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The Sweep: Right wingers take on 'Left Coast'

By Mark Preston, CNN Senior Political Editor
  • "You are on your own when you come to Hollywood," film executive says
  • Actor Gary Sinise helps conservatives with his organization Friends of Abe
  • Activist assigns some blame to conservatives for Hollywood's atmosphere

In "The Sweep," CNN dives deep into issues that are making news and explores why they're in the headlines.

Washington (CNN) -- Hollywood's bright lights have shone favorably on Pat Boone for more than half a century, so it might come as a surprise that he recently delivered a scathing indictment of the entertainment industry.

But Boone is an advocate for conservative beliefs and values. He offered his sharp criticism of Hollywood during a speech before the Conservative Political Action Conference.

From Boone's perspective, the entertainment industry is, in part, to blame for the United States' poor image and standing abroad.

"I'm an entertainer, a singer, an actor, a member of that privileged class that too often has acted like an aristocracy entitled to fame, luxury, mansions, millions of dollars, with no boundaries on behavior or responsibility for its actions or the worldwide fallout of its immorality and decadence," Boone said in his address to CPAC earlier this month. "The movies and television and music that we used to produce created an image of America the world envied and wanted to experience. Now, the millions around the world call us the 'Great Satan' -- and with good cause."

For many years, Boone has been in the political minority on what he describes as the "Left Coast," conservatives' derisive label for the West Coast. As for Hollywood, the conventional wisdom is that the entertainment industry embraces Democratic principles and rewards only those who promote a liberal dogma. It's a belief that was deeply rooted in the estimated 11,000 people who attended CPAC, the largest annual gathering of conservative activists.

Many conservatives believe that Hollywood is overrun with liberals, while "real people" live in "Heartland America" -- an idyllic place Boone referenced in his remarks. But the conservative singer-actor told the audience, to polite applause, if not relief, that the times they are a-changin' in Hollywood.

Pat Boone on GOP politics

"The last time I was invited to say a few words here at the CPAC convention, I referred to myself as an embedded conservative in 'La La Land,'" Boone said. "I was feeling exiled from 'Heartland America,' but still loyal to its precepts. Today, I'm thrilled to report that there is a large and growing phalanx of conservatives in 'La La Land,' men and women on every level of the industry, meeting and conferring and determined to reclaim, to conserve the incredible influence for goodwill inherent in responsible entertainment."

Making it in Hollywood

For three days, conservatives gathered in the nation's capital to talk politics, find kinship, and hear the dozen or so potential GOP presidential candidates lay out their plans for the future and present their conservative credentials to the conference. CPAC is an important stop along the road to the Republican presidential nomination and just as in years past, it was attended by activists motivated to see conservatives control the levers of government.

While the speeches were the centerpiece of the conference, it was the dozens of meetings -- with titles ranging from "The Left's Campaign to Reshape the Judiciary" to "The Pro-Life Movement: Plans and Goals" -- that offered a snapshot of what is on the minds of conservatives.

And then there was this panel. On the first day of the conference, 50 people chose to skip speeches by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, to instead cram into a small meeting room to hear about "Getting Started In Hollywood."

The audience was composed of people who wanted to know: How can I get funding for my movie? How do I pitch a reality television show? How do I protect my work?

How do I get started in Hollywood?

The panelists offered a sympathetic ear about the injustice of an industry that seems to favor liberals, but followed with some stern advice on the reality of life.

"I would not talk about your politics going in," said John Nolte, who wrote and directed the 2008 movie "Beautiful Loser" and serves as editor-in-chief for the right-of-center website Big Hollywood. "Work on your craft."

It was a tough-love suggestion echoed by Larry O'Connor, Nolte's colleague in Andrew Breitbart's media company.

Obama is a communist. I only woke up because we elected a communist.
--Actress Victoria Jackson

O'Connor, who serves as editor-in-chief of the right-of-center Breitbart TV website, said that conservatives need to be smart as they try to break into the entertainment industry.

"What is the point of coming out one way or another unless you have an agenda?" asked O'Connor, a theater veteran with credentials on Broadway and in Los Angeles.

Kevin McKeever, who founded Bank of Kev Productions two years ago, painted a stark picture of Hollywood, explaining that it is an unforgiving place for anyone, regardless of political affiliation.

"You are on your own when you come to Hollywood," he said. "Don't think of networks and groups. Think 'I have to build my own relationships.'"


Still, there is a sanctuary for conservatives in Hollywood to talk politics. Actor Gary Sinise is credited with helping to provide this arena as the founder of the organization Friends of Abe.

"That little fellowship grew from 30 or so just three years ago to almost 2,000 at our last meeting," Boone said in his CPAC remarks.

Ted Johnson, deputy editor for Variety, said that Friends of Abe "was formed with the idea that conservatives felt isolated in the entertainment business. This was an opportunity for fellowship."

