Readers respond to "It's OK -- She's a Public Figure" by Keith Olbermann, the appointment of Elliott Abrams and the Republican reaction to Trent Lott.

By Salon Staff
Published December 12, 2002 10:03PM (EST)

[Read "It's OK  She's a Public Figure" by Keith Olbermann.]

OK, I admit it. I'm one of those people who giggle and snigger every time a celebrity lands in hot water. I can't help it. We live in a culture in which celebrity worship has mutated into its own religion, complete with devoted congregations and reverential fervor. When people actually not only listen to, but take stock in, a sit-com actress's opinions on politics, society, and philosophy -- spouted off inarticulately as she drags an MTV camera around her beachfront property, showing off her two dozen red Corvettes parked in a garage bigger than most apartment complexes -- then you know something is dreadfully wrong.

Even on the TV news -- which, a long time ago, used to be a refuge from such garbage -- untalented, unskilled, bodily enhanced, candy-coated plastic people are shown emerging from stretch limos to hoards of shrieking fans and doting "journalists." Then they get to walk down a red carpet (!) into an awards gala/film festival (how many of these things exist nowadays -- fifty? a hundred?), where their flawless faces will be beamed to the world as they are adored and rewarded by their peers with free booze and golden statues. Finally, they are transported home to their mansions or penthouses, where they can sleep until noon on a Tuesday and not have to worry about punching in at 7 a.m.

So, I admit it, I'm a little bitter. And, yes, I laughed when Winona got arrested. And I'll keep laughing whenever a celebrity is knocked from his or her pedestal and is forced to deal with the indignities and harsh realities of what is becoming an increasingly fucked-up world.

-- Matt Hutchinson

If Keith Olbermann's Dec. 11 column was written as an example of satire at its driest, then bravo. On the other hand, if he was seriously trying to win our sympathy for celebrities who get made fun of, then I am speechless. Who does he think he's kidding?

Olbermann writes, "Celebrities have become our last unprotected minority group." Does the FBI keep statistics on hate crimes against celebrities yet? How, exactly, does Olbermann propose to make celebrities a "protected" group? Laws that prohibit making fun of them when, like Winona Ryder, they commit crimes? Perhaps, like the majestic bald eagle, celebrities can be outfitted with gold bands that let all would-be mockers know: "Hands off. This is a member of a protected minority group."

Olbermann's ignorant sense of victimhood is truly stunning. He also contends that celebrities are "the final authorized whipping boys." This, no doubt, will come as a great relief to Arabs, Muslims, Indians, Italians, Pakistanis, Native Americans, Catholics, born-again Christians, Hasidic Jews, the Amish, gays and lesbians, Irish people, Canadians, fat people and the disabled, among others. Because the last time I checked, all of these groups were constantly being made the butt of jokes in America.

-- Tom Breen

People who strive for fame and fortune know that being a celebrity has its perils. They are warned every time they see a tabloid.

Still, they press on. They already get my attention, money, and -- in some cases -- even my respect. Do they really need my sympathy too?

-- Gina Boyd

Close, but no cigar.

The legal fact is that public figures do not have the protections against slander and libel that private individuals have.

The history of film celebrities, going back to Fatty Arbuckle in the '20s, shows that they have always had targets painted on their backs. But then, they also have privileges that ordinary people do not have, such as access. To pick an arbitrary example, what expertise did Jane Fonda or Charles Lindbergh have, above that of the average citizen, that qualified them to make credible public pronouncements on U.S. foreign policy?

Celebrity has always been a double-edged sword.

-- Stephen Rojak

Just a quick point -- many unimportant people are stalked and killed and their addresses are found through the same public records searches as Ms. Schaefer's.

Obsessive exes, co-workers and random strangers perpetrate tragedies all the time against us unreasonable, demanding non-celebrities. Perhaps Mr. Olbermann would like to take up their cause on those occasions he ventures from his Beverly Hills condo or his quaint New York City Fifth Avenue apartment.

-- Mark Thomas

[Read "Bush's Frightening Middle East Appointment" by Gary Kamiya.]

Gary Kamiya's article on the Elliott Abrams appointment was shocking.

All you need to know about Bush's view on the Middle East and his appointment of Abrams is encapsulated in Abrams' book, "Faith or Fear: How Jews Can Survive in Christian America."

This appointment is politically akin to President Lyndon Johnson appointing Malcolm X as the assistant attorney general of the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division in 1964.

Not that it would've been a bad thing back then.

-- Kamalesh Thakker

I think Mr. Kamiya's analysis is fundamentally flawed. You are in a war against the Islamists -- who may or may not enjoy the support of most Arabs, if not most Muslims -- whether you like it or not.

Hostility and armed action have increased against the U.S. because the Islamists and their constituencies perceive the U.S. to be soft. You are seen as weak when there is no devastating retaliation for such acts against the U.S. as the assassination of the CIA chief of station in Lebanon in the 1980s, or the hostage taking in Iran.

This litany of failure by both Republican and Democratic governments is the reason why they strike. If you don't believe me, read the press releases of the Islamists themselves, from bin Ladin to Mussawi of Hezbollah.

-- Joel Abrahamsohn

[Read "Joe Conason's Journal: 12.11.02."]

While I've never liked Sen. Trent Lott and his policies, the way the Republican Party has jumped on the bandwagon criticizing Lott makes me think that maybe there's more to this story than we're being told.

Could it be possible that conservatives have been trying to find a reason to stop Lott from becoming the majority leader of the Senate all along, and that this little incident is being used as a means to do so? Could it be that the president and his administration just don't want Lott in the leadership role?

President Bush uses the back door to get things done -- maybe this is one more step he's got planned.

-- Connie Manes

The folks who say that criticizing Lott's remarks is a non-starter ... well, they're being reasonable. And it's that kind of equanimity that lost the Senate last month.

Lott himself walked out on the Wellstone memorial because in the heat of the moment, people made remarks he thought were inappropriate. And yet in the heat of his own moment, he wants us to forget all about it.

Are Lott's stupid remarks at a birthday party somehow more forgivable than Rick Kahn's remarks at a memorial service? Of course not -- but their side has a dozen media personalities fomenting outrage about Kahn's remarks, while Lott is given a walk.

Republicans have won this fall, in part by seizing any vaguely questionable comment made by a Democrat and demonizing them for it. Like it or not, the Democrats who win -- Clinton, Carville, even Gray Davis -- don't let their opponents laugh away their mistakes.

-- Brian Nelson

As a native Southerner I am all too aware of the negative stereotypes perpetuated by fellow Southerners such as Trent Lott, but "stereotype" is the key word here. To accuse Lott of being a product of a society that could only exist in the South, as some Salon readers and commentators have done, is just another ignorant slur on the region.

While I despise Lott's remarks, they are no more "Southern" than a Northerner's racism is inherently Northern.

Once again it appears to me that citizens in other parts of the country are pointing their fingers southward with self-righteous cries of unwarranted superiority, while standing in the social sewers of their own backyards.

Lott may be a racist, but it has nothing to do with his region of birth.

-- Deborah Smith

[Read "Day of the Dead" by Max Blumenthal and "The Air Industry's Worst Nightmare" by Paul Caffera.]

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