Primetime Propaganda: An Interview with Ben Shapiro

While AIM’s focus has primarily been bias in the news media, bias in the entertainment industry has been just as bad, and in some cases even worse. There is no equivalent of Fox News or talk radio when it comes to the television entertainment and film industries.  Conservatives have nowhere to turn, so it largely becomes a game of spotting the left-wing messages embedded in the programming. It’s generally quite easy to do.

In my recent interview with Ben Shapiro, author of the outstanding new book, Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How The Left Took Over Your TV, we discussed the likelihood of concerted Hollywood efforts to help Barack Obama win reelection next year. He said he “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 will bring out something, right before the election, in an attempt to influence it. They’ve done it before.”

At the time of the interview, one such movie had been announced, but not the timing of the release. That has now been confirmed, thanks to The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd, who wrote about the Obama administration’s cooperation with the team that created last year’s “The Hurt Locker,” which won six Academy Awards. According to Dowd, “The White House is also counting on the Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal big-screen version of the killing of Bin Laden to counter Obama’s growing reputation as ineffectual. The Sony film by the Oscar-winning pair who made ‘The Hurt Locker’ will no doubt reflect the president’s cool, gutsy decision against shaky odds. Just as Obamaland was hoping, the movie is scheduled to open on Oct. 12, 2012 — perfectly timed to give a home-stretch boost to a campaign that has grown tougher.

“The moviemakers are getting top-level access to the most classified mission in history from an administration that has tried to throw more people in jail for leaking classified information than the Bush administration.

“It was clear that the White House had outsourced the job of manning up the president’s image to Hollywood when Boal got welcomed to the upper echelons of the White House and the Pentagon and showed up recently — to the surprise of some military officers — at a C.I.A. ceremony celebrating the hero Seals.”

This had to sting at the White House, coming from the usually reliable Dowd. In response, Bigelow and Boal have issued a statement that there is no political agenda at work. But in response to that, Andrew Breitbart’s Big Hollywood has called on them to prove it, by delaying the release date until well after the election, so even the promotion of the film does not come at a time when it might be thought of as promoting Obama’s reelection.

The interview with Ben Shapiro was primarily about the TV entertainment industry, and how it came to be the purveyor of left-wing values and propaganda that is so obvious to most viewers, even those sympathetic to such views. Shapiro talked to many Hollywood producers, and received surprisingly candid acknowledgments of their clearly intended bias. Their agenda isn’t limited to including political and social views that they hold dearly, but also excluding storylines and views that are, shall we say, conservative, politically speaking.

Below, in italics, are excerpts from my interview with Ben Shapiro. You can listen to the entire interview or read the transcript here.

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.

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.

…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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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…

Hollywood gets all sorts of tax benefits from different states.  They get all sorts of tax benefits from the federal government… 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.

[Obama] 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.

The media has tried to ignore [my book, Primetime Propaganda].  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… 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.

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… 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.


Roger Aronoff is Editor of Accuracy in Media, and is the writer/director of the award-winning documentary, “Confronting Iraq: Conflict and Hope.”

He can be contacted at

Graphics and red emphasis added by Gulag Bound

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