’ve been holding it back because I want to reinject it into the debate when the time is right—who is the creator of Star Treks II, IV, and VI, said exactly the same thing: He said he hopes there is discrimination against conservatives in Hollywood. Susan Harris, who created Soap and The Golden Girls, said that she thought conservatives were basically a bunch of hicks who didn’t believe in science, who wanted to discriminate against people, they were a bunch of nasty cusses—and that was not rare. Those were the people who were most personally open about the fact that they despise conservatives. In terms of who biased their shows the most, Marta Kauffman, who created Friends, said that, for example, an episode in the first season of Friends which was about a lesbian wedding was specifically geared as an “F-U” to the Right. That was the design of the show. In fact, when she did that episode of the show, as the pastor in that wedding she cast Candace Gingrich, who is Newt’s sister. Newt’s sister is a lesbian, and [Kauffman] cast her specifically as an “F-U” to the Right, as I said. That was one example. Gary David Goldberg, who created Family Ties, told me that Michael J. Fox, on that show, was not supposed to be the hero, he was supposed to be the villain—that was the whole point, that he was the bad guy, he was the one who had to be reprimanded, he was the one who had to apologize for his conservatism at the end of every show because, basically, conservatism is just an adolescent phase of development. So it does run the gamut. Virtually everyone I talked to admitted that, yeah, they try and push certain messages in their shows. When you question them directly about it, you have to ask the right question. If I said to them, “Are you pushing social justice in your shows?” the answer was “Yes, of course I am!” If I asked them, “What are your favorite episodes of the show?” they always told me “The one where I push gay marriage!” or “The one where Rachel has her baby and pushes single motherhood!” Those were always the shows they liked to talk about. But if you said to them, “Isn’t it really your job to provide entertainment to the public? Why are you so politically biased?” then it turns into “That’s what we’re doing! All we’re doing, really, is catering to the market!” And that’s a lie: They’re not just catering to the market, they’re doing both. They’re catering to the market—they have to be successful, obviously—but, by the same token, they very clearly want to push a political agenda.
ARONOFF: You pretty much anticipated the sort of answers you would get. But even within that context, were there any big surprises or shocks for you when you asked these questions?
SHAPIRO: I think it was shocking how openly dismissive of conservatives people were, not because I hadn’t seen that before—you go to UCLA and Harvard, you’re going to get that—but mainly in terms of the antipathy. When people actually, openly say that they are happy that people cannot get jobs in Hollywood because of their political orientation, that is the worst of the worst. You would never hear a conservative say that, by the way. You’d never hear a conservative say that. The last person who said that somebody shouldn’t get a job because of orientation was Anita Bryant back in the ’70s, talking about how gays shouldn’t be able to teach public school. That’s the last time I’ve heard a conservative say anything of that sort, really. I don’t know a single conservative, not one, who would say that they think that, for example, a liberal should not be allowed to work as a cab driver, or a liberal should not be allowed to work as a radio host. We think everybody should be allowed to work, it’s just a matter of “Are you going to bring value to the situation?” But liberals, they’re practicing McCarthyism—but real McCarthyism, not McCarthyism that was actually accurate, and aimed at Communists and agents of foreign nations, but aimed at half of the United States of America—or greater.
ARONOFF: One of the parts that really intrigued me, because this relates to work that we do, is when you go back and look at the earlier history of the networks, and the heads of the networks—[David] Sarnoff, [William] Paley, and Leonard Goldenson, respectively, from NBC, CBS, and ABC. All Jewish, but not all liberal. What were the forces that pushed TV into this Leftward direction?
SHAPIRO: First of all, I think it’s important to note a couple of things. One is that corporate leaders, by and large—some of them are politically conservative, but when it comes right down to it, they’re profit-driven first. They’re much more interested in making a profit, and they’re less interested in where that profit comes from. Even Paley, Goldenson, and Sarnoff—Goldenson was a liberal, but the other two were conservative, and neither of them were averse to getting special benefits from the government, from parlaying with liberals in order to make their money. Neither of them were really ideological creatures that way. They were much more interested in getting cash. They were profit-driven. What happened is that, from the very beginning, the creators and the executives, there was a split. Creators tended to be very much to the Left, because they were drawn from vaudeville, the heavily socialist-influenced Jewish vaudeville and radio community. After World War II and the rise of TV, there is that major split—the creators who are Lefties, and the executives who are more Right-leaning. Over the course of the 1950s, as the advertisers became the basis of the TV industry—as opposed to the TV manufacturers—as they became more and more involved in the making of TV, there was kind of a merge between the executives and creators. A lot of ad agency people have to be both creatives and executives. Those people tend to be from New York, a lot of them still are Jewish, and a lot of them are more Left-leaning.
