Or read the transcript below:
Transcript by J. C. Hendershot
Interview with Bernard Weinraub by Roger Aronoff
The “Take AIM” show on BlogTalkRadio, September 8, 2011.
ROGER ARONOFF: Good afternoon, 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 encourage you to visit that website, aim.org , and sign up to receive our daily E-mail so you can keep track of what the media are up to. Our guest today is Bernard Weinraub, who is joining us to discuss, among other things, his 2007 play The Accomplices, that detailed the 1940s activist movement known as the “Bergson Group,” which waged a media campaign in the U.S. that eventually pushed President Franklin Roosevelt to rescue Jews from the Holocaust during World War II. Only now has the Bergson Group been credited by modern historians for their contribution in rescuing thousands of European Jews, and the battle they waged against FDR, his administration, and the Jewish establishment in America, to do so. Bernard Weinraub is a former New York Times reporter who covered politics and the film industry, and we’ll get into some of that as well. Good morning, Bernie.
BERNARD WEINRAUB: Good morning! Thanks for having me.
ARONOFF: You bet. We’re glad to have you here on Take AIM to talk about some of these subjects. Let me give a little more of your background. Bernard Weinraub began working at The New York Times as a copyboy. He rose through the ranks to work as a foreign correspondent in Vietnam, in Belfast, in New Delhi, and London. He was a Pentagon reporter, a political writer, and a White House correspondent during the final years of the Reagan administration and the first year of Bush 41. He left Washington and became The New York Times’ Hollywood correspondent in 1991, and after his 1997 marriage to Columbia Pictures President Amy Pascal, Weinraub was given the new title of “Senior West Coast Cultural Correspondent.” I’d spoken with Bernie back in 2007, after seeing his remarkable play in New York, The Accomplices. It was very powerful, a story that few Americans today, even, really know much about. But last month I read an article  in The New York Times about a ceremony that took place in Israel in July. It spoke of, quote, the “the reinterring of the remains of Samuel Merlin, a founder of a small but brazen band of militant Zionists and Holocaust rescue activists who shook America and challenged the Jewish establishment in the 1940s, but who until recently have been largely excluded from official Holocaust history.” The article, by Isabel Kershner, continued, “The activists, known as the Bergson group, have been credited by modern historians with playing a pivotal role in rescuing hundreds of thousands of European Jews.” This was the heart of the story. I recalled, right away, having seen Bernie’s play, and am pleased he’s agreed to come on and talk about this chapter in American and Israeli history. So tell us: How did you come to write The Accomplices?
WEINRAUB: Some time in the ’80s, when I was at the Washington bureau of the Times, I did a story about a film, a documentary, by a fellow named Laurence Jarvik, called Who Shall Live and Who Shall Die. Jarvik was a very young fellow, I think he did it as a senior in college. It was a very powerful documentary about this very subject. It was talking about the Bergson Group, but it was really about the government’s response in the 1940s, the Roosevelt administration’s response, and, in some ways, the establishment Jewish response to the Holocaust, to what was going on in Europe. The documentary was on PBS, and it caused all kinds of controversy, mostly by the Roosevelt people, people who said Roosevelt did everything he could. That led to another documentary that sort of credited Roosevelt with doing things. The controversy led to several stories, and I became interested, frankly. The story so fascinated me because I knew nothing about this, like most people, about Peter Bergson and what the government did and didn’t do, and whenever I went to New York—I was in Washington—I never met Bergson, who was then in Israel and was ailing, but I met Sam Merlin, who was—I guess you would call him [Bergson’s] deputy. He lived in New York, and some other of the Bergson people lived there, too. Merlin was a fascinating figure whose life was more or less spent detailing—or compiling, rather—the story of the Bergson Group. When you went to his apartment in Manhattan, he was surrounded by papers and documents and books. Whether he would ever finish the documents was another story. When he died, most of these documents were left to, I think, a museum in Israel, I think some of it went to Yale and other places. Finally, a book emerged out of this—by Merlin himself—and was published just recently. That’s what led to that ceremony in Israel. Merlin wasn’t, in some ways, as colorful as Bergson, but he had intellectual heft, and he was a very important figure in the Bergson Group.
