We are reporting from the front. The signs of war are everywhere. Standard-issue Hummers, especially the new H2 model in Sunset Orange Metallic, hurtle down Wilshire. Valentino-designed army fatigues, including khaki and camouflage tracksuits with elastic cuffs, are all the rage on Rodeo. Communications are erratic: That Motorola T722i cell phone in the Oscar goodie basket may have been free, but it’s impossible to mobilize with the troops when the damn thing only picks up static on Pico.
See how the battle lines are drawn: to the west, Granita in Malibu; to the south, Toscana in Brentwood; to the east, Matsuhisa in Beverly Hills; to the north, Bob’s Big Boy in Burbank. That’s why Republican tough guy Arnold Schwarzenegger chose Jay Leno’s demilitarized NBC studio to announce whether to run in the California governor-recall election — and not only because late night’s Prince of Pandering is still telling stale jokes about Bill and Monica. (Just as humorously, momentarily progressive Arianna Huffington eschewed her mansion in Brentwood to announce from “A Place Called Home” in South-Central.)
But the gadfly commentator who is rapidly becoming the Edward R. Murrow of his time has to be Joe Scarborough.
For weeks in advance, MSNBC hyped the trip that its right-wing TV talker, host of Scarborough Country, was about to make “behind enemy lines.” Not to Tehran or Damascus or Pyongyang.
What, you didn’t know that the conservative agenda has us as No. 1 among Axis of Evil capitals? (After all, we, too, have oil fields).
That its chinless no-wonder came here for a just-completed week of shows to “talk common sense where Joe says America needs it most”? (And, in fact, watches him the least. Even Gigli bored a bigger minuscule audience than Scarborough does daily since nobody bothers to watch his Fox News–wannabe cable network anyway.)
That he says our crimes against humanity include “liberal Hollywood activism,” “the sexualization of teenagers” and “sex and violence in the movies”? (Though it was NBC that, according to the Parents Television Council, single-handedly dismantled the once-sacrosanct 8 p.m. family hour with innuendo-laced, adult-appeal shows like Mad About You and Friends. Promotes the so-called homosexual agenda in prime time on Will & Grace and Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. And, this fall, starts airing the most sexually raunchy sitcom ever for an alphabet network, its version of Britain’s Coupling, whose pilot features one of the twosomes trying to have sex in a bar bathroom stall.)
So where exactly did big, brave Joe go? To an outdoor set on Hollywood Boulevard, the one spot in all of Los Angeles where Scarborough was certain never to run into anyone who’s anyone in the entertainment industry. Even so, he felt the need for protection from The Industry’s progressive hordes. Instead of a flak jacket, he had in the studio, helping to take the flak as guest co-host, that nationally renowned liberal activist 27-year-old actress Heather Tom of CBS’s The Young and the Restless.
Reminiscent of Private Benjamin on a bad bouffant hair day, Heather contributed at least sane crosstalk with Scarborough, who claimed to be “investigating” what he said were the “politics and plastic culture” of Hollywood “Babble On.”
In truth, the in-over-her-head soap-opera star valiantly tried to get a word in edgewise with the big-mouthed ex-congressman from Florida, who himself acknowledges he’s “O’Reilly Lite.”
Interestingly, NBC’s huge PR machine passed on putting network stars on Scarborough’s shows. Because he came to Hollywood armed with ammo to ridicule the talented and famous through clip after clip of anti–George W. remarks by Jessica Lange, Janeane Garofalo, Woody Harrelson, Mike Farrell, et al.
But it was also clear what Scarborough didn’t allow his Hollywood guests to say on air that made the host look even more ridiculous.
He shut up Screen Actors Guild president Melissa Gilbert when she started to give details about an attempt to get actor David Clennon fired from his TV series The Agency because he openly compared White House warmongers to Nazis.
Scarborough broke away from Republican activist Bo Derek after she said she was “really embarrassed and ashamed” of her own party’s ranks who were “racists who hide behind Jesus.”
He stopped both Ed Asner and UCLA’s Richard Walter, during separate appearances, from pointing out that, besides Schwarzenegger, Hollywood conservatives like Bruce Willis, Robert Duvall, James Woods, Charlton Heston and Jerry Weintraub all have thriving careers.
But Scarborough did allow to go on, and on, and on the author of the latest slim and shallow right-wing booklet, Why Hollywood Leans Left, James “Michael” Hirsen, who is described by Britain’s Guardian as “whiter than Strom Thurmond; claims he used to be a touring keyboard player for the Temptations back in the 1970s; teaches at some Christian degree-mill on radio, TV and Hollywood, a triad he appears to loathe; and has an anti-Hollywood Web site from which most of the book anecdotes were filched.”
Scarborough took aim at Hollywood for all of America’s ills. And his own. When a technical difficulty marred one broadcast, he only half-yukked, “I think it proves that once again there is, in fact, a liberal conspiracy against conservatives in Hollywood. I thought I saw Rob Reiner and Janeane Garofalo pull the plug of our generator.”
He sandwiched Ashley Judd, Kelly Preston and that couple personifying celebrity excess, Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck, in between interviews with a wonderfully representative cross section of L.A. residents like Hugh Hefner (live from the Playboy mansion, where conservatives decried the very idea of Loretta Sanchez’s fund-raiser for Al Gore there during the 2000 campaign), Larry Flynt, magician Penn Jillette, Heidi Fleiss, a plastic surgeon, and Gloria Allred, who with Scarborough dwelled ad nauseum on Kobe Bryant’s disgrace.
Yet Scarborough himself has repeatedly been the subject of scandal. In 1997, he was part of the cabal of Republican congressmen that conspired to get rid of Newt Gingrich as Speaker of the House in 1997 in a dramatic coup attempt that failed.
Then, just after the recently divorced Scarborough announced he would be resigning his congressional seat, “The Other Chandra,” 28-year-old Lori Klausutis, turned up dead on July 20, 2001, in Scarborough’s Fort Walton Beach, Florida, office, where she worked. Just two months after Chandra Levy’s disappearance and connection to Modesto Representative Gary Condit, the Scarborough-Klausutis case received shockingly little news coverage. Even though the Florida coroner in the Klausutis case had a history of “shaky work” previously in Missouri, reported the New Times alternative newspaper Kansas City’s The Pitch. “Coroner Mike Berkland claimed he ’sectioned’ Klausitis’ brain during her autopsy to determine that her head was injured by a fall, not by a blow from a weapon. But that’s the same sort of claim that got Mike Berkland run out of Kansas City in 1996, after he’d falsely reported that he’d sectioned brains later found whole by his boss — a mistake he blames on poorly proofread reports written with computer macros.”
Scarborough whined at the time that liberal flamethrowers were out to get him. “Have you seen I’m a murderer? Do a Yahoo search, and . . . [t]he second and third sites will say that I got a staff member pregnant and killed her, that I was cheating on my first wife . . . Comparing me to Gary Condit.”
Poor Scarborough, the political war victim now victimizing Hollywood for being anti-war. Of course, no mention was made all week of show-biz legend Bob Hope, who went to the frontlines for his adopted country and deserved every drop of gushing praise he received the following Monday after his death and after Scarborough had high-tailed it back to safety. But we also know that the first casualty of this war has been the truth.
The victor in this skirmish, hypocrisy.
Contact Nikki Finke at firstname.lastname@example.org.