“I am a righteous bitch, aren’t I?” –Meryl Streep as Kate Mundy in “Dancing at Lughnasa”
Meryl Streep on Sunday brought all her righteousness to bear at the Golden Globes where she excoriated President-elect Trump and passionately spoke to the necessity of a free and brave press in order to fight, what I can only imagine she sees as an impending Fourth Reich.
OK, this brings me to the press. We need the principled press to hold power to account, to call him on the carpet for every outrage. That’s why our founders enshrined the press and its freedoms in the Constitution. So I only ask the famously well-heeled Hollywood Foreign Press and all of us in our community to join me in supporting the Committee to Protect Journalists, because we’re gonna need them going forward, and they’ll need us to safeguard the truth.”
Streep is a symbol of American greatness. She is a national treasure, a woman whose acting ability is considered by most to be second-to-none in the entertainment industry. But it’s curious. Given her immense accomplishments and body of work, she must—just as an empirical matter—have a keen memory. Yet here we see that she appears unable to remember a great many things.
For instance, while touting freedom of the press, she seems to have forgotten that time when current Secretary of State John Kerry defended the rationale of the Charlie Hebdo killings in contrast to other, in his view, less “justifiable” types of terrorism. Perhaps it is similar for Streep to the time her friend Whoopie Goldberg dismissed the sexual assault charges against director Roman Polanski by noting that his 1977 hot-tub episode with a 13-year-old girl whom he drugged and sodomized wasn’t rape-rape. In any case, Streep either forgets, or is somehow fine with, a cabinet-level representative of the U.S. government saying, essentially, that killing journalists who mock a religion isn’t really terrorism-terrorism.
Speaking of Polanski, it’s telling that in 2003 when Polanski received an Academy Award for “The Pianist,” Streep gave the convicted child-rapist a standing ovation, showing that, as far as she’s concerned, art trumps rape—especially when it’s not rape-rape.
Streep also seems to have forgotten that journalists such as former CBS News reporter Sharyl Attkisson and Fox News’s James Rosen were bullied, tracked by the administration, and even hacked. In 2013, CBS confirmed that Attkisson’s computers were hacked before she left the network. Rosen’s whereabouts were monitored by Obama’s Department of Justice and his questions during news conferences were edited out by the government. Federal agents even obtained Rosen’s personal emails (all of this without the help of the Russians and despite the fact that his password was probably not “password”). Rosen later opined that the Obama administration had an “authoritarian impulse” that he hadn’t experienced in other administrations. “There’s no doubt,” Rosen wrote, “that the Obama administration has maintained an animus towards Fox News and specifically towards me across the two terms.”
Streep also seems to forget about the Obama Administration’s ruthless strong-arming of journalists to reveal sources. In 2014 the Committee to Protect Journalists—the group that Streep endorsed in her speech on Sunday—wrote a scathing report on the Obama Administration’s relationship with the press:
U.S. President Barack Obama came into office pledging open government, but he has fallen short of his promise. Journalists and transparency advocates say the White House curbs routine disclosure of information and deploys its own media to evade scrutiny by the press. Aggressive prosecution of leakers of classified information and broad electronic surveillance programs deter government sources from speaking to journalists.”
That same report quotes David E. Sanger, chief Washington correspondent of the New York Times as having said, “This is the most closed, control freak administration I’ve ever covered.”
The most egregious of her memory lapses, however, is her seeming inability to recall Nakoula Basseley Nakoula, the immigrant filmmaker who made a small movie called “Innocence of Muslims.” This was the movie that Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama blamed for the Benghazi massacre of September 11, 2012. Streep seems not to be able to recall—maybe on account of his skin color, or immigrant status…who knows?—a man who the administration would eventually see jailed on a technicality. Namely that Nakoula, who was barred by parole from using pseudonyms, used one while making a movie critical of Mohammed and Islam. Considering Streep can’t be bothered to remember Charlie Hebdo or even Theo Van Gogh, and seems to forget what happens to people who mock Mohammed, we shouldn’t expect her to understand why someone would want to use a pseudonym to make such a movie. But surely Obama and Clinton and law enforcement might reasonably be expected to understand that motivation.
Sunday’s awards ceremony and Streep’s speech centered on filmmaking, free speech, and freedom of the press. Streep in her speech noted, “Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners. If you kick ’em all out, you’ll have nothing…”
Yet this great American actor couldn’t be bothered to think about the fact that a sitting president, his whole administration and the State Department brought all their power to bear on an immigrant filmmaker to give themselves political cover. Nakoula is living in a homeless shelter now, earning $300 a month, his life destroyed by the powerful in government—and Meryl Streep has the temerity to worry about the possibility of a maybe during the next administration.
A dogged and committed press corps with an adversarial relationship to the powerful is something we all want. But maybe instead of projecting her fears into the uncertain future with a president-elect who has yet to actually do anything with respect to policy or the press, Streep might do well to examine the premises under which she and much of the media have operated these past few years—fawning over those in power which has led her to stay silent during some of the most egregious abuses of government power with regards to free speech and the press by one of the most opaque administrations in modern history. She might come to some self-realization that she’s been duped and that she didn’t actually speak truth to power on Sunday night, but rather she acted as a megaphone for the powerful to preach to their choir.