Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Ben Shapiro, a Harvard Law grad who is now a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. Also a board member of Declaration Entertainment and a syndicated columnist, he is the author of the new book, Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How The Left Took Over Your TV.
FP: Ben Shapiro, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Congratulations on your new book.
Let’s begin with how you came up with the idea for Primetime Propaganda.
Shapiro: Thanks Jamie.
Actually, my editor at Broadside Books, Adam Bellow, approached me with the idea. He’d just read a piece I wrote back in February 2009 about Sean Penn’s speech at the Oscars. In that piece, I discussed the odd fact that Penn had shifted from Barack Obama’s worst foe in mid-2008 to his most ardent advocate at the Academy Awards. I linked that shift to the Obama Administration’s consistent elevation of Hollywood stars, their attempts to funnel cash to Hollywood, and their generous regulatory regime with regard to Tinseltown. Adam, who’s always been fascinated with TV, suggested that I write a book about television figures, their backgrounds, and their impact on America’s politics. That mission quickly became Primetime Propaganda.
FP: Share with us your background in Hollywood.
Shapiro: Both my parents work in Hollywood. My dad composes for film and television, and my mom runs business affairs for several reality television companies. I grew up with the business, but I grew away from it during college and law school, when I got into politics. This is one of the problems with conservatives in general: we begin to ignore culture in favor of politics, and that’s a big mistake. When I got back to LA, I began hanging out with some Hollywood folks again, and then of course with this book, my connections quickly exploded exponentially.
FP: Speaking of those connections, you have received a phenomenal number of interviews with high-ranking television figures both past and present. How did you succeed in doing this?
Shapiro: I emailed and called them. Believe it or not, it was as simple as that. People in Hollywood love talking about themselves for the most part, and many were very generous with their time. I approached them and told them exactly who I was: my name, my latest book, my Harvard Law credentials, and what this book was about. I also told them I was profiling the biggest names in Hollywood over the last 50 years. I assume that many of them bought into that last part – people in Hollywood aren’t exactly known for their humility. They must have assumed that with a name like Shapiro and a Harvard Law credential, there was no need to Google; I would have to be a leftist. When I spoke with them, I used certain liberal code words – “social justice,” “tolerance,” “diversity.” And they spoke freely with me, with permission to tape.
FP: And what did you discover?
Shapiro: Everyone knows that people in Hollywood despise traditional conservatives. They think we’re morons, bigots, and Neanderthals. Over the course of doing research for this book, I spoke with hundreds of people in Hollywood. Few are conservative; even fewer are openly conservative. There’s a reason for that – Hollywood insiders discriminate on a regular basis against conservatives. Many of them celebrate such discrimination. The same people who talk about tolerance and diversity have no tolerance for ideological diversity.
When I first started writing Primetime Propaganda, I thought that accusations of discrimination by conservatives in Hollywood were basically sour grapes. After all, as a conservative, I believe that discrimination creates market inefficiencies that cannot last the test of time.
How wrong I was.
I have tapes of several heavy hitters openly celebrating anti-conservative discrimination, and many others admitting that conservatives are treated with scorn in Hollywood. Beyond that, I’ve experienced just a taste of it myself. For the book, I interviewed Leonard Goldberg, producer of Blue Bloods and Aaron Spelling’s former partner. He suggested I write a pilot for him based on Harvard Law. I did that, and then found an agent. The agent was excited about working together. About three weeks later, he called me and told me he didn’t know if he could represent me. I asked why, and he told me that one of his agents had sent off my stuff to a producer in town. The producer had Googled me, found my politics, and told the agent that he would never work with someone of my political persuasion. Now, it’s not over yet – I’ve done interviews with USA Network, Sony Pictures and Warner Bros. among others, for shows like Damages and Harry’s Law – but there’s no question that conservatives have to overcome liberal presumptions that they’re jerks and idiots.
FP: How much influence do Hollywood liberals really have? How does their work affect us?
