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Crossfire

Do Conservatives Face Persecution in Hollywood?

Aired June 8, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Tonight, for Republicans, is it hurrah or hisses for Hollywood? Some conservatives say Tinsel Town is too liberal and they fear a blacklist, but are they really being left out?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Robert Novak. In the crossfire, in Los Angeles, actor Richard Masur, former president of the Screen Actors Guild, and in Seattle, Michael Medved, radio talk-show host and film critic.

DAVID CORN, GUEST HOST: Good evening and welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm David Corn, Washington editor of "The Nation" magazine, sitting in on the left for Bill Press.

Does Hollywood have a new victim? The Republican actor who is persecuted for his or her views?

This week, Bo Derek -- Remember her: She was the perfect 10 in the 1979 movie "10" -- she claimed that because she's Republican she has a tough time landing parts in liberal Hollywood. That's led some conservatives to argue that there is a movieland blacklist that targets people with right of center views.

Now, that probably would come as a surprise to Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Mel Gibson, Charlton Heston, Tom Selleck, and Heather Locklear: big stars who have all been identified with Republican or conservative causes.

In fact, for his new Revolutionary War movie, "The Patriot," Gibson earned $25 million, the top fee ever paid an actor. The fellow in second place at $22 million is Arnold Schwarzenegger.

So do conservative actors really suffer in Hollywood or is this just make-believe? -- Bob.

NOVAK: Mr. Masur, the inspiration for this meaningful debate we're having tonight is -- came from one of my favorite newspapers, "The New York Post," in an article by Lisa Arcela (ph), and she quotes one of my favorite actresses, Bo Derek, in saying this about the hateful people in -- in Hollywood.

Quote: "It's tough to have a nice open conversation of any kind. People get really angry, and they treat me as though I'm some hateful monster." End quote.

Is that nice, to treat Bo Derek like a hateful monster?

RICHARD MASUR, ACTOR: Well, I'm terribly sorry to hear that. I'll tell you, the problem that Bo Derek is having is unfortunately the problem that every woman who comes into this business has, which is after you cease to be a 20- to mid-30-year-old extraordinarily attractive young woman, this industry eats you and throws you away.

And -- now, that's a topic, a wonderful topic for a conversation on this or some other show but I'm sure not the one we're here to have.

NOVAK: But I -- I see some of these old liberal ladies who seem to do pretty well in television and the movies. And -- let me give you another quote from Bo...

MASUR: Well, are -- are we comparing Bo Derek with, say, Meryl Streep, for example...

NOVAK: Yes, yes.

MASUR: ... or Susan Sarandon?

NOVAK: I prefer Bo Derek.

MASUR: Yes. If you can -- if you can make that comparison work for you in your mind, that's great. That's great.

NOVAK: I do. Bo said -- quote -- "I have been told that I'll never work again." End quote.

That rings true to me. Does it ring true to you?

MASUR: No, not at all. I'll tell you, the only thing that drives this industry -- and it's proven every time you turn on a television or look at a movie screen -- is dollars. The only thing that drives it is dollars. Nobody cares what anybody thinks, what anybody does.

We have people who are active drug abusers, people who have been accused of crimes, who have been convicted of crimes -- we have people in all walks -- all kinds of backgrounds who have done all kinds of things who are regularly appearing on television and film because money is what drives it. Nobody cares what anybody thinks.

NOVAK: See, I just -- I just -- with all due respects, sir, I just can't believe that that's the truth, because, you know, this isn't anything new. Ronald Reagan, before he became governor of California -- you're a little young to remember those days -- but before he became governor, he wrote a very good memoir of what it was like in Hollywood called "Where's the Rest of Me?"

Did you ever read that, David?

CORN: I had a few good laughs reading that.

NOVAK: Yes, excellent book. And in it he said that he became unemployable not because he was -- in the late '40s -- not because he was conservative -- he was a Truman supporter; he was a member of the Americans for Democratic Action -- but because he was anti-communist. And here's what, something else he said.

President -- former President Reagan said, "There was no question my career suffered from anti-communism."

Now, if you know your Hollywood history, you know that's the truth, isn't it?

MASUR: Well, I don't know that that's the truth. What I do know is the truth, that anybody who stands up for anything they believe in and puts their head up above the slit trench is going to get shot at and this works both sides. Ed Asner, Charlton Heston: Both suffered for standing up for what they believed in. This happens over and over.

