The Big Picture

Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Washington media to Hollywood advocates: You're a joke!

March 31, 2009 | 12:20 pm

I guess I should be happy that Fox's Bill O'Reilly -- see our previous post -- takes Sean Penn so seriously that he's willing to boycott all of the actor's movies. You can't say the same thing about most of the Washington media. When most celebrities show up in our nation's capital to tout a worthy cause, the reaction from most political journalists is somewhere between rubber-necking and pure trivialization.

Exhibit A comes from The Hill, the nation's largest Capitol Hill publication that specializes in seriously wonky, Inside-the-Beltway news about congressional goings-on. It's the place to go for drill-down details about what to expect from the G-20 summit, which GOP lawmakers might vote for Obama's budget or how much the State Department is seeking from Congress for foreign aid to Pakistan. So if Congress was hosting a briefing, as it did this morning, on the Employee Free Choice Act, which promises easier unionization in the workplace, surely you could soak up a lot of sophisticated information from a Hill post detailing the latest testimony on the bill from three visiting experts.

WestwingWell, maybe you could learn something if they were union leaders or corporate officials. But if the three visitors were actors -- in this case, former "West Wing" stars Bradley Whitford, Martin Sheen and Richard Schiff, even The Hill quickly reverted to star-eyed celeb gazing. The story claimed that all three actors shared personal stories about how unions benefited their lives. But their stories must have been too dull for The Hill reporters, who ignored them, focusing instead on jokes and laugh lines.

Whitford, who played a White House deputy chief of staff on "The West Wing," compared himself to Rahm Emanuel, President Obama's chief of staff. "Should I tell my Rahm joke?" he asked. "How do you ask Rahm what time it is? What time is it, or should I just go to hell?" The story managed to devote one whole sentence to Sheen's claim that he started the first golf caddies' union before moving on to anecdotes about how strangers would stop him in airports, exclaiming, "Good morning, Mr. President. Air Force One in the shop?"

The only real insight into Washington political stagemanship came later in the story, when the reporters noted that Sen. Barbara Boxer showed up, told of her son's experiences as a union worker and then "fled the room after speaking," clearly needing to quickly move on to another hearing. If the hearing needs media coverage, let's hope some actors are available, with quips in hand. 

Photo: Martin Sheen on "The West Wing." Credit: Mitchell Haddad / NBC

PREVIOUSLY: Bill O'Reilly to Sean Penn: Drop Dead, Will ya?