Post-9/11 Blacklisting in the Entertainment Industry
by Ed Rampell
www.truthdig.com, October 25,
The HUAC/McCarthy era and Hollywood blacklist
may be over, but the not-so-grand inquisitors are still among
us. On March 31, 2007, activist/actor Mike Farrell, who co-starred
in TV's "M*A*S*H" and co-founded Artists United to Win
Without War, told Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting's "CounterSpin"
radio program, "There's a price to be paid for speaking out,
and some have paid a fairly serious price." Around that same
time, at a March 24, 2007 anti-war Oakland town meeting called
by Congresswoman Barbara Lee, actor Sean Penn stated, "we
are encouraged to self-censor any words that might be perceived
as inflammatory-if our belief is that this war should stop today.
We cower as you point fingers telling us to 'support our troops.'"
There are other examples of creative people
suffering the consequences of their outspokenness since 9/11,
but none are as compelling as the saga of the Dixie Chicks, the
top-selling "girl group" of all time. Indeed, the red,
white and bluegrass band's name became a verb meaning censoring
and punishing dissenters: "Dixie Chicking." The Chicks'
story was turned into a documentary by two-time Academy Award-winner
Barbara Kopple (1976's "Harlan County USA" and 1990's
"American Dream") and Cecilia Peck. Cecilia's father,
Gregory Peck, won the Oscar for portraying the screen's archetypal
fighting liberal, Atticus Finch, in 1962's anti-racist "To
Kill a Mockingbird," and produced the 1972 anti-Vietnam-War
film "The Trial of the Catonsville Nine," about the
Berrigan brothers' anti-draft activities. (In August 2007, Tim
Robbins' L.A.-based Actors Gang troupe presented a reading of
the "Catonsville Nine" drama as a fundraiser.)
"Shut Up & Sing" was presented
on March 23, 2007 at L.A.'s Pacific Design Center as part of the
West Hollywood Women's Leadership Conference, along with a post-screening
panel discussion moderated by radio host Stephanie Miller that
included Cecilia Peck and Natalie Maines. During the Dixie Chicks'
2003 "Top of the World" tour, it was Maines who set-off
the firestorm on the eve of "shock and awe" when she
told British concert-goers: "Just so you know, we're on the
good side with y'all. We do not want this war, this violence,
and we're ashamed that the president of the United States is from
As "Shut Up and Sing" demonstrated,
all hell broke loose after Maines' on-stage comment made the media
rounds. The Chicks lost most of their airtime on right-leaning
country western radio; CD and concert ticket sales plummeted.
Egged on by reactionary FreeRepublic.com bloggers and DJs, ex-fans
destroyed Chicks CDs en masse during the ensuing "Dixie Chicks
Destruction" campaign. Concerts were picketed by red-baiters
who called the Chicks "traitors" and "communists,"
although the group's fans were divided, and some remained loyal.
Worst of all, bomb-sniffing dogs and metal detectors were deployed
at Dixie Chicks concerts. Under heavy security, the Texas trio
confronted a 2003 death threat at a Dallas performance, after
a letter threatened to shoot Maines in the same city where JFK
had been gunned down 40 years earlier. For his part, President
Bush appeared to egg on the Chicks' persecutors, saying: "They
shouldn't have their feelings hurt just because some people don't
want to buy their records."
Sixty years after the beginning of the
Hollywood blacklist, "Shut Up & Sing" raises the
issue of modern-day censorhip. Onscreen, Maines reacts to the
group's loss of airtime, angrily demanding to know, "How
is [this] not a boycott? They haven't been playing our music for
a few weeks." Paul Beane, general manager of the Lubbock,
Texas radio station KRBL, declared, "We're not going to play
them any more. It'd simply be financial suicide." At a 2004
Senate hearing, in one of his finer moments, Senator John McCain
mocked Clear Channel's denial that the media conglomerate is ordering
its radio stations to ban the Chicks from its corporate airwaves.
