An Artful Protest to War

What would you say if I began this column by stating my feelings about the impending war between the United States and Iraq? I have every right to do so. Arts Beat is an opinion column, and I'd sim

What would you say if I began this column by stating my feelings about the impending war between the United States and Iraq? I have every right to do so. Arts Beat is an opinion column, and I'd simply be sharing with readers my opinion on a subject I feel passionate about. For those who would argue that this column is solely meant to address cultural matters, I'd respond by stating that activism, political protests and questioning authority are artistic forms of expression. I'm talking about freedom of speech, and nothing impacts the creative community more than that.

You're not convinced? Leave the world affairs commentary, you might say, to political pundits from the Sunday morning talk shows and the Fox News Network. And you might tell me that an arts columnist/film critic at a weekly newspaper in Cincinnati has no business talking about an issue as serious as war.

You might have felt I was also out of line expressing my views last year on something as serious as the "Artists of Conscience" boycott staged by the grassroots activist group Coalition for a Just Cincinnati. Yet here I go again.

On the subject of President Bush's plans for war with Iraq, I'm convinced that peace remains our best option. I support United Nations weapons inspectors and multilateral diplomacy from all world powers to force Iraq to halt its weapons programs.

I agree with the President's stance that Iraq is a threat to our safety. I don't agree that invading Iraq is the right answer. In my opinion, an invasion will make the world a more dangerous place, and that's a position more and more people are taking.

I'm not going to get into a debate about the price of oil or the President's desire to finish the long-ago plans of his father. I'll save that for another time. For now, I'm simply an arts critic and I'm against the war — and both parts of my life are integrally connected.

On Jan. 15, Christopher Knight, art critic for The Los Angeles Times, wrote a review of Track 16 Gallery's The Anti-War Show: The Price of Intervention From Korea to Iraq. In his review he commented that the plans for war with Iraq were "imbecilic" and that President Bush has made no "coherent argument for an invasion."

Knight used his review of an exhibition with anti-war themes as a platform to express his own views about the war. One could argue that he shared something about himself with his readers by explaining his stance in relation to the artwork. Knight offered his opinion in what's essentially an opinion column.

While there's no doubt that many Times readers disagreed with what he had to say about war, the art and everything, I don't think anyone was prepared for what happened next.

On Jan. 28, in The Times' "For the Record" section, the newspaper's editors repudiated Knight's piece and his criticisms of Bush policy. The piece read: "It was, in our view, a gratuitous political statement and, as such, a distraction from the legitimate substance of the review. It should not have been published."

In the wake of the paper's disavowal of Knight's column, other members of the L.A. press community have come to his defense. On Jan. 31, John Powers wrote in LA Weekly about the string of events and, while questioning Knight's decision to use his column a personal soap box, leveled criticism at Times editors for separating themselves from the review after publishing it.

For media pundits keeping score here in Cincinnati, the situation smacks of The Enquirer's Chiquita scandal, except there's no fat payoff involved. And Knight didn't commit a crime while writing his column.

Considering this debate about a columnist's right to express his opinions — even anti-war opinions that some might describe as unpatriotic — I dedicate this column to Knight and other journalists willing to express their views in a hostile environment.

Life west of Cincinnati, especially in Los Angeles, often looks dazzling. Yet Knight reminds us that censorship can even occur in the hippest environs.

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