O'Reilly Takes Aim At Clooney

The Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly likes to call them pinheads. Other right-wing commentators are not so charitable. In a recent Los Angeles Times commentary, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich put the blame squarely on Hollywood for the results of a recent international survey that showed American foreign policy was offensive to a great deal of the world's population. Amongst the political class – Republicans and Democrats alike – Hollywood-bashing is always in style.

If your zip code is 90210, do you have the right to speak out against President Bush's impending war with Iraq and other social issues? While there are few if any right-wing talk-show hosts that, at this time, would dare deny celebrities their right to speak, many are fond of vilifying them when they do.

Talk-master O'Reilly has his own unique approach. He claims that the reason some movie stars' careers are bottoming out – or their films are failing to catch on at the box office – is because they've been speaking out against the president's looming war with Iraq and other issues. As an example, O'Reilly likes to point out that Alec Baldwin's career is in the trash heap because he's too liberal for the tastes of the American people.

"It is my opinion," O'Reilly wrote in a recent column, "that Alec Baldwin, an extremely talented actor, derailed his career by making emotional, poorly thought-out statements like those threatening Congressman Henry Hyde during the Clinton impeachment. Mr. Baldwin is no longer on many radar screens, even in liberal Hollywood, and has lately been doing movies for cable television." Similarly, O'Reilly recently claimed that George Clooney's last film, "Solaris," failed to bring in the bucks because of his outspoken political views.

O'Reilly has had a burr – read that Hollywood celebrities in general and George Clooney in particular – in his saddle ever since the talk-show host accused Clooney and his Hollywood mates of not distributing the money raised by the September 11th star-studded telethon quickly or carefully enough. Recently an O'Reilly guest, Professor Richard Walter, who teaches radio and TV at UCLA, was asked about Bill Moyer's use of taxpayer's money to perpetuate left-wing views on public television, and about remarks Clooney supposedly made "celebrating" the fact that Charlton Heston has Alzheimer's. In a late-January column, O'Reilly claimed that Clooney's remarks were "perhaps, un-American."

The following transcript, covering only the Clooney portion of the interview with Professor Walter comes from the Fox News Channel.

O'Reilly: I believe he is going to pay an enormous price as far as his career is concerned. And I will point out Michael Jackson, Woody Allen, Alec Baldwin. Once the American people don't like you personally, it is very hard to sell your art to them. Am I wrong?
Walter: No, you're right about that.

And I think that it's the narcissism of entertainers. And I think there's a lot of narcissism among talk show hosts as well that makes them believe that they are experts in things that they really know nothing about. And I do think they damage the cause of liberalism, of the left, not all of them. I think there's a big difference between a Baldwin, who strikes me as a bit of an idiot – a useful idiot is what Marx would have called him – and, let's say, Mike Farrell, who is an intelligent and a reasoned and a [transcript or Walter was cut off here.]

O'Reilly: Yes. Listen, I won't argue with that. Farrell is a thinker.

But let's stay with Clooney now. Clooney is a guy who looks like he's totally out of control here. And I talked to one of his close friends last night. And I said, he's strutting around here. He's saying all these kinds of things. Now, in the political range, I don't mind if he says that President Bush is Tony Soprano. That's just dumb. But, look, we know where he's coming from on the left. And if he wants to say that, that's his opinion.

But once he starts to get into celebrating the suffering of a man that a lot of Americans respect, even if they don't agree with Charlton Heston, then I think he's done damage to himself that's almost irreparable.
At O'Reilly's Web site there is a feature called "George Clooney and Bill Moyers – We want to know what YOU think." Here are the questions, re: the George Clooney affair, on which viewers are urged to comment:
1: Do you think George Clooney's comments about Charlton Heston are meanspirited or on point?

2: Do you think George Clooney should apologize for the comments he made about Charlton Heston?

3: Do you think George Clooney is damaging his career by personally criticizing people he doesn't agree with politically?

4: Do you think the media should report on a Hollywood actor's political and social views?

5: Do you think George Clooney and other Hollywood actors made a difference in raising charitable contributions to the 9/11 victims?

6: Do you think the Red Cross and United Way would have received the money to the victims of 9/11 without the support of Bill O'Reilly?

7: Do you think Bill is overdoing it on the Clooney controversy?
There's no question that O'Reilly is encouraging Americans to boycott the films of stars whose political views he disagrees with. Is Clooney listening to Bill O'Reilly? Doubtful. Is he concerned that O'Reilly will help kibosh his career? Also doubtful. When O'Reilly attacked him in October 2001 over the use of money contributed to the 9/11 Fund, Clooney responded with a letter, dated November 6, 2001, that basically told O'Reilly to shove it. You can read the complete text of Clooney's letter here.

And, judging from a recent visit the director and co-star of the new film "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind" made with PBS' late night talk show host Charlie Rose, Clooney will not been cowed into silence.

According to the New York Daily News, Clooney told Rose that the Bush Administration "is running exactly like the Sopranos." He said that Bush has been making offers that other UN Security Council countries like France and Russia "can't refuse" so that they will fall into line when "we go into a war [with Iraq] and kill a lot of innocent people."

In the spirit of encouraging more Clooney-like behavior in Hollywood, I say:

Hooray to Sean Penn for visiting Iraq and opening himself up to a barrelful of right-wing flak.

Hooray to Harry Belafonte and Danny Glover for always speaking out on peace and social justice issues. And a special hats-off to Belafonte for comments about Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice that inspired the Center for the Study of Popular Culture's David Horowitz to invite Belafonte to leave the country.

Hooray to Woody Harrelson for writing thoughtful, and angry, columns for the British press.

Hooray to Viggo Mortenson, a co-star of "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers" for showing up on PBS' Charlie Rose Show wearing a "No More Blood for Oil" t-shirt.

Hooray to Jane Fonda for finally emerging from several years of a Ted Turner-induced tomahawk-chop funk and visiting peace activists (along with Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues) in Israel.

Hooray to Sheryl Crow for having "War is not the Answer" emblazoned across the front of her tee shirt during the American Music Awards ceremonies.

Hooray to Jessica Lange, who along with 300,000 others, showed up in 18-degree weather in the nation's capital to protest the President's war.

Hooray to Martin Sheen and Ed Asner who are always there when needed.

Hooray to Larry David for helping bankroll Arianna Huffington's anti-SUV campaign.

Hooray to the more than 100 Hollywood celebrities calling themselves "Artists United to Win Without War," who signed a letter "support[ing] rigorous UN weapons inspections to assure Iraq's effective disarmament... [and] reject[ing] the doctrine... that our country, alone, has the right to launch first-strike attacks."

The stop-the-war-in-Iraq movement will not rise or fall on the backs of celebrities. Yet, make no mistake about it; when celebrities speak the public listens. While folks may not always agree with what celebrities have to say on social issues, they pay attention nonetheless. Two examples: The box office power of Arnold Schwarzenegger will likely propel him to occupancy of the governor's mansion in California in 2007; and not too long ago, there was a third-rate actor elected president.

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