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Airwaves Abuzz with Hollywood Blacklist; No Secrets This Time

Published on Friday, May 16, 2003 by the Detroit News

by Laura Berman

In his TV commercials for telephone giant MCI, actor Danny Glover is appealing and likable. He's honed to perfection the character of a trustworthy buddy, a genuine guy.

But Danny Glover's image is under revision. It's being revamped on cable TV and talk shows that portray him as an un-American creep who deserves to lose his job for speaking out against the Bush administration.

His is the latest name on the new Hollywood blacklist that's being compiled by high-tech bullies trying to work a two-fer: drum up ratings and drown out dissent.

Round 'em up: Sean Penn, for doing Saddam Hussein's PR in the month before the war broke out. Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, whose anti-war comments got a Baseball Hall of Fame event in honor of Bull Durham's 15th anniversary canceled.

And please don't forget the Dixie Chicks.

All of a sudden, making contrary or outre political comments isn't only not OK, it's a punishable offense.

On Wednesday, operators at MCI took calls all day long from viewers of MSNBC's Scarborough Country. The show's host, Joe Scarborough, a Republican ex-congressman who goes for the jugular, encouraged viewers to urge MCI to cancel Glover's contract.

He even flashed the telephone number on screen, so viewers could "demand that MCI get rid of him."

Glover may be the guy you'd turn to for help if a covey of Columbian drug dealers had you cornered in a deserted warehouse, and he's the kind of guy you listen to when he's pitching phone service. But is he really someone whose political views you heed?

Americans are insistent in polls that they don't listen to actors spouting politics. By smearing their public images, and publicizing their political views, talk show hosts like Scarborough taint the actors' work -- and make us less comfortable watching them.

Scarborough characterized Sean Penn and Glover as "anti-Bush." And so far as I know, being opposed to the president -- any U.S. president -- has never been considered cause for an American to get fired.

Scarborough and other talkmeisters, like Bill O'Reilly, insist that there's a price to be paid for free expression. I agree with that.

But the airwaves are alive right now with the code words used so effectively during the red-baiting era of Sen. Joseph P. McCarthy and the 1950s blacklisters.

It's been 50 years since Hollywood's top actors, writers, and directors suddenly stopped working after being branded as political untouchables. And, golly, the vocabulary of "loyalty" "patriotism" and "anti-American," that was used so effectively and notoriously to end people's careers is making a resurgence.

Scarborough likes to trot out Jon Alvarez, the founder of something called Patriotic Americans Boycotting Anti-American Hollywood, a title that conveys the congenial spirit of the group.

Liking the president is not what I'd consider a qualification for an acting, or public spokesperson, job. Certainly, people like Scarborough weren't keen on backing a popular president when he was a Democrat named Bill Clinton.

The old Hollywood blacklist was a secret, a document composed of whispers, based on rumor and innuendo. The new one is blasted over the airwaves, not the least bit secret. But its intent -- to silence debate by costing people their livelihoods--is just as insidious.

Laura Berman's column runs Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday.

Copyright © 2003 The Detroit News

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