(In 2004, CNN quoted Howard Stern as saying
that the San Antonio, Texas-based Clear Channel is "very
tied to the Bush administration." In the CNN report, Stern
says," Clear Channel for years has been defending me ...
I criticize Bush and then I'm fired ... They acted out of politics.")
During the panel following the March 2007
"Shut Up and Sing" screening, Stephanie Miller, host
of the nationally-syndicated "Stephanie Miller Show,"
noted that, ironically, Clear Channel was a co-sponsor of the
screening. Despite Clear Channel's apparent support of that event,
Miller said, "There's a concerted effort to shut down progressive
talk. [Conservative] Christians are buying radio stations."
Miller, whose father was Barry Goldwater's Republican running
mate in 1964, claimed that progressive stations were even being
taken off the air in markets where they were number one in the
ratings. Ed Schultz, whose nationally syndicated program is also
heard on Air America, similarly complained of blacklisting in
"Freedom of Speech is Not Free"
Onscreen, and in the "Shut Up and
SIng" panel discussion, Natalie Maines displayed her defiant
spirit, which was also evident on December 15, 2003. At the height
of the backlash against progressive artists, the Dixie Chicks
attended the annual Bill of Rights Dinner presented by the American
Civil Liberties Union's Southern California chapter in Beverly
Hills. The function celebrated the 212th birthday of the 10 Amendments
and honored Chicks manager Simon Renshaw (and that other "Dixie
Chick," fellow Texan Molly Ivins). __Asked which of the 10
Amendments was their favorite, Maines, Emily Robison, and manager
Simon Renshaw all proclaimed the First. Renshaw added: "You
know! The big one! The whole, like, speech thing one! ... The
right to bare big mouths." If they must choose between 10
platinum albums or the First Amendment, Robison preferred: "Freedom
of speech. That's ... really easy to answer. It was hard for us
to be made an example of this year-but sometimes you've got to
be the one ... We still want to stand up for what we believe is
How is it that Americans pride themselves
on living in a free country where people can speak their minds,
but if they express dissent they're often punished? "That's
the new system here," Renshaw responded. "Certain people
in the country have figured out that the best way of actually
curtailing freedom of speech is to make sure people understand
freedom of speech is no longer free, and there's consequences
to exercising free speech. What we saw in 2003, when people spoke
out, there was a very well organized, vociferous group that immediately
went after them and attempted to harm their well-being. Certainly,
the Dixie Chicks saw death threats as a result of what they said,"
Maines added: "After Sept. 11th,
we felt lots of vulnerability, and wanted somebody to lead and
save us. The country's been in a strange state ... so try not
to get too discouraged about everything that occurred. Things
like that should always be a reminder, that we haven't necessarily
come as far as we think we have, and we have to constantly be
checking ourselves. A mother of a military guy wrote us saying,
'Freedom's not something you can write on a wall. It's something
you live.' So I feel proud that I use my freedoms, and don't just
claim on a daily basis to have freedom."
Expressing admiration for the ACLU, Maines
noted, "Standing up for the underdog sometimes is not politically
correct." When the tongue-in-cheeky Maines presented the
award to Renshaw, she poked fun at those questioning her patriotism:
"Lots of people will be surprised to hear I was here tonight,
because they were waiting for me to get out of that hole with
Maines added, "Another power the
federal government refuses to limit [is] the power of the corporate
media. Not the media's right to speak, but the media's obligation
to let other people speak. I don't want to mention any names,
but freedom of speech requires a clear channel to communications
... We have to all get active and challenge our government, or
... the Bill of Rights will just be something from history we
learn about in school."
During his acceptance speech, Renshaw
mocked "George the Second," contending: "Certainly,
2003 ... [was] the year America was deceived into a war, and part
of that deception was putting on notice any dissenting voice to
ensure they understood freedom of speech is not free. The concept
of 'shut up and sing' was born ... It's now possible to be 'Dixie
Chicked' ... There are many well-organized groups of right thinking
citizens who will work selflessly to make sure that those who
dare to speak up and dissent are suitably 'Dixie Chicked.' They
make their views known from the safety and anonymity of the Internet
and radio talk shows ... They're determined to ensure that we
understand freedom of speech is not free."
