Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How the Left Took Over Your TVby Ben Shapiro
Vitally important, devastatingly thorough, and shockingly revealing
. After reading Primetime Propaganda, youll never watch TV the same way again.
Movie critic Michael Medved calls Ben Shapiro, One of our most refreshing and insightful voices on the popular culture, as well as a conscience for his/b>… See more details below
Vitally important, devastatingly thorough, and shockingly revealing
. After reading Primetime Propaganda, youll never watch TV the same way again.
Movie critic Michael Medved calls Ben Shapiro, One of our most refreshing and insightful voices on the popular culture, as well as a conscience for his much-maligned generation. With Primetime Propaganda, the syndicated columnist and bestselling author of Brainwashed, Porn Generation, and Project President tells the shocking true story of how the most powerful medium of mass communication in human history became a vehicle for spreading the radical agenda of the left side of the political spectrum. Similar to what Bernard Goldbergs Bias and A Slobbering Love Affair did for the liberal news machine, Shapiros Primetime Propaganda is an essential exposÉ of corrupting media bias, pulling back the curtain on widespread and unrepentant abuses of the Hollywood entertainment industry.
- HarperCollins Publishers
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Primetime PropagandaThe True Hollywood Story of How the Left Took Over Your TV
By Ben Shapiro
Broadside BooksCopyright © 2011 Ben Shapiro
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE SECRET POLITICAL HISTORY OF TELEVISION
How Television Became Liberal
History, they say, is written by the winners. That is certainly true of
The story of television, as told by those in the industry, goes something
like this: Television's formational years were childish and immature,
catering to the lowest common denominator and afraid of controversy.
That's why programming looked conservative in the old days. Over time,
as America became more liberal, television began to reflect that nascent
liberalism, taking new risks and depicting new realities. Liberal television
was rewarded with profits and ratings, and happiness and contentment
spread over the land. But it was not to last. The rise of Reagan and
the Moral Majority soon ignited a battle between the creative knights in
shining armor and the dastardly conservative censors. Consonance was
eventually achieved by corporations, who were able to moderate television
content in order to please conservatives while simultaneously allowing
a limited amount of creative freedom. Overall, in this view, television
has lagged behind social change, with a few notable exceptions. Television
has always followed the market, never led it; television has always
offered something for everyone.
It's a convenient story. That narrative achieves certain goals for the
powers-that-be. First, it means that they can portray themselves as political
cal moderates while still occasionally speaking truth to power. This
version of history obscures the more conservative past in favor of the more
liberal presentit castigates long-dead 1950s pioneers as ignorant and
paints the sainted creators of the late 1960s and early 1970s as visionaries.
As for the current crop of creators, this flattering history characterizes
them as cutting-edge moderates: They haven't propagandized on behalf
of liberal values, but at the same time, they've broken new ground in
terms of racial tolerance and sexual orientation in particular.
Second, this narrative characterizes television as a commercial medium
impervious to criticisms about contentwe don't generally criticize
McDonald's for providing Big Macs, even if they're unhealthy, so
why should we criticize the television industry for providing liberal
programming to eager consumers? Furthermore, those in the television
industry can always cite business practicalities as the reason for greasing
the cultural slippery slope. They can blame corporations for failures to
push the progressive agenda, but take credit for any progressivism they
sneak into their programming.
In short, this history is a giant version of the Oscars: a
self congratulatory event designed to cast today's creatorsand certain
sainted creators of yesteryearas heroes in both artistic and political
terms while utterly ignoring the achievements of those who launched
There's only one problem: This version of history isn't true.
The secret history of television is a story of how an industry was taken
over by the left, through both conscious infiltration and unconscious
socialization. Conservative entrepreneurs broke open the new industry
and in the name of profit, they employed the best-in-breed entertainers,
who all happened to be liberals. The conservatives looked to cater to
rural viewers, knowing that rural affiliates were those most likely to censor
programming; they therefore got both rural and urban viewers. As the
medium matured, more and more urban-based entertainment-oriented
businesspeople began infiltrating the executive ranks, changing and
shaping the goals of television, altering its target audience from rural to
supposedly more valuable and sophisticated urban audiences. With the
new target audience in hand, television consistently pushed itself farther
and farther to the left, squeezing out all those who disagreed, using the
tools of entertainment to forward social messaging. Now, the television
industry is largely conservative-free, and the product shows it.
Television began with radio.