So by the mid-’60s, you had a shift in terms of who was actually in positions of power at the networks. Now a lot of people who are executives, the next generation of executives, they’re no longer the kind of garment salesmen, the businesspeople. They’re now people who are a kind of hybrid of creative and executive talent, and they’re all Left. So they’re all pushing in the same direction at this point. But they still have a problem, and that is, “Okay, how do we foist on the American public a belief system that they don’t really like?” In the 1960s, America was, by and large, a very conservative country. So how can they push gay rights? How can they push single motherhood? How can they push affirmative action? How can they push all the causes that they so love in a country that is largely socially conservative? The answer they came up with is really brilliant—they used the business of TV to enshrine liberalism. The way that they do this is very smart. The way that the TV industry works is that you and I, as viewers, we don’t really matter. There’s only one way that we matter. Whenever we flip on our TV, we’re not paying the TV show that we watch. When we flip on Friends or Glee, we’re not paying Glee, we just watch it. The people who pay Glee, and put Glee on the air, are the advertisers. Now this is something the TV industry realized, and they realized something else: They could go to the advertisers and make the case to the advertisers that certain viewers are actually “worth” more than other viewers. The viewers who are worth more, according to TV, are the people who are aged 18-49. This was based on faulty social science that was commissioned by ABC in 1969 and 1970, and it was bought into by a bunch of advertisers. CBS, which was leading the ratings race at that point with shows like Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, and Petticoat Junction, all of which were top ten shows—a lot of rural-based, more conservative shows. Those shows were universally dumped by CBS in an attempt to move toward the 18-49 young, urban, liberal crowd. That’s when they put on All in the Family, M*A*S*H, and Mary Tyler Moore. By doing that, they dramatically shifted the nature of television. All of a sudden, open liberalism wasn’t just something that was a backdoor this-is-what-we’d-like-to-do thing. Now it became an open goal, because you wanted to appeal to liberals. That was the whole goal. Unfortunately, that’s become the hallmark of TV. Now, we still do this—18-35 is, for some reason, “worth” more. It doesn’t make any sense, there’s no social science data to back it up—in fact, Nielsen, who gauges the ratings, recently came out and said there is zero link between a person’s value as a target of advertising and a person’s age. There’s no link at all. In fact, there’s some suggestion that there’s a reverse link—if you’re above the age of 50, you actually have disposable income, you actually have savings. But the TV industry continues to be based on the weird notion that young people are worth more, and if young people are worth more, you have to target them, young people happen to be liberal, the programming is liberal—and therefore they now have a market justification for what they wanted to do all along, which is to shove their politics down the throats of Americans.
ARONOFF: You’ve just answered about half a dozen of my questions! That’s good, because I wasn’t sure we’d have enough time to get to them all! One question is, let’s distinguish, when we talk about “liberal bias,” or “promoting these values”—they’re sort of the social values of racial, gender, abortion issues, versus more promoting a political agenda and Democratic candidates—so how do you make that distinction when you talk about primetime propaganda?