ARONOFF: I first learned about this story about what happened back during that period while reading Arthur Morse’s book, While Six Million Died, back in the ’70s.
WEINRAUB: Arthur Morse’s book, I think—I could be wrong here—was really the first one—it took that long—to come out and say that the U.S. government did very little, and should have done more. It took that long to say that. But after the Arthur Morse book, each year, more and more books came. The most important, in some ways, was a book called The Abandonment of the Jews by David Wyman, who’s an academic in Massachusetts. I don’t have the publication date of that, but it came out, I think, in the early ’80s. It got very, very good reviews. It was a very formidable book. He had been working on it for many years. That book led to front page book reviews—I think that even the Times might have had a front page book review, in the Times Book Review section, I could be wrong there, but they did give it a big review, as other papers did. That really opened the way for more discussion and, actually, more books.
ARONOFF: So why a play? How did you come to that decision?
WEINRAUB: The subject was so interesting, and the more I talked to Bergson—and there was a terrific man named Yitzhak Ben-Ami who was part of this group, part of the Bergson Group who lived in New York—I just became fascinated with them. It wasn’t a newspaper story. I thought maybe there was a novel there, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought I would try to write a play. I mean, it could have been a film, but I was always interested in playwriting, from the time I was really young, and I thought I would just try it. I began playing with the idea when I was at the Times here in Los Angeles, and when I left, I went to UCLA, took a course in playwriting by a very good teacher, and I just began writing and writing it. The story itself was very compelling. I began submitting it to contests, and it won one contest, a sort of international playwriting contest, and the prize was a reading of the play at a theater in New York. It was read at a theater in New York by actors, and out of that came a production at the New Group on West 42nd Street, a terrific theater company. They gave it a production. It was in New York with a really terrific cast, then it came to Los Angeles with a different cast and a different production. It had quite a successful run in Los Angeles, first at a downtown theater, the Fountain Theater, and then at a theater called The Odyssey, which is on the west side. There was a lot of interest in it. It also had performances in Miami—rather, in Coral Gables—and there were some performances in Israel, too. So it’s been around, and it’s still around. What can I tell you?
ARONOFF: Let’s get into the substance of it. Who was Rabbi Stephen Wise, and what was his relationship with Peter Bergson?
WEINRAUB: Rabbi Wise was the most important or significant Jewish leader in the 1930s and ’40s in the United States. Part of his power was the fact that he was also had all kinds of political connections, and he was close to whoever the President was. Certainly he was close to FDR, and he was close to New York governors and Senators, and if any newspaper would quote a Jewish figure, it would be Rabbi Wise. He took his position, certainly, very seriously, and he took himself very seriously, obviously. The interesting thing was, Bergson came along—Bergson was a really young man in 1940, I think he came in ’40, when he was 27, came to the United States from Israel, which was Palestine—and, initially, he and his group, they were activists there. They were part of this group called the Irgun. But their initial goal was to come to the United States to get public support to establish a Jewish state in what was British-Mandatory Palestine. In fact, his real name was Hillel Kook, and he changed it to Peter Bergson to make it more American. Bergson himself was an interesting figure, because, although he was part of the underground, and a militant guy, he came from a very well-known family. His uncle was the chief rabbi of Palestine. He came from a very distinguished family. Anyway, Bergson came, and very quickly realized that what was going on in Europe—that is, the slaughter of Jews that was beginning, nobody knew, of course, the scale of it in 1940—took precedence over anything involving possibly establishing a state of Israel. He and his group began campaigning to get as many Jews as possible—who are, obviously, in real danger—to come to the United States, to open the doors of the United States. That was their major goal. In the process, Bergson began to get some Congressional support from a mixture of all kinds of Congressmen and Senators who were of every political stripe, from liberals to very conservative—it ran across the board. He began raising money to have full-page newspaper ads which were critical of the U.S. government—“Why Don’t You Do More?”
