Conservatives quick to opine on Brokeback Mountain's "agenda," slow to actually see film

››› ››› SAM GILL & ANNA DIMOND

Several television and radio commentators have either hosted debates or openly questioned what they claim are the insidiously progressive goals of the award-winning film Brokeback Mountain, yet many of the same commentators openly admit they have not seen it.

Several commentators on television and radio have either hosted debates or openly questioned what they have claimed are the insidiously progressive goals of director Ang Lee's award-winning film Brokeback Mountain (Focus Features, 2005). But how many of them have actual seen the film? Some media personalities and conservative guests feel free to opine on the film's purported "agenda" to "mainstream homosexuality," while openly admitting they have not seen it.

More than one panel discussing both the merits and cultural implications of the film has featured conservative guests whose knowledge of the film extended merely to what they had read or seen about it. While it is not clear whether MSNBC's Joe Scarborough has seen the film, he has twice featured debates on his show, Scarborough Country, about whether the film advanced Hollywood's "radical agenda." On the December 15 edition of his program, for example, he hosted Catholic League president William A. Donohue, who admitted he had not seen it, opposite US Weekly senior editor Bradley Jacobs, who said he had. On the show, Donohue said he planned to see King Kong (Universal Studios, 2005) instead, asserting, "I suspect the people who make these kind of movies, though -- like gay cowboy -- would go to see a movie called 'The Gay Gorilla,' " explaining: "[T]hat's the difference between Hollywood and mainstream."

Other networks have displayed a similar pattern. CNN's Larry King Live dedicated the entire January 17 edition of its show to "the debate over gay love and gay marriage" thanks to "Brokeback Mountain's big night at the Golden Globes." Of the four guests, the two social conservatives -- radio host Janet Parshall and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president R. Albert Mohler Jr. -- admitted to not having seen the film. Mohler said that he had read the screenplay and "know[s]" the original short story. Parshall imputed the "chatter" surrounding the film to "the homosexualizing of America."

Fox News constitutes no exception to the trend. On a December 17 Fox News Watch panel that included Fox News host Eric Burns, media writer Neal Gabler, Fox News contributor Jane Hall, Fox News political analyst Jim Pinkerton, and nationally syndicated columnist and Fox News host Cal Thomas, only Pinkerton had seen the film -- still in limited release at the time -- because he "was ordered to see it by Fox News." Yet, Burns felt qualified to ask, "[S]houldn't this movie be more controversial than it is?" and Thomas called it "a wet kiss ... to the gay community." In an appearance on the January 2 edition of Special Report with Brit Hume, syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer apparently felt the film -- along with Cuban President Fidel Castro and Iran -- merited one of his three 2006 predictions, prognosticating: "Brokeback Mountain will have been seen in the theaters by 18 people -- but the right 18 -- and will win the Academy Award." He did not specify who the "right 18" were, nor did he clarify which Academy Award the film would receive.

Some news hosts have also voiced concerns over the film's message and purpose while acknowledging that they haven't actually seen it. Fox News' Bill O'Reilly has discussed the film at least eight times on his nationally syndicated radio show, The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly, and his cable news show, The O'Reilly Factor. He repeatedly insists that has no plans to see it -- "I want to watch the highlights of the game, not the pup tent" -- but remains adamant that the film wins critical praise because the media "want[s] to mainstream homosexual conduct." John Gibson has joined in on the act, asking a guest on the December 9 edition of his Fox News show, The Big Story with John Gibson, "Which is harder to watch, the pulling out the fingernails of Syriana (Warner Bros, 2005) or [actors] Heath [Ledger] and Jake [Gyllenhaal] enamorada in this?" After he said he received criticism for the remark, Gibson defended his comparison between same-sex relations and torture, stating:

GIBSON: Hollywood may, in fact, want to give every Oscar it can find to the first gay cowboy movie. But I think most people do not want to go into a darkened room with a tub of popcorn and munch away watching two guys get it on. I just don't.

[...]

I had one prominent writer say he wouldn't come on my radio show because I made hate-encouraging speech when I said I couldn't figure out which was going to be harder to watch, the guys smooching in Brokeback or [former CIA operative] Bob Bear getting his fingernails ripped out in Syriana.

I said, hey, I know people who are gay. I have nothing against them, but I don't want to see this movie.

