Wolverine vs. ISIS? Secretary Kerry Chats With Hollywood to ‘Counter’ Islamic State

Posted: 2:42 am EDT
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Via the Daily Press Briefing:

QUESTION: And then – I’m wondering if you can give us any more detail at all about this meeting that the Secretary had out in Hollywood with these film studio executives. He, in his tweet, said that he was there hearing perspectives and ideas on how to counter the Daesh narrative, and I’m just wondering if you can be more specific. I mean, is – was he asking their advice on how to do this, or was he suggesting things? I mean —

MR TONER: Sure. I think —

QUESTION: Does this – is he looking for the next Wolverine movie to be Wolverine vs. ISIS? What’s the —

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, flanked by Universal Filmed Entertainment Group Chairman Jeff Shell, meets with a group of movie industry executives during a visit to Universal Studios in Burbank, California, on February 16, 2016. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, flanked by Universal Filmed Entertainment Group Chairman Jeff Shell, meets with a group of movie industry executives during a visit to Universal Studios in Burbank, California, on February 16, 2016. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

MR TONER: I mean, kidding aside –

QUESTION: What was it? No, no, I’m not —

MR TONER: No, no, of course. I mean, look, he – it was – he had the chance to meet with a number of senior executives in the entertainment industry. I mean, these are the people, I think, widely recognized who are some of the best communicators out there, and they run a highly profitable industry that is expert at conveying messages to a worldwide audience. So I think he sought their – not I think – he sought their perspectives and input about how the United States and the rest of the coalition – the anti-Daesh coalition – can better counter the propaganda that’s being put forward by ISIL.

I mean, a lot of it was a discussion and a give-and-take on what’s – what they think works and what doesn’t work. And I can’t – I don’t want to get into the details because it was just an introductory meeting, but I think it’s – I think the Secretary felt it was worthwhile to have the opportunity to meet with these folks and get their input on what they think is an effective strategy.

QUESTION: Okay. So he was soliciting them on ideas about how to counter their messaging, not the other way around? He wasn’t saying, “Hey listen, we think it would be a great idea if you guys did X, X, and X to help in the —

MR TONER: No, no. I think – I mean, look, no, no. I think he was seeking their perspectives on our own efforts to counter Daesh and ISIL in terms of messaging.

QUESTION: Okay. Well, but you’re not planning on, like, outsourcing the whole CVE message to Hollywood film studios, are you?

MR TONER: No, no, gosh. But I think – I mean, it’s important that they’re part of this conversation. I mean, they’re – again, they have more so than diplomats and even public diplomacy professionals like myself. I freely admit that folks in Hollywood and Silicon Valley and – who are – who are really experts in conveying messages, whether it’s through film or through entertainment, are worthwhile to listen to and to seek – we should be seeking their advice on how we can do our job better.


QUESTION: Can you cite an example where actually Hollywood and the government were able to sort of coordinate together to have a powerful message or film done, I mean, in the past? Is there anything —


QUESTION: World War II, okay.

MR TONER: John Huston.

QUESTION: Since World War II, I was going to say.

MR TONER: But no, that’s okay. I mean, it’s —

QUESTION: Since World War II. I mean, during the Vietnam War —

QUESTION: Vietnam, yes.

QUESTION: — I mean, there was the Green Berets, for instance.


QUESTION: Or Top Gun or something.



QUESTION: This is going – can we move on to something a little bit more —

MR TONER: No, I – no, no. Yeah, I mean —

QUESTION: Is he going to have more meetings with these people?

MR TONER: Again, I don’t want to say that yesterday they were inking deals on movies that will come out. All he was doing was he was taking advantage of the fact that he was there just outside of Hollywood in LA where the movie industry exists. He wanted to seek their input on how we can message better.

QUESTION: All right.

MR TONER: I mean, these guys, as I said, are professional —

QUESTION: You did say it was an introductory meeting. So are —

MR TONER: It was an introductory meeting, exactly.

QUESTION: So are there – is this going to be —

MR TONER: I have nothing to announce, but I think – it was a first meeting. I think it would we —

QUESTION: So there will be a sequel?

MR TONER: — we would like to see more.

QUESTION: Sequel. (Laughter.)