Then Ben Hecht, a very prominent screenwriter and writer, got involved with them. They began to create these pageants around the country, with movie stars and others, called We Will Never Die. It was, basically, an effort to alert the government, and tell America what was going on in Europe. In the meantime, Rabbi Wise, who was close to FDR, was appalled by the Bergson people. He felt that they were way out of bounds, that they were going public when they shouldn’t have. Rabbi Wise and other Jewish leaders felt that one should not raise the issue publicly. One should not shout out. One should not do what Bergson was doing—because if you do, it would cause anti-Semitism in the country. There’d be a counter-effect. People would say, “Why should we help these people?” Their concern was, you had to be quiet. You had to be as quiet as possible—that was Wise’s concern—and you had to support FDR, no matter what. Because FDR was, for Wise and others, the friend of the Jewish people. And Bergson and his people came from Europe and from Palestine. Essentially, they had no idea what he was talking about. They said, “What do you mean, ‘Be quiet’? This thing is happening in Europe and you’re saying we have to be quiet!” There was this collision, and the collision continued throughout the war, where Rabbi Wise—and it’s public and it’s been in several books—was a friend of J. Edgar Hoover’s—I don’t know if he was a friend, but he certainly was in contact with him—and the FBI began investigating the Bergson Group. There was some effort made to support some of them, certainly some of them were drafted. Rabbi Wise did everything he could to thwart the Bergson Group. There was this tremendous collision between these two, and Bergson, when he came here to the United States, never expected that his chief opponents—one of his chief opponents—would be Jewish leaders.
ARONOFF: Right. I think one of the things that you accomplished, as a playwright, was to have Rabbi Wise sort of embody this one view of Judaism at the time, and Bergson another. So characterize: What were these sort of competing values or ideas about Judaism, and about Israel, at that time?
WEINRAUB: Rabbi Wise felt—and he was correct—that there was a great deal of anti-Semitism in the country. There was Father Coughlin, who had a weekly radio address that had millions and millions of people [listening]. There was Henry Ford, who had these vile anti-Semitic speeches which were on the radio. In New York, in Yorkville, there were pro-Nazi marches. Rabbi Wise and others felt that Jews were vulnerable in the United States, and, as a result, Jews can’t make noise. Jews have got to be as quiet as possible, and have got to work behind the scenes, talking to Congressmen, talking to people at the White House, but can’t go public, and can never criticize the government. Jews should be quiet. Bergson, on the other hand, as I say, basically felt, “What are you talking about? If you’re quiet, nothing happens. You’ve got to speak out, because this cloud is gathering.” As I say, nobody knew the scale of it in 1940 or ’41, but Bergson felt, “Why should one be quiet? One has got to make as much noise as possible! Pressure Congress! Pressure the White House! Do as much as possible!” But Bergson came from a tradition of Europe, but, also, Israel—Palestine, which became Israel—and he was like an Israeli today, in some ways. Rabbi Wise was different. Rabbi Wise grew up in the United States, and he felt that you had to be very, very cautious as a Jew in the United States. Bergson said, essentially, to Rabbi Wise, “What are you concerned about? They’re slaughtering people in Europe, and you’re concerned about prejudice in the United States, that you’re being barred from a club or something!” Bergson said, “This is what’s taking place in Europe, and we’ve got to deal with it! We’ve got to do as much as we can! You have no reason to be concerned, because the little anti-Semitism in the United States is not comparable to what Jews are facing in Europe!”
ARONOFF: And at some point along the way, they realized as many as two million Jews had been killed already by the Nazis. So, when this was presented to FDR, what was the reaction of the U.S. government?
WEINRAUB: There have been books about this. There’s some controversy. Essentially—and certainly, the FDR people, though they’re a diminishing breed in many ways, would disagree—FDR and, especially, the State Department, which obviously worked for FDR, did as little as possible about this. But there was one famous discussion, I remember, of FDR, and it was between Arthur Schlesinger, who was a big FDR supporter—this was a couple of years ago—and David Wyman. It was on one of the TV shows, and I’d like to say Charlie Rose, but it was one of those TV shows. It was a debate about this subject. Schlesinger was going on and on about how much Roosevelt did, and, at the end of it, Wyman reached into the pocket of his suit and took out a six-page form. This form was used by the State Department in consulates across Europe. Everybody who applied to come to the United States had to fill out this six-page form—and it was virtually impossible to come to the United States after filling out that form. The form was specifically set up to thwart immigrants, to thwart Jews from coming. That was Wyman’s response, and he was correct, of course, because the people who did the most damage, and should get the most blame—and this has now been detailed in several books—was the State Department. Specifically, it was Breckinridge Long, who was the Assistant Secretary of State, dealing with consular affairs and immigration. Long and his staff, who all stayed on after the war, did everything possible to thwart Jews from coming.