Finally, MSNBC's Tucker Carlson, who hadn't seen the movie but "heard it's good," argued on the January 17 edition of The Situation with Tucker Carlson: "[A]t some point, Hollywood should give up its mission as a kind of, you know, evangelist for a political persuasion and just shut up and make the movie."

From the December 15 edition of MSNBC's Scarborough County:

DONOHUE: Well, I heard that from other people that it is, artistically, a good movie.

So, I haven't -- going to see it. Gay cowboy doesn't interest me. I am going to go see King Kong. I suspect the people who make these kind of movies, though -- like gay cowboy -- would go to see a movie called 'The Gay Gorilla'. But that's the difference between Hollywood and mainstream.

From the January 17 edition of CNN's Larry King Live:

PARSHALL: No, I didn't see the film and I'm not at all surprised that out of seven [Golden Globe] nominations Brokeback walked away with four -- and some might say that's an indication of what the Oscar ceremonies might look like later on this year.

KING: Why would you comment on it if you haven't seen it?

PARSHALL: Well, I'm interested in all of the buzz around the film. I'm not the least bit surprised that we're hearing so much chatter. After all, I think what we're witnessing, Larry, is the homosexualizing of America.

[...]

MOHLER: I've not seen the movie, Larry, and that's a matter of decision, not just a matter of chance. Like others, I don't feel any need to see the movie. I have read the screenplay. I know the short story and, of course, I know what the movie is about because it's out there so much in the media.

That's the main issue. I am not a movie critic. I really can't speak to the cinematography. I can just speak to what the cultural meaning of this film is and why I see it as a great challenge.

KING: Didn't the short story move you at all?

MOHLER: Well, no, actually --

KING: For example, you're a reverend. Didn't you have some compassion for what happened to the younger one of the two?

MOHLER: Well, absolutely. You have to feel compassion when anyone feels pain and when anyone goes through that kind of struggle. But, you know, I really am horrified to think about where that story ended.

You know, my main concern, Larry, is not with the gospel of heterosexuality -- even though I think that's very important -- it's with the gospel of Jesus Christ, and what I find lacking in the movie, the screenplay, and in the short story is any resolution that really brings these persons to know why they were created and how God really intends them to live, and how they would find their greatest satisfaction in living just as God had intended them for his glory.

From the December 17 edition of Fox News Watch:

GABLER: Well, on the one side, Hollywood is going to say, "It's a litmus test for tolerance toward - toward homosexuals." And on the right-wing side, if indeed they take the bait, they're going to attack the movie and say, "This is another way of -- of advancing the so-called homosexual agenda."

THOMAS: Well, let me take the bait. But I won't go in the direction you're thinking of.

I've been reading the reviews on this, and they're really interesting. You compare this movie with, for example, [The Chronicles of Narnia:] The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, [Walt Disney Pictures and Walden Media, 2005] which just premiered two weeks ago, took in $67 million in its first weekend. Now, we were treated prior to the release of the Narnia movie to all kinds of columns, including by Peter Steinfeld's in The New York Times and other mainstream venues, that this had a subliminal religious message. Lock up your children! They might see Jesus! Oh my goodness, it's terrible what's going on out there. And that's the kind of coverage and reviews that they got.

This thing -- breaking new ground, a love story -- you should go see it. So the difference has an agenda attached to it.

[...]

With the way Hollywood covers religion, it is stereotypical and outrageous. The movie Saved! [MGM/United Artists Studios, 2004] was about a hypocritical, oversexed, (inaudible) kids in high school; an unbelievable bigoted thing. This thing is a -- is a wet kiss, you should pardon the expression, to the gay community.

From the January 2 edition of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume:

JIM ANGLE (Fox News chief Washington correspondent): I'm joined by our all-star panel, with or without crystal balls, to find out what they expect to see in this coming year. Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, Mort Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call, and the syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer, Fox News contributors all.

OK. 2006, Charles, what do you see?

KRAUTHAMMER: I see, number one, Fidel Castro dies. I say this not with any inside medical information as a doctor but he's actuarially due. Cuba becomes a free country and a decent one and a favorite American resort.

Number two, Iran reaches the point of no return in uranium enrichment, declares openly it's going to seek and acquire nuclear weapons. [United Nations] Security Council will do absolutely nothing.

To balance the bad news, number three, the [President Bashar Al-] Assad dictatorship in Syria will be overthrown.

