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Charlton Heston's 'Controversial' Life

Media coverage of the death of Charlton Heston tells us more about the liberal media's mindset than about the great actor, courageous activist and very fine man.


By describing Heston variously as “polarizing,” “controversial” and “fierce,” some in the media arrogantly insinuated that Heston's beliefs were suspect simply because he was a conservative – simply because he disagreed with them.  These journalists also demonstrated their own inability to separate a person from his politics.  In certain eyes, Heston became defined – and demonized – by his ideology. 


TIME's Richard Corliss summed it up well: “He became a villain to many in his later life, when he took up the strident support of conservative causes, most notably that of the National Rifle Association.”  Corliss reported the unpleasant truth that “many” cast Heston as a “villain” because of his views.


To his credit, Corliss went on to extol Heston's integrity, faithfulness and commitment to his wife of 64 years.  In contrast, ABC World News and CBS Evening News on Sunday night told us almost nothing of the man.


Instead, Dan Harris of ABC World News reduced Heston to “the gun lobby's most famous face,” and went on to say, “As President of the National Rifle Association, he became one of the most polarizing figures in American politics.”


Russ Mitchell of CBS Evening News: “Once the quintessential big screen hero, in his later years he drew as much attention for his controversial politics.” CBS went on to list a series of acting credits, his marching with Martin Luther King and his presidency of the National Rifle Association.


AP's David Germain described Heston as a “fierce gun-rights advocate.” If respecting the Second Amendment were a liberal cause, would Germain have used the word “fierce,”   or would he have used “passionate” or “principled?”


Monday's morning news was a bit more respectful.  NBC's Today show and CBS's The Early Show lauded Heston's character.  ABC's Good Morning America contrasted Heston's “aggressive conservatism” in public with the “old fashioned love story spanning 64 years” in his private life, as if conservatism and romance were somehow contradictory. 


On ABC's The View, Barbara Walters repeated the c-word:   “He is very controversial or was because of his support of N.R.A.” 


Walters then played a sentimental clip of Heston appearing on the show and saying the secret to a happy marriage was men learning to say “I was wrong.”  Walters:  “Obviously he never thought he was wrong about the N.R.A.”

The View's coverage devolved further when Whoopi Goldberg described how she once interviewed Heston and asked about his participation in the “first interracial kiss in the movies.” Heston kissed Goldberg during the interview, and Goldberg reenacted the moment by kissing Joy Behar.  Behar said “An interracial gay kiss.  That's even better.”

But to Barbara Walters, Charlton Heston is the controversial one.


Brian Fitzpatrick is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.