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John Kerry sits down with Hollywood’s message machine

Mark Garrison Feb 17, 2016
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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry talked with Hollywood executives Tuesday about using compelling stories to fight ISIS.
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Secretary of State John Kerry thinks Hollywood studio chiefs are worth listening to in the fight against ISIS. He met with top Hollywood executives Tuesday, where they exchanged ideas. ISIS is gaining followers in part by telling a compelling story, especially online. The U.S. wants to undercut ISIS with a different narrative, so it’s turning to master storytellers for advice.

“We want to get Hollywood involved,” said Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Rick Stengel, who was in the meeting. “There’s nobody better in the world at storytelling than Hollywood.”

Previous administrations have also made a point of reaching out to Hollywood. George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove met with Hollywood execs after 9/11. In World War II, collaboration went well beyond brainstorming. Historian Kathryn Cramer Brownell points to patriotic short films that aired before features, messages about buying war bonds and supporting the effort that were often paid for by studios.

Some of this is Hollywood bosses wanting to do what they can to take down a nasty enemy: Hitler then, ISIS now. But they’re also running businesses. Being helpful to the government could mean a more favorable hearing for their views down the road.

“What Hollywood cares about are things like copyright, piracy and every other way to protect its revenue stream,” said Marty Kaplan, director of USC’s Norman Lear Center, who was previously a Disney exec and White House speechwriter.

Global business issues also came up in Tuesday’s meeting with Kerry. And sitting there with the studio heads was Chris Dodd, Hollywood’s top lobbyist. Hollywood loves a fight against a villain. If going after it helps the bottom line, even better.

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