Why Is America So Hard On Woody?

It’s been three decades since Woody Harrelson last tended bar at Cheers, where his character evolved from a country bumpkin cast in direct conflict with that of the veteran actor Nicholas Colasanto who he replaced upon that actor’s untimely death into a more nuanced, mature dispenser of advice and reason.  And since then, Harrleson as an actor has since gone on to many more nuanced and acclaimed roles.  Per Wikipedia:

He went on to receive three Academy Award nominations: Best Actor for The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996), and Best Supporting Actor for both The Messenger (2009) and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017). Other notable films include White Men Can’t Jump (1992), Natural Born Killers (1994), Kingpin (1996), The Thin Red Line (1998), No Country for Old Men (2007), Zombieland (2009), Rampart (2011), Seven Psychopaths (2012), Now You See Me (2013), The Edge of Seventeen (2016), LBJ (2016), Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018), and Triangle of Sadness (2022). He also gained prominence for his portrayal of Haymitch Abernathy in The Hunger Games film series (2012-2015).

Harrelson received further Primetime Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie his portrayal of Steve Schmidt in the HBO film Game Change (2012), and for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for his role as Marty Hart in the HBO crime anthology series True Detective (2014). He will portray E. Howard Hunt in the HBO political limited series White House Plumbers (2023).

He has also achieved enormous financial success, embraced a vegan and CBD/THC-enhanced lifestyle and lives comfortably in Maui with his wife, once his longtime personal assistant, and his three daughters.  Suffice it to say, he likely lives a life that many of us could only dream of having.  And probably has learned a thing or two along the way about what does and doesn’t work for him to be so healthy and successful in his sixties.

Which is why it”s downright disturbing that his monologue on this past weekend’s SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE has been called out with such anger and vitriol on social media.  In case you missed it, here it is.  You judge for yourself:

Personally, I thought little of the monologue, and frankly thought some of the work he did in later scenes was more exemplary of his comic chops.  But to see the online real-time reactions unfold, one would think he had called for the use of actual guns rather than squirt pistols.  One in particular has been cited in the numerous writeups from mainstream media supporting the consternation from Harrelson’s stoytelling:

“Thank you, @nbcsnl, for Woody Harrelson’s insipid anti-vax monologue,” tweeted TV producer Lee Goldberg. “Maybe invite Kanye back while you’re at it.”   Others even suggested that Harrelson had blown up his entire career in daring to share his story.

And so it went on through the weekend.  Cancel him!!  Ban him!  Boycott his movie!!  All because Harrelson shared his own viewpoint.

Just like a Los Angeles Times columnist named Michael Hiltzik did the day before in an opinion piece that took issue with a recently published New York Times piece that dared to take issue with the concept that masking may not be as obvious a panacea to dealing with the pandemic as one might logically conclude from the physical act of covering their mouth and nose:

The anti-maskers jumped right on the study soon after its publication on Jan. 30 by the usually trusted Cochrane Library, asserting that it proved that masking didn’t work against COVID-19. Leading the triumphal parade was Bret Stephens, a New York Times columnist and certified member of the “don’t confuse me with the facts” crowd.

Stephens surfaced the other day with a column purportedly based on the Cochrane study and headlined, “The Mask Mandates Did Nothing. Will Any Lessons Be Learned?” 

He wrote, “Those skeptics who were furiously mocked as cranks and occasionally censored as ‘misinformers’ for opposing mandates were right. The mainstream experts and pundits who supported mandates were wrong.”

Hiltzik went on for several more paragraphs to attempt to debunk Stephens, but made particular note of the following pointL

Assuming he bothered to read the study all the way through, he seems to have missed this important admonition in the text: “The high risk of bias in the trials, variation in outcome measurement, and relatively low adherence with the interventions during the studies hampers drawing firm conclusions.” (Emphasis mine.)

Which is exactly the point that Harrelson’s views are based upon.  It is virtually impossible for any post-facto study to control for all of the variables that go into whether or not COVID is transmissable or if a mask or vaccine prevents it.  Hiltzik cites what he claims are indisputable studies of sailors and schoolchildren that yielded statistically significant differences in transmission and infection rates between those masked and not, but does not offer any details on the pre-existing conditions of the individuals or families that may have impacted those results.   From my own experience in developing research paradigms for far less consequential things, the best even the best can hope for is a degree of confidence that you’ve attempted to cover your bases with a stratified sample of potential susceptibility.  Hiltzik offers none of that; merely the snark of a 70-year-old, Colgate-educated opinion writer who thinks his view of the world is superior.

And it’s not as if Hiltzik doesn’t come with his own set of asterisks.  Here’s what his own Wikipedia entry reveals about his past Los Angeles Times writings, as well as a previous opinion piece written at the height of Omicron panic:

Sockpuppet suspension[edit]

In 2006, Hiltzik was suspended without pay from the LA Times for sockpuppeting on his blog “The Golden State”. Hiltzik admitted to posting under false names on multiple sites, using the pseudonym “Mikekoshi” to criticize commentators Hugh Hewitt and Patrick Frey.[10][11] In December 2009, the LA Times announced that Hiltzik would be returning to the paper as a business columnist.[12]

Mocking unvaccinated COVID deaths[edit]

Hiltzik was criticized for a January 10, 2022 column, where he encouraged public humiliation of unvaccinated people who died from COVID-19. He said, “mockery is not necessarily the wrong reaction to those who publicly mocked anti-COVID measures and encourage others to follow suit, before they perished of the disease the dangers of which they belittled”.[13][14]

It wouldn’t shock me if Lee Goldberg and so many others who felt compelled to call for Harrelson’s cancellation are avid readers of the Los Angeles Times.

