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Jewish World Review August 18, 2000 /17 Menachem-Av, 5760

Michael Medved

Michael Medved
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Consumer Reports

Why Hollywood still embraces Lieberman --
JOE LIEBERMAN will almost surely repeat his familiar demands that Hollywood curb its emphasis on violent and sex-drenched entertainment. And leaders of the entertainment industry, some of whom are attending the Democratic Convention here in Los Angeles, will listen to his remarks without expressing displeasure in any way. In fact, one of Lieberman's prime targets in pop culture, Jerry Springer, already has endorsed Al Gore's selection of the Connecticut senator, calling it "a great choice."

Despite the fact that Lieberman once awarded Springer the "Silver Sewer Award," for "purveying filth and pandering to the most base instincts," the TV sleaze king now proudly declares, "I look forward to supporting the ticket."

As a matter of fact, nearly everyone in Hollywood plans similar support for the Gore-Lieberman team, managing to forgive - or forget - Lieberman's harsh criticism of entertainment excess. Variety the "Bible" of the show-business community, commented the day after his selection that "despite a shrill record of Hollywood bashing, few in town were willing Monday to return the favor by blasting his pick." Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America , bravely predicted: "He's not going to be vindictive and will espouse what he has been espousing. I think he's a great choice. I'm talking about for my country."

This cheerful acceptance of Lieberman presents a striking contrast to the Hollywood response to another vice-presidential candidate who once pointed out the destructive influence of popular entertainment. During the campaign of 1992, Dan Quayle questioned the way Murphy Brown glamorized women choosing to raise their children in fatherless households. The vice president never went nearly as far as Lieberman - who has suggested using governmental power (through denial of Federal Communications Commission licenses, if necessary) to force more responsible behavior on the entertainment industry.

Last year, in fact, Lieberman said that if the entertainment industry "continues to market death and degradation to our children and continues to pay no heed to the genuine bloodshed staining our communities, then one way or the other the government will act." Quayle never made any such direct threats against the show-business community. Nevertheless, the Republican vice president became the object of derision and indignation, condemned in every conceivable forum by leaders of the entertainment elite.

Why should two politicians who warn Americans about the impact of mass media inspire such different responses from the princes of pop culture?

One misleading explanation involves Lieberman's Jewish faith. According to this logic - advanced in reports in The Wall Street Journal and elsewhere - prominent Jewish executives and creative personnel will accept criticism from one of their own that they would never tolerate from a gentile. Tribal solidarity, in other words, trumps personal discomfort.

This argument flies in the face of recent experience - in particular, my own. Like Lieberman, I'm an observant Jew - president of an Orthodox synagogue for 15 years. And like Lieberman, I've been an aggressive critic of what I consider irresponsible corporate behavior by leading media conglomerates. Unlike, Lieberman, however, I've provoked hysterical denunciation by leaders of the entertainment establishment. After publication of my best-selling book Hollywood vs. America in 1992, I found myself condemned by industry insiders as a "Nazi," "lunatic," "racist" and "dangerous demagogue."

The factor that insulates Lieberman from similarly hostile responses isn't his religious commitment; it's his political identity.

He's a Democrat, and on key social issues such as abortion and gay rights, he's a conventional liberal. Hollywood cares far more about politics than it does about religion or ethnicity. In fact, one could make the case that the reigning religious faith in Tinseltown isn't Judaism (or Buddhism, or Scientology, for that matter): It's liberalism.

Anyone who doubts this proposition should consider the agenda that shows up on screen. Despite constant muttering by fringe groups about the "Jewish domination of Hollywood," you can't name a single big-studio film of the past 20 years that glorified or glamorized Israel. (Exodus was released in 1960.) Meanwhile, negative Jewish stereotypes - of brassy women and nerdy, neurotic guys, turn up regularly on TV and film.

While it's difficult to spot a specifically Jewish agenda in recent pop culture, liberal messages have been impossible to miss.

Consider such films as Erin Brockovich, The American President, Cider House Rules; and The Insider - not to mention such television shows as The West Wing. Such political preaching seems all the more striking in the absence of major projects with overt conservative messages to balance Hollywood's trendy leftism.

The same pattern holds true if you look at Hollywood's charitable giving. Liberal political causes - very much including the Democratic Party - dominate the industry's definition of "compassion," taking obvious precedence over Jewish communal charities.

In this context, the entertainment industry's embrace of Joe Lieberman makes perfect sense. Despite his criticism of show business, leaders of mass media don't worry about his crusade for accountability because in the final analysis they don't take it too seriously. Since liberal causes represent the core commitments of their lives, they assume that these passions also will take priority for Lieberman - well ahead of his showy assaults on the industry.

After all, before Jack Valenti became a spokesman for the motion-picture industry, he served as a loyal aide to President Lyndon Johnson. And prior to achieving national notoriety as a TV talker, Jerry Springer won election as a Democratic mayor of Cincinnati and ran a failed campaign as a McGovernite congressional candidate.

With this shared background, Springer and his friends will listen respectfully to any criticism Lieberman sends their way in his big speech, and will happily ignore their messy, distracting disagreement about media sleaze.

JWR contributor, author and film critic Michael Medved, a "survivor" of his own family with three kids, hosts a daily three-hour radio talk show broadcast in more than 120 cities throughout the United States. His latest book, written together with his wife, is Saving Childhood : Protecting Our Children from the National Assault on Innocence . He also participated as a conspicuously successful competitor on The GE College Bowl in 1968 on NBC. You may contact him by clicking here.


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© 2000, Michael Medved