Committed to the First Amendment

A Hand for the Loyal Opposition

The Screen Actors Guild is sufficiently worried about a backlash against outspoken anti-war TV and film actors to have released a public statement last week warning of a possible blacklist. It identifies no specific incidents of threatened recrimination, instead citing a general sense of the country's mood. But we fear it has put its finger on a quickened, sometimes erratic national pulse.

A number of activist actors, including the particularly vocal Mike Farrell, Martin Sheen and Susan Sarandon, have spoken out against war with Iraq. It is not the criticism of their opinions that troubles us, but the suggestion that they shouldn't be expressing them at all for fear of reprisal. We find actors no more credible authorities on the great issues of the day than the average Joe or Jane, but they are surely no less. Nor do we fault them for capitalizing on their notoriety to speak out on a life-or-death issue they obviously care deeply about.

SAG drew a parallel to the communist blacklist of the '50s, when the House Un-American Activities Committee bullied Hollywood into turning on its own. The Communist threat was real, as the millions killed in Stalin's purges bear silent witness, but genuine concern devolved into a hysterical stampede that trampled the very liberties that we like to believe separate us from our foes. That truth is easier to grasp in hindsight, but it is essential that it be grasped and converted into foresight in this current crisis.

When dissent is treated as disloyalty, character attacks and oaths of allegiance may not be far behind. Too much history has repeated itself to dismiss the possibility that Hollywood could again "prostrate itself before smear campaigns and witch hunters," as SAG's statement put it.

If asked to choose between defending freedom of expression and defending the bottom line, which would today's Hollywood studios chose? If it takes you more than a second to decide, we advise joining with the TV, commercial and theatrical members of SAG to reaffirm "the right of all citizens, celebrated and unknown, to speak their minds freely on any side of any issue."

That is what this page is all about.

Let Judges Be Judges

If a couple of Charleses (Grassley and Schumer) were in charge, federal judges would at least be given the freedom to decide whether or not to allow cameras in their courtrooms. The two senators, from opposing parties, introduced the Sunshine in the Courts bill last week. It ought to become the law of the land. The bill does not force judges to allow cameras; it just gives them the discretion to allow cameras, while requiring that guidelines be established to further help them decide when it is and is not appropriate. So it supplies them with evidence and allows them to make a ruling. Isn't that what judges are supposed to do?