Renshaw continued: "Especially you-Hollywood.
You music and movie celebrities are all on notice: Shut up and
sing-or act or whatever. But shut up! I also learned we can count
on America's liberal media-yeah, right! Instead of asking the
questions and encouraging debate, our new media conglomerates
issue corporate fatwas on those to be 'Dixie Chicked.' Music networks
can ban your music, talk shows can vilify your personality, what
remains of this country's so-called news media trivializes it
all into neat 30 second sound bytes ... You may have freedom of
speech, but our media now seems to be designed we'll never be
heard A well-known German TV personality told us: 'In my country,
our media would never allow this to happen again.'"
Finally, Renshaw concluded: "I'd
like to thank the Dixie Chicks [for] the way they handled themselves
through a lousy time ... and for having the strength to say 'no,'
and for their insistence on always doing the right thing ... Freedom
of speech is only important if it's exercised. Celebrities should
not shut up and sing: They should stand up and shout, and we must
"Stand Up and Shout"
In a similar spirit, during his March
24, 2007 speech, Sean Penn declared: "Well, you and the smarmy
pundits in your pocket, those who bathe in the moisture of your
soiled and bloodstained underwear, can take that noise and shove
it. We will be snowed no more. Let's make this crystal clear.
We do support our troops in our stand, while you exploit them
and their families. The verdict is in. You lied, connived, and
exploited your own countrymen and most of all, our troops ...
you Misters Bush and Cheney; you Ms. Rice, are villainously and
criminally obscene people. ..."
Their courage and creativity sustained
dissident artists, as the tide of public opinion eventually began
to turn. In 2004, Penn and co-star Tim Robbins won Oscars for
"Mystic River," a film about child-killing and abuse,
directed by Clint Eastwood, who went on to helm the anti-war-themed
2007 Best Picture nominee "Letters From Iwo Jima." And
the Dixie Chicks swept 2007's Grammys, as their single "Not
Ready To Make Nice" expressed the band's fighting spirit.
These awards are affirmations for contrarian performers in industries
subject to popular and commercial whims.
Likewise, in the decades following their
censure, some blacklist-era artists also made comebacks. Dalton
Trumbo wrote numerous movies, including "Spartacus,"
directing and writing the 1971 pacifist picture "Johnny Got
His Gun," which won the Jury Grand Prize at that year's Cannes
Film Festival. Ring Lardner won a screenwriting Oscar for 1970's
antiwar comedy "M*A*S*H," as did Waldo Salt for 1969's
"Midnight Cowboy," which also won the Best Director
and Best Picture Academy Awards. Salt was also co-nominated for
1974's "Serpico" and co-won another Oscar for 1978's
anti-Vietnam War drama. "Coming Home," starring Jane
Fonda and Jon Voight. Abraham Polonsky's "Tell Them Willie
Boy is Here" (1969) was a gritty look at indigenous Americans'
The Committee for the First Amendment
'47/'07 was formed this year, not just to commemorate the Hollywood
Ten and the blacklist or to seek redress for past grievances.
Rather, the main reason for its creation was to remind people
about a previous era of repression in order to shine a light on
contemporary censorship against dissenting artists so that another
blacklist-and a new brand of McCarthyism-never comes to pass.
The following is a list of several artists and media figures who
have paid the price for dissenting since September 11th, 2001.
"Watch What You Say": The Post-9/11
* Like truth, comedian Bill Maher was
an early casualty of war. Discussing 9/11's skyjackers on the
September 17, 2001 episode of "Politically Incorrect,"
Maher stated, "We have been the cowards lobbing cruise missiles
from 2,000 miles away. That's cowardly. Staying in the airplane
when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it's not
cowardly. Stupid maybe, but not cowardly." Maher's remarks
prompted Bush's then-spokesman Ari Fleischer to warn: "Watch
what you say." The Disney-owned ABC network cancelled Maher's
show in June 2002.
* Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks,
Phillip Noyce's adaptation of Graham Greene's novel "The
Quiet American," starring Michael Caine and Brendan Fraser,
was reportedly shelved because it critiqued U.S. foreign policy
in 1950s Vietnam. According to the Toronto Sun, Miramax (then
part of Disney) "abandoned it because ... Harvey Weinstein
did not like the politics." Caine, a two-time Oscar winner
knighted by Queen Elizabeth, was forced to plead for the release
of the film, which finally opened in November 2002.
* In February 2003, Sean Penn sued producer
Steve Bing for $10 million for allegedly firing the actor from
a film because of Penn's 2002 Washington Post anti-war ad and
trip to Baghdad. Bing counter-sued.
* After the Dixie Chicks' frontwoman Natalie
Maines said at a March 2003 concert in London, "[W]e're ashamed
that the president of the United States is from Texas," the
Chicks, who were once the top-selling all-girl group ever, went
on to lose airtime on country western radio stations owned by
Clear Channel and other corporations, and CD and concert ticket
sales plummeted. Egged on by reactionary bloggers and DJs, anti-"DXC"
listeners destroyed Dixie Chicks' CDs during "Dixie Chicks
* In 2003, Actor David Clennon was targeted
by a right-wing Internet campaign to fire him from CBS' CIA series
"The Agency" for comparing Bush's America to Nazi Germany.
* Conservatives attempted to impeach "acting
president" Martin Sheen from NBC's "The West Wing"
and his Visa and American Express endorsements.
* Also in 2003, Right-wingers lobbied
MCI to drop activist actor Danny Glover as its spokesman.
* As the Iraq war loomed, the peace sign
Amanda Bynes flashed was removed from ads for 2003's "What
a Girl Wants."
* After Michael Moore said, "Shame
on you, Mr. Bush," at the March 23, 2003 Academy Awards ceremony,
a right-wing, "pro-family" group published the address
of Moore's house in rural Michigan, according to Moore, who said,
"They published a photo of it. My home was vandalized. There
have been attempts to do various things. Harvey and Bob [Weinstein]
have to pay for 24/7 security for me. It's a rotten way to live."
* Madonna reportedly self-censored her
April 2003 "American Life" music video.
* On April 6, 2003, CBS fired Ed Gernon
after the producer of the 2003 miniseries "Hitler: The Rise
of Evil" told TV Guide that the series' story "basically
boils down to an entire nation gripped by fear who ultimately
chose to give up their civil rights and plunge the whole world
into war. I can't think of a better time to examine this history
than now." The New York Post, owned by Rupert Murdoch, denounced
"Hitler: The Rise of Evil" as "a sign of Hollywood's
anti-Americanism." Fox News commentator and "Bush Country"
author John Podhoretz called the docudrama "an act of slander
against the president" in his NY Post column.
* In 2003, the Cooperstown, N.Y., Baseball
Hall of Fame cancelled a 15th anniversary "Bull Durham"
commemoration because of the anti-war politics of its stars Tim
Robbins and Susan Sarandon. On April 15, 2003, Robbins told Washington's
National Press Club, "A history teacher tells [my] 11-year-old
... nephew [that] Sarandon is endangering the troops by her opposition
to the war. Another teacher ... asks our niece if we are coming
to the school play. 'They're not welcome here,' said the molder
of young minds ... A friend listen[s] to the radio down South
as the talk radio host calls for the murder of a prominent antiwar
activist. Death threats have appeared on other prominent antiwar
activists' doorsteps ... Relatives of ours have received threatening
e-mails and phone calls. And my 13-year-old boy ... has recently
been embarrassed and humiliated by a sadistic creep who writes-or,
rather, scratches his column with his fingernails in dirt. Susan
and I have been listed as traitors, as supporters of Saddam ...
by the Aussie gossip rags masquerading as newspapers, and by their
'fair and balanced' electronic media cousins, 19th Century Fox."
