On a pleasant evening in March, dozens of tanned, well-coiffed conservatives mingled outdoors at a posh Beverly Hills hotel. The open bar served organic beer, top shelf cocktails, and mineral water. Waiters brought fancy hors d’oeuvres aplenty.
The spread was the work of GenNext, an ambitious right-of-center social networking organization, and its members, who pay $10,000 a year for the privilege of belonging. They gathered for a panel discussion titled “Is Capitalism Dead?” The event, co-hosted by the America’s Future Foundation (which publishes Doublethink), was slightly delayed by the late arrival of its star panelist, Web impresario Andrew Breitbart, who strode to the bar, ordered a margarita, and saw my nametag. “Oh, you’re on the panel too,” he said. “Did you prepare anything? I’m going to say that politics is less important than opposing the left’s cultural Marxism. It’s unbelievable what they do. Liberals are totalitarians.”
Was he being serious? I mumbled something non-committal and turned to the bartender. The jeremiad would’ve confused me less if I’d seen Breitbart’s latest appearance on Fox News. “Look at how they go after Rush Limbaugh,” the Big Hollywood proprietor told Sean Hannity earlier that afternoon. “And compare that to how they treat our real enemies. They coddle them. They treat them with the kindest of words possible.” In other words, Breitbart was arguing that the left is tougher on conservative pundits than it is on Al Qaeda terrorists. “This is tyranny,” he said. “This is Animal Farm, and this is George Orwell.”
Of course, Breitbart isn’t really afraid of liberal “totalitarians.” After all, he chooses to live as an unabashed conservative in West Los Angeles, and sends his children to a school whose liberalism he often remarks upon. This is the man who helped Arianna Huffington found the Huffington Post! Breitbart’s own life is evidence enough of the gulf between his inflammatory rhetoric and reality.
This approach isn’t merely misleading—it is counterproductive. Above all else, Breitbart aims to challenge the left’s influence on American culture. He believes that control over the arts and media are bigger prizes than Congress, the White House, or the Supreme Court, that they shape the nation’s future irrespective of what happens in Washington. Hence his ambition to wrest control of these institutions from the left—a project whose success requires that many more ambitious young conservatives enter creative fields. Will they?
It can’t help that Breitbart insists every conservative working in Hollywood or the media is subject to constant ridicule by the ruthless modern-day “Marxists” who dominate these fields. How many would willingly enter a profession alongside malicious colleagues and beneath ideologue bosses bent on destroying them?
The message delivered by Breitbart, Sean Hannity and other conservative commentators doesn’t merely misinform—it feeds a victim mentality on the right. In the talk radio telling, the liberal cultural elite isn’t merely wrong—it is nefarious, and it hates “real Americans.” That Breitbart calls the cultural left “totalitarians” is instructive. The word implies that the left is supreme, ruthless, and all-powerful. Pushing back from within existing cultural institutions is futile; conservatives might as well withdraw into an ideologically safe dugout, nurse their resentments, and pretend that the height of courage is picking off the least careful leftists with the rhetorical equivalent of sniper fire.
This needless retreat is among the biggest obstacles the right faces as it attempts to engage American culture on a more equal footing. Reversing its course depends on providing young conservatives with a less hysterical, more accurate assessment of their prospects: Ignore Andrew Breitbart! Should you pursue your living in entertainment or the press, you will be outnumbered ideologically. But so long as you conduct yourself professionally, possess talent commensurate with your peers, and produce good work—behaving as a professional, not a propagandist—you’ll go far whatever your personal politics. You’ll also meet a lot of nice people, many of them liberals, who’ll help you along the way.
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Andrew Klavan is a talented novelist and screenwriter whose credits include True Crime (1999) and Don’t Say a Word (2001). Being outspoken about politics has cost him some work over the years, he admits, especially because he is unwilling to keep quiet when confronted with political beliefs with which he disagrees.
As a genre writer, the stories Klavan tells aren’t political, though depicting human life accurately sometimes requires transgressing against prevailing Hollywood mores. “The radicalization of the arts has become so blatant that you get shot down quickly for stepping outside the orthodoxy—that’s true in business offices when trying to sell your work, and it’s true in the press where your work is reviewed,” he says. “My way of thinking is that the very heart of being an artist is authenticity. My advice would be to go at them directly. If it means you’re in defiance or you have to work as an outsider, so be it. I think quality will win out over time.”
