Friday, November 9, 2001

Slow change may be afoot in big media as New York and Hollywood attempt to shed their old traditional liberal skins for the sake of the national interest.
With Osama bin Laden appearing on prime-time and news coverage often tainted by misinformation, disinformation and flippant journalists, the need for a one-two punch from America’s mighty news and entertainment complex has become more compelling and realistic. Terrorism takes an intangible toll on the public psyche, warranting reprisal from the broadcast and film arsenal.
A formidable group of media heavies has received an invitation from the White House, and not for a chance to sleep in the Lincoln Bedroom. Tuesday afternoon, 40 top executives got a simple fax, asking them to convene Sunday with President Bush’s senior adviser, Karl Rove, at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills.
“The anticipated outcome of the meeting would be an initial plan encompassing several substantive ways we can lend support to our nation’s cause,” the single-page announcement advised. “We assure you that this will be a private, confidential, working meeting of the most senior administration officials and entertainment industry principals only. No press or elected officials will be present.”
The acceptance list now includes News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch, Viacom chiefs Sumner Redstone and Jonathan Dolgen, Motion Picture Association of America’s Jack Valenti and Sherry Lansing, chairman of Paramount Pictures.
Will we return to the Hollywood of World War II, when John Wayne made patriotic features and Army Air Corps Capt. Ronald Reagan appeared in some 400 motivational films? Maybe.
Mr. Valenti was reserved. “It has nothing to do with the kind of movies we make,” he told the Hollywood Reporter yesterday. “But there are other ways to help.”
Documentary films, public service announcements, trailers in movie theaters and messages broadcast to Afghanistan are among the possibilities, he said.
There was a dress rehearsal for all this Oct. 17 when White House aides met informally with Hollywood creatives, seeking suggestions for a possible media role in the war on terrorism. Organizers have upped the ante: sending a senior White house official like Mr. Rove to Hollywood, Mr. Valenti said, was a savvy move.
The agenda remains shrouded in mystery. Washington and Tinseltown are mum, though some critics already fret that “propaganda” will result.
White House spokeswoman Ari Fleischer assured reporters yesterday that his office “has great respect for the creativity of the industry and recognizes its ability to educate at home and abroad.” The invitation itself stressed the need to “communicate, educate and inspire.”
Some insiders have faith. “Hollywood can contribute in positive ways without becoming a propaganda organ” one top executive told Variety.
But all is not idyllic in broadcast relationships. In the December Talk magazine, ABC’s “Politically Incorrect” host Bill Maher announced he expects to lose his job next year because of inopportune comments he made after the September 11 attacks. Mr. Maher had called recent U.S. military actions “cowardly.”
The Radio-Television News Directors Association took the Defense Department to task for renewing an exclusive contract with Space Imaging Inc., which the group says denies “media access” to satellite imagery over Afghanistan.
“Taxpayer dollars are being used to preclude the media from adequately informing the public,” wrote President Barbara Cochran to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
Meanwhile, MSNBC President Erik Sorenson complained that fingerpointing “patriotism police” plague news coverage, while actor George Clooney called Fox News Channel’s Bill O’Reilley “Joseph McCarthy” after the conservative host said Hollywood “weasels” were merely seeking publicity during a recent telethon fund-raiser for terrorism victims.
It was CBS’ Dan Rather and ABC’s Peter Jennings, Mr. Clooney said, who were the real “journalists.”
Contact Jennifer Harper at or 202/636-3085.

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