The Baseball Hall of Fame recently disinvited Hollywood couple Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon and cancelled its celebration to honor the 15th anniversary of the movie "Bull Durham." Hall of Fame President Dale Petroskey, the former assistant press secretary under Ronald Reagan, feared a divisive and uncomfortable Robbins/Sarandon speech injected with their antiwar sentiments.
"I am here," said Sarandon last year at an antiwar rally in Washington, D.C., "because I am tired of being frightened to speak out! We have been told that you are either with us or against us. That to ask a question is anti-American, divisive. Mr. Bush, you have hijacked our pain, our loss, our fear, and you have convinced many that to fight pre-emptively is the only way to protect our democracy. I say to you, Mr. Bush, this is what democracy looks like!"
Prior to the disinvitation, in an interview with CNN's Connie Chung, Robbins said, "There's ultimately going to be a tragic loss in the amount of people dying from this horrible attack. . . . We're not getting our way there. But we have to be mature, and we have to realize that the world does not want us to do this. . . . I support free speech, and you can't have free speech . . . in a society or even in a club, if it's Hollywood, that is saying you can't talk. . . . That's not a free society. You have to allow it. Democracy's messy sometimes."
After Robbins/Sarandon's Hall of Fame disinvitation, Robbins addressed the National Press Club (not bad for a victim of allegedly suppressed speech): "Any instance of intimidation of free speech should be battled against. Any acquiescence to intimidation, at this point, will only lead to more intimidation. . . . Millions are watching and waiting in mute frustration and hope, hoping for someone to defend the spirit and letter of our Constitution and to defy the intimidation that is visited upon us daily in the name of national security and warped notions of patriotism. . . . We must honor and fight vigilantly for the things that unite us. Like freedom, the First Amendment, and, yes, baseball." Spirit and letter of our Constitution?
Were Petroskey's fears justified? (He later apologized.) Well, Lloyd Grove of The Washington Post wrote an article in which he said that Susan Sarandon's mother accused Sarandon and Robbins of "indoctrinating" her grandson with their leftist views. A snarling Robbins confronted Grove at a party and said, "If you ever write about my family again, I will (bleeping) find you and I will (bleeping) hurt you."
Next, the United Way of Florida disinvited Susan Sarandon from an invitation, extended months ago, to speak. Sarandon, appearing on CBS's "The Early Show" to promote, we thought, her upcoming television movie, said this about the disinvitation: " . . . Well, I don't know what the real reason was, but the (United Way's) head visited Bush and then suddenly they came back and said it would be divisive for me to go because . . . my stance on the war might be divisive. And it's an interesting idea, you know, to say to people, ironic really, since we're supposedly liberating these people for a democracy and then you're telling people in this country where we have a democracy that you can't have a difference of opinion when the very basis for democracy is healthy discourse. . . . I know the American people are not stupid. And I know they believe in democracy in the way I do. And they support their, their, you know, Bill of Rights."
Now, one can debate whether the Hall of Fame exercised proper etiquette in extending, then withdrawing an invitation before offering Robbins an opportunity to say whether he intended politics. Similarly, the fairness of the way in which the Florida United Way branch withdrew its invitation remains open to reasonable debate.
But Robbins' and Sarandon's invocation of "democracy," "freedom of speech" and the "Bill of Rights" shows their total lack of understanding of the First Amendment and its application to the private sector. The First Amendment reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." The Hall of Fame is not Congress. The United Way is not Congress.
Hollywood's antiwar critics seem to want it both ways. They use their podium to espouse their leftist views, yet, when individuals and private organizations react negatively, they shout: "First Amendment"! No, Mr. Robbins and Ms. Sarandon, the First Amendment prohibits governmental interference with political speech. It offers no immunity from criticism, indeed, revulsion by consumers of your movies or by organizations that extend you opportunities to speak.
And, yes, the stars' ignorance of the First Amendment, frankly, calls into question their expertise in other matters -- like the war -- about which they speak.
Sometimes you can just really tick people off.