The Emmy awards on September 13 offered the television industry a golden opportunity to present truly topical humor to a national audience. Remember when Dan Quayle was Emmy's whipping boy in 1992? His Murphy Brown speech was endless fodder for political satire from an industry that relishes the chance to pillory politicians in Washington.
So the timing of the release of Kenneth Starr's report, two days before the Emmys, was perfect. Surely the one-liners at Bill Clinton's expense would flow; laughter would trump politics; surely we would cringe at the bawdy double entendres that would come from this very irreverent group.
But this is Hollywood, and in Hollywood, Clinton's raunchy behavior and subsequent dishonesty are credibility-builders.
Early in the Emmy proceedings, comedian/actor Chris Rock (one of the most vigorous Starr-bashers in show business, by the way) made a dumb cigar joke. That was the extent of the Monicagate quips. In fact, the entertainment industry, in various recent interviews and remarks, has responded to the report by circling the wagons on Clinton's behalf.
For many the scandal revolves only around sex, and in this business adultery is about as serious as jaywalking. Let's start with a three-time Emmy winner, Jean Stapleton of "All in the Family" fame, who denounced our "scarlet-letter type of civilization" and added, "Can we please stop talking about this? [Clinton has] had enough censure... My God, give us a break." Della Reese of CBS's "Touched by an Angel" commented, "I don't care who he sleeps with."
What about perjury? Jon Lovitz, formerly of "Saturday Night Live" and now of NBC's "NewsRadio," opined, "I don't think what he lied about is anybody's business but his family's and everybody thinks this way except for a few, very, very few, Republicans."
Bill Maher, host of ABC's "Politically Incorrect," appealed to the high-testosterone crowd that, far from being disgusted by a Clintonesque sex life, aspires to it. "I think he should take a completely different tack," suggested Maher, "and say, 'I apologize for nothing. The relationship was inappropriate, and boy, that really made it good.'"
Ellen DeGeneres - Hollywood's family-values pin-up - played the moral-equivalency game to the hilt: "If we [had investigated] Kennedy or... any other president, we'd be finding out the same kind of stuff, if not more," which somehow is meant to excuse Clinton's behavior.
Moving from the small to the big screen, DeGeneres' lover, Anne Heche ("Six Days, Seven Nights") said the report was not "something children should be reading." (This from someone who applauds children watching her girlfriend's lesbocentric sitcom.) Director Michael Moore ("Roger & Me," "The Big One") attacked the messenger, calling Starr "a forty-million-dollar pervert."
"Independence Day" and "Men in Black" star Will Smith thought impeaching Clinton was a "ridiculous concept," adding, "I don't want to get into... discussing morals, but I think Bill Clinton is a great president." Smart move, Will; anyone who wants to make the case for Clinton's greatness had better keep morals out of it.
It's just so dangerous when some of these people speak out. They are - and there's no quaint way to put this - dangerously dumb. Frances Fisher of "Titanic" declared, "George Washington had mistresses too, but nobody's talking about that... It's like, 'Make love, not war.' I hate to be so '60s about it, but...[Clinton] is probably doing the greatest service for all the men out there who lie about their relationships by copping to it." Now there's a new twist: He did it for his country.
Hope Davis, star of "Next Stop, Wonderland," said, "You can't impeach someone for fooling around. I mean, you know, you're supposed to impeach people over, you know, things like treason." One can only hope that someday Ms. Hope Davis will, you know, read the Constitution.
Among the music industry's Clintonites are jazz keyboardist Herbie Hancock ("He's a humanitarian, he cares about people, he... really cares about the country, and to... tear him apart, I think, is appalling") and rocker Lou Reed ("What's being done to [Clinton] is terrible. Your private life should be your private life. I think it's a smear campaign"). Rare are those in the entertainment industry who find fault with this lecherous man.
But there are a few dissenters, after all. The star of the syndicated "Highlander: The Raven" says Clinton is "dangerous" and "manipulative." The star's name? Former Miss America and Miss Arkansas Elizabeth Gracen, who had a one-nighter with then-Gov. Clinton in the early '80s. It could be that many in Hollywood would have to know Clinton as intimately as Ms. Gracen does to understand his true nature - and for some, even that wouldn't be enough.