The Taliban better brace themselves. Forget the 5,000-pound "bunker busters," the 15,000-pound "Daisy Cutters" and even those dastardly cluster bombs that the US Air Force has been raining down on their frontlines. If some in Hollywood get their way, Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden's followers may soon face bombardment with plastic videocassettes featuring Spielberg's latest patriotic musing.
"Why not ask some of our very best filmmakers to do a three-minute piece on the theme 'My Country 'Tis of Thee‚' and then compile them together on video and airdrop them over areas hostile to us?" suggests Bryce Zabel, screenwriter and now chair and CEO of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. That was just "one idea of about twenty" that Zabel says he brought to what some are calling the Beverly Hills Summit. The November 11 powwow at the cushy Beverly Peninsula Hotel brought together almost four dozen of the Hollywood power elite with President Bush's top adviser and strategist, Karl Rove. Their mission: to explore how the entertainment industry can assist the Administration's war on terrorism.
The meeting was co-hosted by two stalwarts of Liberal Hollywood: Sherry Lansing, chair of the Paramount Pictures film division, and Jonathan Dolgen, head of Viacom's entertainment group, and it drew the chiefs of all the major networks and studios as well as representatives of the directors' and actors' unions. Not much concrete came out of the closed-door conclave, except a flurry of articles and promises by both sides to continue talking. But everyone, including Jack Valenti, the legendary chair of the Motion Picture Association of America, made a point of stressing that film and TV "content were not on the table" and that nobody even remotely suggested that Hollywood start cranking out crass pro-war propaganda. "We are already propaganda experts," laughs producer Lynda Obst, who did not attend the meeting. "We are the veritable American Dream Machine. We hardly need any instruction from Karl Rove in this area."
Rove stresses that he had no intention of giving marching orders to Hollywood. "The industry will decide what it will do and when it will do it," he said as he emerged from the Sunday morning meeting. Instead Rove briefed the Hollywood executives on a seven-point message that the White House would like to stress: that the war is against terrorism, not Islam; that Americans must be called to national service; that Americans should support the troops; that this is a global war that needs a global response; that this is a war against evil; that American children have to be reassured; and that instead of propaganda, the war effort needs a narrative that should be told, said a straight-faced Rove, with accuracy and honesty.
Reaction to the new and sudden flirtation between Hollywood and the Bush White House runs the gamut in Tinseltown. On the enthusiastic side, Zabel says he came away from the meeting with a very "clear idea" of the seven themes Rove outlined to the group. "What we are excited about is neither propaganda nor censorship," says Zabel. "The word I like is advocacy. We are willing to volunteer to become advocates for the American message." On the more negative end of the spectrum, one prominent actor-director, requesting anonymity so that he might "continue having lunch in this town," called the meeting "little more than a jerk-off session."