But Johnson said he does not subscribe to the idea that there is a concerted effort to keep conservatives from being employed in the entertainment industry.

"I don't doubt there are instances where conservatives have lost jobs because of their political views, but I am skeptical of whether that is rampant," said Johnson, who writes extensively about the intersection of Hollywood and politics on his blog in Variety, Wilshire & Washington.

But "Saturday Night Live" veteran Victoria Jackson offers a different view. Her frustration with Hollywood is only matched by her disappointment that President Obama is leading the country. An outspoken critic of the president, Jackson has even recorded a song about him titled "There's a Communist Living in the White House." It is included on her newest CD, "Use Me," which Jackson was selling at CPAC.

"Obama is a communist," declared Jackson, who noted she become actively involved in politics when Obama was elected president. "I only woke up because we elected a communist. How can I hold it inside when I see people going off a cliff? I have to say, 'You are going off a cliff.'"

Jackson, who describes herself as a believer in Jesus Christ, charged that there is discrimination in Hollywood -- religious discrimination.

"They just don't dislike Christians, they hate God," said Jackson, who later added, "You don't know how liberal it is, even the Christians are communist."

So, where is the discrimination?

"Do you see me on TV? No," responded Jackson, who spent six years on SNL. "Do you see me in movies? No."

Will take a generation

In Andrew Breitbart's estimation, there is, indeed "hostility towards conservatives" in the entertainment industry, but "now that people are starting to find each other, there's now strength in numbers."

Conservatives have nobody to blame but themselves, because they haven't contributed enough.
--Andrew Breitbart
  • Republican Party
  • Hollywood

Breitbart said the notion that the "casting couch" is a quick way to find success in the industry has now been replaced with a new expectation of actresses new in town.

"Hollywood has always been known for the casting couch as a dominant aspect of how you get into the industry, and I would say that's almost a bygone burden," he said. "I think that the current burden is, if you're getting off the bus into Hollywood now, the first thing that you're taught is to go to certain social events, charitable events that are left-of-center oriented."

He later added, "So a young actress comes into town, realizes that if she's seen at the correct charitable event and talks to the producers that go there, that's one of the quickest entries into proper Hollywood these days."

Breitbart, though, doesn't hold back any punches as he assigns some blame to conservatives for the current atmosphere in Hollywood.

"Conservatives have nobody to blame but themselves, because they haven't contributed enough," he said. "They haven't invested enough in pop culture, and if they have an expectation that David Geffen is going to change because of the market, then we're going to continue to lose the culture war."

Roger L. Simon, author of "Turning Right at Hollywood and Vine: The Perils of Coming Out Conservative in Tinseltown," said the only way that conservatives are going to change Hollywood is to do something about it themselves.

"Sure, to some extent Hollywood is liberal territory," said Simon, an Academy Award nominee and co-founder of the right-of-center website Pajamas Media. "The way to change it is to go out and make a good movie -- and it better be a good movie, because a bad conservative movie is worse than no conservative movie at all."

Breitbart noted that this relatively new fellowship for conservatives in Hollywood is starting to take root, but added he doesn't think the situation will change overnight.

"So now they're slowly but surely figuring out ways that they can communicate their ideas and hire each other and create something akin to parity," he said. "And I think it's going to take a generation, but it's going to take more work from people on the right who care about culture to invest in it, and make the movies that affirm their worldview."

Other avenues

In the meantime, conservative artists are seeking other outlets to present themselves to the public. Lisa Mei Norton, a singer-songwriter, hosted the Liberty Fest showcase one night during CPAC, featuring songwriters, rappers and a comedian. Jackson served as the emcee.

Norton also is the co-founder of Big Dawg Music Mafia, a relatively new website that serves as an online gathering place for conservative artists.

"With the internet, you can do it on your own," she said. "It is not that hard. People are hungry. People in America see the country going in the wrong direction."

Eric Golub, a conservative comedian, was one of the acts who performed at Liberty Fest. Golub lives in Los Angeles, but that is where the ties to the entertainment industry end. He describes himself as a "hired gun" whose "niche is conservative political events." When he is not on the road, Golub said he "sits in front of his laptop and makes cold calls to get gigs."

"I'm not in the entertainment industry," Golub said. "I never want to be part of the entertainment industry."

Jackson was clearly the star at Liberty Fest, which was attended by more than 50 people. And despite having solid Hollywood credentials, she went out of her way to heap praise on the other performers. Jackson even struck up a conversation with two college-aged conservatives from Stony Brook University. "Do you want to take a picture together?" she asked the starstruck young men. "I'm so proud of you."

Later in the evening, Jackson called one of the Stony Brook college students, Kevin Sabella, up on the stage and asked the audience to give a round of applause for the young man who founded the Stony Brook Tea Party.

It was a moment the Stony Brook student will always remember. And if Breitbart is correct that it will take a generation to make Hollywood friendlier for conservatives, it will be Sabella's generation that will make it happen.

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