SHAPIRO: The way in which they’ve been most effective is not in endorsing particular candidates. When Sam Waterston, on Law & Order, talks about how he likes President Obama, that doesn’t have a lot of impact on the electoral debate. It doesn’t have a lot of impact on what Americans think, because—guess what? There’s a little psychology attached to this, which is, when you watch TV, and you’re watching entertaining programming, you’re not watching it for the politics. You are watching the programming because you want to be entertained, and because you want to put the politics out of your brain. You just want to be immersed, right? So the stuff that is most effective, the stuff where they manipulate your emotions the most, is the stuff where they’re not openly political. It’s the stuff where they bias the storyline so as to achieve a certain emotional effect. By the same token, if they start talking politics, that part of your brain switches on, and suddenly you’re attuned to the fact that Sam Waterston is being a Lefty jerk. All of a sudden, you say, “I’m not going to buy into that, because now he’s moved into the political side of my brain.” So where they’re most effective is if they keep you—you’re like a dolphin. There are two sides of your brain when it comes to TV—your entertainment brain, and your political brain. The Left is most effective when they keep your political brain switched off and your entertainment brain switched on, and then what they do is, they use the entertainment brain to push their values. For example, there was a poll done by Gallup, I guess it was about a month ago now. They asked Americans, “What percentage of the American population do you think is gay?” 34% of Americans thought that 25% or more of Americans were gay—that one in four Americans is gay. Another 17% thought at least 20% of Americans were gay. Overall, 78% of Americans thought that at least one in ten Americans was gay. Now the real statistic is two in 100—two percent, one in 50. But the reason that people think that so many people are gay is because, if you watch network and cable television, one in four or one in five people is gay. There’s always a major gay character. So they’ve been able to kind of bias our perception of the ubiquity of homosexuality by putting it on TV so much. Now that’s not a political point—they’re not going out there and saying you should vote against Prop. 8, they’re not going and saying you should vote against the Defense of Marriage Act, they’re going out there and they’re just kind of subtly convincing you there are a lot of homosexuals in this country. And universally, the gays on these shows are wonderful, caring, adorable people. Now, there are gays who are wonderful, caring, lovely people. But there are also gays who are jerks, just like there are straight people who are jerks. You’ll see a lot of straight jerks on TV. You’ll never see a gay jerk on TV. That would not be in line with Hollywood’s value system. It’s the same thing if you go back to the 1970s: Every black person on television was a saint. It’s only now that you’ve started to see that sometimes there are good black people on TV, sometimes there are bad black people on TV. It’s going to take a while before they do the same thing with homosexuals. But that, again, is their way of biasing the case. It’s very clever. To me, the single greatest indicator of the power of television is the rise of the gay marriage movement. 40 years ago, even 30 years ago, who would have thought that we’d be sitting here debating whether gay marriage was inevitable? It wouldn’t have even occurred to us.
ARONOFF: Right . . .
SHAPIRO: The reason it’s become almost an inevitability in certain parts of the country, like California or New York or Massachusetts, is largely because of television. The most effective argument in favor of gay marriage has always been not an argument but an emotional appeal, right? The appeal is, “You can’t be against gay marriage—your brother is gay! You can’t be against gay marriage—your best friend is gay! You can’t be against gay marriage—you once met a gay guy in a Starbucks! You know them—would you want to discriminate against them?” It’s that emotional appeal—it’s not an intellectual argument, it’s not a logical argument, it’s an emotional appeal. What TV does with, for example, homosexuals, is, it creates characters you love and want to hang out with, and it makes them gay. And then it says to you, “How can you be against gay marriage if you watch Will & Grace and if you really think that Will’s a great guy? How can you be against gay marriage if you watch Sex and the City and you think that the peripheral best friend, who’s gay, is a wonderful fellow?” This is how they achieve their ends—they create characters you like, and then they manipulate you into liking the behaviors of the characters even when you shouldn’t.
ARONOFF: You brought up Sam Waterston and Law & Order. I didn’t watch it all that much, but it seemed to always have an agenda, a political agenda. Usually, the first thing it looks like who the bad guy is, it turns out to be somebody else, and it kind of always has, ultimately, a Left-wing spin on it. A lot of these other shows, like The Good Wife, you’ll go in someone’s room, there’s an Obama poster, they make some positive statement about Obama or some negative statement about Palin or Bush or something—it seems so pervasive. I’m just wondering what the cumulative effect of that is—what do you think?
SHAPIRO: I think the cumulative effect of it is, again, relatively minimal. I think that stuff switches on that part of your political brain. You see the Obama poster?
