February 21, 2003

TELEVISION / HOWARD ROSENBERG

Even stars are allowed to think

Thank you for coming.

I have called this press conference to announce my position on celebrities speaking out on issues of the day, which some contend should be a no-no. After a brief opening statement, I will take your questions.

As you've heard, Edward Norton, Dustin Hoffman, George Clooney, Oliver Stone, Martin Scorsese and other actors and directors attending the Berlin film festival spoke out publicly this week against looming war with Iraq. Hoffman, for example, charged the Bush crowd with using the nation's lingering grief over Sept. 11 to "manipulate political views."

In addition, a group calling itself Artists to Win Without War, whose members include Martin Sheen, Mike Farrell and Janeane Garofalo, is buying TV ads opposing the Bush administration's war posture and urging a "virtual march on Washington" in the form of mass e-mails, faxes and phone calls to the nation's capital. Here is my opinion about celebrities going public like this:

I'm all for them speaking out on issues they feel passionately about, whether right or left, Republican or Democrat, in favor of taking on Saddam Hussein pronto or against it. Much better that than the usual self-promotion that has them on the talk-show circuit plugging their latest projects.

I have a problem with celebrities being summoned to testify before congressional committees solely for flash -- because the public associates them with the roles they play. Playing a doctor or lawyer doesn't make you one.

But if celebrities are well informed and believe in their causes, and believe their fame can persuade others and perhaps even influence government policy, they should go for it. Fame is a potent weapon and should be used with care. But speaking out is the American way, and celebrities have the same 1st Amendment rights as other citizens.

As far as the marketplace goes, the principle here matches when famous faces are hired as commercial spokespersons in hopes their celebrity will sell products or at least attract attention to the ads. No one questions their knowledge and credibility when they're pitching wares from toothpaste to financial institutions by reading scripts written for them? Why should it be different when they're giving their own opinions?

Now I'll take your questions.

 

Tucker Carlson:

What motivated you to call this anti-Bush press conference?

You motivated it, in a way, and the press conference is anti-guys like you, not anti-Bush. I decided to make my position known on this topic after watching Garofalo's appearance on the "Crossfire" that you, a righty, co-hosted Wednesday with Paul Begala, an equally shrill lefty. I took issue especially with the snickering way that CNN advertised it: "What does Hollywood know about foreign policy?"

Oh, please! Why just "Hollywood"? What do the bulk of chin-stroking sages blabbering about it on CNN and elsewhere know about foreign policy? What do callers to talk radio shows know about it? Why single out celebrities?

Garofalo took it all with good humor. She good-naturedly told you and Begala: "I'm so used to being patronized, go ahead."

Only you did, Tucker, employing a double standard, in that you, Begala and alternating hosts Robert Novak and James Carville are yourselves paid poseurs in a "Crossfire" format that requires you to do heavy vamping and chew up the scenery as partisans of the right and left.

Rush Limbaugh:

You're equating this Hollywood babe with serious commentators? Think la-la land. She's an actor.

And you're not? Actually, Rush, she pointed out that she lives in New York, not Hollywood -- the kind of distinction you ignore when issuing your broad indictments -- and she called herself "a citizen who happens to have chosen entertainment for a career." That makes sense to me. Just as you're a citizen who happens to have chosen radio demagoguery as a career.

Limbaugh:

I'm shocked, frankly. How can you not see that it's un-American for her and her fellow pacifists or displaced communists or whoever they are to use their fame to sell this rubbish to the public?

You mean the way it's un-American for you and other talk radio types to use your celebrity to sell products on your show? What was it you were pitching when I tuned in, "the first name in pain therapy"? You said it was "greaseless and it doesn't stain," which is more than I can say about your show.

Sean Hannity: How can you resort to such cheap shots?

You're my teacher, Sean, whether nightly on the Fox News Channel or especially when hosting your own radio show. Take Wednesday, when you, nasty ideologue Marc Levin and your callers ganged up on another guest, James Jennings of Conscience International, who weakly argued his case against war with Iraq in the face of your show's withering opposition.

What a setup. The poor shlub never knew what hit him.

Bill O'Reilly:

All right, all right, all right. Getting back to celebrities, how can these Hollywood types not realize how foolish they appear when they delve into things they know nothing about? Take Sean Penn. Was that ludicrous or not?

I agree that Sean Penn's recent "fact finding" visit to Baghdad was ill advised and -- however earnest his intent to see things for himself -- made him look like Dumb Man Walking. The idea that he would be given anything approaching free access in Iraq was ludicrous. In any case, he was begging to be ridiculed.

He should have known media coverage of his trip would make him a fat target for the war-with-Iraq crowd and feed the notion that all actors live in a fantasy world.

Hannity: And they don't?

You mean like Charlton Heston, president of the National Rifle Assn., and Tom Selleck, who made a TV commercial for the NRA? You mean like former actor Ronald Reagan and George Murphy, the Hollywood actor and song-and-dance man who became a GOP conservative in the U.S. Senate? You mean like California's Mr. Republican, Arnold Schwarzenegger? You mean like Sonny Bono, who was a GOP congressman when he died?

Hannity:

Hey, this is about Iraq. Remember what one of my callers said about these Hollywood honchos: "They take advantage of our freedoms."

Yes, and that's the point, isn't it?