“Performers Should Shut Up!”

Dixie Chicks, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, Martin Sheen, Sean Penn, Barbara Streisand, Bruce Springsteen, and on and on this list of politicial pundits goes. All have forgotten or ignore Richard Widmark.The Dixie Chicks, featured on the Grammy’s 2007, still got the cold shoulder from conservative Southern Radio for mouthing a political opinion in the past. Actually it was a personal attack on President Bush, not a political opinion. It continues to cost them dearly in popularity and, no doubt, financially.

Martin Sheen (remember his duct taped mouth?) has been relegated into the shadows. He appeared in the new movie – The Departed – but you only saw him for 2 seconds in the commercials for the flick and he is not mentioned in a starring role. Director Martin Scorsese has hidden Sheen in the shadows. Does he hope that conservatives will be tricked into spending their money on the movie, or buy or rent the DVD?

I could go on about the financial backlash each of these people are feeling. They should not be financially penalized for exercising free speech but that is not the main issue of my commentary. The issue is unfair advantage in the political discourse of our nation.

Actor Richard Widmark said it best. When asked about politics he said – “Performers should perform and then shut up”. I believe that he understood his obligation to not use his position and popularity as a pulpit to express his political views. I believe that he understood that he could easily sway the opinions of gullible star-struck fans towards a political position that he favored or decried. Richard Widmark performed and then kept his mouth shut about politics.

As a former working journalist, paid by my station and network, I delivered the news and “shut up” about my personal political views. No one knew whether I was Republican, Democrat, Independent. I voted in nearly every election and I had friends in the political parties because I reported the news and “shut up”. All politicians got equal time on every issue. My job was to give them a pulpit because each was recognized as a political expert.

Those of you of my generation will remember Walter Cronkite. He was called – “The Most Trusted Man in America”. Why? He earned that designation because no one knew his politics. He never slanted a story to advocate his real political opinion. Unfortunately, “advocacy journalism” is the practice among many TV anchors today. Mr. Cronkite stepped out of his neutral role only once. He went to Viet Nam and saw the carnage for himself and spoke out against the war. It was done in a way that was thoughtful and fact-based. It was not a shoot-from-the-lip opinion.

Actors and musicians are hardly recognized as having the credibility of a Walter Cronkite. They perform and entertain for a living. Yes, they have a political opinion. Most of us do. But, expert opinion? I think not. Just because Mainstream Media gives them a bully pulpit does not validate their opinion in the slightest. In fact, it should make you question the motives of Media. Why would they put these people on-air and in print? Why not give my plumber or garbage man the same visibility? Their opinion is just as valid isn’t it?

Where do I personally stand on this? I will make this admission – I do not pay to view, own, rent, or listen to any performer who publicly states a political opinion, regardless of that opinion. I really don’t care about their opinion. I do care about their misuse of their position and my wife and I have decided we will not support them with our money. If their name is mentioned in the credits of a film or on a DVD cover – sorry.

Now, I am not proposing a blacklist. Far from it. I don’t like blacklisting in any form. I don’t like boycotts or protest marches either. I believe in changing things through the political system through the power of the ballot box and the power of using money to support a cause.

If you agree with the performers, you have every right to spend your money to support them. If you do not agree with them, you have every right to reject them.

For me – performers should perform and then shut up.

Jim DeSantis

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