SHAPIRO: The vast majority of us who don’t like Obama, we’d look at that Obama poster and cringe. What is effective is one of the tactics they’ll use in The Good Wife a lot where it’s always the corporate guy who’s the bad guy, the rich white guy. Law & Order does this all the time. Everybody who is bad on that show is an upper class white person. Everybody who is virtuous on that show is a victimized minority. That is something that they love to do, and that has a long term impact. It means that people hate corporations. It means people hate businessmen. It means that people tend to think that anybody who has made a lot of money in this country got it by being absolutely corrupt. That does have a tremendous impact on our debate. If you tell people, right now, “Look: Some corporations are good, some corporations are bad, some corporate leaders are good, some are bad, a lot of them parley with the government, but there’s nothing wrong with making a lot of money in this country, if you make a lot of money it doesn’t mean you ripped someone off,” people’s immediate emotional response is, “No, no, no! If he made a lot of money, it’s because he did rip somebody off!” Now that comes from somewhere. Some of it’s jealousy, but some of it comes from places like television, where they teach you that if somebody made a lot of money, it’s because he killed a black person and dumped him in the river. This is one of the lessons that Law & Order teaches. TV is a teaching tool. That’s what it is. It’s going to teach you values. It’s going to teach you emotional responses. From a scientific point of view, it teaches Pavlovian responses. They do certain things on TV that are specifically designed to elicit emotional reactions. If it elicits the proper emotional reaction in you, then you’re putty in their hands, to a certain extent.
ARONOFF: Do you see a link—
SHAPIRO: It’s fascinating. They just did a scientific study—I don’t know if you saw this—on what was, scientifically, the saddest movie of all time, what was the saddest moment in movie history. They picked the Jon Voight and Faye Dunaway movie from the 1970s, The Champ. You remember the end of The Champ? Spoiler alert! At the end of The Champ, Jon Voight gets killed in the boxing ring. His son, who’s a little kid, is there, running around the room, “Oh, my God! Daddy’s dead!” It’s this really, really sad moment. Now the reason I mention that is because, when they were writing the movie, they knew full well what they were trying to do, which was make you cry at the end of the movie. That was the whole goal, and they were able to do that. If people can make you cry on cue, that is an unbelievable amount of power that you can wield.
ARONOFF: Do you see a link between the bias in the news and the bias in the entertainment divisions of these major networks?
SHAPIRO: Yes. I mean, the same people run all the networks, right?
SHAPIRO: It’s the same executive structure. The same people who are overseeing the news production are overseeing everything else. Jeff Zucker—who was offered the position of press secretary in Al Gore’s administration in 2000, if Al Gore had won—started off running The Today Show, and he ended up rising up to be the head of the network. Well, when he’s head of the network he’s running both the news division—with, at that point, it would have been Katie Couric, I think—and at the same time he’s running the entertainment division. So the same people are making all the decisions as far as programming and as far as bias. It’s no surprise that, if you have the same people running the news as running the entertainment, they all tend to reflect the same values.
ARONOFF: How specifically has the TV industry put itself in the service of Barack Obama and getting him elected? Can you anticipate what’s coming up in the next year? Will there be a movie, for instance, just before the election about Obama taking out bin Laden? What do you see going on there? Should this be considered, in any way, an “in kind” contribution?
SHAPIRO: I think it should. The example that you just cited is a tremendous one. I would be shocked if Hollywood does not bring out either a TV movie or a different movie right before the election cycle. Probably they’ll bring out two movies. One will be about Barack Obama and the death of bin Laden, and the other will be about whoever the Republican candidate is, some back-story. Whether Palin or Perry, it’s going to be something that paints Republicans as bad guys, or as obstructionists. They may try to rehash the Jack Abramoff stuff. They will bring out something, right before the election, in an attempt to influence it. They’ve done it before. In 1984 there was a TV movie you may remember, The Day After. That movie was the highest rated TV movie of all time when it came out. What it was was the effects of nuclear war. What happens if there is a nuclear war between the Soviets and the United States? It shows the impact: Everybody dies. Everybody has cancer. Everybody’s skin is flaking off. It was really graphic and gruesome and lovely. And the director of that movie, Nick Meyer, he said to me that the whole goal of that movie, to him, was to prevent Ronald Reagan’s reelection. Now that is an in kind contribution—there’s no doubt about it. But it’s