By Mark Weber
In a remarkable but under-reported address, Vice President Joe Biden recently acknowledged that the “immense” and “outsized” Jewish role in the US mass media and cultural life has been the single most important factor in shaping American attitudes over the past century, and in driving major cultural- political changes.
“Jewish heritage has shaped who we are – all of us – as much or more than any other factor in the last 223 years. And that's a fact," Biden told a gathering of Jewish leaders on May 21, 2013, in Washington, DC. “The truth is that Jewish heritage, Jewish culture, Jewish values are such an essential part of who we are that it's fair to say that Jewish heritage is American heritage,” he added.
“Think - behind of all that, I bet you 85 percent of those [social-political] changes, whether it's in Hollywood or social media, are a consequence of Jewish leaders in the industry. The influence is immense, the influence is immense. And, I might add, it is all to the good,” he said. “We talk about it in terms of the incredible accomplishments and contributions” of individual Jews, Biden went on, but it's more profound than that “because the values, the values are so deep and so engrained in American culture, in our Constitution.”
Biden speaks with the awareness and perspective of a seasoned Washington insider. He was a US Senator for 26 years, held important posts in Congress, and was twice a US presidential candidate. Few men have been more deeply involved in national politics, or are more intimately familiar with the realities of power in American public life.
Biden went on to speak of the crucial role played by Jews in the evolution of American jurisprudence, and in that regard mentioned seven Supreme Court justices: Brandeis, Fortas, Frankfurter, Cardozo, Ginsberg, Breyer and Kagan. “You can't talk about the recognition of ... rights in the Constitution without looking at these incredible jurists that we've had.”
Biden might also have mentioned that of the nine current US Supreme Court justices, three are Jewish, and that Jews are vastly overrepresented in other high-level federal, state and city government posts. He could have mentioned that the chairman of the Federal Reserve System, and the mayors of America's three most populous cities – New York, Los Angeles and Chicago – are Jewish.
“The Jewish people have contributed greatly to America. No group has had such an outsized influence per capita,” Biden also said. More specifically, he cited the Jewish role in shaping popular attitudes and in setting policies on race relations, the role of women in society, and “gay rights.” He went on: “You can't talk about the civil rights movement in this country without talking about Jewish freedom riders and Jack Greenberg ... You can't talk about the women's movement without talking about Betty Friedan.” Biden also praised the Jewish community's “embrace of immigration.”
“I believe what affects the [social-political] movements in America, what affects our attitudes in America are as much the culture and the arts as anything else,” said Biden. “It wasn't anything we [politicians] legislatively did,” he went on. “It was [such television shows as] ‘Will and Grace,' it was the social media. Literally. That's what changed peoples' attitudes. That's why I was so certain that the vast majority of people would embrace, and rapidly embrace” same-sex marriage.
Although Jewish clout has been an important fact of American life for decades, this reality is rarely acknowledged openly, especially by a prominent non-Jewish American of Biden's stature. In a society that supposedly strives for “diversity,” “affirmative action” equality, and fairness, the fact that an ethnic-religious group that makes up no more than two percent of the overall population wields greatly disproportionate power and influence is, or should be, a source of embarrassment. Perhaps that explains why Biden's unusually frank remarks received only scant press coverage, and prompted almost no commentary in the mainstream media.
For some Jews, the Vice President's bold statements were actually worrisome. One prominent Jewish journalist wrote that, however gratifying Biden's “very philo-Semitic” remarks might be, such an open acknowledgment of Jewish influence is “wandering into highly uncomfortable terrain.” The Vice President went too far, cautioned Jonathan Chait, especially given that “lots of people” are not at all happy about how “Jews have used their influence over popular culture to change societal attitudes toward homosexuality.”
As Biden mentioned, the Jewish role in shaping attitudes is by no means a recent phenomenon. It was noted, for example, in 1968 by Walter Kerr, a renowned author, director and Pulitzer prize-winning drama critic. Writing in The New York Times, he remarked: “What has happened since World War II is that the American sensibility has become part Jewish, perhaps as much Jewish as anything else ... The literate American mind has come in some measure to think Jewishly. It has been taught to, and it was ready to. After the entertainers and novelists came the Jewish critics, politicians, theologians. Critics and politicians and theologians are by profession molders; they form ways of seeing.”
