Janeane Garofalo says she knows why Fox, CNN, MSNBC and "Good Morning America" have booked her to argue against war with Iraq.
"They have actors on so they can marginalize the movement," the stand-up comic says. "It's much easier to toss it off as some bizarre, unintelligent special-interest group. If you're an actor who is pro-war, you're a hero. If you're an actor who's against the war, you're suspect. You must have a weird angle or you just hate George Bush."
The woman who once plied her trade on "The Larry Sanders Show," "Saturday Night Live" and such movies as "Reality Bites" has been all over the tube lately, arguing that the Bush administration is stampeding the country into a misguided war. And the experience has convinced her that major news organizations are unfair to liberal activists, especially of the celebrity stripe.
"I'm being treated like a child, and that's how I think the American people are being treated by their media," Garofalo says.
Entertainers must brave a certain degree of ridicule when they waltz into the public policy arena, whether it's Sean Penn going to Baghdad or Leonardo DiCaprio pitching Earth Day. They are, after all, using their fame to be heard in a way that would be impossible if they couldn't make people laugh or cry. Why, they are asked by the same programs that invited them on, should anyone care what you think?
But Garofalo, who works with the group Win Without War, says the media are not only condescending but suggest she doesn't care about the country.
CNN's Leon Harris wondered about her reaction to critics who say that she and her fellow activists "aren't patriotic Americans."
ABC's Robin Roberts asked: "Do you feel at all a risk with your career, especially after September 11th, that anything that you do is considered unpatriotic?"
CNN's Connie Chung asked about American soldiers: "Don't you feel a bit of responsibility in the sense of being supportive of them?"
That question, says Garofalo, "was so silly that it actually had me flummoxed. If you are in the antiwar movement, you obviously don't want the troops to be hurt."
How did the 38-year-old actress drift into politics? "Now that I'm sober I watch a lot of news," she says, quickly adding that critics will snort: "See, she had a drinking problem! I knew she was crazy!"
She leavens her indictment with periodic punch lines, saying reporters covering demonstrations "always interview the guy who says, 'The government has put a microchip in your dental fillings.' . . . It's disgusting that we know more about Winona Ryder's trial than we do about the Iraqi people."
But Garofalo isn't kidding when it comes to her disdain for the media: "These same corporate entities have an interest in war, have an interest in profiting from war. They represent corporate America. Corporate America dictates the news we are getting."
Does she really believe that anchors and correspondents are just following company orders? Too many, she says, "are willing to be a mouthpiece for the establishment and for White House propaganda."
While Garofalo believes Saddam Hussein is a menace -- but that U.N. weapons inspectors should be given more time -- she also tosses around the word "imperialism" and declares that "this is a manufactured conflict for the sake of geopolitical dominance in the area.
"There is no evidence of weapons of mass destruction. You never even get that idea floated in the mainstream media. If you bring it up, they hate the messenger. You've ruined everyone's good time."
What bugs the New Yorker most of all is when interviewers question whether she's torpedoing her career.
"You can't force people to cast you or become younger or more popular. What I do have is control over my mind, my life and my participation in current events. I won't stick my head in the sand and have history roll right over me. I refuse to allow my government and the mainstream media to bully me into accepting a war that is immoral and illegal. If it means people make fun of me or think I'm a jerk, or I lose a job here and there, that means nothing to me."
Getting Personal What's fair game when it comes to the private lives of public figures?
Plenty of media organizations last week reported two long-ago incidents involving John Snow, President Bush's nominee for treasury secretary. The White House disclosed that Snow was charged with driving under the influence in 1982, and that he settled a child support case in 1991. (Snow argued he didn't owe his former wife child support because his sons were living with him and he was paying for private school.)
While these episodes may have little or nothing to do with Snow's fitness to run the Treasury Department, they were covered by the Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Knight Ridder and Newsday, among others.
On the other hand, many news outlets ignored a more recent allegation against Scott Ritter, the former U.N. weapons inspector who's been a fixture on television, arguing against war with Iraq. As first reported by the Schenectady (N.Y.) Daily Gazette, Ritter was arrested in 2001 after allegedly visiting an Internet chat room and arranging to meet with a 16-year-old girl who turned out to be an undercover police officer. (The charges were apparently dropped and the case sealed.)
Ritter initially told the Daily Gazette that "you must have the wrong person." Does that undermine his credibility? The story got big play in the New York Post and Daily News and was reported by the wire services and cable networks. "You are radioactive until this is cleared up," CNN's Aaron Brown told Ritter, who refused to comment. But the fallout hasn't reached most major newspapers or network newscasts.
No Bed of Roses Time magazine blew it last week in reporting that President Bush had "revived a practice," discontinued by his father, of "paying homage" to Jefferson Davis by sending a floral wreath to the Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery. A Bush aide produced letters showing that the Clinton White House sent the same wreath for eight years.
"The story is wrong," Time said in a correction, explaining that the elder Bush never halted the practice. Time based its account on interviews with participants in the ceremony and former Clinton officials. "We screwed up, we corrected it, we moved on," says correspondent Michael Weisskopf. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who had picked up the item, also corrected it yesterday.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer pronounced himself satisfied, saying "nobody feels worse about this than Time magazine's editors."
Blank Slate Soon after Slate's Moneybox columnist, Daniel Gross, posted a piece headlined "Why Microsoft and Dell don't (and won't) pay dividends," Microsoft -- which owns the Web site -- announced it will start paying a 16-cent-a-share dividend. Apparently Bill Gates doesn't provide any inside information.