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Political malaise days

Variety editorial

As Election Day approaches, Daily Variety does not intend to handicap races or endorse candidates.

This is an opportune moment, however, for us to urge the showbiz community to engage in the issues that will be affect our business and our world. From San Fernando Valley secession to New York’s gubernatorial race to the looming Iraq attack, there is plenty to spark debate. But debate is all too sporadic these days.

As reported in Variety (“Pols Dote on Hollywood Vote,” Oct. 28-Nov. 3), political activity in Hollywood is in a curious state. Campaign contributions are flowing freely — already this year, $29 million has been donated, 77% of it to Democrats.

Money, though, is not the point. Aside from Arnold Schwarzenegger stumping for his pet Prop. 49, few notables in Hollywood have let their voices be heard. The industry is populated by people who would more readily devote their energies to “American Candidate,” an upcoming reality TV series about politics, than actually participating in democracy.

Privately, for example, many decry President Bush’s fixation on toppling Saddam Hussein but worry that a public anti-war stance will not be popular. Some veterans of the political arena point to the blacklist era in Hollywood as the ultimate damper on activist tendencies.

The greater societal drift toward politics as entertainment is particularly acute in the business that creates entertainment. At a time when TV shows like “West Wing” have no trouble finding an audience, real coverage of politics isn’t so fortunate. A study by the Norman Lear Center at USC and the political science department at the U. of Wisconsin-Madison examined 2,454 newscasts airing across the country between Sept. 18 and Oct. 4. It found that 1,311 shows carried no campaign coverage at all.

Stations often explain away that yawning inadequacy by saying viewers tune out politics. At least during these next few days, when control of Congress and the governing framework of major cities is at stake, viewers have a duty prove the fallaciousness of that excuse.

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