Shapiro: Television is the most powerful mass medium ever devised by mankind. It is appeals to millions but at the same time, it is vitally intimate. Science shows that it’s actually addictive. We can’t look away. And virtually every time we turn on the television, we’re slapped in the face with liberal content. Unlike MSNBC, though, the liberal content we see on primetime television and in daytime soaps is typically hidden in plot and character. That makes it far more manipulative and dangerous. It makes the political personal. We don’t want to oppose the politics of those we like, and television characters are like friends. They don’t bug us openly about politics, they just happen to have abortions, bear children out of wedlock, engage in gay marriage, preach about environmentalism, hate Rush Limbaugh, and make fun of religious people. Conservatives are usually villains (in Family Guy, Rush goes along with it, but he’s clearly portrayed as the villain – in a recent episode, Seth MacFarlane had him killed). Stories are intensely effective media for conveying message. We’ve known that since cavemen days. There’s no doubt that Will & Grace and Ellen did more for the gay rights agenda than a thousand gay pride parades that piss people off by clogging up the streets during rush hour.
FP: Who are the worst offenders? Which shows propagandize the most?
Shapiro: Almost all of them do – but the best ones hide it just a little bit. Some shows are quite obvious about their agenda – Ellen, Will & Grace, Boston Legal. The subtle ones are the ones that are the most problematic on a moral level. Look at Friends. Great show. Well-written. Well-acted. Funny. Bet you didn’t think it was political per se. But not only did the show feature a lesbian wedding during its first season, an out-of-wedlock pregnancy, and on-screen fights over condoms, the show promoted the substitution of friends for family as moral guides and sources of responsibility. Marta Kauffman told me that she was trying to use the show as a vehicle for acting out “that time in your life … when your friends are your family.” Kauffman actually got nastier than that. In the lesbian wedding episode, Candace Gingrich, Newt’s half-sister, was cast as the preacher. Why? There was, said Kauffman, “a bit of ‘f--- you’ in it to the right wing directly.” Shows like Cops, which seem conservative, can be liberal, too – in Cops, the creators ensured that whites were overrepresented, because they “don’t want to contribute to negative stereotypes.” Of course, statistical truth is hardly stereotypical. But to those in Hollywood, it is. I go through probably 100 shows in detail in Primetime Propaganda – and virtually all of them are messaged, either blatantly or subtly.
FP: Leftists would argue that there is liberal content on TV because Americans like that kind of programming. How would you counter that?
Shapiro: That’s been the left’s favorite argument for years and years. And it’s worked against right-wingers because we love the market. But it’s all a lie. The left defines its own market in Hollywood, the same way that CNN polls construct their polling samples with 60 percent Democrats. In Hollywood, that “market” is the 18-49 crowd. The biggest scam in American business history is that the 18-49 crowd is more valuable to advertisers than people of other ages. Hollywood has pushed this myth because they prefer to produce liberal programming – and young people like liberal programming. Executives, writers, and producers all have political motivations – they’re not interested purely in profits and ratings. If they were, they’d program for families and conservatives, a vast untapped market. Instead, they split up the market by segment in an attempt to “narrowcast” to particular markets, thereby atomizing the American family – a strategy that also happens to achieve their political goals.
Normally, market inefficiencies would prevent this sort of nonsense. But the television industry is monopolized by liberals. Just as importantly, they are subsidized by government. Television honchos cater to two groups other than the watching audience: government and liberal interest groups. Government cracks down on competition in favor of its allies; in return, Hollywood liberals help out their benefactors with contributions, marketing advice, and star power. Obama’s been the clearest example of a Hollywood-produced and backed candidate. At the same time, liberals in government, who are beholden to interest groups, allow interest groups to act as their proxies, watchdogging television execs to make sure they hit all the right liberal notes. Conservatives, on the other hand, are made pariahs – partially because they don’t hand out cash to Hollywood, and partially because they see Hollywood as an adversary rather than a potential ally.
FP: So what’s the solution here? Are we resigned to a television culture dominated by the Left?
Shapiro: Not at all. Conservatives must enter the culture war. They can help by visiting Declaration Entertainment – our sole goal is to make movies and television shows that represent traditional American values, starting this summer with our first movie, The Arroyo. I got involved with Declaration during the writing of this book because I believe that for too long, we’ve relied on pure politics to convince people – and politics is based on reason. The left has relied on entertainment – and entertainment is based on emotion. Strong emotion will trump reason every time. We need to recognize that, and enter the fray. That will take cash and talent. We need to stop worrying about the latest local campaign in Dubuque and start worrying about producing entertaining content that happens to appeal to traditional values. By the same token, advertisers need to start acting in accordance with market realities, appealing to families and conservatives across the country rather than young urban liberals. They’ll profit, and so will America.
FP: Ben Shapiro, thank you for joining us today. Thank you for being such a courageous defender of our civilization -- and such a brave soldier on the frontlines in our culture war.