difficult to enforce because courts refuse to enforce in kind contributions unless they’re absolutely 100% clear. So there’s no question that Hollywood’s throwing its weight around. Hollywood does that all the time. This is what they do. Look: Oprah was probably the single greatest factor in getting Obama elected. She had a tremendous impact. She has millions and millions of followers. She is a black woman who is non-threatening to white people. She basically said “Obama’s like me. He’s a black guy who unthreatening to white people. He’s really intelligent and he’s young and he’s hopeful and he’s JFK, just with more melanin in his skin, and together we will change this country for the better.” It was this whole weepy, emotional, touchy-feely campaign. That was the whole feel of the Obama campaign. It was a very Hollywood-produced campaign. I mean, he had Davis Guggenheim doing all of his campaign videos, he had George Clooney giving him political and image advice, and people in TV and movies were donating tremendous amounts of cash to the Obama campaign. Then they were going out in their shows and they were doing things—like in Family Guy, there’s an episode where Stewie, who’s the baby, and Brian, who’s the dog, travel back in time to Nazi Germany. They kill a Nazi, and it turns out that on the Nazi’s lapel is a Palin-McCain sticker. That kind of stuff happened pretty commonly during the 2008 election. So they bring out as many forces as they can muster. I don’t think it’s going to work quite as well this time—because now President Obama has an egregiously horrible record, so it’s going to be very difficult for them to pull out emotional appeal because, again, Hollywood is based on emotion. Once they’ve been proven wrong by fact, it’s hard for them to manipulate our emotions anymore. That’s why, for example, you don’t see a lot of abortion stories on TV anymore. They manipulated our emotions for years about abortion—you know, “Abortion’s an okay thing, it’s fine.” Then as scientific consensus started to progress—you know, “Oh, my God, that’s a baby in there!” then they started to lose the sympathy of the American public. When that happened you saw them shift very quickly away from telling abortion stories and shift toward telling gay marriage stories and gay adoption stories and single motherhood and all of the other elements of the liberal social agenda.
ARONOFF: You write about the TV industry and the government in Washington—mainly, of course, the Democratic establishment—how they scratch each other’s backs. And you say Hollywood became the federal government’s PR firm. Give a quick summary of that. I’ve got a couple more things and then we’ll let you go.
SHAPIRO: If you look at Hollywood, there’s no question that they act in favor of big government. There’s never been a program that Hollywood doesn’t like. And I’m talking about that they talk about in their shows, or that they endorse with their own funding. You know, Hollywood gets all sorts of tax benefits from different states. They get all sorts of tax benefits from the federal government. They get regulatory benefits from local governments in terms of—like the cable companies, for example. There’s a reason that you can only choose between, usually, one or, at the most, two cable companies in a given city. That’s because there is local regulation on the books that requires certain kinds of thresholds to be met before you can get into the city. It creates a monopoly situation. So it’s government actually pushing a monopoly situation that hurts consumers. If you look at Hollywood and its production facilities, they’ve been moving out of the country largely in order to avoid tax consequences. They’ve been moving to Vancouver for a while, they’re moving to Europe. Now they’re moving to different states that are offering them tax incentives. So the FCC, when it’s run by Democrats, will not crack down on TV. When it’s run by Republicans then people will complain about the FCC. That’s what happened under Bush. It’s pretty clear that there’s a lot of regulation that gets passed through Congress that is specifically geared toward the Democratic-Hollywood alliance. So, for example, when Obama came into office, Julius Genachowski, the head of the FCC, came out and he said “One of our top priorities is shutting down online piracy of Hollywood material.” Now, that’s all well and good. I don’t like online piracy either. It’s a violation of copyright and it’s wrong—but by the same token, making it his “top priority” as head of the FCC, and not making his top priority, for example, cracking down on the mind-numbing amount of sex that’s on television—which was the original dictate of the FCC—that’s a pretty clear indication that he doesn’t mean to crack down on Hollywood, he means to help Hollywood. Government and Hollywood are not in opposition. They help each other out. The clearest example of this that I saw when I was researching the book is a really kind of fascinating little tidbit, and it kind of tells you everything you need to know about this subject. Do you remember when President Obama did the Henry Louis Gates—
ARONOFF: Yes, sure. The beer summit. He had a beer summit.
SHAPIRO: Yes. But before that he had the press conference where he got himself into trouble.