Klavan disagrees that conservatives in Hollywood should keep their heads down until they’ve accrued sufficient power, per Breitbart’s counsels. Still, he doesn’t believe his fellow conservative means to scare young people away from the industry. “What he is trying to do is make certain thoughts that are unacceptable in Hollywood acceptable and speakable,” Klavan says. “We are the radicals today. And we can’t take over except through revolution, which can’t come quietly.”
Another “out” conservative, Lionel Chetwynd, claims a lengthy list of credits, including films on the Hanoi Hilton, the building of the Vietnam Memorial, and 9/11. “There isn’t one thing on my IMBD page that a conservative wouldn’t be proud to show his grandkids,” he says, although he insists that movies aren’t primarily about politics. “I am against confronting the liberals in an all-out war to the death. All I’m seeking is an equal share at the table,” he says. “I want this to be a two-party town where it’s as legitimate for me to have our point of view as [it is] for them to have theirs. And to the extent that’s denied, it’s amazing how many people will stand up for you, including some liberals.”
Chetwynd says he endured “outright blacklisting” in the 1980s, but this kind of blatant discrimination is a thing of the past: “It’s much better for us today. People with a conservative view in Hollywood aren’t quite the oddity they were.” Nowadays, it isn’t a matter of losing work so much as getting berated about political matters in a card game, or having people muse on how such a nice guy can have such political views. “They treat you as some sort of idiot savant, but that doesn’t mean they’re not going to employ you,” he says. “They’re not all totalitarians.”
And what advice would he offer a young conservative hoping to break into the industry? “You will go as far as your tenacity and your courage will take you. But if the first thing you want to tell me about yourself is that you’re a conservative, perhaps you’re in the wrong town—you should be in Sacramento or Washington. You’ve got to go out and make good movies.”
It is naturally more difficult to get the impressions of conservatives who remain “in the closet” (and by definition impossible to get on the record). I spoke to five people in that category, all 35 or younger. Their consensus was that it would be difficult for a vocal right-winger to excel in the same way that Tim Robbins or Susan Sarandon does, despite their very public far-left politics.
One source, in his late twenties, came to Hollywood after graduating from a conservative college in 2001 and has been working in production for eight years. “I’m always the most conservative guy in the room,” he says, “and I imagine it makes a few people less disposed to be kind to you, but there are far more tolerant people than not. Some of the most powerful agents in Hollywood are conservatives, and it’s certainly not something where people are so vindictive that you’d lose work over your politics. The area where it may hurt you is networking opportunities, though even that can be handled. This one time I went to a Barbara Boxer fundraiser just because I knew I’d meet useful people there professionally. But I didn’t have to donate. It was more a matter of swallowing my pride and going, and it ended up being fine.”
Another behind-the-scenes technician agrees, “I get the sense that the old guard had it rougher. They’re far more jaded. It’s live and let live now, especially if you’re a fiscal conservative or a libertarian. Hardcore social conservatives might find things a bit tougher, but only if they’re pretty outspoken, and even then it’s not bad enough that they shouldn’t come work here.”
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In August 2007, veteran conservative journalist Robert Novak appeared on the Diane Rehm Show, where he advised young, right-leaning aspirants in his field to “go into the closet” if they want to succeed. “Don’t tell anybody you’re a conservative, because you’re not going to get the job,” he said, “and you’re not going to get the advance.”
Better advice is offered by Dr. Stephen Bird, academic director for the National Journalism Center, a nonprofit that places mostly conservative journalists in numerous mainstream media internships every year, hoping to bring more depth and balance to American reporting. “Here’s what I tell interns going into the media,” he says. “Pursue excellence in everything. Everyone admires excellence and gravitates toward it.”
Bird notes that though the proportion of conservatives among journalists is incrementally higher relative to the early 1980s, the right remains outnumbered. “I would think it would make them more marketable—any time you’re in the minority you become more desirable in the marketplace,” he says. “I just think that’s a true statement. I’ve told them that at different times, just as I’ve told people of different minority groups that they have a better marketing position. They need to know that when it comes time to negotiate a salary.”
