Hollywood Grapples With Fear, Dismay Over Prospect of Trump Presidency

Ted Johnson
Variety

In Washington and Los Angeles, entertainment industry donors and lobbyists were trying to grasp the reality of a Donald Trump presidency.

The industry, from studio chiefs to A-list stars to some union reps, had placed its bet on Hillary Clinton defeating Trump.

“I was with Al Gore the night the Supreme Court took the presidency away from him. Never thought I could be more devastated. Until now,” Rob Reiner, who endorsed Clinton and raised money for her, tweeted.

One campaign bundler, who did not want to be identified, described the mood in one word: “fear.”

“The question is who did we elect? What is he going to do? What was the rhetoric and what was real?” the bundler said. “We’re going to find out.”

Ken Solomon, the president of the Tennis Channel, said, “Donald Trump’s roots as real estate deal maker, marketer and celebrity meant job one was always to win at any cost. Now that he has captured the White House, by dramatic and shocking means, and we must wait to see which Trump we have really elected.  Dealmakers generally become pragmatists, not ideologues after they win.  Let us hope this is the President Trump we get.”

The transition of power in Washington not only leaves Obama administration officials and Democratic lobbyists scrambling to determine their next move, as sought-after jobs no longer will materialize, but it likely will change the mood of the city as well. It had been a growth spurt during the Obama years, and had started to shed its stodgy reputation for something cooler. No one knows what to expect now.

MPAA chairman Chris Dodd, who is friends with Bill and Hillary Clinton, opposed Trump’s candidacy, and moguls like Disney CEO Robert Iger and 21st Century Fox’s James Murdoch contributed to Clinton’s campaign. Haim Saban, majority owner of Univision, was one of her top campaign donors.

Trump’s presidency also holds ramifications for the entertainment industry — and not necessarily for the better. That is despite the notion that Republicans usher in a hands-off policy on regulation.

For the entertainment industry, Trump’s incoming administration holds ramifications for major transactions, like the AT&T-Time Warner deal, which he quickly opposed when it was announced.

The massive Trans Pacific Partnership, which would bring uniformity in copyright terms and other anti-piracy measures to a host of Pacific Rim nations, appears dead. Trump and Clinton each opposed the TPP, but there had been some hope that it had a chance of passage during the lame-duck session. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on Wednesday that he would not bring it up this year.

But there is also worry in the industry that Trump will pursue protectionist trade policies that will jeopardize the entertainment industry’s ability to open up markets, including China and its film quota.

Under prospect for repeal are the FCC’s net neutrality rules, either by the Republican-controlled agency starting a new proceeding or by act of Congress. Both are entirely possible.

Trump said that his opposition to AT&T and Time Warner was because of his concern over too much concentration of media in one place — and he also was a frequent basher of CNN. But he himself cannot block that deal. That would take ensuring that his Department of Justice appoints an antitrust chief willing to find a legal rationale to block it in court, or to change antitrust laws themselves.

Others stressed the apolitical nature of additional issues. Cary Sherman, the chairman and CEO of the Recording Industry Assn. of America, put out a statement in which he said, “If there’s one thing we know for sure, it’s that music is bipartisan and beloved by all. We look forward to working with the incoming Administration and members to help keep music an integral part of people’s lives.”

Perhaps most disconcerting for media companies has been how Trump would treat press and creative freedoms.

Also uncertain is if Trump’s attacks on the media could translate into legal action or threats to First Amendment freedoms. Trump had threatened to “open up” libel laws as he complained on the campaign trail about the way that news outlets were covering him. He also threatened to take legal action against news outlets like the New York Times, but he has yet to file a claim.

It wasn’t just the news media. During the campaign, he bashed “Saturday Night Live” and called it a “hit job.” “Media rigging election!” he wrote on Twitter.

“No one knows what to expect,” said Ted Boutrous, a First Amendment attorney for Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. “Mr. Trump has shown that he is chameleon-like. Maybe we will get lucky and the next version of himself will respect the rule of law.”

Could this be payback time? Few were ruling it out.

On Election Night, Omarosa Manigault, the former “Apprentice” contestant who campaigned for Trump, told the IJReview that his administration will keep a list of Republican enemies who opposed him.

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