Conservative 'Sleeper Agents' in Hollywood? The Right Wing's New War for Culture
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The Supreme Court decision, over whether the attack film Hillary constituted a campaign advertisement, was a victory for the entire corporate-funded right. It was also a very particular victory for Citizens United, enabling the organization to pour additional dollars into their films. And in a little discussed June 2010 ruling, the FEC declared Citizens United to be a media organization, which means they do not have to disclose donors or expenditures as it pertains to their films. Citizens United is also a Political Action Committee (PAC) and donates money directly to political campaigns.
“We won,” Citizens United president David Bossie said, according to an article by Slate’s David Weigel. “And we want to make use of that.”
Citizens United films premier at major conservative events, and are screened by Tea Party groups around the country. Taking a cue from liberal groups like MoveOn and Brave New Films, they encourage activists to buy DVDs and screen them at house parties. The Tea Party tribute and anti-Obama screed Battle for America was used as a get-out-the-vote tool in the 2010 midterm elections.
Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 was a defining moment for movement conservatives. Ironically, it was Citizen’s United that in 2004 petitioned the FEC to declare Fahrenheit 9/11 commercials political ads and thus illegal to air in the lead up to elections--taking advantage of the very same laws they would challenge with Hillary four years later.
Citizens United has closely studied the left, releasing their first full-length documentary just months after Fahrenheit 9/11: Celsius 41.11: The Temperature at Which the Brain Begins to Die.
Brave New Films president Robert Greenwald says his organization and MoveOn pioneered the alternative distribution method that Citizens United is using. Brave New Films has produced dozens of videos organized around political efforts, from full-length documentaries like Outfoxed to short and timely commercials like the 2008 bit pillorying John McCain for being unable to recall how many homes he owned (the answer was 10).
“I assume they watch and read and follow what we do,” Greenwald wrote in an email, though he pointed out that conservatives already control a sprawling communications network of their own. “Conservatives have talk radio, so they don’t need film/video the way progressives do.”
They may not need it. But they plan on taking it. And unlike Brave New Films, Move On or Michael Moore, they are seamlessly integrated into a political party and movement flush with corporate dollars.
Citizens United president David Bossie illustrates the close ties between the GOP establishment and movement new media. A young Bossie was involved with Citizens United in 1988 when it made the infamous Willy Horton ad suggesting that Michael Dukakis, if elected president, would let dangerous (and black) felons onto the streets. In the 1990s, he moved to Capitol Hill, where he was the top aid on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform investigating everything about Bill Clinton and a zealous promoter of White Water and other pseudo-scandals.
At CPAC, Bossie basked in the glow of television cameras and wide-eyed young conservatives, an institution builder at the nexus of media and politics. Taking the stage at the Citizens United bloggers lunch, he gave a shoutout to Breitbart and Tucker Carlson’s Daily Caller in the same breath, before praising his friend and former colleague Michael Chertoff for the Homeland Security chief’s role in extraordinary renditions and Guantanamo. And he effusively thanked Newt Gingrich, who has taken a lead role at the organization.
Gingrich and his third wife Callista’s Gingrich Productions have now “co-produced” six films with Citizens United. Gingrich converted to Callista’s Catholicism after first dating her during his previous marriage, and while he was Speaker of the House. Energized by his newfound faith, the Gingriches have produced a film celebrating Pope John Paul II’s role in felling communism, a move transparently intended to deflect growing criticism of a church mired in scandals over child sexual abuse.