A concerted propaganda effort underway in America has created a "cultural attitude" in which people believe "government is good and business is bad," Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) told a local reporter for WisPolitics.com.
Johnson said the latest evidence of this propaganda campaign is "The Lego Movie," in which the bad guy is a heartless businessman intent on destroying the world for profit. "That's done for a reason," Johnson said. "They're starting that propaganda, and it's insidious."
The local blog included the comments in its statewide newsletter.
In condemning "The Lego Movie," Johnson may be doing the work of his well-heeled supporters. At a separate event earlier this month, video of which was posted to YouTube Thursday, Johnson recalled a phone conversation with a father who'd recently been assaulted by the same type of propaganda. Typically, when senators are calling people they don't know well -- it's known as "call time" -- they're fundraising. "I actually called a gentleman, it was a couple months ago, he was so upset, he took his children to an animated movie ... guess who the villain was? Evil Mr. Businessperson. It's insidious. That propaganda starts very early," said Johnson.
For Johnson, a self-described "rich guy," the offense is also personal. When he jumped into the race in 2010 against incumbent Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold, he said in interviews that his wealth had been called to service by Fox News pundit Dick Morris.
“I was sitting home, watching Fox News, and Dick Morris came on and said… ‘If you’re a rich guy from Wisconsin, step up to the plate,’" Johnson said. "And I kinda looked at [my wife] Jane and go, ‘Is he like talking to me?’”
Johnson has several reasons to be concerned about how people view the rich. While he is often described as a "self-made millionaire," Johnson's wealth actually comes by virtue of marriage. He made his fortune as an executive at a plastics company owned by his father-in-law. Then the company, in a roundabout way, paid for what was referred to in the press as a self-financed campaign in 2010. Johnson spent around $9 million on his campaign; after winning election, the company made a lump sum payment of around $10 million to Johnson.
Requests for comment from Johnson were not returned.
Johnson may still be taking his direction from Fox News, which has repeatedly slammed "The Lego Movie," comparing it to "The Lorax," "The Muppets" and "It's A Wonderful Life" in terms of propaganda value.
One Fox segment, though, suggests that the critique can be taken too far. "I think about 'It's A Wonderful Life,' where Mr. Potter, the banker, is considered the villain," says one Fox host, laughing at the very idea. Off screen, someone reins her in. "You're defending Mr. Potter? Careful."
Gross earnings for "The Lego Movie" totaled nearly $500 million, boosting quarterly earnings for Time Warner, the multinational media corporation that owns the studio that made the film.
UPDATE: Ron Johnson responds.
Have a tip or story idea to share with us? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We'll keep your identity private unless you tell us otherwise.
If you didn't mind this story, sign up to get an email when reporter Ryan Grim publishes a new one like it.