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“The following post is sponsored by our partner, Paramount Pictures,” reads the message atop a blog item at National Review Online that introduces a trailer for 13 Hours: Secret Soldiers of Benghazi.
The post, from publisher Jack Fowler, reveals that he attended a screening of the Paramount Pictures movie shortly after Christmas and, he tells his conservative audience, it’s “awesome.”
“I’ve seen it, and can’t wait to see it again, with my friends, and my sons,” he writes.
Fowler declined to discuss the publication’s arrangement with Paramount, though it is just one of many initiatives pursued by the studio to reach right-leaning moviegoers, including those who blame then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and even President Barack Obama for the death of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya, on Sep. 11, 2012.
Paramount, along with director Michael Bay and the other filmmakers, have maintained that 13 Hours is apolitical, but a marketing campaign aimed largely at conservatives indicates they know what they have: a movie that will appeal to red states far more than blue ones. Tracking, in fact, bears this out: Prerelease surveys show the film has the least traction in liberal areas of the Northeast and Northwest.
Even the film’s Tuesday night premiere, held at AT&T Stadium (home of the Dallas Cowboys), seemed to be aimed at the right. Beyond Bay, star John Krasinski and other castmembers, there were performances by The Band Perry, a country act, and Madison Rising, a patriotic group whose rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” closes Dinesh D’Souza’s film America (which clearly targeted conservatives). About 32,000 people attended the premiere, and each was asked to donate $1 to a veteran’s charity with Paramount promising to match the total collected.
“Movies that honor the military, like Lone Survivor, definitely do better in Texas, Arizona and Nevada than in San Francisco and New York,” Paramount vice chairman Rob Moore tells The Hollywood Reporter. “This film has those same elements of military heroism — elements that appeal to a conservative audience.”
The same day as the premiere, Townhall.com — owned by conservative talk-radio leader Salem Media — published an exclusive interview with Krasinski that appeared alongside articles by such right-leaning pundits as Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin and John Stossel.
“The political nature of what’s happened has really overshadowed the human story of these six guys,” Krasinski told Townhall’s Cortney O’Brien in the three-minute video.
Salem radio personality (and GOP debate moderator) Hugh Hewitt not only wrote about the film (he called it “simply and completely an indictment” of the incompetency of the Obama administration) but will also have 13 Hours producer Erwin Stoff on his show Thursday. Earlier, Salem host Dennis Prager had on his show Kris “Tanto” Paronto, one of the former CIA contractors who fought in Benghazi that night, and he called the film “very accurate.”
Paramount’s outreach includes buying time at Fox News, where an ad for 13 Hours appeared after the network’s coverage of Obama’s State of the Union Address on Tuesday. Another commercial will run on Fox Business Network after the Republican primary debate Thursday night.
The studio also supplied Fox News behind-the-scenes footage that host Megyn Kelly will use for a Kelly File special set to air Monday night on her top-rated show. Prior to that, Paramount arranged for Kelly to interview three of the real-life heroes portrayed in the film: John “Tig” Tiegen, Mark “Oz” Geist and Paronto. “Breaking tonight: A Kelly File exclusive,” says the host, “on the gripping new film that may pose a threat to Hillary Clinton’s hopes for the White House.”
To be sure, the same three also appeared on the more mainstream broadcast shows, like Good Morning America and Nightline (and they were at the premiere in Texas), but they’ve also been on Sean Hannity’s radio show and other outlets that are clearly conservative.
“They’ve done a number of talk show appearances and interviews with journalists who are more conservative in their worldview, because that’s certainly the audience for this movie,” says Moore.
It’s Fox News, though, that has been all over 13 Hours, which is to be expected, since it was the network working hardest to advance the notion that Benghazi was an orchestrated terrorist attack and not — as Clinton and others from the Obama administration claimed initially — a spontaneous uprising over a YouTube video that insulted Islam. Beyond Kelly, FNC personalities Brian Kilmeade, Steve Doocy and Martha MacCallum have praised 13 Hours on air, much to the chagrin of left-wing watchdog group Media Matters for America, which chronicles and attempts to refute every positive mention of the film, portending the political firestorm this allegedly apolitical film could ignite when it’s released wide on Friday. Paramount even inserted quotes from Kelly (“riveting”) and Fox News contributor Stephen Hayes (“extraordinary”) into a TV commercial for 13 Hours that aired last weekend during an NFL playoff game, presumably because these two news personalities are more trusted by conservatives than are the movie critics who typically show up in such advertising.
Paramount also made sure it invited conservative reviewers to media screenings, and the studio’s generosity has paid off handsomely with some glowing reviews. “The film never mentions Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama. But in subtle ways, it makes clear their weakness and dishonesty,” writes Stephen Hayes in the Weekly Standard. “Whatever its impact, 13 Hours is a powerful film that is well worth seeing.”
Paramount is also getting an assist from some conservative political action committees, as America Rising and Future45 are hosting a private event that features a viewing of 13 Hours in Georgetown on Friday. While Moore is aware of the event, he says Paramount was not involved.
Paramount is making an appeal to faith-based audiences as well. The patriotic trailer for 13 Hours features one character saying, “As long as I’m doing the right thing, God’ll take care of me,” a line that obviously will appeal to such moviegoers. The studio also enlisted a couple of firms that specialize in marketing to that audience: Grace Hill Media and Inkling Entertainment, the latter of which was recently formed by brothers and Walden Media co-founders Michael and Chip Flaherty.
“We’re on religious radio and websites because that audience is definitely responding to this story,” says Moore.
Naturally, Paramount set up screenings on military bases — “conservative and military tend to have a significant overlap,” says Moore — but also for cops and firefighters, and even athletes, like Tim Tebow, Tiger Woods, the Green Bay Packers, Miami Heat and others.
“Got a chance to watch #13Hours with #SECNation crew last night! Inspiring to see such real courage!” Tebow tweeted.
“This event got very politicized,” says Moore of Benghazi. “Conservatives will say this film makes the Democratic decisionmaking at the time look bad. That is not our focus or our goal. Our goal is to show this amazing heroism that has been pushed into the background because of the politics.”
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