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Whoopi pays price for anti-Bush remarks

Consumer complaints likely forced Slim-Fast to drop comedian
/ Source: The Associated Press

Some may think Whoopi Goldberg’s crack about President Bush was no big whoop. But in the latest case of celebrity censure over political remarks, Slim-Fast cut Goldberg out like carbs.

The diet giant dropped the comedy queen from its advertising campaign because the company’s executives were unhappy with anti-Bush remarks Goldberg made at a recent political rally.

“While I can appreciate what the Slim-Fast people need to do in order to protect their business, I must also do what I need to do as an artist, as a writer and as an American — not to mention as a comic,” Goldberg said in a statement Thursday. “It’s unfortunate that, in this country, the two cannot mesh.”

Goldberg declined to be interviewed for this story.

She shouldn’t have been surprised by the backlash. Corporate groups — from the Baseball Hall of Fame to Disney and “Fahrenheit 9/11” — have taken a back-hand to politically inflammatory stars.

Goldberg participated at a recent Democratic fund-raiser at Radio City Music Hall in New York, joining performers such as John Mellencamp, Jon Bon Jovi, Paul Newman, Meryl Streep, Jessica Lange and John Leguizamo.

At one point in a speech mocking the Bush administration, Goldberg used his surname as a sexual reference.

The rally in question raised $7.5 million for the John Kerry-John Edwards presidential ticket. Both Kerry and Edwards attended, but neither commented about the jokes made by the celebrities toward Bush.

The Slim-Fast Foods Co. is based in West Palm Beach, Fla., where President Bush’s brother, Jeb, is governor.

The company’s decision to drop Goldberg likely has more to do with consumer complaints than the politics of the executives. Slim-Fast is run by S. Daniel Abraham, who has donated large sums to the Democratic Party.

“The conundrum here is advertisers like to be associated with hot stars, but they can’t stand the heat,” said show-business historian Tom O’Neil, author of “The Emmys” and “Movie Awards.” “Stars become hot because they are antiestablishment, they are rebels. The sponsors are the establishment, so they hired these people and then minute they open their mouths, they drop them.”

“The biggest shock is that Slim-Fast didn’t recognize what a Bush-basher (Goldberg) has been for years,” he added.

The Walt Disney Co. refused to release Michael Moore’s hot-button critique “Fahrenheit 9/11,” with Disney CEO Michael Eisner saying that the company “did not want a film in the middle of the political process” because he believed that theme park and entertainment consumers “do not look for us to take sides.”

“Fahrenheit 9/11” was distributed independently after Miramax chiefs Bob and Harvey Weinstein bought the rights from parent company Disney.

And in the past year, the Cumulus radio chain temporarily banned airplay of the Dixie Chicks on some stations after lead singer Natalie Maines disparaged Bush at a concert.

The company is a major donor to Republican political candidates, but it denied a policy banning the Dixie Chicks.

Last year, the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., scrapped an event for the 15th anniversary of the popular baseball movie “Bull Durham” because of the anti-war stance of stars Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon.

Historically, corporate backlashes are not limited to left-leaning celebrities. More than 25 years ago, singing beauty-queen Anita Bryant lost her job as a spokeswoman for Florida orange juice after she mounted a crusade against gay rights.

Still, left-wing stars seem to be more likely to draw criticism now, especially from the conservative commentators who rally viewers to speak out.

“In the reality in which we live, there is a 24-hour cable news channel and I don’t think anyone would argue Fox is the noisiest,” said Gregg Kilday, film editor of The Hollywood Reporter. “One of its favorite ways to fill time is bashing Hollywood celebrities who take liberal positions, and there really isn’t any kind of parallel organization on the left.”