The radio business, just like other businesses, began as a vehicle for
creating products and services that would generate revenue. Even though
FCC regulations required that radio serve the public interest, the first
executives in radio were interested in profit first, last, and always. Most of
them were Jewish Garment District types who launched themselves to
the technological and cultural cutting edge using their newly acquired
American freedoms to build their businesses from the ground up.
The consummate capitalist was David Sarnoff, the ruddy-faced, short,
balding president of the Radio Corporation of America and founder of
NBC. He was a Jewish immigrant from Minsk with a gift for both self
promotion and business strategy. His love for television made him one
of the medium's first funders and proponents. Politically, Sarnoff was
right-wing. During World War II, General Dwight D. Eisenhower made
him a communication consultant and gave him the rank of brigadier
general, a title he carried around with him for the rest of his life. He
often trumpeted "traditional" American values and the total defeat of
global Communism. As a product of capitalism, Sarnoff was an ardent
defender of it.
Sarnoff's counterpart at CBS was William S. Paley. Like Sarnoff, Paley
was an enterprising Jewish kid with an ego that would make Orson
Welles look amateur by comparisonas a child he added a nonexistent
middle initial S. on a school application, for the prestige. If Sarnoff was
a great businessman, Paley was even betteror at least, less principled.
In the television industry, independently owned stations decide which
network's programming they want to carrythat's how they become
affiliates. Paley employed strategies designed to steal Sarnoff's affiliates,
offering stations CBS programming for free, in return demanding that
they play commercials sold by CBS. Paley didn't steal just Sarnoff's
affiliateshe stole Sarnoff's stars. He pirated stars from other networks,
including Fats Waller, Bing Crosby, Will Rogers, and Jack Benny. He
was, as the New York Times called him upon his death, "A 20th-century
visionary with the ambitions of a 19th-century robber-baron."
Unlike Sarnoff, Paley was a political chameleon. He was an enthusiastic
opponent of Joseph McCarthy, declaring that CBS deserved credit
for McCarthy's destruction. At the same time, under his leadership, CBS
forced its employees to take a loyalty oath stating that they had never
been members of the Communist Party. He was a lifelong member of the
GOP, but he did not shy away from kowtowing to the FDR White House
to maintain his broadcast licenses.
Paley's programming perspective was just as mercenaryand he
wasn't shy about it. As he put it, "What we are doing is satisfying the
American public. That's our first job." He had no interest in converting
viewers and listeners to high-minded programming; CBS, he said, "cannot
calmly broadcast programs we think people ought to listen to if they
know what is good for them." For Bill Paley, only one thing mattered:
the bottom line.
The leadership at ABC thought differentlythey looked to shape the
audiences to meet their programming rather than vice versa. At that network,
the third member of the original television executive triumvirate,
Leonard Goldenson, held the reins. Like Sarnoff and Paley, Goldenson
grew up in a Jewish household. Unlike Sarnoff and Paley, however, he
was a liberal, born and bred.
Goldenson's family was moderately wealthy, which allowed him to
attend Harvard College and Harvard Law Schoola rare accomplishment
for Jews of that time. After working as a lawyer at Paramount,
Goldenson managed to finagle ownership of the company's theater business,
which he then sold off in order to buy up the nascent American
Broadcasting Company, a former subsidiary of NBC.
Goldenson remained politically liberal throughout his career. Early
on, he put conservative firebrand Billy Graham on the air in Hour of
Decision in a successful attempt to score ratings. Then he reversed him-
self, citing his belief in separation of television and religion. Goldenson
reviled legislators' concern with sex and violence on television. While
he remained a businessman like Sarnoff and Paley, he did not shy away
from injecting social messages into programming. During the McCarthy
hearings, he ordered all 187 hours aired live, at a cost of $600,000. "I
felt that if the public could see just how McCarthy operated, they would
understand just how ridiculous a figure he really was," Goldenson later
wrote. This was not news coveragethis was coverage as commentary.
Along the same lines, Goldenson considered Barbara Walters the
epitome of reportorial courage for playing up to Fidel Castro. His
programming followed the same pattern, even though Goldenson claimed
he was only catering to the market.