SHAPIRO: Right, where he was supposed to be talking about health care. Somebody asked him about Henry Louis Gates, and all of the sudden he started making all sorts of trouble, saying silly things about Henry Louis Gates. Well, you know, when that happened, essentially—before that happened, he wanted to be on network TV. The networks did not want him on. They said, “You know, you’re losing ratings. We can’t have you cutting into our prime time all the time like you do. We’re going to lose money. So the answer’s ‘no.’” President Obama then went to the heads, not of the networks, but of the corporate entities that own the networks. He went to the head of GE, Jeff Immelt, he went to Bob Iger over at Disney, which owns ABC, and at CBS he went directly to Les Moonves, who’s the head of CBS, Viacom. And he asked them—all three of whom, by the way, are major Obama donors—politely, supposedly, “Will you please put me on TV?” And they did. They put him on, and they got horrible ratings. So You Think You Can Dance—a rerun—won the night, with an eleven share or something. So, all well and good, President Obama levers his power in order to get what he needs done. Except there’s one problem: There’s a kickback. About a week later The New York Times reports that President Obama has come to an agreement with the pharmaceutical industry. The pharmaceutical industry is now going to endorse President Obama’s Obamacare bill, and he’s going to cap their liability at $80 billion over the next ten years. Well, buried in that story is a nice little kind of gem which is, as part of the deal, the pharmaceutical industry has to commit to spending $150 million on television advertising in favor of Obamacare. So that was the back scratch. He went to the networks and he said, “You need to put me on. Don’t worry, I’ll make the money up for you. I will use my power to get you your money.” Then he went to the pharmaceutical companies and he basically blackmailed them. He said, “I’ll limit your liability, but in order for me to do that you’re going to have to spend a bunch of money on my friends over here.” That’s the way that’s the way the Hollywood-D.C. back scratch works.
ARONOFF: Yes, I know. I wrote about that at the time. That’s amazing. So let me tie in how your book has been received. One of your interviews I saw with Martin Bashir on MSNBC. He started out saying that your book was promoting, quote, “A controversial new theory that suggests that there’s an ongoing liberal bias in Hollywood.” My reaction was “What? ‘Controversial new theory’? Where has this guy been?” But I wanted to see—have you been reviewed by the LA Times, New York Times? Have you been on The Today Show? What’s been the media’s general response to Primetime Propaganda?
SHAPIRO: The media has tried to ignore it. So The New York Times had a blog item about it because it’s caused such a stir in Hollywood that we’ve actually had major Hollywood organizations having to pass resolutions condemning political discrimination within the industry. So The New York Times had a blog about it. The Hollywood Reporter did a really nice, long coverage piece. It was an ongoing story in both Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, which was great. They did a good job because it’s an industry story. The LA Times had their TV columnist Patrick Goldstein interview me. He ran a long piece in the Sunday Times that was actually really funny. It was typical leftist reporting. He ignored all the cases that I had brought up, he ignored all the evidence that I marshaled, and he said, “You know, I asked one of my friends, whether there’s discrimination in Hollywood. He said ‘no.’ He’s working in Hollywood, so I’ll just pretend that he is the voice of all of Hollywood, that there is no discrimination. One of my friends said it, so it must be true.” In terms of in terms of The Today Show, no, they didn’t have me on. The View was considering it, didn’t have me on. They don’t want to have me on because I have tape. I have the goods. When they have on conservatives it’s usually so that they can, you know, bash them around a little bit. If they have me on—they don’t want to have me on, number one, because they can’t bash me around. I’ve got the, I’ve got the evidence. Beyond all the argumentation or whether I’m a decent guest or any of that, they don’t want to have me on because I can always pull out the tape and I can play it for them, of them, of their people admitting this stuff to each other. So in terms of the mainstream media coverage, there was virtually none. It was all talk radio, Fox News, and maybe The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. The European press, by the way, did a very good job of covering it—the Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph, the main Spanish paper, the main French paper, all the Australian papers. I was on the Australian Today Show, but not the American Today Show, which tells you something.
ARONOFF: Bill Maher’s show, on HBO, which is owned by Time Warner—could there be a version of that show that would be attacking President Obama as much as this show constantly is attacking Republicans, conservatives? What do you make of that show in terms of who owns it? It’s Time Warner. The content of that show on a weekly basis, what’s your reaction?