Look at what happened to Vanessa Redgrave, for crying out loud. This woman was practically driven out of this business because she stood up for issues in which she believed.

That's really what the problem is. If you take a position that you can be identified with that's controversial, and that the forces that have the money and power to make the decisions about who gets employed have a problem with, then in fact you're going to start generating a problem for how much work you get. But it cuts both ways.

CORN: Let's bring Michael into the picture here, and let's come up 60 years from the last movie that Bob saw...

(LAUGHTER)

... with Ronald Reagan. You can defend his acting ability if you like.

But Michael, let me go to some current actors on -- we mentioned at the top of the show: Mel, Bruce, Arnold, Tom, Charlton, Heather. Now, these people all have very strong views. They've expressed them at different points in their career: some more so lately, some less so. But have they suffered because of their conservative views? Do you think there's actually a blacklist out there?

MICHAEL MEDVED, FILM CRITIC: No, there's no blacklist. Richard made...

CORN: OK. So you...

MEDVED: Richard Masur is absolutely correct: There is no such thing as a blacklist. But I'll tell you what there is: There is a sense of what is desirable and what is acceptable in the entertainment industry. And what is acceptable is a polite left-wing point of view.

Let me give you an example: You have a number of actors who are very well-known as almost full-time Democratic Party activists, people ranging from Whoopi Goldberg to Robin Williams, who just entertained for the president and the vice president, to Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, to Whoopi Goldberg. These are people who are deeply involved. Barbra Streisand, of course. There is no one who is comparably involved on the conservative side except for Charlton Heston, and he really is a former actor. I mean, he only became publicly involved toward the end of his movie career.

And the point about that is that the people who are involved -- Richard Masur is dead wrong when he says that people like Robin Williams who take a liberal position get their head shot off for it. When Robin Williams and Whoopi Goldberg do a fund-raiser for the Democratic Party, it increases their prestige within Hollywood.

If any Republican were involved doing a fund-raiser for the Republican Party -- and try to remember when the last one was -- then that person would lower his prestige and acceptance.

CORN: Well, wait a second. But I do remember -- I remember Schwarzenegger and Willis both campaigning or appearing with President Bush, and their careers have...

MEDVED: Absolutely. In 1998. It's been many years...

CORN: But their careers didn't suffer at the time.

MEDVED: You're right, and again I'm not saying that there's a blacklist. What I'm saying is that for a young person -- I think that Arnold Schwarzenegger is not hugely respected for his acting ability anyway. And what -- the other problem I have with what Richard Masur said is he gives the old line that you hear all the time from people in Hollywood: It's only about dollars.

Look, America is not a 100 percent liberal, yet when there are political message movies -- and not every movie is a political message movie, but some are -- those messages are always from the left side.

Tim Robbins made a film...

CORN: Like "Saving Private Ryan."

MEDVED: No, "Saving Private Ryan" I think is an apolitical movie.

CORN: It's a message movie.

MEDVED: But "Cradle Will Rock" is not. Tim Robbins' movie, "Cradle Will Rock," is a movie from the hard-left point of view.

Name me one film, one film in the last 10 years that's from a hard-right point of view. You can't.

MASUR: Well, there's a reason for this, and there's also a reason why there are far more -- quote, unquote -- "liberals" that are identifiable and visible, which is that the conservatives, the Republicans don't need famous faces to get their agenda into the public eye, because they control the means of communication and they control the money. MEDVED: Oh...

MASUR: No, don't "oh" me.

MEDVED: Look, who's the president of CNN, for goodness sakes? It's Rick Kaplan, who's a very dear friend...

MASUR: Who owns CNN?

MEDVED: Ted Turner...

MASUR: Guess what...

MEDVED: ... who is dating Bo Derek apparently, Ted Turner is also formerly married to Jane Fonda.

MASUR: Wait...

MEDVED: So when you say that conservatives control the means of communication, Richard, you know that's ridiculous.

MASUR: Excuse me! Rupert Murdoch!

MEDVED: Yes, Rupert Murdoch, who owns one...

MASUR: Who owns the largest...

MEDVED: ... who owns one studio. And do you think that Fox...

MASUR: He owns the largest system -- the largest communications system on Earth at this point, is owned by...

NOVAK: Mr. Masur, let me ask...

MEDVED: What about Disney? Disney...