THE WILDERNESS YEARS FOR LIBERALS: 19501960
The respective viewpoints of Sarnoff, Paley, and Goldenson led the
networks to evolve in different directions. NBC became a semi-elitist
mouthpiece geared toward informing the public; CBS became a ratings
juggernaut interested almost solely in revenue; ABC focused on sex and
At NBC, General Sarnoff deferred to his chosen deputy, Pat Weaver,
a highly educated Dartmouth graduate. Weaver's philosophy was simple:
Make money by educating the audience. Weaver wanted America to be a
place in which "every man is an Athenian." He dubbed his effort Operation
Weaver's strategy could only work if he broadcastthat is, attracted
as many viewers at a time as possible. He shunned the idea of gearing
programming toward target audiences, a trap he felt the movies had
fallen into. "The advertising responsibility is to reach everyone," he said.
He pursued that goal by programming "spectaculars," large-scale live
events designed to draw in "light" viewers. But how could he fund the
He came up with the funding in a stroke of genius that would have
massive implications for the entire industry: Instead of advertisers
purchasing entire shows or producing the shows themselves, NBC would
produce its own shows and allow advertisers to buy segments rather than
entire shows. This was a breakthrough for the networksinstead of
having to keep one advertiser ecstatic, they could now keep seven or
eight advertisers relatively happy. No longer would advertisers, the
parties most responsive to the public, be able to dictate what the networks
broadcast; now the networks themselves would dictate their programming,
and advertisers could buy only in small chunks. Increased network
control, insulated from the feedback of individual advertisers, meant
more liberal control of the industry over time.
At CBS, the management cared far less about teaching America than
winning the numbers battle. Dictator Paley brought on a statistics
minded second-in-command, Frank Stanton, a radio research guru with
a doctorate in psychology from Ohio State University.
Stanton's philosophy was as capitalistic as his boss's, a direct contrast
to the later intellectualism of Newton Minow. "Television, like radio," he
said in 1948, "should be a medium for the majority of Americans, not for
any small or special groups; therefore its programming should be largely
patterned for what these majority audiences want and like." Stanton's
statistical knowledge, combined with Paley's populist programming
tendencies, made CBS the leader in the ratings for much of the 1950s.
ABC, meanwhile, struggled mightilymainly because it was the
smallest, but also because it was the least conservative of the three
networks. Robert Kintner, a former White House correspondent and future
cabinet liaison for LBJ, led the way.
Kintner, unlike the communist-fighters at NBC and CBS, was an
ardent opponent of McCarthyism. He stood up for closeted former
communist Gypsy Rose Lee, braving advertiser boycotts to do it and winning
a Peabody Award in the process.17 That move demonstrated his liberal
bona fides. He burnished them even more when he insisted on carrying
the Army-McCarthy hearings wall to wall.
His liberalism wasn't restricted to news coverage. Kintner's programming
strategy focused on the lowest common denominatorhe was
liberal enough to think that broadcast standards were tyrannical limits
on creativity rather than traditional hallmarks of good taste. According
to one of Kintner's subordinates, David Levy, he was the man behind the
rise of sex and violence on television, titillating younger audiences with
There was a reason for the focus on sex and violence: Goldenson's
smaller station roster created the need for a new sort of strategy.
Unlike NBC, ABC could not champion its ratings; unlike CBS, it could not
champion its affiliate base. ABC's affiliates were restricted largely to the
major cities, and even there, they did not draw major numbers. ABC
therefore needed to come up with an alternative marketing ploy that
could work for advertisers.
In the mid-1950s, Goldenson's deputy, Ollie Treyz, hit on the winning
idea: pushing the young urban consumer as a higher-value consumer
for advertisers. The idea was simpleif ABC couldn't get older, rural
viewers for its programs, it would tell advertisers that its young, urban
viewers were worth more in the grand scheme of things, with or without
the data to prove it. "We began programming for the young families of
America," Goldenson later wrote, "and in doing so revolutionized television
. . . we simply had no other choice." This philosophy bore the obsession
with the 18 to 49 crowdand in catering to that crowd, television's
manic obsession with sex and violence was born too.
While the political allegiances and market manipulations of the
executives helped shape the industry on a broad level, on a day to day level,
the writers, actors, and producers were shaping it in a covertly liberal
direction. Most of the early prominent creators of television were Jewish
kids who had found their way on the New York entertainment scene
which meant, typically, that their parents had been poor, often socialist,
and that they had grown up with vaudeville, which translated exceptionally
well to television.
Excerpted from Primetime Propaganda by Ben Shapiro Copyright © 2011 by Ben Shapiro. Excerpted by permission of Broadside Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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