Jewish World Review April 23, 2003/ 21 Nisan 5763


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Consumer Reports

Hollywood Trumps Cooperstown | Isn't it time for some perspective on the Tim Robbins/Susan Sarandon Baseball Hall of Fame controversy?

The facts are simple: Dale Petroskey, the Hall's president and a former assistant press secretary for Ronald Reagan, clumsily handled a disinvitation of the two actors to celebrate the 15th anniversary of their Bull Durham movie on April 26-27. Last Friday, after a media blitzkrieg accusing Petroskey of setting the First Amendment aflame, the cowed executive apologized for informing the anti-Bush activists of his decision by letter instead of a phone call.

Never mind that in the rarefied circles Robbins and Sarandon travel in, people are routinely scratched off party lists for any number of incestuous feuds that only publicity-addicted celebrities and socialites are aware of.

All of this silliness has handed the couple a platform upon which they can self-righteously declare that freedom of speech is quickly disappearing in the United States. Lost in the huffiness is that Petroskey, whether you agree with his decision or not, also has the right to express his opinions.

In retrospect, he shouldn't have even scheduled the event‹it's not as if Bull Durham is on par with The Pride of the Yankees or Eight Men Out‹and perhaps should have asked Roger Clemens and Al Leiter, who agree with his views on American foreign policy, to make an appearance. And maybe Red Sox reliever Mike Timlin, who wears a camouflage t-shirt under his jersey‹flouting MLB uniform rules‹in support of the military. Timlin said: "They're doing way more in the world than I am when I'm pitching baseball. Really, what we're doing is insignificant to what they're doing right now."

It would be dumbfounding, of course, if Edward Norton, John Cusack, Sarah Jessica Parker or Julia Roberts expressed similar sentiments.

A fifth-grader could successfully parody the April 12 New York Times editorial, "Cooperstown Muffs One," in which the paper lionized Robbins as a heartfelt fellow who was "look[ing] forward to going to Cooperstown and getting away from politics." Petroskey was upbraided for a "knuckleheaded decision" and reminded that his former boss "was not the least bit shy in using his prominence as an actor to advance his ideological agenda." Reagan, while a spectacular president, wasn't nearly as talented as Sarandon as an actor‹her performance in Atlantic City with Burt Lancaster was breathtaking‹and as the Times knows, Reagan gave up his mediocre film career long before occupying the Oval Office.

The Washington Post, on April 18, was equally horrified at the alleged clampdown on the free speech of entertainers, including not only the much-aggrieved Tim and Susan, but the Dixie Chicks and Janeane Garofalo as well, fearing that a 21st-century McCarthyism might cost outspoken celebrities work. Tough toenails. This implies a one-way street: Famous men and women, who have access to the media, are given a wide berth to protest political decisions, while their fans, such as people who've boycotted Dixie Chick concerts, are portrayed as clones of Roy Cohn or Bobby Kennedy for their "McCarthyesque" actions.

The Post, however, did at least open its editorial with an exquisite sentence: "It takes a special kind of talent to suffuse Susan Sarandon with the dignity of martyrdom."

Robbins didn't miss a beat with this new opportunity to distort the policies of the Bush administration. His April 15 speech at the National Press Club was a classic example of demagoguery, and suggests he might fare better as a politician than an actor.

The spurned Hall of Fame guest said, in part: "In the 19 months since 9/11 we have seen our democracy compromised by fear and hatred. Basic inalienable rights, due process, the security of the home have been quickly compromised in a climate of fear. A unified American public has grown bitterly divided and a world population that had profound sympathy and support for us has grown contemptuous and distrustful, viewing us as we once viewed the Soviet Union, as a rogue state."

While I'm sure Robbins was preaching to the converted, that one paragraph is filled with so many distortions it resembles the fantasies expressed by Barbra Streisand, Sen. John Kerry or Spike Lee. For example, while the horrific events of 9/11 put a temporary halt to political differences, when, Tim, has the American public been "unified"? And, why, in a democracy, would you want that to be the case? And yes, while it was moving when so many countries expressed sincere condolences when the World Trade Center and Pentagon were attacked, the goodwill wasn't shared by the "world population."

Tim and Susan are probably on a first-name basis with Fidel and I'll bet he didn't lose any sleep over the terrorism. More to the point, if Bush and designated bogeyman John Ashcroft were so bent on dismantling the Constitution, why didn't they follow the example of Democrat Woodrow Wilson and jail journalists and out-for-a-lark students and 60s leftovers who protested the war? And not just for a badge-of-honor four-hour stint in the slammer, but 10 years of hard time.

Robbins continued: "Death threats have appeared on other prominent antiwar activists' doorsteps for their views against the war... Susan and I have been listed as traitors, as supporters of Saddam, and various other epithets by the Aussie gossip rags masquerading as newspapers and by their electronic media cousins 19th-Century Fox. (Apologies to Gore Vidal.)"

Is Robbins so solipsistic that he believes only people on his side of the debate have been vilified? Does he think that conservatives like Rush Limbaugh, Wall Street Journal editorial writers, Fox News' Brit Hume and the Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol‹let alone Bush, Rumsfeld and Rice‹aren't constantly the recipients of death threats?

The Constitution is secure. The only trouble I see is that celebrities with megaphones feel entitled to supra-free speech. As for anonymous Americans who are branded as "fascists" or "rogue state" supporters if they exercise their own rights and decide they no longer want to patronize the artistic endeavors by the likes of Robbins, Sarandon, Sean Penn, the Dixie Chicks or Peter Jennings, they don't really count.

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JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press ( Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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