The entertainment industry may favor Barack Obama by a wide margin, but if John McCain wins the presidency, it by no means would spell a chill between the White House and Hollywood.
McCain probably would draw on his pop culture savvy and an apparent affinity for the industry based on longstanding ties to the business.
He has been relatively aggressive when it comes to tapping into the pool of Hollywood donors who, like their counterparts on the Democratic side, often give over concerns on larger issues like the war in Iraq and national security rather than because of entertainment industry-related issues.
By contrast, President Bush has all but shunned the business, save for a brief period after 9/11 when top industry brass met with Karl Rove to discuss what they could do together to promote American interests. But the effort was short-lived.
McCain’s candidacy has activated a new sense of visibility among Hollywood Republicans, who last week held a fund-raiser for the candidate at the Beverly Hilton, drawing such notables as Robert Duvall, James Caan, Jon Voight, Dean Cain, Patricia Heaton, Lionel Chetwynd and Gary Sinise.
If elected, McCain is expected to tap such contacts, as well as those on the other side of the aisle. McCain taped a special message for close friend Warren Beatty when the longtime liberal Democrat was feted in June by the American Film Institute.
There may have to be a cooling off period should McCain win, after a campaign that already has seen his campaign make an indirect swipe at Hollywood by attacking his opponent’s celebrity. And there will also be plenty of crushed Obama supporters around.
Through the end of July, Obama raised $4.8 million from the entertainment industry to McCain’s $889,259, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
MGM chief Harry Sloan, who is in the Twin Cities for the convention along with his wife, Florence, a California delegate, says that McCain generates a degree of respect in the industry from Democrats. That was reflected in the positive reaction he heard about running mate Sarah Palin’s speech.
“I think there is genuine affection for him, even if he may not have the support of a majority of the entertainment industry,” Sloan said.
Among other things, Sloan cited McCain’s family ties to Southern California and says that the candidate often talks to him about his love of movies and jokingly compared himself to the hero of MGM’s signature franchise, James Bond.
“My feeling is that there is an opportunity for a much wider open door here,” said producer Craig Haffner, who has been at the convention promoting greater ties between the biz and Republican politicos.
Yet, like Obama, it is uncertain exactly where McCain would come down on issues like broadcast indecency and even further media deregulation.
Much would depend on whom McCain appoints to various commissions and agencies, and in Washington there’s an expectation that he would want to replace FCC chairman Kevin Martin with his own pick.
“Our issues are bipartisan — taxes, trade, free speech — and I don’t think there are any fundamental differences in either party’s platform on these issues,” MPAA chairman Dan Glickman said.
“I don’t see any profound differences on the business issues, and I can’t really say now what differences there may be on cultural issues,” Glickman added. “But we have friends and allies in both camps, both parties. In fact, one reason I’m here in St. Paul is to let Republicans know that we’re not adversaries.”
Also like Obama, McCain has been critical of violent content in movies, but he has a longer record on which to be judged. Both candidates have promoted new technology as a way to help parents prevent their kids from seeing objectionable content.
In 2000, as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, McCain led an effort that blasted studio marketing of violent pics to teens, calling studio execs to hearings and asking that the Federal Trade Commission look into whether deceptive or unfair advertising charges could be brought. Citing constitutional issues, the FTC said no, but McCain later declined to push legislation that would have given the federal agency greater authority to go after Hollywood studios for deceptive advertising.
As the federal government cracked down on broadcast indecency, McCain supported increased fines for broadcasters, but he has stopped short of further regs.
In 2007, when Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W. Va.) suggested that legislation should be introduced to give the federal government a greater ability to regulate TV violence, McCain told Daily Variety, “I notice that already the FCC has levied some record fines. I don’t know what needs to be improved on that.”
Unlike Obama, McCain does not favor “Net neutrality,” which would prevent Internet providers from establishing separate levels of access to various websites. Rather, his campaign believes that such free access to the Net can be ensured via existing regulation and the FCC.
McCain is willing to step in and push measures that won’t please media congloms. One of his senior advisers, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, recently said in an interview that a McCain presidency would still push “a la carte” options for cable operators, meaning that systems would have to offer a full menu of channels, according to Broadcasting and Cable. But that would entail governmental intrusion into the marketplace, which runs counter to Republican orthodoxy.
Holtz-Eakin said in a C-SPAN interview that such a position was an example of McCain’s view of the “appropriate role of government,” which is to “look out into the landscape and, if you see concentrations of power, find ways to ameliorate the exercise of that power.”