Monday, February 21, 2005


I was reading Kathleen Parker's column on Sunday, and noticed this:
Nevertheless, I come not to praise Winn-Dixie, but to note a certain cultural shift taking place under the discreet directorship of unassuming billionaire Philip Anschutz — invariably appearing in print as "Christian billionaire Phil Anschutz" — whose Walden Media co-produced "Winn-Dixie" with Twentieth Century Fox.

I've heard that name before, I thought. And sure enough: a couple of weeks back, I'd noticed Anschutz after reading this piece from Media Matters.

Anschutz, it turns out, is a hard-right evangelical in the mold of Richard Scaife, though apparently somewhat less sinister. The Media Matters article ref'ed above provides a succinct analysis of the concerns around Anschutz:
Anschutz has a history of supporting socially conservative causes. According to a recent Post article, Anschutz's family foundation gave James Dobson, the founder of the conservative Christian organization Focus on the Family, an award for his "contributions to the American Family." The Post noted that according to the foundation's website, Focus on the Family works to "counter the media-saturating message that homosexuality is inborn and unchangeable" and that one of the group's policy experts referred to abortion as an example of when "Satan temporarily succeeds in destroying God's creation." Further, as the Post mentioned, Anschutz contributed $10,000 in 1992 to Colorado Family Values in support of the group's efforts to pass a state constitutional amendment to invalidate state and local laws that prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation. (The referendum passed, but the United States Supreme Court struck it down as unconstitutional.) According to the Post, "Anschutz's money helped pay for an ad campaign that said such anti-bias laws gave gays and lesbians 'special rights.'"

In May 2003, the Orange County Weekly reported that other Anschutz Foundation beneficiaries include the Institute for American Values, which according to the Weekly "campaigns against single parenting," and Enough is Enough, which "promotes Internet censorship." The San Francisco Chronicle noted on February 20, 2004, that Anschutz also funds Morality in Media. As Media Matters previously noted, the Institute for American Values also receives funding from the conservative Bradley and Scaife foundations, as well as grants from the John M. Olin Foundation, another major financer of conservative organizations. Enough is Enough and Morality in Media have also received funding from the conservative Castle Rock Foundation.

Ordinarily, this wouldn't be such a worry. But Anschutz has recently acquired a number of media properties, including the San Francisco Examiner, Regal Cinemas and the D.C. United soccer team, and launched others, such as the Washington Examiner, a free daily "commuter" newspaper.

In addition to all that, as the Washington Post explains,
Anschutz took on movie making, too. In 2000, he formed a film production company, Crusader Entertainment -- recently renamed Bristol Bay Productions. "He believes there is a huge untapped market for things families can do together. That doesn't mean it's a family values agenda," said James Monaghan, an Anschutz spokesman. "He found in raising his [three] kids there is not a lot of things he could go to with them."

As a producer, Anschutz has a clear idea of what he wants his films to say, said Angelo Pizzo, a screenwriter Crusader hired to write what Pizzo called "a family-friendly inspirational soccer movie." Pizzo, who penned hits such as "Hoosiers," and "Rudy," said Anschutz called him several times, including late at night, with suggestions. "His concern is not the craft. It's the points made, in terms of the message," Pizzo said. "He cares about sending a positive inspirational message to young people."

Yet another Anschutz venture is Walden Media, which is how Parker comes to praise him. She's a fan of the movies he's helped create.

And who wouldn't be? "Holes," "Ray," "Because of Winn-Dixie": most of those you really could take the whole family to see. So far, as his spokesman says, if Anschutz has an agenda, he's kept it pretty much to himself.

What bothers me is this, from Parker's piece:
Cultures aren't created or debased in a day, or a halftime show. Jackson was merely a focal point, a place to direct rage long simmering among responsible grown-ups bereft of options as they struggle to protect children against the sweep of raunch.

Anschutz, too, was one such adult, but he had an idea how to change the culture.

Buy it.

Ay, there's the rub. I don't begrudge the man his money, or his willingness to make movies that are not laden with sex and violence. Heaven knows we could use a few more like that.

But do we really want a single, very private billionaire charting the course of our culture? Do we want someone who has no accountability to anyone to have such leverage over what we see and hear as a nation?

Look at Anschutz's history: in 1967, he was facing financial ruin when a newly-purchased oil rig caught fire. Anschutz had a quick inspiration: he sold Hollywood the rights to film the fire, then paid the legendary Red Adair to come and put it out. That made him $100,000 and set him on his way to future success.

As brilliant as that was, had Adair been busy that day, or John Wayne not making a movie about fighting fire at the time, Anschutz would have been out of business.

So for one good decision, he gets to play an outsized role in the economy, laws, and culture? What's wrong with this picture?

What's wrong is that there are no little people in the picture.

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