NOVAK: Let me ask you something, Mr. Masur. You know, contrary to what David said, I have seen some recent movies. I've see them on airplanes and I see them on TV, and I look at these movies and they're left-wing screeds, you know, very often. And I think Michael has written about this, and I think he'll back me up. They are -- the businessmen are often killers. I mean, the businessmen are dishonest. The -- the whole American system is bad. The military is bad.

MEDVED: Look at the Oscar winner, "American Beauty."

NOVAK: The CIA is bad.

And so this is -- this all part of the same kind of system that doesn't let Bo Derek work, isn't it?

MASUR: No, this is a function -- this is not a function of a political agenda; this is a function of trying to find an easily identifiable villain when you've lost the Russians, you've lost -- it becomes racist to talk about Arabs. It becomes racist to talk about South Americans, Central Americans. I mean, we've run through all those villains. What seems to be left right now -- and I agree with you, it's unfortunate that we come up with such easy solutions for film plotting, but what seems to be left right now is the big corporation, which is unfair and unfeeling about little people, but there also happens to be identifiable truth in that, which is part of why it gets used.

MEDVED: Can I ask Richard Masur a question?

NOVAK: Sure.

MEDVED: You mentioned that we have "lost" the Russians. Can you think of a film in the last 20 years that exposed the horrors of the Stalinist Holocaust? I mean, there are literally dozens and dozens of films about the Nazi Holocaust. Can you think about the of a film about the horrors of communism? Or don't you believe communism was a horror?

MASUR: Well, I think Stalinism was a complete horror. No, I frankly can't come up with one, and I'll tell you...

MEDVED: They didn't make any.

(CROSSTALK)

MASUR: No, the reason I don't believe is that because now one would go to see it.

NOVAK: I'd go see it.

MASUR: And why do you assume that people would go to see films about the Nazi Holocaust?

NOVAK: I would definitely see it, and so would my kids.

But we're going to take a break. And when we come back, we'll explore who gives what money to whom from Hollywood.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Whether or not there really is a blacklist of Hollywood conservatives, there is no question that a movie star backing George W. Bush for president this year is a stranger in paradise. The world of make believe has opted for Al Gore. We're talking about that with actor Richard Masur, a former president of the Screen Actors Guild -- he's in Los Angeles -- and with Michael Medved, film critic and radio talk show host. He's in Seattle. David Corn of "The Nation" magazine is sitting in for Bill Press -- David.

CORN: Thank you, Bob. Michael, we do know that there are high- profile actors who come out and support the Democrats, and not as many on the Republican side, I will grant Bob that point. But in 1996, during those elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, the entertainment industry at large gave $3.8 million to Democrats and $3.4 million to Republicans. This year, in this Congressional election, so far the entertainment industry PACs have given $479,000 to Democrats, but $739,000 to Republicans. That's a 61-39 split percentagewise in favor of Republicans. So it does seems that there's a substantial side of Hollywood, the business side, that is very happy to be associating with Republicans. Are these people really giving money to Republicans in Washington and not hiring them to act in their films?

MEDVED: I'm not saying -- I don't believe there is a blacklist. I think people can get hired. I believe there is social pressure toward liberalism however. The point that you're making reflects not what individual stars do, it reflects what the business side of the industry does, as you say. And often studios will give to Republicans just to hedge their bets. But one of the questions would be the kind of movies that are being made.

Let me talk about a specific issue, the issue of lawyers and the Plaintiff's Bar in America. A lot of Republicans, a lot of conservatives believe we need tort reform. There have been three big, expensive films recently made to glorify plaintiffs' attorneys, films like "Erin Brockovich" most recently, "The Rainmaker," and "A Civil Action" with John Travolta. Can you think of any film that has been made that show some of the corruption in the plaintiff's bar, some of the excesses of the American legal system? No, it's only one side.

CORN: But two of those three films are based on true stories. I think you can find a lot of movies with lawyers as victims. You know, I'm thinking -- as the bad guys -- "The Devil's Advocate." There are a lot of movies out there that make lawyers look bad. To say that they don't go after a certain type of lawyer sounds like you're really scraping the bottom if that's your main complaint with Hollywood.