Obviously, these people worked for FDR, and FDR knew exactly what they were doing. It was all under the pretext that Nazi spies were hiding among the refugees seeking admission to the U.S. The result was, Long and his staff designed a secret policy to place a lid, or to tighten, immigration requirements. There was one—and he sent out this secret, or confidential, document to all U.S. consuls abroad, saying that one had to “resort to various administrative devices” and, quote, “postpone and postpone and postpone”—postpone, postpone, and postpone—“the granting of the visas.” That was Long’s position. The result of that was that Jews were barred from coming to the United States. Very few were able to come. I think the figure is 90% of the quotas available to immigrants from countries under German and Italian control were never even filled, and if they had been filled, an additional 190,000 people could have escaped the Nazis. Those 190,000 people, I assume, perished. Long and his people had this egregious record, and they worked for FDR. So when one criticizes FDR, one can only criticize the people he had working for him, who did everything possible to thwart Jews from coming to this country.
ARONOFF: One of the high-profile incidents was with the St. Louis. I think a lot of people have seen [Voyage of the Damned]: The ship went to Cuba, and then they wouldn’t let them disembark there—
WEINRAUB: Yes. They wouldn’t let them come. The ship went round and round and round with hundreds of people, and, finally, it was sent back. Most of the people perished. The government just refused to let the St. Louis land. One can only be appalled at what the government did and did not do.
ARONOFF: Yet, somehow, FDR’s legacy largely seemed to escape much criticism for this, particularly by many Jews.
WEINRAUB: It escaped for years afterwards, but, I think, not so much now. So much has been written about it. Even in the Holocaust Museum in Washington, there are references to it that, basically, say the U.S. government did not do enough. There still are people at the FDR Library in Hyde Park, and others, who say Roosevelt did everything he could, but Roosevelt did not, and most scholars who have worked on this—and Wyman, David Wyman, and others have all said Roosevelt’s record was appalling.
ARONOFF: Did you find your own views of Roosevelt changing as you were researching and writing this?
WEINRAUB: Yes. Like most people, I didn’t know about Breckinridge Long, and I didn’t realize the extent to which he and his colleagues, his staff, went out of their way to bar Jews from coming to the United States. We’re not talking immigration here, barring those people who wanted to come in to the United States for jobs—they wanted to come to the United States to save their lives. And [Long and his staff] did everything possible—everything possible—to thwart these people, and to thwart immigration. Their record was shocking. I think, at this point, they’ve been held accountable, and I do think FDR’s record, in this vein, has been tarnished. I do think that.
ARONOFF: Now another subject of your play was the media in this country—in particular, you focused on The New York Times, who you had worked for for many years. We talked about that, but you weren’t at the time this play came out. So tell us about the role of The New York Times back then.
WEINRAUB: There have been—as I say, some of the books that have come out about the Times which helped me were a book called The Trust, by Alex Jones and Susan Tifft, which was about the Times; and, of course, Gay Talese’s The Kingdom and the Power, which came out years ago; and, also, a book that was slightly more recent, called Buried by the Times, which is a really good book by Laurel Leff, who was a former journalist on The Wall Street Journal and is now teaching in Boston. All of them detail what the Times did and didn’t do. Now, in terms of coverage of the Holocaust, the Times was not alone. Virtually every paper under-covered the Holocaust. There was very little information about it on the radio stations, the NBC, CBS, Mutual radio stations. They consistently under-covered it. As Laurel Leff said, at the end of the war and afterwards, Americans claimed that they did not know about the Holocaust as it was happening. How was it possible that so much information was not available in the mass media? The reasons was that the mass media—The New York Times and other papers—never treated the Holocaust as an important news story. From the start of the war in Europe to the end, the story of the Holocaust made the Times’ front page only 26 times out of 2,400 front pages. Most of the stories refer to the victims as “refugees” or “persecuted minorities.” They were rarely identified as Jews. I’m not, in any way, defending the Times, but the Times was not alone, as I say.
