Performance Artist Charges Censorship


Performance artist Karen Finley accused Tribune Entertainment of censorship Wednesday after company executives decided to remove her from a segment of “The Dennis Miller Show” because they deemed graphic comments she made as potentially offensive to viewers.

“I feel really horrible, as if my form of expression has been censored,” Finley said from New York. “I think Dennis Miller is just as bad as Jesse Helms. What’s the difference?”

Finley’s appearance on the syndicated TV talk show was taped Tuesday afternoon and was scheduled to air that evening. But Tribune, the distribution company, pulled the episode--which is now scheduled to air Friday--at the last minute because of concerns about her remarks. Finley had rehearsed her piece before the producers an hour before the taping Tuesday.

“Our decision was made clearly on the consideration of the show’s format,” Darryl Porter, Tribune’s vice president of business affairs, said Wednesday in a prepared statement. “It was not based on Tribune’s view of her political position but rather on the inappropriateness of including the segment in a music, comedy and light-entertainment program.”

Finley was on the show to discuss the National Endowment for the Arts’ refusal to fund her work. For her performance, she read graphic text that is part of her art installation now at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. The performance piece characterizes abortion as pouring Drano down a woman’s vagina and expresses her desire to “feminize the planet to overthrow this male control of our lives.”


After the performance, Finley said, Miller interviewed her and defended her freedom of expression.

“They invited me to perform, I give them a tape of my work, I submitted the text I was going to read and they saw me rehearse,” Finley said. “But then at the last minute they were worried about their ratings because I said ‘vagina,’ even though Dennis regularly uses the word ‘penis’ on the show.”

On Tuesday night, Tribune broadcast a rerun of “Miller” while deciding what to do. At first, a spokesman for the show said the episode, which includes guests Penny Marshall and Mel Torme, would run uncut Wednesday night with a warning inserted about sensitive content. But Wednesday afternoon, company executives decided the episode would air Friday, without Finley.