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Dragging Hollywood Even Further Left: Participant Media

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Summary: Almost a century ago the film industry was still in its infancy and Russian communist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin predicted he could win the world for Marxism if he could just control the movies. Imagine what might happen if a billionaire, made rich from the fruits of capitalism itself, decided to deploy Lenin’s business model to sell an anti-capitalist environmental agenda? There’s no need to imagine: The reality is here in the form of the American film firm Participant, and the left-wing funding empire of its founder, Jeffrey Skoll.


Crafting clever jokes about Hollywood’s leftism has always been treacherous business because the truth is frequently more absurd than fiction.

For example, way back in 1936 the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League was founded with the honorable purported goal of encouraging President Franklin D. Roosevelt to fight against Adolph Hitler and fascism. It counted among its membership Edward G. Robinson, Henry Fonda, Jack Warner, Spencer Tracy, Lucille Ball, and many more of the American film industry’s finest names. But in truth at least some of them had unwittingly joined a front group of the Communist Party USA, which was little more than a puppet of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

The organization’s slavish devotion to Stalin was exposed on August 24, 1939, the day news broke of the signing of the Nazi-Soviet (Molotov-Ribbentrop) Pact. Literally the next day the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League rebranded itself the Hollywood League for Democratic Action. Within a week Hitler would invade Poland, leading to British and French declarations of war against Germany, but the league (which had swiftly lost many—but not all—of its movie star members) switched sides to preach against American involvement in the “anti-Nazi” war they had once been created to support. Just 22 months later Hitler betrayed Stalin by invading the Soviet Union, causing Hollywood’s hypocritical communist left to make yet another moral U-turn, back to demanding American involvement.

With that in mind . . . Did you hear the joke about the billionaire who purposely built a left-wing film studio because he thought Hollywood wasn’t lefty enough?

Once again, a preposterous punchline cannot be comic because the story is 100 percent true!

Participant Media

Shortly after earning his MBA from Stanford in 1995, Canadian-born Jeffrey Skoll teamed up with eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and became the first president of the online auction website. In 2001, Skoll left the company when he was worth an estimated $2 billion (now $5.5 billion, good for 115th place on the 2020 Forbes 400 list of richest Americans).

In 2004, Skoll founded his film company, Participant Media, since then simplified as merely Participant. A 2013 profile in The Guardian explained Skoll’s mission as producing “blockbusters that feature political or social messages” and that “making movies is just part of Skoll’s new mission, where he invests in . . . progressive causes ranging from social entrepreneurship to fighting climate change.” Speaking of a forthcoming film, Skoll told The Guardian his objective was to “really galvanise world opinion.”

By “galvanise,” Skoll really meant “gin up a public panic around alarmist and exaggerated predictions of Doomsday.” Participant has produced numerous films with this theme, but none so infamous as the first: Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth (2006).

As Skoll tells the story, his eyes “welled up with tears” in 2004 when he moderated a panel discussion where Gore gave a slide show presentation warning of imminent climate catastrophe. Davis Guggenheim, who became the director of An Inconvenient Truth, quotes Skoll’s instructions after seeing the slide show: “I’ll give you the money right now. I’ll write a check today. I want you to start tomorrow.”

An Inconvenient Truth would go on to win the Oscar for “best feature documentary” at the February 2007 Academy Awards ceremony. The next year Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize. But reviews were harsher from those judging the film’s factual accuracy rather than its political correctness.

Some Inconvenient Math

In October 2007, a British judge ruled An Inconvenient Truth had introduced “nine scientific errors” within a “context of alarmism and exaggeration.” A local school official in Britain had become concerned about plans to show the film to students and sued to block the presentation. The judge allowed the screenings to go forward, but with the stipulation that competing and alternative views must be taught alongside the film’s “one sided” and “apocalyptic vision.”

An example of what the judge ruled to be a “distinctly alarmist” claim was the film’s assertion that melting ice in Antarctica and Greenland would result in a 20-foot sea level increase within the “near future.” The film horrifically presented this outcome by showing computer-generated images of South Florida and Manhattan vanishing under the waves.

In truth, NASA’s online “Vital Signs of the Planet” database shows sea level increases since January 1993 to be averaging 3.3 millimeters per year—about one-eighth of an inch. Twenty feet is equivalent to 6,096 millimeters. So, at the current rate of sea level rise the 20-foot surge will be complete not in the “near future,” but after 1,847 years.

Humanity has shown it can accomplish a lot when given two millennia to play with.

To the extent they burned fuel at all, the primitive economies of 1,847 years ago ran mostly on wood and whatever else happened to light on fire. Today, if a climate crisis were deemed dire enough, modern economies could rather painlessly pay their way within a couple of decades to a transition to zero-carbon nuclear energy and plentiful low-carbon natural gas. The inclination of climate alarmists to shun these workable solutions in favor of ponderously playing around with subsidizing unreliable wind and solar energy naturally fuels a healthy skepticism about the real urgency of their concern.

Adaptation to (very) slowly rising seas is also quite doable. Rotterdam, one of Europe’s largest, oldest, and most prosperous cities has been engineered to exist with most of it below sea level—significant parts 15 feet or more below.

So, don’t start building an ark just yet: We have options.

The less-than-panicky truth about sea level increases clearly inspires us to make rational, long-term, yet very affordable changes to energy usage, carbon output, city planning, seawall construction, floodwater diversion, and more. An Inconvenient Truth, on the other hand, is designed to give the children of Miami nightmares about drowning, encourage irrational and hasty economic restrictions, and—apparently—make Jeffrey Skoll cry some more.

Hoo-ray for Hollywood!

While the film was of dubious value for climate awareness, it was quite valuable for Al Gore. His Nobel Prize alone—which he split with another recipient—was worth an estimated $1.4 million.

Ten years later, in May 2016, Gore was conceding nothing about the alarmist holes in his plot:

I wish the film had over-estimated the seriousness of the crisis, but unfortunately it actually underestimated how serious it is. But on the positive side, solutions are now being developed so quickly that there is real cause for hope and optimism.

Gore had an ongoing interest in keeping that panic fog machine humming along. The following year (2017), Participant released An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power . . . also starring Al Gore.

And that’s just a couple of boxcars from Gore’s much longer Skoll gravy train. The Capital Research Center’s InfluenceWatch profile of Skoll demonstrates 65 million more reasons why Gore might not want to discover less-than-catastrophic news about the climate:

In addition, the Climate Reality Project (formerly the Alliance for Climate Protection) has received at least $65 million in direct funding from Skoll’s three foundations during donor years 2007 through 2018. Founded and led by Gore, the Climate Reality Project promotes environmentalist approaches to reducing climate change and opposes the use of conventional energy sources including gasoline, natural gas and coal. According to the charitable recordkeeping service FoundationSearch, this is almost half (48.2 percent) of total foundation donations given to the Climate Reality Project for those years.


In the next installment of “Dragging Hollywood Even Further Left,” learn about the left-wing funding of Participant Media.

Ken Braun

Ken Braun is CRC’s senior investigative researcher and authors profiles for and the Capital Research magazine. He previously worked for several free market policy organizations, spent six…
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