Executive Summary -- Off Camera: Networks Ignore Liberal Hollywood’s Influence in D.C.

Executive Summary

In January, the story broke that President Obama’s White House had been the scene of a lavish, star-studded 2009 Halloween party designed by director Tim Burton and including film star Johnny Depp. The Washington Post had it on page 1 of its “Style” section. The New York Times, USA Today and a host of other publications covered it, complete with photos. But network evening news viewers only saw 30 words on ABC “World News Sunday.” NBC and CBS ignored it completely.

In mid-February, Obama visited Hollywood for two $36,000-a-plate fundraisers that featured Grammy-winning rock band The Foo Fighters and A-list celebrities like George Clooney and Will Ferrell. The events reportedly bought in $3 million for Obama’s 2012 campaign. NBC anchor Brian Williams merely told viewers the president was on an “eight-stop West Coast fundraising tour.” Nothing more. This time ABC and CBS ignored it.

Those are just two recent examples of network evening shows hiding the Washington-Hollywood connection in liberal politics. The Left Coast elite provide huge support for the president, whether with Oprah’s endorsement, celebrities aiding the inauguration or when TV shows pushed the president’s “recovery” agenda. Hollywood was enthusiastically behind Obama in 2008 and is already aiding his 2012 campaign.

OpenSecrets.org reported the 2011 Academy Award nominees’ “campaign cash benefited Democrats or left-leaning groups 99 percent of the time.” Of Obama’s recent funding trip, the Post detailed the president’s efforts, “to keep his big-money Hollywood backers in the fold” after anti-piracy bills failed in Congress. But while ABC, CBS and NBC report extensively on politics, and frequently mention Hollywood’s people, products and business, they almost never report when those spheres come together.

The Media Research Center’s Culture and Media Institute studied the network evening news broadcasts for the year between Feb. 1, 2011, and Feb. 1, 2012, to see how they covered Hollywood’s influence on politics. CMI found:

Hollywood Activism Remains on the Cutting Room Floor – More than 95 percent of network stories mentioning Hollywood or actors and actresses (106 of 111) ignored celebrity activism or lobbying. Just one story mentioned Hollywood’s cash value to President Obama and other Democrats.

The (Blue) Color of Money – There’s no shortage of network coverage of campaign cash – except when it comes to Hollywood political donations. Open Secrets’ report on the 2011 Oscar nominees is just the tip of the industry’s liberal money mountain. Open Secrets lists the TV, movie and music industry as giving $48.7 million in political contributions in 2008 – 78 percent of it to Democrats. Those are numbers the networks should be interested in, but aren’t.

Not Ready for Primetime? – The networks are covering many of these stories, just not on their flagship news shows. For instance, in the case of the Halloween party, both ABC’s “Good Morning America” and NBC’s “Today” reported it – Matt Lauer even interviewed author Jodi Kantor about it. But the evening shows were different. Only ABC bothered with a single, 30-word mention on “World News.”

Fit to Print – Other news outlets aren’t shy about documenting where issues, celebrity and politics intertwine. When Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie had an Oval Office meeting with President Obama in January, it made the front page of The Washington Post. The Washington Times reported that actors like Danny DeVito and Jamie Foxx and Hollywood moneyman Jeffrey Katzenberg helped the Obama Campaign raise $7 million in a single evening in Hollywood in September. The networks didn’t.

The Plot Thickens – The Obama administration’s cozy relationship with Hollywood allowed it to make repeated overtures to entertainers about helping get its messages across to the public – from a film about the killing of Osama Bin Laden to help with health care advocacy ads to using the National Endowment for the Arts to ask artists to push Obama’s “recovery” agenda. None of it made the evening news shows.


When Celebrities Act Like Politicians, Report it – Hollywood is full left-wing activists. They have every right to their opinions, but when their celebrity and wealth allow them access to politicians that most Americans don’t enjoy, networks should let viewers know.

Disclose Fully and Report Bravely – If networks faithfully report on the activism of celebrities, they may sometimes be doing so against the broader company’s interests. ABC might report the inflammatory statements of an actress on an ABC sitcom or the director of Disney film. But thorough journalism demands nothing less.

Go for “Gritty Realism” – From environmental extremists like Robert Redford and Darryl Hanna to socialist dictator admirers like Sean Penn and Danny Glover, to gay rights advocates and anti-war agitators, entertainers often take positions at least half their audience find repellent. Some are more extreme than others. Their audiences have a right to know it.  

Follow the Money – Few industries give as heavily to one side of the political aisle as does entertainment, and none have anywhere near the glamour that would get the attention of the political establishment. A news organization that explored the implications of loading all that money and star power on one side of the political divide would be doing the nation a service, and presenting viewers with compelling journalism.