And last but not least, Brokeback Mountain will have been seen in the theaters by 18 people, but the right 18, and will win the Academy Award.

ANGLE: Brokeback Mountain, the movie about gay cowboys.

KRAUTHAMMER: Exactly.

From the December 14 broadcast of Westwood One's The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly:

O'REILLY: Okay. You know, it's interesting because the polls show that Americans are going back to church in greater numbers than they were 10 years ago. But I believe that there's a segment of Americans that have -- are rebelling against the no boundaries deal, and they're so fed up that they said, "You know, maybe there's another way," and that's why that's happening.

But in popular culture, things are getting worse. You know, I can give you -- I could sit here and give you examples all day. Let me just give you this example, and this is a controversial example. This gay cowboy movie -- and it's going to win, you know, a lot of awards all over -- and their -- the media is pushing this like crazy. And I couldn't care less about it, to tell you the truth.

I probably will not go to see it, you know, just because I don't care about gay cowboys. I mean, it's -- to be quite frank. If it were straight cowboys, I probably wouldn't go to see it. I saw a lot of cowboys when I was a little kid, I loved the cowboys then. Right now, cowboys don't really mean much to me. So, probably not going to go and see it.

But you're going to see, over the next month, this movie being pushed and pushed and pushed by every media you can imagine. Why? Because they want to mainstream homosexual conduct. That's the goal.

And from the January 17 broadcast of The Radio Factor with Bill O'Reilly:

O'REILLY: And I get a kick out of Brokeback Mountain. I get a kick -- I'm not going to go see it, because people have seen it. [Legal analyst] Lis Wiehl said it was boring. But if it were -- you know -- if I had gotten good reviews from the people I know who have seen it, I'd go. But, you know, I'm not really interested in sheep herders. They got two sheep herders and two guys, and they're in Montana. I like Montana. Or Wyoming. Maybe, they cross the border here and there. I don't know.

But they're in the tent together rolling around. It's not -- you know, to me -- I want to watch ESPN. OK. I'm not -- the pup tent rolling around -- I want to watch the highlights of the game, not the pup tent. Just me. You want to go? Go. All right.

From the December 9 edition of Fox News' The Big Story with John Gibson:

GIBSON: Do you have a sense that this is a -- you know -- an agenda film, that somebody decides we got to make a movie about gay cowboys?

[...]

Which is harder to watch, the pulling out the fingernails of Syriana or Heath and Jake enamorada in this?

And the January 2 edition of The Big Story with John Gibson:

GIBSON: My Word. I've been getting no small amount of grief about the fact that I've been making fun of Brokeback Mountain, the gay cowboy movie. I've been making fun of it because it seems to me to be a movie in defiance of its audience.

I don't think it's going to be a box office hit. It will make no money, at least in Hollywood terms. I'm sure it will be a critical hit. Hollywood may, in fact, want to give every Oscar it can find to the first gay cowboy movie.

But I think most people do not want to go into a darkened room with a tub of popcorn and munch away watching two guys get it on. I just don't.

I had one prominent writer say he wouldn't come on my radio show because I made hate-encouraging speech when I said I couldn't figure out which was going to be harder to watch, the guys smooching in Brokeback or Bob Bear getting his fingernails ripped out in Syriana.

I said, hey, I know people who are gay. I have nothing against them, but I don't want to see this movie.

From the January 17 edition of MSNBC's The Situation with Tucker Carlson, which featured radio host Rachel Maddow:

CARLSON: I'm not attacking any of these pictures or shows on artistic merit. I haven't seen Brokeback Mountain, but I've heard it's good. But the point is: Isn't it about time that art was made for art's sake? A; B: Is it not true that Hollywood does have completely different values than most of the rest of America and seeks to use its art to shove those values down the throats of the rest of America? That's just true, whether you agree with the values or not.

MADDOW: How is Brokeback Mountain not art for art's sake? You're saying that it was driven by a political agenda and it's -- therefore, that overwhelms its artistic achievements?

CARLSON: No, I'm actually not saying that. I haven't seen it, and I've heard its artistic achievements are impressive

MADDOW: Right.

CARLSON: And so, you can -- I think you can enjoy it for its own sake. I am merely saying it is used by people with a political agenda -- in this case, its own director -- to make a political point. And it just seems to me, at some point, Hollywood should give up its mission as a kind of, you know, evangelist for a political persuasion and just shut up and make the movie.

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