The news that Sheryl Crow was playing the Cumberland County Civic Center had been on for only a few minutes last Monday before an anonymous commenter complained about Crow espousing her political views in a public forum.

It’s a common complaint that sometimes escalates into a frenzy of headline-making “scandals” resulting in days of back-and-forth commentary in the media. (Remember the Dixie Chicks-Toby Keith feud during the George W. Bush administration?) It’s always puzzled me. First of all, since when does being a celebrity mean you have to hide your political views? Since when does being in the public eye mean you need to stop being a concerned citizen and start becoming a muzzled, disassociated onlooker?

And why is this now such a big deal? Artists and entertainers have been using their celebrity status to push political agendas and argue for social change for hundreds of years. During the ’60s, the radio was filled with songs about social protest, and entertainers often spoke about their views on the strife of the times. During the Depression, Woody Guthrie traveled the rails lending a voice to Dust Bowl victims and striking workers. (Check out the oft-forgotten sixth verse of “This Land is Your Land.”)

Classical musicians weren’t shy about using their fame as a stump, either. The Press Herald’s classical music critic, Christopher Hyde, pointed out to me that Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin and Shostakovich all incorporated political elements into their works. And what about Shakespeare? The Bard’s plays are chock-full of political undertones.

It seems to me that the current outrage over entertainers making political statements through their words and music is due less to a public intolerance of such actions than it is to new technology and the media. (Yes, I am pointing the finger at myself and my colleagues.)

With the demand for 24-7 news and a seemingly insatiable appetite for tabloid-driven “reality” programming, anything and everything a celebrity says and does is now cause for debate. And what they say and do can be recorded, reported and available to millions worldwide before their mouths have closed.

In other words, it’s only news because we make it so. It’s not necessarily newsworthy.

I’d like to hear from readers what they think about the topic. E-mail me at the address below, and I will include your comments in a future column.

Deputy Managing Editor Rod Harmon may be contacted at 791-6450 or at:

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