Hollywood Meets Washington at IOP

Panelists Debate Relationships Between Celebrities and Politicians

Is it wrong for Janet Reno to have dinner with Barbra Streisand? Do celebrities only support causes as an attempt to boost their popularity?

Such questions were asked and answered last night as celebrities, scholars and critics debated the role of entertainers in politics at an Institute of Politics panel discussion on "The Hollywood-Washington Connection" attended by approximately 200.

Actress Sarah Jessica Parker, a panel member, said her passion for political activism dates back to her childhood. She recalled wearing black armbands to school, protesting segregation and rallying for the rights of migrant workers.

"Being politically active has been a fundamental of my life," said Parker.

Parker also challenged the contention that celebrities are uninformed about social issues.


"I only speak about things that I feel no less than passionate about," she said.

Marilyn Bergman, a three-time Academy Award winner, also defended celebrities who double as social activists.

"The idea that just because some-one is a performer...they have checked their brain somewhere is really offensive," Bergman said.

But Carol Vinzant, assistant editor of Spy Magazine, challenged Parker and Bergman's defenses of entertainers.

Vinzant questioned the motives of celebrities who hire "certified smart people" to follow the issues so that stars do not have to do such research themselves.

Bergman said the Hollywood community plays an important role by bringingmonetary help and public attention to importantcauses.

"We are all an important part of the financialbase of the Democratic party...[we know] how toframe messages and make arcane and sophisticatedprograms accessible to people," Bergman said.

Such ties between the entertainment andpolitical worlds have a long history, said RonBrownstein, a national political correspondent forthe Los Angeles Times.

Celebrity influence on politics is "business asusual," he said. "As long as there has been aHollywood, Hollywood and Washington have beenmutually drawn together."

And the link is likely to continue, he said.

"[We will] continue to see a correlationbetween Washington and Hollywood if for no otherreason than the connection of money and politics,"Brownstein said