Hollywood confuses criticism and censorship

Posted: Apr 30, 2003 12:00 AM

Someone once said that everything that came out of Richard Nixon's mouth was a lie, including the "ands" and "buts." Leave it to Hollywood to do Tricky Dick one better. Because it now appears that literally everything Hollywood says about politics, and particularly free speech, is not merely a lie, but sheer and utter nonsense.

Now, of course, by Hollywood I don't mean everybody who lives or works there. Nor do I mean only movie stars. Rather, I'm referring to the loose constellation of would-be public philosophers who -despite the fact that they have little to no formal education and do not think, read or write critically as a profession or a hobby -are nevertheless convinced that being in front of a camera or warbling behind a microphone qualifies them to pronounce authoritatively on war and constitutional law.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. They all have the right to say whatever they want. I'm not aware of a single person in America who disagrees with that. Which brings us to the core of the Hollywood nonsense -the confusion of criticism and censorship. Consider a few items which made headlines of late.

In London, on the brink of war with Iraq, Natalie Maines - lead singer of the Dixie Chicks -declared to concertgoers, "We're ashamed that the president of the United States is from Texas." Not exactly "J'Accuse" or the Pentagon Papers, but whatever. The Dixie Chicks album sales suffered for a little while, but the group managed to turn themselves into First Amendment martyrs and scored prime-time interviews, the cover of Entertainment Weekly and hundreds of news articles and profiles.

Before that there was Tim Robbins who, after being disinvited from an event at the Baseball Hall of Fame because of his anti-war stance, denounced the climate of "intimidation" and "censorship" that is preventing open debate and discussion in America. Robbins made his comments during a televised speech at the National Press Club.

Then there was Madonna's voluntary decision to postpone the release of her new video, which depicted a hand grenade thrown into President Bush's lap, until after the war.

And, of course, there was the reported griping from advertisers for NBC's "West Wing" about Martin Sheen's anti-war stance. This caused the Screen Actors Guild, among other Hollywood trade unions, to explode with rage.

"With a painfully clear appreciation of history," SAG declared, "we deplore the idea that those in the public eye should suffer professionally for having the courage to give voice to their views."

OK, these are enough examples to make my point: Everything these people say is nonsense, including the "ands" and "buts."

First of all, let's make the Civics 101 point: The First Amendment applies to the government. The FBI cannot censor this column (unless, say, I'm giving away classified information), but the wise, attractive and intelligent editors who run this column can.

The Screen Actors Guild says that actors should be applauded for their courage but shouldn't face any risks. Madonna agreed: "It's ironic that we were fighting for democracy in Iraq," she told reporters after voluntarily withdrawing her video, "because we ultimately aren't celebrating democracy here. Anybody who has anything to say against the war or against the president or whatever is punished, and that's not democracy."

This is like Tim Robbins saying he's being censored to a captive audience of a couple hundred of America's top journalists. How I would love to be so brutally censored.

None of these people are being censored. They are being criticized. And only people so pampered, so spoon-fed with praise and encouragement, could confuse the free speech of others with the chilling of free speech in America.

No other profession in America has this confusion, journalists included.

If I wrote a column supporting the Taliban or pedophiles or whatever, I would suffer professionally in the form of dropped columns and canceled speaking engagements. If a plumber wrote "Down with America" on the side of his van, he would lose customers.

Only Hollywood types believe that we should applaud speaking out as courageous but that those who speak out shouldn't face any consequences or criticism for what they say. Courage without risk isn't courage; it's play-acting. And -sorry, Madonna -a society where elites with huge fortunes and PR machines are immune from criticism isn't a democracy, it's an aristocracy for Hollywood know-nothings who spew nonsense whenever they open their mouths.