One of the most famous, famous cases, or incidents, was in 1942. Rabbi Wise got up to announce, at a press conference, that information had been confirmed about the slaughter of two million Jews. People in the State Department knew about this for several months, and so did Rabbi Wise, but he was asked to hold the information until it could be totally confirmed. Everyone knew it was true, and, finally, finally, in November, 1942, he made this announcement of the slaughter of two million Jews. The Times put it on page ten. But in The Los Angeles Times, I think it was on page two, and in The Washington Post on page six. They were totally under-covered and under-reported, those kinds of stories. The result is that people did not know about the Holocaust. If Holocaust stories were put on the front page, they certainly would have known about it. But the Times rarely published editorials about the annihilation of Europe’s Jews, and, insofar as I can tell, only once ran a lead editorial about Nazi genocide—
ARONOFF: Why do you think that is? What was behind that?
WEINRAUB: It’s a good question. Nobody really knows. I can only conjecture and base it on the books that I mentioned, the Gay Talese book, The Kingdom and the Power, and Laurel Leff’s Buried by the Times, and certainly Alex Jones’s The Trust, in which he interviewed the [Sulzberger] family, and had access to the papers of the family that ran the paper. But who knows why? The Times feared—the Times was run by a very assimilated Jewish family of German descent—that they would be seen as engaging in some kind of special pleading for Jews, and deliberately downplayed the news of the Holocaust and the Jewish identity of the victims. Certainly, even executive editors of the Times in recent years, like Abe Rosenthal or Max Frankel, talked about this. On any kind of coverage of Jewish issues, the Times was, at that time, in the ’30s and ’40s, was very, very ambivalent and very skittish, and went out of its way not to even use the word “Jew.” When the death camps were finally liberated, the coverage downplayed the fact that the victims and the survivors were overwhelmingly Jews. There was just an effort to avoid using the word “Jew.” That’s how the family felt.
ARONOFF: I guess the other question is, what could they have done—FDR, the U.S.—if they had given greater attention and urgency to this? I guess the issue was, did you stop this by just winning the war, or do you go in specifically and bomb the railways that are taking these people to the camps? Those were the sort of issues they were engaged in, right?
WEINRAUB: Well, yes. But FDR opposed taking any special action to help Jewish refugees.
WEINRAUB: Their whole point was, “Let’s win the war first, then we’ll deal with the refugees.” Coupled with that, of course, the State Department blocked news about the Holocaust, as well as blocked people from coming in. The result of that was that the government did as little as possible. There are certainly stories about the government blocking, or rejecting, the idea of bombing the railway lines into Auschwitz. They certainly could have done that. Even if it would have stopped the slaughter for one day, or two days, or three days, of thousands of people, it would have had that effect. So the government certainly could have done more in terms of rescue, and in terms of bombing or going after the areas where the death camps were. The government never really did that.
ARONOFF: One more question on this, and then I’d like to move on to other things. This is—as I pointed out, there was just that article last month—only being sort of reassessed today. From that New York Times article I referred to, it says, “This is a moment of healing for American Jews and Israeli Jews,” said “Rafael Medoff, director of the David S. Wyman Institute,” referring to this reinterring ceremony for Merlin. Why are these people only being recognized and appreciated now, all these years later? Do you have a theory on that?
WEINRAUB: It involves, to some degree, Israeli history and politics. It has very little to do with the United States. Merlin and Bergson came from the Irgun, one militant group, and the others, the people who have been in charge, for many years, of running Israel had been part of another group, and there was constant, constant political tension between these two, and they never reconciled. Underneath that, there was this theme—and that’s been discussed in several books—that the people who were in Israel—who were running the show after Israel was created, but even before, the Haganah—the people who eventually came to run Israel felt, to some degree, that it was too late in Europe, that what was happening had happened, they couldn’t control it, and all resources and efforts had to be made to create a state of Israel. Bergson and his people said, “Let’s forget the state of Israel for the moment, and let’s save as many people as we can.” I’m oversimplifying here, but that’s one of the major sources of tension between the two groups, and that has persisted, because, as books come out, that history keeps developing, and that was a constant theme. Certainly it affected the Israeli treatment of Bergson and Merlin and their people.
