Jewish World Review Jan. 27, 2003 / 24 Shevat, 5763
The Clooney Factor
George Clooney's mocking of Charlton Heston's fatal disease has largely been ignored by the press, which may be the result of Heston's status as the president of the National Rifle Association (NRA), an organization many in the media loathe. As first reported by syndicated columnist Liz Smith, Clooney opined at a National Board of Review event that "Charlton Heston announced again today that he is suffering from Alzheimer's."
When asked by Ms. Smith if the remark went over the line, Clooney replied: "I don't care. Charlton Heston is the head of the NRA; he deserves whatever anyone says about him."
Having had a major dust-up with Clooney myself over the problems the United Way had distributing 9-11 charity donations, I know the actor can get very personal. He said nasty things about me, but almost everyone does as well, so that's not important.
However, the remarks directed at Heston are important because they are meanspirited and, perhaps, un-American. It is simply out of line to make fun of a person's personal tragedy because you disagree with his politics.
And then there's the press. Just imagine if a public figure like Clooney had mocked the paralysis of Christopher Reeve or the debilitating condition of Muhammad Ali. The media firestorm would have been ferocious; fear and loathing would have consumed newsrooms everywhere.
But because the press generally disagrees with Heston's politics, the verbal assault on him goes under-reported. If you ever needed an example of media bias, this is it.
Most Americans, I believe, do not loathe those with whom they disagree. This country was founded on vigorous debate. But some people simply cannot tolerate differing points of view. Hi, there, George Clooney.
Charlton Heston is not commenting, and his spokesman, Bill Powers, had only this to say about George Clooney: "apparently, in some cases, class skips a generation." Powers, of course, is referencing singer Rosemary Clooney, George's late aunt.
An interesting question now is, will Mr. Clooney's increasingly verbose posture hurt his career? In GQ magazine, he called President Bush "dim." In another interview he described the Bush administration as being "worse than 'The Sopranos.'" Both comments are certainly permissible in the intense discourse that politics often engenders, but there is a cumulative effect in verbal drive-by assaults.
It is my opinion 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.
The outrageous conduct of Jane Fonda during the Vietnam War absolutely hurt her image among Americans, and she is a divisive figure to this day. Ms. Fonda, another talented actor, has not been able to sustain her career.
There is strong evidence that the perception of poor behavior does influence the entertainment choices of many Americans. The career of Woody Allen cratered after he married his step-daughter. Michael Jackson took a huge career hit after allegations of pedophilia were settled in civil court.
Actions do, indeed, speak louder than words, and it would be foolish to compare the situations of Allen and Jackson with those of Baldwin and Clooney. But it is a mistake to think that barbed words don't matter. Many Americans bitterly resent statements of unfairness and cruelty.
Clooney's remarks about Charlton Heston were cruel, and, I predict, may well cause a vocational perfect storm, pun intended. George may be riding high now, but he had better watch it.
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JWR contributor Bill O'Reilly is host of the
Fox News show, "The O'Reilly Factor," and author
of the new book, "The No-Spin Zone: Confrontations with the Powerful and Famous in America" Comments by clicking here.
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