SHAPIRO: Here’s the thing: HBO has a different methodology. It’s a subscription channel, so ratings don’t matter on HBO. You either buy the channel, or you don’t. That’s how it works. There’s no real advertising on HBO, so it doesn’t matter that nobody watches Bill Maher. He’s on the air every night. And nobody does watch Bill Maher, by the way—his rating are terrible. If you look at Jon Stewart, by contrast, his ratings are really good. So the real question really isn’t whether we can get a Bill Maher on the air, the real question is whether we can get a Jon Stewart on the air, and the key is that Jon Stewart is on Comedy Central. He’s on an entertainment network. You know, Red Eye is supposed to be kind of the conservative alternative to Jon Stewart. I don’t think that that’s particularly accurate because Red Eye is a Fox News show. It’s on a news channel. It’s a comedy show on a news channel. Most people who are watching Fox News are watching for the news, not for the comedy. Stewart has done—as much as I despise him, and I really do—a brilliant job of playing himself as “I’m just being a comic. I’m just being a comedian reading the news.” So it’s a long-form version of “Weekend Update” on Saturday Night Live. If conservatives want to do the same thing, they’re going to have to do it in the context of a comedic show, and they’re going to have to make it not openly politically conservative. They’re just going to have to make it funny first, and conservative second—which, by the way, is a major point: When conservatives make entertainment, we need to be great at it. We really cannot go off half-cocked. We can’t do it in a really mediocre way. Unfortunately, a lot of the conservative entertainment actually is underfunded. It’s not done very well, it’s not made by professionals, it’s not written by professionals, and it either looks shoddy, or it’s acted shoddily, or it reads shoddy.
SHAPIRO: It’s really unfortunate. I mean, I’m hard-pressed to think of a single great, purposefully considered conservative movie. They just don’t do them. You’ll have movies that are made by mainstream Hollywood that sometime embed conservative messages, like The Dark Knight. The Dark Knight is a very conservative movie. But I have yet to see the conservative movement put the kind of money and effort into entertainment necessary to make it really great, and that’s a blemish on our record. Because if conservatives don’t take entertainment seriously, then we’ve lost this battle.
ARONOFF: Our guest has been Ben Shapiro. His new book is Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How the Left Took Over Your TV. You mentioned one thing a minute ago about this, The Hollywood Reporter, and I noticed this was in a column of yours recently, that the Caucus for Producers, Writers & Directors recently passed a resolution based on what your book revealed, so it does seem to be making a difference. If you want to tell people where they can find your books, your columns, and what can frustrated conservatives do to help changes things, we’ll leave it there.
SHAPIRO: Yes. You can find my book and my columns and everything else at benjaminshapiro.com. You can also go to Amazon, or any other bookstore, and they should have it. But benjaminshapiro.com is my website. If you want to get involved in making conservative entertainment, I’ve hooked in with a group called Declaration Entertainment. So you can go to declarationentertainment.com. We are currently filming a movie down on the border, on the U.S.-Mexico border, that is essentially a cross between No Country for Old Men and High Noon, about a rancher who is defending his land from the influx of the drug cartels that are using his land as kind of a thoroughfare for their smuggling of drugs and people. The script is good. It’s underfunded, as is typical of conservative entertainment. They’re doing it on a shoestring. But if you want to get involved in making conservative entertainment, if you want to be a producer, if you want to submit scripts, if you want to get involved in the creative process, go to declarationentertainment.com, and get involved. You can E-mail me through their website. You can E-mail me through my website. The more people we get involved the better it’s going to be, because, listen: For each episode of liberal TV that Hollywood is producing, they’re spending several hundred thousand dollars. Conservatives, by contrast, in the entertainment industry are spending maybe $100,000 or $200,000 on full-length feature films. When you spend that kind of money, you can’t expect to compete. So conservatives need to get involved on a monetary level. Instead of giving money to your local dog catcher race, why don’t you consider giving money to a script that you think is really worthwhile, and that is going to have an impact on the cultural debate—and not only that, but is something that is worth watching, that really is quality. If we do that I think that we’ll have a real a real fighting chance to take back this culture. If we don’t we’re going to continue losing the culture war, and I really, truly believe as the culture goes, so do our politics. There’s a reason that, since the rise in television, our politics have moved consistently and steadily in a Leftward direction for the last 50 years.
ARONOFF: It’s a great book, Primetime Propaganda. I highly recommend it. I want you to know we’re going to have a transcript and a podcast of this up on our AIM website some time next week, so you can send it around to anyone that you want to hear this discussion. I think it’s very important. I wish you all the best with your book and your writing and your movie and your future endeavors. Ben, thank you so much for being with me today on Take AIM.
SHAPIRO: Hey, thanks so much for having me.
ARONOFF: Okay. So long! We’ll be back next week with another edition, of Take AIM. So long!