ARONOFF: Okay. So you were in Vietnam, you were a White House correspondent, you were in India and Ireland—Northern Ireland—and then you’re sent to Hollywood to cover the movie industry.
ARONOFF: Quite a shift! I know there are so many stories about you from those years, but talk about the biggest changes in the movie business from the time you started covering it until today. What are the big changes in Hollywood and the movie industry that you witnessed?
WEINRAUB: There were many big changes. Certainly the fact that major, major companies that have nothing to do with movies have taken over most of the studios, that’s new. You have Sony, you have GE, you have numerous others who are running movie studios, who are controlling movie studios. Also, the cost of movies has changed a lot. The costs have escalated. There’s constant, constant tension between what to produce and what not to produce because of the costs. It’s changed a great deal. The cost factor is major, but since I covered, the idea of what they call “international” is much more pronounced. Now movies really make most of their money overseas, in Europe or Asia—or India, even, or South America! When I was covering, sure, that mattered, but not to the degree that it matters now. Initially, DVDs were not a major issue. Then, while I was covering movies, it became the major issue and a major source of profit. Now DVDs are no longer a source of profit, so studios are struggling to find other venues—and they have—to release their films. So it’s changed. It’s in constant flux, certainly.
ARONOFF: The other part, I guess, is the rise of the independents, a lot of films made for a lot less money, and some of those [studios], like Miramax, ended up getting bought out by Disney—
WEINRAUB: When I began—and certainly in the ’90s—independents were very strong. Independents produced some of the best movies that came out. But then, as you say, some of the independents were bought and absorbed by the bigger studios. A lot of the independents fell by the wayside because of that—because they’d lost their independence, in many ways. Miramax, which produced and released great movies, was bought by Disney. The Weinstein brothers had all kinds of problems with Disney, and finally sold out, or left, and they now are producing movies again, but it’s no longer called Miramax, it’s called The Weinstein Company. Miramax is still at Disney, but it no longer has the Weinsteins. But I think the independent film movement, frankly, which was much more powerful and much stronger in the ’90s, has diminished as companies absorb independent companies, and studios themselves try to make films that are quasi-independent, as we can see. The whole independent film movement has changed a great deal.
ARONOFF: Also, in researching and preparing for this interview, I reread—I remember reading it years ago—your final piece at the Times in 2005, called “14 Years Later, My Hollywood Ending,”  which I would urge people to Google and read. It’s a wonderful piece, with stories of Michelle Pfeiffer and Jeffrey Katzenberg and so many of the personalities that made up a big part of your life out there. It was controversial and it was fascinating. Give us a little flavor of your Hollywood experience. We’re going to have to wrap it up in a few minutes, unfortunately—there are so many things I’d like to talk to you about!
WEINRAUB: It’s a great experience. I had a great time. I got married here. The movie business is fascinating. Reporters who cover it get to glimpse into it. The ins and outs of the movie business are really interesting. How much money is being spent? It’s all about money, of course, and now movies cost x amount, but the marketing of movies cost x amount, too, so when a movie makes money, it can make a lot of money, but when a movie loses money, it loses a great deal of money. That’s really the issue here.
ARONOFF: What else are you working on these days? What kinds of projects do you have in the works?
WEINRAUB: I’m working on several other plays. I worked on a screenplay of The Accomplices. We’ll see what happens there. I’ve been working on all kinds of various things here. We’ll see what happens! What can I tell you? In the meantime, I hope The Accomplices can be playing around—still is playing around.
ARONOFF: Any political observations? What’s got your attention these days?
WEINRAUB: When I was covering the movie business, I certainly did a few stories about politics, certainly when the candidates came out to raise money. The interesting thing about politics here is that, number one, the candidates of both parties come out to Hollywood to raise money—they also go to New York and Chicago and Dallas to raise money, but Hollywood gets a lot of attention because you’re dealing with a lot of famous people, while in New York or Chicago or Dallas, you’re not. There’s that issue. Politics here is fickle and sort of interesting. I have no idea what’s going on now, but what’s always interested me—and I know there’s this great feeling out there by some of you guys, I should say—
ARONOFF: Right . . .
