Over 5,000 people pay good money to hear pop singer Linda Ronstadt belt out some numbers at a Las Vegas casino. Ronstadt does her thing and concludes the set with lavish praise for filmmaker Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. A few folks in the audience get ticked off, and the casino's management pulls the plug on future engagements for Ronstadt. Such are the risks of voicing political opinions on someone else's dime.
But according to the "Music Row Democrats," a local group that owes its founding in part to last year's Dixie Chicks fiasco, the episode was a blatant violation of Ronstadt's First Amendment rights.
In a press release issued one day after news of the Ronstadt flap broke, group spokesman Jim Havey criticized the Vegas venue for its "strong-arm tactics" against the singer. Havey concluded that "First Amendment rights are fundamental to a democracy. The rights of the creative community to exercise free political speech without fear of commercial retribution should be carefully guarded."
Whoa there, partner. First of all, there's no such thing as a right to free speech without fear of "commercial retribution," whether someone's a member of the "creative community" or not. Second, even if there were such a right, it doesn't have anything to do with the First Amendment.
The First Amendment prohibits government action against political speech, not action taken by people, businesses or anyone else in the private sector. So, when Ronstadt gave Moore a shout-out on the stage of the privately owned Aladdin Casino, audience members had every right to walk out, and the management had every right to tell her to pack her bags. The First Amendment has absolutely zero to do with any of this.
For some reason, people in the entertainment industry have a difficult time with this very basic principle. Hollywood actor Tim Robbins, for instance, is still whining about being uninvited to a 15th anniversary ceremony for Bull Durham because of his outspoken political views. And there are those who think Whoopi Goldberg's constitutional rights were gutted when Slim-Fast dropped her from its endorsement spots after her sexually explicit jabs at President Bush two weeks ago.
But the right to speak comes with the responsibility to expect chips to fall where they may commercially and professionally. Most people have the good sense to keep their politics out of their business (and vice versa) because they would rather not deal with the consequences of doing otherwise.
If singers, musicians and actors want to regale people with political speech about George Bush, Iraq, AIDS, toenail fungus or whatever, they should be prepared for some backlash from the other side. The First Amendment, after all, applies to the folks in the audience too, and they're the ones who shell out the money.
The battle for Knoxville
The retirement of veteran state Sen. Ben Atchley has given rise to what might be the most closely watched legislative primary race in the state next week between former Knox County Republican chairman Billy Stokes and sitting Republican state Rep. Jamie Hagood.
Both Stokes and Hagood are exceptionally strong candidates and have been at each other's throats since jumping into the race last fall. Some see the race as a microcosm of the growing rift between ardently anti-income tax Tennessee Republicans, represented by Hagood, and the more moderate, Lamar Alexander wing of the party, represented by Stokes, though Stokes maintains that he too strongly opposes a state income tax. The race is not really important in terms of the party numbers in the state Senateit is a solidly Republican seat. But Knox County is arguably the GOP's center of political gravity in Tennessee, and it therefore serves as a pretty good indicator of which wing of the party is really wielding the power in the Republican ranks. Right now the smart money's on Hagood, but a week's a long time.
WTN 99.7's Steve Gill consistently has the best political guests of any radio host in town, and this week has been no exception. Broadcasting live from the Democratic National Convention in Boston, Gill managed to get both Democratic Chairman Terry McAuliffe and Republican Chairman Ed Gillespie as guests on his Monday show for some real down-and-dirty political jabbering.
The real highlight, though, came with a visit from the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who seemed to be completely caught off-guard as Gillan attorneypeppered him with lawyerly questions about what he sees as a double standard with regard to the political activities of black churches. In Gill's view, the Internal Revenue Service gets its hackles up about churches that may or may not support Republicans, while year after year black churches host Democratic politicians without any fear of retribution. After a discomfiting few minutes of hemming and hawing as Gill let him dangle on the hook, Jackson finally decided that the double standard is OK because, don't you know, there was slavery in America way back when.
At which point, the prosecution rested.
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