The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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'Primetime Propaganda': Does it matter that most Hollywood liberals are Jews?

June 8, 2011 |  6:18 pm

Mel_bnrooks I've been working on a column--which should be up here on the blog soon--about Ben Shapiro, who's caused a big stink with his new expose, "Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How the Left Took Over Your TV." The book has become a sensation in the conservative blogosphere, largely because it gets showbiz liberals to shoot themselves in the foot. Shapiro interviewed tons of big-name TV creators, many of whom not only proudly boast about their liberal credentials but show disdain for conservatives and occasionally make it appear that they'd be perfectly happy if conservatives were never allowed in any writers rooms. 

For example, when Shapiro asked if conservatives are discriminated against in Hollywood, writer-director Nicholas Meyer responded: “Well, I hope so.” Ouch!

By the time I sat down to talk with Shapiro earlier this week, some of the fallout from his book had prompted veteran Hollywood writer Lionel Chetwynd and former CBS Entertainment Productions chief Norman Powell to resign from the Caucus for Producers, Writers and Directors, a values-oriented showbiz group geared toward promoting creative freedom and diversity. The two men cited inflammatory remarks made by Vin Di Bono, a fellow caucus member and executive producer of “MacGyver,” who said, when Shapiro asked him if everyone in Hollywood was a liberal, that “it's probably accurate and I'm happy about it.”

I have my own thoughts about whether showbiz liberals actually actively discriminate against conservatives, but remarks like that certainly don't make Hollywood lefties look especially open-minded. But what caught my eye as I was reading "Primetime Propaganda" was Shapiro's habit of describing a variety of prominent showbiz icons not only as liberal but as Jewish. As in: "Carl Reiner was another Bronx-born Jew who got his break in Sid Caesar's writer's room." Or, as he writes about Ed Asner: "Born in Missouri, the Jewish Asner served in the army, then went to New York...."

This happens over and over with the likes of Mel Brooks, Larry David, Woody Allen, Bea Arthur and Aaron Spelling. But oddly enough, Shapiro doesn't mention the religion of showbiz non-Jews like David Kelley, Diane English, Marc Cherry, Marcy Carsey or Matt Groening. Shapiro is no anti-Semite. In fact, he's an Orthodox Jew who wore a yarmulke when he was on "The O'Reilly Factor" the other night and keeps kosher, so when I asked him to meet me for lunch, I had to scramble to find a decent kosher restaurant on the Westside.

So why single out the Jewishness of so many showbiz liberals? "I wanted to head off the right-wing anti-Semites," Shapiro explained. "Let's face it, that's the first place they go. 'Oh, all that Hollywood liberalism is because they're Jewish.' Or 'Oh, TV was created by Jews, so it's their fault.' I didn't want it to seem as if I were hiding some grand Jewish conspiracy."

Shapiro says he also had another point to make. "I want people to know, by seeing an Orthodox Jew like me on places like 'O'Reilly,' that Jews are on both sides of the aisle and that Jewishness isn't just tied to socialism. I wanted to take that bat out of their hands."

I'm not so sure that the best way to take a bat out of an anti-Semite's hand is by specifically referring to a host of showbiz liberals as Jews, even if it's a Jewish author who's behind it. After all, it wasn't that long ago that conservative Jews were in a tizzy when liberal critics made a point of noting how many neoconservatives were Jews. After centuries of prejudice and worse, its not surprising that Jews can be sensitive about any perceived slights or slurs. Unless of course, they come from fellow Jewish comics, liberal or otherwise, who've learned long ago that you need an especially thick skin to survive in showbiz.

--Patrick Goldstein

Photo: Mel Brooks in his Culver Studios office in 2010. Credit: Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times