Bill O'Reilly to Sean Penn: Drop dead, will ya?
Reporter's Paul Bond has a new Q&A interview up with Fox News curmudgeon Bill O'Reilly once again proving that political conservatives have a bizarre antipathy toward Hollywood celebrities. Most of the Q&A is pretty softball stuff -- with questions like "What are your favorite TV shows?" and "Which way [politically] does Fox News lean?" But eventually Bond gets around to asking a salient question: Why are actors such frequent targets of "The Factor"?
O'Reilly offers a typically blustery answer: "My job is to watch the powerful. A performer has a forum that other people do not. If they believe something and use their TV show, movie or concert to spout off about it, that's fine. But if we have some questions about their beliefs, I think they should answer them -- and not be drive-by people." Of course, there are all sorts of powerful people in the world, from Wall Street bankers to Washington lobbyists whose politics have far more impact on our lives but apparently it's Hollywood actors who most merit being called out for their personal beliefs.
In fact, O'Reilly goes even further, acknowledging that he refuses to see any movies by Sean Penn. "He's a great actor and if you hire him, you'll get a good performance," he says. "I'm just not going to give a guy who gives aid and comfort to people like [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad, Hugo Chavez and Saddam Hussein, when he was alive, my 10 bucks. That's my right as an American."
Now, as I've said before, I'm not a fan of Sean Penn's politics either, especially when it comes to his praise for Fidel and Raul Castro, who are authoritarian dictators, not lovable leaders of a worker's paradise, as you'd believe from some of Penn's statements. But what I don't understand is why conservatives love to boast about refusing to see movies populated with actors who are outspoken liberals, whether it's Penn, Tim Robbins or George Clooney. I mean, I may not like Penn's politics either, but what exactly am I accomplishing by boycotting his appearance in a great film like "Milk" (for which he won an Oscar)? Does that mean that if you're a true-blue conservative, that you're going to skip seeing Penn and Jim Carrey in the upcoming "Three Stooges" movie just because you don't like one of the actors' politics?
I'd like to hear from conservatives about the logic of this stance. It seems to unnecessarily confuse art and politics. When I was a snot-nosed kid in film school, I worshipped all of John Ford's Westerns, knowing full well that their director was a right-wing Republican who'd been a big supporter of the Vietnam War. Why on Earth would I let Ford's politics ruin my enjoyment of his films? Ditto for Clint Eastwood, who remains a loyal conservative but is a world-class filmmaker.
I ask my conservative pals: If you're going to be consistent, why just draw the line with actors? As a liberal, should I refuse to watch any Duke basketball games because Coach K is a conservative? What if I discover that Chicago Cubs manager Lou Pinella was a big John McCain supporter -- do I have to turn my back on my beloved Cubbies? I'd like to hear why an actor or a musician's politics could possibly ruin someone's enjoyment of their artistic gifts. It sounds sadly small-minded to me.
And memo to Mr. O'Reilly: You mention in your interview that one of your all-time favorite movies is "M*A*S*H." I'm in agreement with you. But I must remind you that it was written by Ring Lardner Jr., a lifelong lefty who was blacklisted (and even imprisoned) for refusing to testify before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. He was just as much a supporter of left-wing causes as Sean Penn, so if you're going to be ideologically consistent, you better give away your copy of "M*A*S*H" before someone finds out you're not practicing what you're preaching.
Previously:Sean Penn: Pal of anti-gay dictators?
Photo of Sean Penn by Al Seib / Los Angeles Times