“It makes no sense at all to try to deny the reality of Jewish power and prominence in popular culture,” wrote Michael Medved, a well-known Jewish author and film critic, in 1996. “Any list of the most influential production executives at each of the major movie studios,” he said, “will produce a heavy majority of recognizably Jewish names.” /4 Joel Stein, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, wrote in 2008: “As a proud Jew, I want America to know about our accomplishment. Yes, we control Hollywood ... I don't care if Americans think we're running the news media, Hollywood, Wall Street or the government. I just care that we get to keep running them.”
While Biden praised the Jewish role in the mass media and popular culture as “all to the good,” some prominent Americans have not been pleased. President Richard Nixon and the Rev. Billy Graham, the nation's best-known Christian evangelist, spoke together frankly about the Jewish grip on the media during a private White House meeting in 1972. Their secretly recorded one-on-one conversation was not made public until 30 years later. During their talk, Graham said: "This stranglehold has got to be broken or the country's going down the drain." The President responded by saying: "You believe that?" Graham replied: "Yes, sir." And Nixon said: "Oh, boy. So do I. I can't ever [publicly] say that, but I believe it."
In the United States, as in every modern society, those who control the mainstream media, and especially motion pictures and television, guide and shape how people, and especially the most socially attuned and culturally fashionable, think about major issues. The mass media, including popular entertainment, sets the limits on “permissible” discussion of important issues, and thereby steers the general direction of public policy. Views and ideas that those who control the media do not approve are vilified as “offensive,” “hateful,” and “divisive,” and are eliminated from “acceptable” public consideration, while anyone who dares to express such views is maligned as bigoted, backward and intolerant.
An important result of the Jewish hold on the US mass media is a broadly pro-Israel slant in the presentation of news, current affairs and history – a bias that is apparent to anyone who carefully compares news coverage of Israel and the Israel-Palestine conflict in the US media with coverage in Europe, Asia or Latin America.
Another noteworthy expression of the Jewish role in the media has been a routinely sympathetic portrayal of Jews as victims, with much emphasis on the “Holocaust” and “Holocaust remembrance,” thereby encouraging strong and emotional support of Israel.
With special attentiveness to Jewish concerns and fears, the American media highlights real and supposed dangers to Israel and Jews around the world. Moreover, Israel's adversaries are routinely portrayed as America's enemies, thereby encouraging US wars against countries that Israel regards as dangerous.
Another important consequence of the Jewish hold on the mass media and cultural life has been – as Vice President Biden suggested – a broad decades-long promotion of cultural-racial “diversity” and “pluralism.” Jewish-Zionist leaders regard maximum “tolerance” and “diversity” in the US and other non-Jewish societies as beneficial to Jewish community interests. /9 “America's pluralistic society is at the heart of Jewish security,” says Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League – a leading Jewish-Zionist organization. “In the long run,” he continues, “what has made American Jewish life a uniquely positive experience in Diaspora history and which has enabled us to be such important allies for the State of Israel, is the health of a pluralistic, tolerant and inclusive American society.”
American motion pictures and television, in collaboration with influential Jewish-Zionist organizations, have for many years sought to persuade Americans – especially younger Americans – to welcome and embrace ever more social, cultural and racial “diversity,” and to regard themselves simply as individuals. While striving to belittle and break down racial, religious, ethnic and cultural identity and cohesion among non-Jewish Americans, the US media promotes a tribalistic nationalism (Zionism) for Jews, and defends Israel as a proudly Jewish ethnic-religious state.
Without an understanding of the Jewish role in the American mass media and US cultural life, major social-political trends over the past century are all but incomprehensible. Vice President Biden's frank acknowledgement of this “immense” clout is a welcome contribution to a greater awareness of this important reality of American life.