Jewish Journal


June 30, 2008

Yes, Virginia, there is a Jewish media conspiracy



Those words did not appear in a New York Sun editorial, unlike these. But someone could get the impression of a Jewish media conspiracy after reading about Barack Obama’s effort to reach out to prominent Hollywood Jews in Ted Johnson’s column in today’s Variety (or by watching TV and movie credits):

The mobilization is test of how well the candidate’s campaign can counter a narrative that Obama is weak on Israel and, by extension, national security. His opponent John McCain is capitalizing on such notions, particularly in wooing former supporters of Hillary Clinton.

Few would argue that Obama will dominate support in the entertainment business—a stronghold of Democrats and of supporters of Jewish causes. To Obama backers, the stream of viral rumors and misinformation lies at the heart of his Jewish “problem”—in quote marks because, after all, a Gallup poll on June 26 showed him favored nationwide by Jewish supporters 62% vs. 29% for McCain. But the level of support could make a difference in certain battleground states.

Perceptions of candidates in the age of the Internet can’t simply be addressed by a 30-second ad spot or even a press release. Rather, Obama’s camp is looking to the grassroots to take it upon themselves.

The GOP continues to seize on the fact that Obama is new and untested, and in their eyes, a blank slate.

That is particularly resonant when it comes to Israel, which Cal State political science professor Raphael J. Sonenshein wrote recently in the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles is “the all-purpose mantra of embattled Republicans.”

In another article, Sonenshein wrote, “McCain offers the Republican brand identification on foreign policy and on Israel, years of familiarity to the Jewish community and the help of independent, former Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut. Obama is still making himself known.”

On June 16, entertainment figures like Jeffrey Katzenberg, Michael Lynton and Mike Medavoy, as well as politicians and other business leaders, gathered at the Beverly Hills home of longtime Democratic activist Carmen Warschaw in the first meeting of the Obama Los Angeles Jewish Community Leadership Committee, a campaign-sanctioned effort created in part to stem what they say are misperceptions.

“There has been a persistent effort to undermine and distort (Obama’s) record early on,” former Rep. Mel Levine, who presided over the meeting with Rep. Howard Berman (D-Los Angeles), told Variety. “Our goal is to get the facts out, and as they get out, his support in the community will grow.”

Here is the rest of the column. Should it bother Jews that Obama has an effort targeting Hollywood’s members? No. Was there any good reason for me to blog about this? Sure: as an excuse to write what follows.

Today’s Hollywood Jews are familial and cultural heirs to the town their ancestors built. Neal Gabler recognized that with his definitive 1988 book “An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood.” This was not an anti-Semitic text, but a keenly observant cultural history. The big difference between Gabler’s book and, say, those of Kevin MacDonald, is that one offers telling portraits of a peculiar phenomenon while the other blames the protagonists for a conspiracy to corrupt American attitudes.

There is no Jewish plot to control our minds through entertaining, godless propaganda; there is an ancient affinity for telling stories. And, as I’ve mentioned before: If Jews really worked in media to get out a unified message at the expense of their gentile neighbors, they sure do a poor job.

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