Variety reported that the meeting was organized by Jeff Shell, who is chair of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG). Those in attendance were identified by Variety as Jeff Shell, who is also chairman of Universal Filmed Entertainment Group; MPAA Chairman Chris Dodd; Warner Bros. Entertainment CEO Kevin Tsujihara; DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg; 20th Century Fox Chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos; 20th Century Fox Co-Chair Stacey Snider; Sean Bailey, president of Walt Disney Motion Picture Production; Universal Pictures Chairman Donna Langley; Tom Rothman, chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Motion Picture Group; Universal Pictures President Jimmy Horowitz; Amblin Partners CEO Michael Wright; and NBCUniversal Vice Chairman Ron Meyer.  Rick Stengel, under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs (the new Charlotte Beers), reportedly suggested that they set up a meeting with Secretary Kerry in Los Angeles after the summit with Asian leaders in Palm Springs.

Just days before this meeting, University of Chicago researchers told ABC News that terrorists are taking pages from a Hollywood playbook to recruit new members in Chicago and across the U.S.  Apparently, the “creators of these propaganda videos are following a famous 12-step Hollywood guide on how to tell the story of a hero — a scripting formula used for decades in blockbuster movies including “Titanic,” “Wizard of Oz” and the first “Star Wars.”

Also last fall, when Hollywood was first talked about:




One response

  1. So, what is also happening here is this — for most of President Obama’s term, the White House has been embarrassed by mismanagement and incompetence at the BBG. Indeed, Obama has given only one interview to Voice of America.

    Indeed, the agency now faces a $400 million civil lawsuit brought by contractors, a result of years of ignoring federal government guidelines (see http://bbgwatch.com/bbgwatch/bbg-contract-employees-400m-class-action-complaint-exclusive/)

    There was intensifying skepticism about the actual effectiveness and reach of agency programming, one reason Obama advisers chose to make more use of You Tube and numerous other social media channels than they did of VOA and other BBG outlets.

    At the agency, whose purpose and existence most Americans don’t understand anyway, some journalists (making up a small percentage of all employees) resisted actions aimed at intensifying
    CVE (Counter Violent Extremism) programming.

    The new BBG CEO John Lansing, as well as Shell and others, go around talking about how “honest journalism” can indeed play a role in helping the CVE effort, pandering to the administration as well as to the journalist corps in the agency.

    On one hand, officials assure government-paid rank and file staff that they shouldn’t worry about
    being ordered to pursue the CVE agenda. On the other, in formal sessions officials such as Shell talk of broadcasters being “a perfect vehicle to counter ISIS.”

    In a recent Washington Times interview, Shell held out an offering bowl to Congress asking for more funding to, as he put it, “compete with our adversaries, and help BBG “challenge violent Islamic extremists spreading their propaganda online.”

    Another line from Shell that irked BBG journalists was: “We’re in the business of trying to influence people to feel better about America.” That’s quite an agenda, and not a purely journalistic one.

    At the very least, enactment of reform legislation would establish a new stepping off point, and provide absolute clarity from Congress as to what mission lawmakers expect government-paid civil servants to carry out.

    Taxpayers should not foot an annual bill (BBG’s FY2017 request if $778 million) to keep alive endless debates about the struggle between public diplomacy and journalism, or to support a BBG rehabilitation project that is likely to stretch on for decades.

    But as the articles about Kerry’s meeting with Hollywood executives makes clear, for the time being and with only a year left, the administration has basically attempted to do an end run around BBG to generate support in the private sector for counter-ISIS efforts.

    So, we have an interesting picture. Shell, the BBG chairman, plays interesting roles. He is Hollywood through and through (seen sitting at a center table during the Golden Globes), yet leads what has been one of the most dysfunctional of government agencies where he both talks up honest journalism” and seeks to expand BBG CVE and counter-ISIS programming.

    Shell and others lobby members of Congress to cancel bipartisan legislation aimed at re-structuring the agency so the BBG’s budget — which includes anti-Internet censorship funding — can be enlarged, despite ongoing questions about the legitimacy of agency claims of expanded effectiveness.

    By the way, anyone interested in the history of the power that BBG chairmen have wielded over the decades should take a look at the example of the late Ken Tomlinson, who at one point headed both the BBG and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).