A newspaper, by the way, run by a billionaire named Patrick Soon-Shiong, who rescued it from potential extinction after its longtime owner Tribune and its horribly named successor Tronc led it into bankruptcy.  Soon-Shiong has been lauded as a savior, but even Politico noted that he comes with a whole lotta asterisks of his own.  As Daniel Lippman, Christopher Cadelago and Max Tani  wrote last fall:

In conversations with POLITICO, more than three dozen current and former staffers said that the paper experienced growing pains relating to its novice billionaire owner. Soon-Shiong, the wealthy pharmaceutical executive,has tried to bring an era of revitalization and reinvestment to the Times. But his stewardship has also witnessed internal discord and concerns over priorities. (Emphasis mine).

The authors went on to detail some of the  former executives’ experiences as with Soon-Shiong as follows:

Those who have worked for Soon-Shiong say his focus is fleeting and that he can be impulsive. He is frequently tied to other ventures (he owns the San Diego Union-Tribune and his name has popped up as a potential buyer of the Los Angeles Angels). With so many initiatives and commitments, he often parachutes into newspaper matters, usually with sweeping proposals for moving the business forward or coverage priorities to emphasize.

That has been particularly true during Covid. Several Times employees said Soon-Shiong has been distracted since the start of the pandemic. In private, he indicated to the former executive that he’d become “obsessed” with Covid and to another person it would be diverting his attention. Still, he has personally contacted multiple Times journalists during the pandemic to urge them to write specific stories featuring people he has worked with on vaccines, according to a person directly familiar with the matter. That person added that those interactions left the reporters and editors feeling uncomfortable.

Manning said Patrick Soon-Shiong is passionate about many subjects and “often” discusses coverage with news staffers. “With the onset of the COVID pandemic, he has also had discussions with reporters to highlight the science underlying the virus, concerns of long COVID, consequences of mutations and studies coming out of his home country, South Africa,” Manning said.

Rarely a day goes by where the Times doesn’t publish a lengthy story that reports on rollbacks of mask and vaccination requirements that have been in place for nearly three years.  Virtually every one has quotes from a doctor or county official that casts some level of doubt on the perceived recklessness of what the experts believe is a reaction to the kind of mindset they believe Harrelson and those who support him–often from the political far right–are fostering and treat it with the same kind of indignant reaction that one may have to, say, gun control.

Let’s get one thing straight.  I am NOT one of those who have newly embraced Harrelson as their hero, as THE INSIDER’s Cheryl Teh reported yesterday:

Harrelson’s comments seemed to reference a widely debunked fringe theory that big pharmaceutical companies created the COVID-19 pandemic to make money off vaccines.

Far-right Twitter users lauded Harrelson on Saturday night, praising him for speaking up on a platform like SNL. Some Twitter users said Harrelson had dropped a “massive red pill,” a right-wing slang term for becoming “enlightened”.

“This guy didn’t play along with Covid theater and prays for those who did or had no choice,” wrote Jack Lombardi, a failed GOP congressional candidate from Illinois.

“Woody Harrelson sums up the Covid scam perfectly,” tweeted far-right reporter Avi Yemini. Yemini’s post was re-tweeted by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell, who is also known for supporting anti-vaccine disinformation.

Even Elon Musk was impressed by Harrelson. In response to the video of Harrelson’s monologue, Musk tweeted: “Good one.”

“So based. Nice work @nbcsnl!” Musk wrote in a separate tweet about Harrelson’s monologue.

As I continue to stress to anyone on either side of this debate who will actually listen, I have five vaccines, but maintain strong friendships with many people who have received none.  I’ve adopted many of the lifestyle changes that Harrelson has, and I’m in the best physical shape of my life.  I am one of the blessed minority who has yet to knowingly test positive, but I have indeed lost loved ones to the disease.  I’m anything but a believer in the spreading of disinformation that could add to that list.  And I’ve loved Harrelson’s work, including his outstanding portrayal of Archie Bunker in the recent LIVE IN FRONT OF A STUDIO AUDIENCE rennactments of classic ALL IN THE FAMILY scripts.  Judging by what many learned about his viewpoints this weekend, it is clear that Norman Lear’s casting choice was spot on.

What makes Harrelson’s life experience and opinion any less valid or justified that those that a clearly biased columnist like Hiltzik, working for a billionaire pharma executive turned newspaper publisher. expressed?

Do you think Soon-Shiong paid for the paper with the loose change he found in his couch cushions?   (Well, perhaps at that financial level, he may have indeed had that much lying around).

I just wish more people could simply allow others to openly share their actual experience, regardless of what they may perceive as bias, without panic-tweeting.  Fortunately, there are voices out there like those that Teh’s article concluded with:

“I like Woody Harrelson in his film roles. I also like that we live in a society where we are open for him to express his opinions,” tweeted psychiatrist Benjamin Janaway. “That said, we are also allowed to disagree, in part or entirety, with them, contrasting them with the evidence. Celebrity status isn’t evidence.”


And with that, hopefully, as Sam Malone said thirty years ago, we can finally say to the likes of those who think like Lee Goldberg, egged on by the interests of those who can benefit from continuing to virulently defend their own counter to the thoughts of folks like Harrelson citing “science” as a euphamism for their own self-interests and lifestyle choices.

“Sorry, we’re closed”.

Until next time…




Leave a Comment