- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Jon Voight is at the cusp of a cultural moment. Fellow actors and celebrities are not heaping criticism on the silver-screen conservative following his feisty criticisms of President Obama, made in a speech before Republicans and in The Washington Times last week.

But Mr. Voight is getting some serious flak in the political realm, and the criticism is ideologically driven. He’s being accused of hate speech.

The Academy Award-winning actor was cited Monday by People’s Weekly World, a magazine once known as the “Daily Worker” and sympathetic to the Communist Party.

In a wide-ranging editorial denouncing “home-grown terrorism,” the publication pounced on Mr. Voight’s mention of an effort “to bring an end to this false prophet, Obama” as he addressed the National Republican Congressional Committee last week.

“I don’t want to equate what Jon Voight said as expressing a conservative opinion on politics. It went way beyond that. He made a threat against the president of the United States to a crowd at a GOP fundraiser and got a good response from the Senate minority leader and other powerful people. And that is scary,” said Teresa Albano, editor of the publication.

Marsha Zakowski, president of the Coalition of Labor Union Women, was alarmed, too.

“Jon Voight is a celebrity. He can influence people. Voight has just been coming out with this ultraconservative point of view. It is deplorable,” she told the magazine in a separate article.

Mr. Voight’s entire comment was a little longer than the eight words cited.

He was in the process of lauding a list of 23 Republicans and conservatives - from former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to historian Shelby Steele and Fred Barnes, executive editor of the Weekly Standard.

“Let’s give thanks to them for staying on course to bring an end to this false prophet, Obama,” Mr. Voight said that night, according to his handwritten speech, shared during a recent visit to The Times newsroom.

But the abbreviated phrase, isolated out of context, for the most part, stuck in the craw of many.

Mr. Voight attracted the attention of some prominent journalists who were not treating the 71-year-old performer as a novelty act, simple-minded Hollywood conservative or some upstart curiosity left over from the John Wayne era.

Frank Rich, Op-Ed columnist for the New York Times, included Mr. Voight on a roster of “Obama haters’ silent enablers” and also cited the abbreviated passage.

Mr. Rich observed: “This kind of rhetoric, with its pseudo-scriptural call to action, is toxic.”

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman cited Mr. Voight’s words in an Op-Ed called “The Big Hate” that accused certain conservatives and news organizations - including The Washington Times - of “mainstreaming right-wing extremism” systematically as far back as the Clinton administration.

The blogosphere also reverberated with anti-Voight statements that segued into a Republican bashing as well.

“Actor Jon Voight typified right-wing vitriol by calling for ‘an end to this false prophet, Obama.’ Compared to Obama’s feel for relevance, what matters to real people, Republicans aren’t even in the same game,” noted Robert Becker of BeyondChron.com, a San Francisco-based blog.

None of the accounts referred to Mr. Voight’s entire speech, which included references to new Republican strategies, his fear over the safety of Israel and his hopes for the nation in general. He can be lofty and shrewd as well.

“Democracy is an extraordinary adventure. It’s difficult, full of daring and risk and danger,” Mr. Voight told The Times on June 10.

“Obama is a very good actor. He knows how to play it. And he is very adept at creating this ‘Obama’ - this character who is there whenever the world needs something,” he later added.

“Jon Voight definitely delivered when it came to giving a message at the right time. And he got a lot of attention because of the high-profile platform he was given - asked to headline a top Republican Party fundraiser. The press was watching,” said Republican strategist Ron Bonjean.

“It’s not easy for conservatives to punch through in an Obama-dominated news cycle,” he said.

But as Hollywood conservatives like Mr. Voight gain more traction in the political landscape, the new role requires prudence, caution and attention to language.

“When a speech like that is over, you ask ‘did it have a positive impact on listeners?’ That’s really key,” Mr. Bonjean said. “But you have to be very careful about picking language, because there are boundaries. And I think Jon Voight was walking the thin line in his Republican speech.”

Some ridiculed the idea of lumping Mr. Voight in with hate-mongers altogether.

“For Krugman and others to seize on the case of neo-Nazi [and suspect in the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum shooting] James W. von Brunn as a rationale for ranting against Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and actor Jon Voight is the height of absurdity. Nothing they have said or done is even remotely connected to this murderous nut or anyone else who might share his anti-Semitic views,” countered Jonathan Tobin of Commentary magazine.

But while he has irked audiences in the political realm, Mr. Voight is getting some love on the celebrity circuit, and from his peers in Hollywood and beyond.

He has garnered recent critical praise for his role as a villain in the Fox broadcast network series “24.” On Sunday, he also received the Marquee Award - “recognizing his artistic excellence, professional accomplishment and dedication to cinema” - from CineVegas, an annual five-day film festival in Las Vegas.

This week, Variety also praised Mr. Voight’s “long and distinguished career.”

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