By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
He opens his big mouth and sounds off twice a week, lives large inside a paid-by-Hollywood mansion in Los Angeles, chooses Eminem's 8 Mile soundtrack as his favorite music, has a well-known stylist fashioning his put-together look, and gets free head-to-toe wardrobes from a famous clothing store. Yes, there he is, showing off in prime time while young guys his age are shown on television weathering crude conditions in Iraq, waging pitched battles with the enemy and putting their lives on the line for America.
Hollywood's harshest critics could say this spotlighted star personifies the self-involvement and self-indulgency of the U.S. entertainment industry in wartime.
They're saying nothing even though the military newspaper Stars and Stripes reported on March 17 that "many Marines from Gracin's unit, the 1st Force Service Group, have been deployed to Kuwait" — which contradicts a claim by Camp Pendleton officials back on January 27 that Gracin's unit was scheduled to remain stateside.
They're saying nothing even though six Marines, stationed like Gracin at Camp Pendleton but who went to war unlike Gracin, died in the opening phases of Operation Iraqi Freedom — four killed in a CH-46E Sea Knight helicopter crash on March 20 south of the Iraqi border in Kuwait; two killed in action March 21 in southern Iraq.
They're saying nothing even though Camp Pendleton held a memorial service for the dead soldiers in the morning Tuesday while that night Gracin appeared live on Fox as one of the 10 remaining finalists competing for fame, fortune and a fat recording contract.
They're saying nothing even though, just days after his first appearance on American Idol the evening of January 22, Gracin's own mother disclosed in an undisputedly authentic e-mail obtained by the Detroit News that the show pulled strings to keep Gracin in Southern California even though he was slated to be deployed with his unit in Kuwait. "American Idol had to work with Washington to get Josh out of the deployment. His platoon is leaving next week," said her message published January 26. "Once his stint on American Idol is over, Josh will be sent to Kuwait."
Brenda Gracin's e-mail contradicted a Marine Corps corporal who claimed the next day that the 22-year-old administration supply clerk was not exempted from deployment and that he, along with other members of his unit, was scheduled to remain behind at Camp Pendleton in support of the Marines in the forward theater. Through it all, Gracin's family is contractually barred by Fox, which airs American Idol, from speaking to reporters.
But Detroit News reporter David Shepardson told the Weekly that an angry Brenda Gracin did phone after the article appeared, not to deny the contents of her e-mail but to ask how the newspaper had obtained it. "She was not happy, but she never disputed the accuracy of the e-mail," Shepardson notes.
The hypocrisy of it all. This Gracin guy's presence on American Idol ignites cheers whereas that Moore guy's words at the Academy Awards incite jeers. Even days later, right-wing talk-radio hosts and callers were talking, talking and talking some Moore, offering to kick "that leftist bastard's traitorous, unpatriotic, commie ass" all the way to Paris, and Baghdad and hell. (Too bad we'll never know the reaction of the supposedly right-minded had Michael Moore stuck to his original plan: "If I win the Oscar, to say nothing. Just ask for a moment of silence and stand there for those 45 seconds.")
But not a word against Gracin from those microphone hogs Rush Limbaugh (best friends with Fox News chief Roger Ailes, who also produced the talker's short-lived TV show), or Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity (both Fox News anchors), or any other self-appointed arbiter of what constitutes proper patriotic American behavior and thinks of Fox News as the Mother Ship. Like him or not, Moore is too old for the military, while Gracin, the latest poster boy for the Marines, is on active duty in the middle of Hollywood.
Go figure. But when you do, add up how much that charter member of Big Media, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., and its cavalcade of corporate sponsors have invested in the singing contest. On Wednesday night, just as the war was starting at about 6:40 p.m. PST, Fox Entertainment's TV network didn't dare dump the show. Instead, the suits showed the hourlong program in its entirety beginning at 8:15 p.m. in L.A. and beat coverage of the U.S. attack on Iraq to win the evening with an 8.6 rating and 12 share that rose to 10.4 and 14 in the last half-hour. (General Electric's NBC also stuck to its Thursday night lineup of sitcoms, and won the ratings war with repeats.)
Now factor in the advertisers, like giants Coca-Cola, Ford, AT&T and Clairol, as well as Old Navy (which gave all the contestants new clothes, swapping Gracin's trademark baggy sweater and jeans for hipper casualwear). Not to mention the military, cognizant that 30 million viewers tuned in for last year's American Idol finale.