Help Jeremy find pop hypocrites

frank02I’m on the road in Kansas City. Can you imagine a national journalism conference with no WiFi? Frustrating.

Anyway, I did manage to notice (hat tip to Amy Welborn, yet again) that young master Jeremy Lott has issued a public call for help as he researches the mass-media angles of his upcoming book on the virtues of hypocrisy. His appeal does not have a strong news hook, unless some link this to Karl Rove, but I think GetReligion readers will find it fun anyway.

Dive in! Help out this young journalist! He writes:

… (This) is one of my rare requests for advice. The fourth chapter of my book will wrestle with hypocrisy in Hollywood. I’m looking for two kinds of information:

1) Quotes by celebs condemning hypocrites or hypocrisy. If you send these in, please identify the source of the quotation.

2) Famous hypocrites in film. Obvious candidates include Captain Renault in Casablanca, Robert Duvall in The Apostle, and Steve Martin in Leap of Faith.

Have at it folks. My e-mail address is JEREMYAL123 — AT — YAHOO — DOT — COM.

OK, I’ll take the challenge. Let’s assume that by “Hollywood” Jeremy means either television or film. If that is the case, I would argue that the most famous and, in some ways, influential hypocrite in the pop-culture era of the Baby Boomers would have to be Maj. Frank Burns of M*A*S*H.

All the key elements are there — a stupid white male conservative who thinks of himself as a puritan while shagging a nearby blonde hypocrite who is later liberated to become a brilliant feminist by the brilliant sensitive liberals (whether faithfully married or gleefully unmarried).

I think Frank Burns, in many ways, was just as powerful a figure as Archie Bunker.

The challenge in this thread is going to be nominating people who are not carbon copies of the old Elmer Gantry template. Jump in, readers. At the very least, let’s come up with a dozen or so five-star pop-culture hypocrites. Let’s go for superstars and not sink into Jim and Tammy Bakker territory.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Mark Byron

    I think you hit the jackpot with Burns.

    One other that comes to mind is Michael Corleone from the Godfather movies. One scene has him standing in as a baptismal godfather, denouncing Satan and all his works while his hit men are dispatching large numbers of his enemies.

  • molly

    Frank Burns was a boob. Archie Bunker was a bigot.
    Frank Burns was a ninny. Archie Bunker was an iconoclast. Frank Burns was a cartoon. Archie Bunker was human.

    tmatt’s point? missed it……

  • Frank (really…)

    Molly’s right in that Burns was never given a chance to be anything other than a cartoon character (not sure I see Archie Bunker as an “iconoclast” though…). I think of this every time I watch a season five episode of MASH. I would love to have seen a MASH where the writers let Burns be right–I mean *really* right–and Hawkeye in the wrong. I mean every other “ensemble cast” sitcom of that era took pains to give everyone their own episode. Ah well….
    I think I agree with Terry, though– Burns is an archetypical Hollywood hypocrite. –don’t have any other good nominees though.

  • Mike the Geek

    How about Barbara Strisand? I remember a year or two age she was pontificating on the importance of drying your clothes on the clothesline in order to conserve energy. When asked about Babs, however, her spokesman let it be known that she was too important to allow her clothes to be dried that way.

    Don’t forget Rosie O’Donnell – big gun-rights opponent but make sure her bodygaurd packs heat. Okay for her but not for the rest of us.

    I realize they are real people and not fictional characters. That probably removes them for consideration in Hollywood, where fiction is reality and reality is fiction.

  • Steve Nicoloso

    Yep. Frank Burns is the whipping boy, pure and simple. He served no other purpose, which makes M*A*S*H episodes of the Burns Era, even after all these years, so painful to watch. I suppose a shallow cliche of any sort would be equally painful.

    I’m surprised that Duvall’s Sonny is lumped in with the mix. The Apostle is a complex story about a complex character, and for that character to be reduced to a mere back of the napkin hypocrite is… well… at least unobservant. He is no candidate for archetypal hypocrite, unless we are to say that every man is a hypocrite, in which case my vote is for Sonny Dewey: Archetypal (More Heroic Than Most) Everyman.


  • David Mills

    Captain Renault and Steve’ Martin’s character aren’t hypocrites either. The first makes no pretense to virtue and the second is a con man. A difference between public role and private behavior alone doesn’t make a hypocrite, as the word is usually used: a hypocrite has to be believe himself virtuous while living un-virtuously in private.

  • Ray Marshall

    How about Sue Ann Nivens from the old Mary Tyler Moore show?

  • Molly

    “The practice of professing beliefs, feelings, or virtues that one does not hold or possess; falseness.”

    Nah, I think Sue Ann knew what she was and whenever her veneer slipped, I really think she did not care. Except when Murray zinged her.

  • Patrick Rothwell


    This is the second time today that someone has pointed out that a difference between private behavior and public role is not hypocrisy, even though most people seem to think that it is. Is there suddenly an epidemic of common sense?

    But, I disagree that hypocrisy is believing oneself to be virtuous when one isn’t in private. It’s not so much what one believes about oneself, or whether one is in “denial” about one’s own life, but hypocrisy is about how someone sells himself to other people i.e., portraying oneself as having a virtue to others that one does not have, for the purpose of deceit. Two cases in the media illustrate the difference, I think. The oft-cited allegation of Msgr. Eugene Clark being a party to adultery while at the same time castigating gays as the responsible agents for a whole host of ills in the Church is not really a case of hypocrisy, though it may be a case of humbug and jackassery. Clark did not portray himself as possessing a virtue that he did not have. But, on the other hand, the two highly visible ex-gays who claimed to be “cured” during the course of an on-going media campaign, but were exposed for hanging out in gay bars or arranging gay sex parties over the internet, were hypocrites because they falsely portrayed themselves as having a quality that they did not really in fact have.

    Frank Burns, I agree, is the best example of hypocrite on television. Was Newman from Seinfeld a hypocrite, or was he simply unbearably annoying?

  • Jeremy Lott


    >Captain Renault and Steve Martin’s character >aren’t hypocrites either.

    Yes they are.

    >The first makes no pretense to virtue

    Yes he does, but it’s funny so some people don’t think of it that way.

    >and the second is a con man.

    A con man is not a hypocrite? That’s an interesting perspective.

    >A difference between public role and private >behavior alone doesn’t make a hypocrite, as the >word is usually used:

    We must mean different things by “usual use.”

    Hypocrisy denotes behavior involving contradiction, usually in re: an appearance of virtue.

    >a hypocrite has to be believe himself virtuous
    >while living un-virtuously in private.

    Well, he might think of himself that way or he might not. Either state of mind does not affect his hypocrisy.


  • Jeremy Lott


    >I’m surprised that Duvall’s Sonny is lumped in >with the mix. The Apostle is a complex story about >a complex character, and for that character to be >reduced to a mere back of the napkin >hypocrite is. >. . well. . . at least unobservant.

    Hypocrites are often complex people.


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  • Jason Kranzusch

    I would expand the Godfather ref to include much, if not all, of the mafia culture. They usually have dealings with the RCC (are the priests also hypocrites?), keep mistresses, claim to love their wives and kids, and regulary participate in drug traffic, prostitution and murder. “The Sopranos” is full of this hypocrisy. They often justify their corruption and illegal activities by referring to the widespread corruption in industry and politics.