* At a September 2003 fundraiser for presidential
candidate Dennis Kucinich, actor Ed Begley Jr. said, "There's
a boycott list on the Internet for all the people who spoke out
against the war, to write letters to studios telling them you
don't want to see shows featuring Jamie Cromwell, [myself], Ed
Asner, Tim Robbins ... Janeane Garofalo [took] a big hit. They've
suffered financially, can't get work now. They've been blackballed.
People don't want to hire them ... Janeane gets so much hate mail
... I didn't work from when that boycott list happened until just
a few weeks ago ... I've never only worked three days in nine
months since ... 1967." Reactionary websites, including celiberal.com
and boycott-hollywood.net, urged boycotts of activist actors.
* Conservatives reportedly pressured CBS
to edit and reschedule the less-than-laudatory miniseries "The
Reagans" from its original November 2003 CBS broadcast date
to 2004 on the cable TV channel Showtime, which-like CBS-is owned
by Viacom but has fewer viewers.
* The FCC proposed a $495,000 fine against
six Clear Channel stations airing Howard Stern's radio show on
April 8, 2004. The shock jock responded, "This is a follow-up
to the McCarthy-type 'witch-hunt' of the administration and the
activities of this group of presidential appointees in the FCC,
led by 'Colin Powell Jr.' [FCC Chairman Michael Powell] ... They
are imposing their opinions and rights to tell us all who and
what we may listen to and watch and how we should think ... It
is pretty shocking that governmental interference into our rights
and free speech takes place in the U.S. It's hard to reconcile
this with the 'land of the free' and the 'home of the brave.'
I'm sure what's next is the removal of 'dirty pictures' like the
20th century German exhibit in a New York City Museum and the
erotic literature in our libraries; they too will fall into their
category of 'evil' as well."
* In May 2004, Disney reneged on its distribution
deal for Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11", momentarily
leaving the Cannes Palme d'Or winner in limbo until Lionsgate
* After Linda Ronstadt praised "Fahrenheit
9/11" during her July 17, 2004 concert at Las Vegas' Aladdin
resort, fans grew irate; she was escorted by security guards off
the property and banned from performing there again.
* CBS News producer Mary Mapes was fired,
and Dan Rather eventually forced out, after their September 8,
2004 "60 Minutes II" election-year report challenged
George W. Bush's Vietnam War service record. The expose presented
compelling evidence that strings had been pulled to get Bush out
of going to 'Nam, and into the Texas Air National Guard's "Champagne
* On Sept. 21, 2004, a Washington-bound
passenger jet bearing British musician Cat Stevens-who had long
before converted to Islam and had re-recorded his 1970's "Peace
Train" hit to protest the Iraq war-was diverted to Maine
after U.S. authorities matched his name with a no-fly list. Homeland
Security denied Stevens admission to the U.S.
* Following a successful 2005 run on the
London stage, on March 22, 2006 the premiere of the pro-Palestinian
rights play "My Name is Rachel Corrie" at Off-Broadway's
New York Theatre Workshop was postponed. The drama was based on
the titular 23-year-old American peace activist, who was crushed
and killed on March 16, 2003 by an Israeli military bulldozer
as she attempted to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian pharmacist's
home in Gaza. The play finally debuted at Greenwich Village's
Minetta Lane Theatre in October 2006.
* On September 15, 2006, Bill Maher claimed
that CBS News withdrew its offer for the comic to appear in the
short-lived "Free Speech" segment on Katie Couric's
"CBS Evening News" program after Maher-an atheist-chose
religion as his proposed topic.
* In October 2006, right-winger Florian
Sokolowski sent left-leaning talk show host Stephanie Miller a
letter declaring: "As with Cindy Sheehan, the best thing
that could happen to you would be seeing some wonderful activist
sticking an AK-47 up your glory holes and sending you into eternity."