J.P. Freire, an editor at the Washington Examiner, is one young conservative journalist for whom this rings true. “I think it’s kind of an ace in the hole,” he says. “As a conservative in a liberal field, you come up with angles other people don’t consider, get stories no one else thinks of doing.” Freire wrote for a movement publication in college, worked as managing editor of the American Spectator (where he is now a contributing editor), and before that at the New York Times, where he served as an assistant to former op-ed columnist John Tierney. Later, he was offered a job heading up the team of Times newsroom assistants, which he’s long regretted having turned down. “I liked the environment. I thought everyone was fine, and I was openly conservative,” he says. “The reporters I talked to seemed very fair. I think most of them knew they were to the left and tried to control for it.”
Eddie Barrera has had a slightly different experience. He’s an editor at Adotas, a Web magazine devoted to media and technology. A onetime New York Post reporter who later worked for The Los Angeles Newspaper Group, rising from staff reporter to desk editor, Barrera says that though it may have once been true that conservatives had a tough time getting a fair shake, it’s no longer the case. “As far as the bosses I’ve had, I’ve been treated very well in my career,” he says. “I’m pretty outspoken, and I haven’t always been treated well by all of my colleagues. But it hasn’t hurt my advancement.” Asked how he’d advise a young person starting out in the field, Barrera says that one rises in accordance with one’s talent and work ethic.
That’s been my experience in journalism, though I was warned against entering the field as student at Pomona College. I remember attending a lecture-dinner at Claremont McKenna College where talk at my table turned to the Los Angeles riots. A fellow student argued that inner-city blacks were justified in lashing out at police, given the prejudice they endure. A conservative dining companion was vehement in his rebuttal. Even a black person treated unfairly by a white cop hasn’t any right to lash out against other people, he insisted. As for improving minority success in the job market, he argued that anyone who finished school and worked hard would be a valued employee, excel regardless of societal racism, and find himself better off. But when I made an offhand comment about pursuing journalism after graduation, the same conservative student was aghast. “Why go into that liberal media?” he asked.
He insisted that I’d be foolish to enter a field where my fate would be controlled by leftists who’d treat me unfairly, even if only behind my back. “It may be just one liberal boss who messes with you,” he said, “but you won’t have anyone on your side to back you up. Little things can make a big difference in your career. And if you want to rise to the top know they’ll never let a conservative get there. The New York Times will always be edited by a liberal.” So much for working hard and assuming I’d be treated fairly absent clear contrary evidence.
Fortunately, I ignored his advice. I took a job at a major newspaper chain, where ideology never once impeded my rise, though I never concealed my beliefs and vocally supported the recall of Democratic California Governor Gray Davis. When I left that newspaper, I was offered a scholarship to a graduate program in journalism, where my professors were almost entirely left of center. As it turned out, they weren’t merely fair instructors, but exceptional ones who were willing to help me improve whatever writing I submitted, even if they disagreed with the arguments therein. Theirs was a pedagogical and journalistic project, not a political one. They’d treat anyone fairly who was also there to do good journalism, and editors at most publications employ the same litmus test in my experience.
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Why is the reality of being a conservative in a cultural field so disconnected from the rhetoric of right-wing pundits? Several factors explain the gulf.
Constant focus on how bad conservatives have it occasionally yields an accurate description of reality. And even when a particular complaint doesn’t pass factual muster, it can confer a short-term political benefit during certain debates, whether by rallying the base or giving conservative pundits the opportunity to “play ref” in the subset of media organizations making a good faith effort to be fair if not balanced.
But exaggerating the difficulty of being a conservative in a cultural field acts as a cancer on the movement—undermining its credibility, inculcating a destructive victim mentality, and discouraging young people on the right from entering the very cultural institutions that most need their presence.
What should the young conservative take away? Courage to enter any field where the work inspires him, a healthy distrust of commentators who would treat him like a victim, and a realization that despite the impression one gets from listening to certain pundits, the average person in every field aside from politics itself is relatively apolitical. Carry yourself like a professional, and you’ll see that the vast majority of people on the left aren’t out to get you.
And you’ll come to suspect that the pundits who imagine conservatives as eternally put-upon victims are interpreting the vitriol they attract as an attack on their ideology, whereas actually their maximalist rhetoric, hair-trigger sensitivity and bombastic demeanor just makes them unpleasant to be around.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Andrew Stiles
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Kathlyn Ehl