08/26/2006 04:36 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Superstars and Public Life: In Defense of Bill Maher, Hollywood Liberals, and Tom Cruise

The recent attack on Bill Maher and Hollywood progressives merits a
serious response and important discussion about the role of media, new
media and talent in politics and public life.

Here is my bias: I wish Bill Maher would call me in advance, so I can
tell him what guests to put on and keep off, and what questions he
should ask. Sure, sometimes he makes me laugh, and sometimes he
makes me cringe, but there
is a larger truth to the story. Bill Maher, Jon Stewart, and Steve
Colbert are posing a frontal
assault on the comatose old media and giving a fresh read on the news of
the day.

I don't what was funnier, Colbert's brilliant performance at the dinner
for White House correspondents, or being told by my inside Washington
reporter friends how their feelings were hurt by it. As I told them at
the time, more than two thousand Gold Star mothers have more reason to
be offended by their shamelessly insider reporting of propaganda leading
into the Iraq war, then they do, being reminded of it.

Regarding the related attack on Hollywood progressives, understand this.
The target comes right out of the neocon playbook:
the liberal Hollywood crowd. The language comes right out of the neocon
lexicon: sellout.

The charge is levelled that Hollywood stars are looking out for their
own financial interest.
Wow, that's a shocker. Presumably they are not as noble as venture
capitalists, who don't look out for their own financial interests,

Where are the "venture capitalists" who have, as a class, been stingy
and uninterested in financing the new media and blogosphere even when
they could make money doing so? I am not addressing this to any one of
them; this is about all of them! Conservatives have had this support
for three decades; progressives have not, even today.

If the subject is "liberals" with smaller minded interests, imagine if
the fleet of Democratic mega-money donors who lined up to hustle Bill
Clinton for pardons in 2000, had put even a fraction of their money into
the places where most real Democrats reside? Dare I suggest that
President Al Gore would be finishing his second term, with a Democratic
Congress, while the neocons would still be dining at Georgetown salons
planning the Iraq war we would never have fought under Gore?

Its true, I have spent a lot of time around the entertainment business
in the last 15 years, and there is vanity and superficiality, aplenty.

Just like modern conservatism is a philosophy that talks about the
Constitution while their leaders violate it, there are liberals who love
humanity but have a hard time with people. Though such sentiments are
not confined to Hollywood.

The truth is, superstars are exactly like the rest of us, with one
difference, they have some special gift or talent to act, sing, write or
produce. But when they eat too much and sit down to answer the call of
nature, their pants go down to their ankles, just like ours. Their
celebrity gives them a platform, how they use it is up to them. How much
credibility we give them, is up to us.

Alec Baldwin is the one of the most thoughtful and insightful actors and
I would hope he might someday run for office. But he can write one post
here, wishing he personally captures Bin Laden and throws him on Dick
Cheney's head, that I thought was kinda light. Yet he writes about Al
Gore with brilliance and depth. Do I think both posts should be given
the same huge credibility because of his name? That would not be my

I like Bill Maher, and even when I disagree or cringe, I stand by him.
He gives good show. Somebody else doesn't want to watch, great, don't. I
will. It's a great country, right?

If we are going to direct ire, here are some of my candidates:

I think it is despicable and sick that CBS plays the racist card on
prime time with Survivors.
It is unfortunate that with all of the challenge and danger in the world
today, we do not have a full hour of network news, and CBS treats Dan
Rather shamefully and passes up the
opportunity to make John Roberts anchor to uphold a great tradition.

What can one say about the Fox News war fever network, which takes Karl
Rove talking points and treats them as news? Or the Fox Lite imitators
MSNBC and CNBC who's prime time shows parrot the latest smear or the Jon
Benet twist in low rated shows that will reach fewer people than will
ultimately read this post?
I applaud Bill Maher, Jon Stewart, Steve Colbert and others who are
breaking new
ground and giving greater voice to alternate views than most of their
comatose competitors. They are only the beginning, but an important
beginning. And while the less I endure of the Ann Coulters and
Christopher Hitchens the better, Bill Maher and the others give far
greater voice to progressives than the major networks and Fox imitators

On the matter of Tom Cruise, sure, he's been acting off-key recently.
But he is a film maker, not a priest or politician. At a very young age,
Cruise has produced an enormous body of
brilliant and important work. He has the reputation with other actors of
being generous and supportive of them. I have no interest in
Scientology, but I am not judging his personal beliefs, just admiring
his work.

If Mr. Redstone would like to cast more stones, he might look at the
staggering two decade disaster of his Viacom stock, and consider firing
himself, or apologize to Dan Rather for conduct unworthy of the great
tradition of CBS News.
And Mr. Redstone can immediately withdraw
the entire season of Survivor if he cannot
change course to keep race-baiting off prime

To bring this together, with a theme I will be elaborating on soon, as
the sun begins to set on the Bush Empire in Washington, we will witness
an extraordinary revival of the Hollywood-Washington relationship. It
will include new media and Silicon Valley; it will include real venture
capitalists, progressive or otherwise, putting real money where it will
matter the most. Where the real Democrats really live. Where the vast
majority of the country looks for newer, fresher, exciting entertainment
and news alternatives.

There will be a major role, and major revival, for entertainment
superstars looking to lead and participate. It has started already. What
makes Warren Beatty and Robert Redford so extraordinary is how they
combine a lifetime of spectacular work with a long term public
commitment of substance and depth. They will continue to inspire, and
actors such as George Clooney have emerged in this fine tradition of
quality work and quality public life.

Every artist can make a difference in their own individual way. I
privately heard mixed about Julia Roberts, but was inspired by her huge
donation after 9-11 to take a fresh look. And while I must confess:
Sharon Stone had
inexplicably ignored my intrepid attempt to secure a dinner date in a
previous post. Yet I can only admire the professionalism of her showing
that an actress over 30 can have both glamour and substance, and can
only be inspired by her stand at Davos for Africa, that had passion and

This moment for superstars to contribute at a major time in history will
be met with the superficial and the brilliant, with the vain and the
passionate, with stars who pump their next property and others who
succeed in changing the world. That's entertainment, but that's also
life: on matters of state, the stars are like us, no more, no less, some
who contribute mightily, others only on the surface.

The important point for now, is, superstars have an extraordinary
potential for power and good. I would like to see progressive stars
fighting to mobilize the vote, appearing on Air America to publicize the
cause, joining more USO tours and campaigns to help our homeless heroes,
interacting more with the great blogs, and assigning their investment
advisors to look for places to put their money that can change the

More on these themes, soon.