Now we’re getting to the really important geopolitical stuff! One of the diplomatic cables in WikiLeaks was titled “David Letterman: Agent of Influence,” and claimed that regular old American television was proving to be much more effective propaganda in Saudi Arabia than the nation’s al-Hurra, a U.S.-funded news channel (that has possibly cost U.S. taxpayers $500 million). Over some Starbucks coffee in Jeddah (how many venti lattes do you think the State Department pays for in a given month?), two Saudi media executives explained to diplomats that “the American programming on MBC and Rotana [a channel part-owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, that broadcasts Fox News] is winning over ordinary Saudis in a way that al-Hurra and other US propaganda never could.”
According to the cable, diplomats consider the following to be particularly effective programming: “two mawkish US dramas (again with Arabic subtitles) featuring respectful, supportive American husbands dealing with spouses suffering from addiction problems — in one case gambling (lost the kids’ college funds and then told her college professor husband it was because he was boring) and the other alcohol (smashing cars and china when she wasn’t assaulting the husband and child.) These films and others broadcast over the Eid [holiday] offer models of supportive behavior in relationships, as well as exemplary illustrations of heroic honesty in the face of corruption (George Clooney’s Michael Clayton) and respect for the law over self-interest (Al Pacino and Robin Williams’ Insomnia.)” We are genuinely relieved to hear that programs about ill-behaved Americans and Robin Williams are being interpreted in forgiving ways (it really helps quell our anxiety about the international syndication of My Super Sweet 16), but we still intuit that the State Department should do all it can to keep Patch Adams from international broadcast.