Maintaining national morale in troubling times was once a fairly simple affair. At the height of the Depression and during World War II, Americans could count on Hollywood to produce uplifting fare and straightforward messages of reassurance and optimism — delivered by major stars of the day and often punctuated by splendid dance numbers.
Now we have "W."
The odd, vitriolic film about President Bush opened 48 hours ago to a pitter-patter of applause; an attendant online survey of more than 5,000 moviegoers conducted by MovieTickets.com revealed that 63 percent of them did not plan to see the movie.
Most telling is the unapologetic attitude of director Oliver Stone, who went so far as to invite Sen. John McCain and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to the recent red-carpet premiere for "W" in Beverly Hills. The Republican candidates declined.
"I don't think Sarah would understand the picture. It has a lot of complicated dialogue. George Bush is an intellectual compared to her," Mr. Stone said, insisting that his movie is "malice" free, fair and based on facts.
Yes, of course. Uh-huh.
As an exercise in civility, let's reserve judgment on "W" until preliminary film revenue figures are released in the aftermath. But in the meantime, Mr. Stone should have tucked a few dance numbers into his film. Carmen Miranda footage would help. Or maybe some Elvis.
The country still needs some uplifting.
Hollywood, Part 2
Indeed, "W" mocks a sitting president. But there's some other high jinks afoot. Warner Bros. has temporarily blocked the DVD release of "Hanoi Hilton," a 1987 film about the heroics of American prisoners of war during the Vietnam era, until Nov. 11. The film features an interview with Sen. John McCain about his own experiences as a POW at the infamous aforementioned prison.
"It's just us trying to be cautious and not affect the election one way or the other," a Warner Bros. spokesman told the New York Times, in explanation.
Lionel Chetwynd, the film's writer and director, doubted Warner's virtuous intent.
"Finding someone in Hollywood who says they don't want to affect the election is like finding a virgin in a brothel," he observed.
Yes, well. Consider that Barry Meyer, Warner Bros. chairman and chief executive, recently attended a fundraising dinner for Sen. Barack Obama. Mr. Meyer perhaps is no Jack and Harry Warner, the studio founders who ruled the roost back in the day, producing such patriotic classics as "Yankee Doodle Dandy," "Sergeant Yorke" and "Hollywood Canteen" without fear that - horrors - they would sully American voters.
Financial mogul Donald Trump had positive things to say about a certain Arizonian recently.
"I'd hire John McCain," Mr. Trump told CNN. "I know John McCain. I know he's a good man. I think he'd be a very good president."
Mr. Trump had good words for a certain Alaskan as well.
"Would you trust Sarah Palin to be in charge of the economy right now?" asked host Wolf Blitzer.
"The answer is yes. I met her recently. I was very impressed with her. The people of Alaska, whom really are the people that know her, they think she's fantastic. Again, she's the highest-rated governor in the United States," Mr. Trump replied.
Again, Mr. Blitzer wondered whether Mrs. Palin could handle the financial crisis.
"Look at what other people have been doing. And they had a lot of experience and they're the ones that got us into this mess. Maybe you need less experience," Mr. Trump replied.
Days of yore
Political combat Colonial-style was rough indeed. On this very day in 1784, an essay appeared in the Gazette of the United States, accusing Thomas Jefferson of having an affair with one of his slaves. The claim was penned by "Phocion," an alias for Alexander Hamilton, who hoped to sway the public against Jefferson, then waging an arduous presidential campaign against incumbent John Adams.
An earnest Jimmy Stewart starred in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," which opened on this day in 1939. And here's to nattering nabobs everywhere: Then Vice President Spiro Agnew referred to anti-Vietnam War protesters as "an effete corps of impudent snobs" 39 years ago today.
Last but not least, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 508 points on this day in 1987 -considered the worst one-day percentage decline, 22.6 percent, in history.
By the numbers
• 41 percent of mainstream news stories are devoted to the presidential campaign.
• 36 percent of the stories cover the financial crisis.
• 2 percent are devoted to explaining the U.S. economy.
• 1 percent of the stories cover events in Iraq.
• 1 percent cover events in Afghanistan.
• 1 percent explain the 2008 congressional campaigns.
• 1 percent cover the Supreme Court.
• 1 percent cover the 2008 baseball playoffs.
Source: Project for Excellence in Journalism analysis of print, broadcast and Web-based news for the week of Oct. 6-12.
Quotes of note
"Probably close to zero." - Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's prognosis on whether she'd run for president again, to Fox News.
"Zero." - Mrs. Clinton's prognosis on whether she'll be appointed to the Supreme Court or become Senate majority leader, also to Fox News.
"Congress Tweets Freely" - Headline from the blog K Street Cafe, on frequent use of Twitter and other social networking sites among lawmakers.
• Contact Jennifer Harper at jharper@ washingtontimes.com or 202/636-3085.