MEDVED: No, it's not the main complaint. You can look at it on a whole range of other issues. Think about the movies that were nominated for Oscars this year. It was a battle between a very openly pro-abortion movie -- as John Irving said when he got his Oscar for best screenplay -- called "The Cider House Rules" and a movie called "American Beauty." And in "American Beauty," the most sympathetic singular character was a youthful teenage drug dealer. The least sympathetic character was a Marine Corp veteran and arch-right-winger. Now, you know, it's just two paths -- the films that get honored, the films that get made almost always tend to be on the left or they tend to be nonpolitical. There's almost no chance for a voice from the right.

CORN: Most don't have messages to begin with. And "Star Wars," I mean, "Mission: Impossible 2," and then you have "The Patriot" coming out with Mel Gibson this year, this summer. I mean, you get your share of it.

MEDVED: Where?

NOVAK: Let me...

CORN: Can't you trust Mel Gibson to make a movie to put forward American patriotic values?

NOVAK: Let me get back to the...

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Wait a minute, let me get in here. I want to get in on the contributions for the thing, but those were mangled figures. I tell you what they were mangled about, because you're including publishers in the entertainment industry.

MEDVED: No I wasn't.

NOVAK: Those numbers include the owners of the communications industry.

Now I want to give you the real deal, and that is actors, writers and directors, those are the lefties. Do you know what percentage they were. Mr. Masur? Can you guess what percentage they gave to the -- they are giving to the Democrats in the current cycle?

MASUR: No I can't.

NOVAK: Seventy-nine percent.

MASUR: Seventy-nine percent of the money that's flowing from writers, actors an directors?

NOVAK: Goes to the Democrats, yes.

MASUR: And are you tracking soft contributions as well as hard money contributions?

NOVAK: Absolutely. On soft contributions, Stephen Spielberg has given $200,000 and from Dreamworks, an his two colleagues from that organization, Jeffrey Katzenbaum and David Geffen have given $200,000.each, That's $600,000 in soft money.

MASUR: In the interest accuracy, it would be Jeffrey Katzenberg. That's OK.

NOVAK: Well, not one of my buddies.

MASUR: No, that's OK.

NOVAK: I understand, and these three gentlemen happen to have very strong Democratic party leanings.

I have to tell you that one of the great jokes of this entire conversation as far as I'm concerned is trying to define Al Gore, Bill Clinton or anybody who's currently in leadership of the Democratic Party as these wild-eyed liberals.

NOVAK: I don't have any trouble.

MASUR: We're talking about the center, and the center when we're talking about the two parties, we're talking about just one little tiny bit on one side of the center, and one little tiny bit on the other side of the center, and I want to... (CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Mr. Masur, they may not seem very far left of center to you, but they do to me.

MEDVED: But where do you find, Mr. Masur, anyone one who would be comparable to the very public kind of support that Mr. Spielberg has given Mr. Katzenberg has given, that Robin Williams. and Barbara Streisand and Rosie O'Donnell have given, someone who actually makes movies today.

CORN: Michael, look at Disney. Disney gave $300,000 in soft money to Republicans and $150,000 to Democrats.

MEDVED: Again, that's a business investment. I'm talking about individuals. When people get together on social occasions, it does not help people in their social relationships if you're a conservative. It does help if you're a -- quote -- "idealistic liberal."

NOVAK: Just a minute, Mr. Medved brought up Rosie O'Donnell. Rosie O'Donnell, Al Gore and Tipper Gore were in New York Tuesday together, all tougher on her show. She uses her show as a forum for her left-wing views and the Democratic Party. Can you name any broadcast television high-rated show that will let a conservative do that.

MASUR: Well, I think "McLaughlin" would be a real good example. This guy gets more airtime than any living human being. What do you...

NOVAK: We got to finish gentlemen. We're out of time. Mr. Masur, Mr. Medved, thank you very much, and we'll be back with closing comments, David Corn and I, in a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: David, give me a break. There's no question that the left has taken over Hollywood, just as they've taken over the news media and the Academy. Sure, business is still a little bit conservative, but your crowd is running Tinseltown.

CORN: Poor, poor, Bob. You have a job in the media. Bo Derek started this debate because she said she can't get work. We called her to do this show. You know why she can't do it? She's on location filming in Vancouver. This is an empty complaint, I think. It's a fraudulent issue.

NOVAK: I think if deny Hollywood is taken over by the left, David, I've lost all respect for you.

CORN: There's no blacklist, Michael Medved told you himself, no blacklist.

From the left, sitting in for Bill Press, I'm David Corn.

Good night for CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

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