WEINRAUB: —that Hollywood is this liberal bastion, etcetera, etcetera. But what’s interesting to me is, it’s really not. There are—I don’t want to say a surprising number, but there are a lot of people who supported McCain, and who are Republicans. There are movie stars, there are producers, there are moguls, people who are running the show. There’s a long tradition of movie stars being Republicans—we’re talking, obviously, about Ronald Reagan, but also Clark Gable, John Wayne, James Stewart, Frank Sinatra, Gary Cooper, all those people were major Republicans. It hardly hurt their careers. I know some people have written, or said, that it damages their careers to be conservative. I don’t think that’s true at all. It hasn’t damaged anybody’s career. What counts in Hollywood is talent more than anything. Certainly the movie stars I mentioned—and God knows there’s a lot of them, many more—it didn’t hurt them at all. People here—and I’m no expert on this—when you talk to them, if they are Republican, I think they’re Republican for economic reasons, because of taxes and financial issues. And, as well, there are several who are Republican because of Israel. They feel, certainly, that some of the Republicans are more conducive and sympathetic to the current situation in Israel. So you don’t get many, I think, Tea Party Republicans out here. It’s much more economic and foreign policy. But, as I say, there are a lot of Republicans out here, and they don’t hide, believe me.
ARONOFF: I don’t think their ideas make it into too many movies, as the dominant and sympathetic theme and message of many movies and TV shows representative of conservative views. I had a guest on just recently , Ben Shapiro, who has a book out called Primetime Propaganda, where he went and just openly interviewed a lot of producers who basically acknowledged to him that they make sure that they keep that sort of stuff out of their shows and all that—
WEINRAUB: You mean the conservative agenda?
ARONOFF: Yes. The conservative agenda. They view [conservatives], largely, as a bunch of hicks and backward people. The prejudice against them is quite open. That’s his point of view. He names names, he talked to a lot of people, and certainly this audience, myself included, find that the programming and movies that come out of there definitely support more liberal—
WEINRAUB: Let me ask you a question: How is this manifested? The conservative agenda or the liberal agenda?
ARONOFF: I think it is through the themes, through the topics, through the references made, whether we’re talking about prime time TV shows or in movies that are produced that have—I would say they’re “politically correct” themes. The people who are the evil ones are generally the businessmen or the political conservative. I think that’s really quite overwhelming, as I would argue the same with the news media. But anyway, any final thoughts?
WEINRAUB: No. I appreciate talking about the play, certainly. What happened in the ’40s is so interesting. I think it’s had an effect on a lot of people—that is, reading about what happened in the ’40s. People, especially Jews, react, maybe overreact, to certain issues now as a reaction to their lack of reaction in the ’40s, as a reaction to the silence of the ’40s. So people are much more articulate and much more vocal now than they ever were, because they’re responding, among other things, to the fact that their grandparents or parents were silent, and they knew. That’s one of the reasons why people are so vocal now.
ARONOFF: And, also, look what Israel is confronted with today—
WEINRAUB: That’s true. That’s true.
ARONOFF: Iran supports Hezbollah and Hamas. Israel is quite surrounded and threatened by a force that many feel is as evil as the Nazis were. I don’t know—how do you view what’s going on there today?
WEINRAUB: I don’t know. I really am no expert. But one thing I should say is that, in New York—and in L.A.—there were talkbacks where, once a week or so, the audience stayed and they questioned the actors. I would show up sometimes, to talk about the play and all that. I was always surprised, to be honest, at the number of people—it had never crossed my mind—who did just that, and compared the Iranians and the possibility of a nuclear weapon to Nazi Germany. There was that undercurrent of feeling about that, and it fascinated me, because I didn’t even think of that when I was writing the play. I didn’t think in contemporary terms. But, certainly, many people, especially Israelis who showed up, talked about Iran. Clearly Iran is a major, major, major issue, and a source of worry.
ARONOFF: Our guest today has been Bernard Weinraub, the author of the play The Accomplices, a reporter for The New York Times for many years. Bernie, it’s been great having you on here. This whole thing will be up as a podcast and we’ll have a transcript of it, I’ll write this up, it’ll be up some time next week. I appreciate your coming on to spend this much time with us. That’s going to be it for this episode of Take AIM. We’ll be back with another show next week, or the week after! So—
ARONOFF: —thank you very much.