No free speech for Linda Ronstadt or Whoopi Goldberg

By Bill Press

“I feel so bad, I got a worried mind. I’m so lonesome all the time. Since I left my baby behind, on Blue Bayou.”

It wasn’t Blue Bayou that greeted Linda Ronstadt in Las Vegas, it was the Black Swamp of Intolerance. The crowd of 4,500 loved her. They sang along and showered her with applause. Until she dedicated her encore song, “Desperado,” to filmmaker Michael Moore, whom she called “a great patriot,” and suggested that people go see his new, Bush-bashing documentary, “Fahrenheit 9-11.”

Suddenly, things got ugly. She was drowned out by boos and jeers. About a thousand people walked out. Some patrons threw their cocktails in the air, others ripped down concert posters. And, without even allowing her to return to her dressing room, Aladdin boss Bill Timmons ordered security guards to escort Ronstadt out of the hotel – never, he vowed, to return.

I can’t help but wonder: What would have happened had Ronstadt recommended that people go see the new Disney film “America’s Heart and Soul,” touted as the conservative alternative to “Fahrenheit 9-11”? Would she have been booed off the stage? Escorted from the premises? Banned from Vegas? Of course not.

Ronstadt’s not the only performer on the left to be silenced. Her banishment came just one week after Whoopi Goldberg was fired as spokesman for Slim-Fast diet products because she dared to poke fun at President Bush during a Kerry fund-raiser at Radio City Music Hall.

Last year, it was Tim Robbins, dropped from the speaking lineup at the Baseball Hall of Fame because he criticized the Bush administration. And, of course, the Dixie Chicks: banned from many country music stations after lead singer Natalie Maines told a London audience they were embarrassed to hail from the same state as George W. Bush.

Strangely enough, the same consequences don’t apply to personalities on the right. Last week, standup comic Dennis Miller, host of his own nightly CNBC show, warmed up the audience at a Bush rally in Michigan. As part of his comic routine, Miller ridiculed John Kerry and John Edwards for their public displays of affection.

“Have you noticed?” he asked the crowd. “These two cannot keep their hands off each other. I think I have a new idea for a new campaign slogan. How about a bumper sticker: Hey, Get a Hotel Room!”

And what reprimand did Miller receive for his anti-gay slur and implication, if not accusation, that Kerry and Edwards were homosexual lovers? Was he booed, banned or fired? No way. President Bush praised Miller for his performance and thanked him “for joining us.”

Now, I admit, whether or not entertainers should be lacing their acts with political statements is a legitimate question. Personally, unless it’s a political event – where you expect partisan comments – I’d rather enjoy the music without being lectured by anybody on what books to read, what movies to see, or how to vote.

But personal tastes aside, the fact remains: Celebrities are Americans, too. Like all the rest of us, they have a right to say that Kerry stinks, or Bush stinks. And as fellow Americans, we should be willing to hear somebody utter a political statement we don’t agree with without becoming rude or violent. More importantly, if entertainers are going to be punished for expressing their political opinions, the same sanctions should apply across the board.

That’s not the way it is today. in today’s America, it’s wrong for a celebrities to voice political opinions. Unless they’re Bo Derek, Tom Selleck, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Wayne Newton, Mel Gibson, Ben Stein, Robert Duvall, Ricky Schroeder, Delta Burke, Wynonna Judd, Naomi Judd, Reba McEntire or Dennis Miller.

Until that changes, entertainers on the left will have to follow the example of Natalie Maines. After apologizing for her comments about President Bush, she told her fans she’d learned her lesson: “I realize now that I’m just supposed to sing and look cute so our fans won’t have anything to upset them while they’re cheating on their wives or getting into drunken bar fights or driving around in their pickup trucks shooting highway signs or small animals.”