* By early 2007, the Clear Channel-owned
radio station WTPG-AM changed its liberal talk show format, dropping
programs including the nationally-syndicated Stephanie Miller
and Ed Schultz shows, although the Columbus, Ohio station had
reportedly tripled its ratings. Miller, Schultz and Air America
programs were replaced by right-wing shows hosted by Michael Savage
and Laura Ingraham. Miller alleges, "There's a concerted
effort to shut down progressive talk. [Conservative] Christians
are buying radio stations." In the April 6, 2007 edition
of the Los Angeles Times, Schultz claimed his program's move to
the evening on Clear Channel-owned KTLK-AM in Los Angeles "has
nothing to do with ratings or sales." "Big Eddie"-whom
Talkers Magazine called America's leading "progressive talk"
host-alleged that Air America "wrote [KTLK] a check"
to put a host with lower Arbitron ratings in Schultz's afternoon
* Folk singer Joan Baez, who had performed
at numerous anti-Vietnam War demonstrations, was forbidden from
participating in John Cougar Mellencamp's April 27, 2007 Walter
Reed Hospital concert for wounded troops.
* On the fourth anniversary of the start
of the U.S. military's "shock and awe" campaign in Iraq,
CNN's White House correspondent Ed Henry sparred with Bush's press
secretary over what the "recipe for success" in Iraq
is. During the March 19, 2007 briefing, Tony Snow told Henry to
* On May 2, 2007 the U.S. Treasury Department
notified Michael Moore that he was being investigated for violating
the U.S. trade embargo's travel restrictions to Cuba by taking
ailing 9/11 rescue workers for treatment there as part of "SiCKO."
In case U.S. authorities tried to seize it, Moore hid a copy of
his health care documentary in an overseas safe house. After "SiCKO"
opened on June 29, Moore was grilled by many mainstream media
outlets with the kind of zeal the corporate press had failed to
exhibit during the lead up to the Iraq war.
* On May 9, 2007, retired Major General
John Baptiste, former commander of the First Infantry in Iraq,
appeared in an anti-war TV ad-and was quickly fired as a CBS news
* Following a May 23, 2007 on-the-air
confrontation with her conservative co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck,
Rosie O'Donnell quit ABC's "The View" before her contract
expired. The outspoken O'Donnell called Hasselbeck "cowardly"
for not defending her when "Republican pundits" accused
Rosie of equating American troops with "terrorists."
* On June 25, 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court
ruled against former Alaska high school student Joseph Frederick,
who had unfurled a "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" banner seen on
national TV during the Olympic relay. Frederick contended that
subsequent reprisals by school administrators violated his First
Amendment rights. This was the high court's first ruling on student
free speech rights in 20 years.
* The Interior Department and Republican
Senators James Inhofe and Mitch McConnell reportedly blocked the
U.S. portion of the anti-global-warming Live Earth telecast from
taking place at Washington's National Mall. The July 7, 2007 global
concert and environmental fundraiser was co-presented by Al Gore,
whose documentary "An Inconvenient Truth" won an Oscar.
* In a front page story, the August 21,
2007 L.A. Times reported that the Israeli Defense Force is blacklisting
celebrities and performers who have evaded the draft or not completed
their service, barring them from entertaining at military functions
and venues and on its media outlets.
* When Sally Field attempted to make an
anti-war statement during her acceptance speech on the September
16, 2007 Emmy awards ceremony televised live on FOX TV, network
censors cut the audio and video. What the censored actress said
was,"Let's face it, if the mothers ruled the world, there
would be no goddamned wars in the first place."
* Former CBS news anchor Dan Rather filed
a $70 million wrongful termination lawsuit against CBS on September
19, 2007, alleging that, in the aftermath of the "60 Minutes
II" report charging that Bush had ducked military service,
CBS had made Rather a "scapegoat" in order to "pacify"
the White House. Rather told the L.A. Times that "any money
he collects will go to nonprofit groups, including the Committee
to Protect Journalists."
* The U.S. Senate passed a resolution
condemning a MoveOn.org ad by a 72-25 vote on September 20, 2007.
MoveOn's full-page ad in The New York Times was headlined and
sub-headed: "General Petraeus or General Betray Us? Cooking
the books for the White House." Apparently the 22 Democratic
senators who voted with the majority agreed with Bush, who attacked
MoveOn's ad as "disgusting."