Celebrities spout opinions, but who asked them? Blame media

Are celebrities always newsworthy?

Those 19th century thinkers in stovepipe hats at the watchdog Media Research Center in Alexandria, Va., think so. They have a Web page titled "Celebrities on Politics and War" that reports soberly on show-bizers who buy the Bush administration's Iraq disarmament strategy and ridicules those who don't.

These Old Glories define a smart celebrity as one who they believe supports immediate conflict with Iraq. "Frasier" star Kelsey Grammar is smart in this scenario. Comic Dennis Miller too. So keep on talking, boys.

They define a dumb celebrity -- who should button his lip -- as one who believes that U.N. inspectors should be given more time to discover any weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein may be hiding.

Longtime left-tilting activist actors Martin Sheen and Mike Farrell come in for their share of derision from this group, of course. Danny Glover and Dustin Hoffman have taken it on the chin. So have Ed Harris, George Clooney, Susan Sarandon, Ed Asner and many others.

The Web site's most frequent foil these days, however, is actress Janeane Garofalo, who's been making the TV talk rounds, from CNN to the Fox News Channel, frequently facing combative interrogators while urging resistance to President Bush's Iraq line. She's smart, well-informed, articulate and disarmingly earnest.

But that's not the issue.

It's grueling duty being a media watchdog whose agenda is to affirm your friends and twist and take out of context the words of celebrities with whom you disagree. The headaches, the eyestrain. There are talk and interview shows galore (including even NBC's "Meet the Press") to monitor for celebrities, and oodles of news accounts in print and broadcasting that quote them speaking out about looming war with Iraq. Tracking this must be a horror.

And that's where these rigid-right clowns and their partisan Web site miss the point in their zeal to blame entertainers for everything they can't blame on "the liberal media." The question they should be asking is this:

Why is there so much of this celebrity goop in the ether in the first place, whether from left or right? And need there be?

In other words, are you tired of media granting celebrities space and air time to vent on the Iraq situation only because they are celebrities? Me too.

Just why is celebrityspeak deemed any more quotable than accountantspeak or hairdresserspeak?

If six anonymous pipe fitters called a news conference to rail against Bush's drive to invade Iraq, how many camera crews or pen pushers with notebooks do you think they would attract? How many radio reporters? Try zero. These trees would fall in the forest without anyone's knowing.

What if the same pipe fitters had genius IQs, spoke Arabic fluently and had spent their lives studying foreign affairs? Same answer.

Backtrack with me on this. There are charges ominously in the wind about blacklisting celebrities who publicly oppose Bush's war agenda, which would be as un-American as the entertainment industry blacklisting those who support his policy. That's because the 1st Amendment doesn't exclude celebrities. They have the same right as you to publicly share their opinions about matters from tofu to Hussein and the strong prospect of the U.S. attacking Iraq.

So there you go, celebrities, speak your beliefs, shout, whatever. It's a freebie. Your ticket was validated by the Founding Fathers. The problem is not you, it's media who worship what flows from famous lips, get jollies from being near celebrities or seek to deliver their "peace" rhetoric back to them like the horse head in "The Godfather."

And in the later case, many outspoken celebrities make it so easy.

That fine actress Jessica Lange has been making the TV rounds too, in the process getting labeled an "America hater" by the Media Research Center. Like me, you probably loved her in "Tootsie" and other films. But where was a clapperboard when she needed one?

She was on CNN the other night, weighing in on Iraq with anchor Aaron Brown, and good for her for speaking her mind on an issue she felt strongly about instead of keeping silent. It's the American way.

But why did her opinion matter any more than yours? That's the line Brown should have pursued instead of asking her questions about Iraq-related issues that she answered clumsily. But of course, doing that would have landed the issue squarely in the lap of Brown's newscast, which had invited her to appear in the first place, solely because she was Jessica Lange.

You probably have your own views about possible war with Iraq. You can write letters to newspapers and magazines and e-mail your thoughts to cable news networks.

Will you ever be interviewed on TV about them? Hardly. Not unless you get a movie career or TV series.


Howard Rosenberg's column appears Mondays and Fridays. He can be contacted at howard.rosenberg@latimes.com.

For The Record Los Angeles Times Tuesday March 18, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 20 words Type of Material: Correction Kelsey Grammer -- Actor Kelsey Grammer's last name was misspelled as Grammar in Howard Rosenberg's television column in Friday's Calendar.
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