Beverly Hills Hotel Caught In Fox News Analyst's Crosshairs
Some lines you just don't cross.
In traversing the politically tinged terrain of what has become a high-water mark for protests, a line was crossed in the successful and ongoing Beverly Hills Hotel boycott. On December 14, 2014, Fox News analyst Lisa Daftari walked the red carpet of His Majesty Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah's prized Beverly Hills Hotel to accept an award for enhancing the image of women at the annual Iranian Women's Organization gala.
The irony of walking into the crown jewel of the Sultan's Dorchester Collection portfolio of vanity, ultra-deluxe properties as a woman of Persian descent and a vocal human rights advocate was not lost on Ms. Daftari. "I decided to attend the event and use the platform to address this very issue not from the picket line, but from right inside the hotel," Daftari said to Adam Kredo of the Washington Free Beacon.
Contrast that with the role Cleve Jones, the well-known gay rights activist and hustler of the Harvey Milk era, cast himself in. Long the go-to guy for issues on or relating to the LGBT community, Mr. Jones is less known for his work with UNITE HERE -- a labor union whose focus is primarily on the hospitality industry -- that launched an effort to decorate the decidedly refined halls of the vaunted Beverly Hills Hotel with gay and sexist slurs and place homophobia on the venerable Polo Lounge's menu.
"We tried to spread the word and ignite some outrage in the celebrity community," said Leigh Shelton, spokesperson for UNITE HERE Local 11 which has spearheaded the more than a generation old fight against the sultanate's ownership of the iconic property that is, in image and reality, the finely crafted picture of Hollywood marketed to the masses around the globe. "Unfortunately our message wasn't resonating with folks."
Enter Cleve Jones. And, with him, a trove of Hollywood heavyweights and a not-so-shabby roster of folks often aligned with the self-termed Gay Mafia that operates in the entertainment industry with a hand less dainty and more akin to delivering a jab as though from Joe Louis or Muhammad Ali.
As Jones himself said, "If you want to reach the public you've got to find that phrase, those words that jump out and pull them into the story."
As to whether a man billed as "the legendary gay rights and AIDS activist" -- as to whether any activist true in heart and spirit -- should be concerned with sound bites or, instead, the movement itself is another question entirely. Here, there is simply a curious alliance between a labor union and a man who is exercising his too often written in the margins might to muscle, on the surface, one of the world's wealthiest men into selling possessions he owns only for their import and cultural significance to an industry that would not, could not, exist in his very own kingdom.
The Beverly Hills Hotel boycott continues and is a highly visible sign of the power of a select group of power brokers in the media industry -- in Hollywood -- and the punitive manner with which they can and often do bring their power to bear. That said, Cleve Jones has had no role in that aspect of what Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah no doubt views as a coup d'état. A challenge to the sovereignty not of a nation state, but, instead, a challenge to the newly minted sovereignty of the capitalist schema set upon America well prior to the economic turmoil of the so-called Great Recession.
To Mr. Jones, and to UNITE HERE, this was little more than a fundraising ploy. A sideshow, replete with a lineup of celebrities from Jay Leno to Ellen DeGeneres to Sharon Osbourne and moguls including Sir Richard Branson and Jeffrey Katzenberg.
On the other side, you find Ms. Daftari. Hardly someone liberal-leaning Hollywood would cite as a friend to the cause. And yet, as Ms. Daftari said, in placing the Sultan's dictates in their coldest and most dire form, "How could I accept such an honor in the Sultan's ballroom knowing that while we would be sipping champagne, women in Brunei still risked getting stoned to death?
"I could have backed out...But accepting the award would present me with a unique opportunity to walk along the iconic red carpet at its entrance and to condemn Shariah law from inside the hotel."
And that is precisely what the audacious journalist did. Standing, not only as an Iranian American but as a Jewish woman, in the House of Bolkiah's most coveted jewel in his portfolio of hotels, Lisa Daftari gave the following speech in accepting the Maliheh Kashfi Award from a perch very few will ever enjoy:
As we struggle to define, to question, to reevaluate, to map out the goals and paths we want to take in life, we watch as parents in Africa struggle with whether to send their young daughters to school for fear that they should be kidnapped or raped; As women in Iran bravely took off their hejabs to pose pictures on Facebook to only get acid thrown in their faces; As the women of Egypt took to Tahrir Square to show the world that they no longer will accept a male-dominated society and are then told to go back to the kitchen.
Now, you can do that. Or, as Leigh Shelton, the union organizer and spokesperson lamented on her efforts prior to engaging the paid services of Cleve Jones, said, "Stories need a hook. I just don't think it had a hook at the time."
Ms. Daftari continued:
As the women of Saudi Arabia fight to do nothing more than drive and go out alone, let us not forget that as we sit here in this hotel, owned by the Sultan of Brunei, only months ago protests and boycotts led by celebrities such as Jay Leno and Ellen DeGeneres, reminded us that while there's an argument to be made about supporting the employees and local economy of the hotel, we cannot and will not forget the citizens of that country or any others where Sharia Law has been implemented, stripping its citizens of basic human rights.
One speaks words bold in nature and breathtaking in delivery. The other speaks of manipulation, of fashioning a story to fit an agenda. One is brave, the other is little more than the tape on the knuckle of another 'could have been' in a long line of wannabes.
So singular in its purpose was in employing Jones and the faux outrage over the sultanate's homophobic and misogynistic decrees that when assisted by individuals within the media industry who provided coverage and ensured the continued and continuing viability of the Beverly Hills Hotel boycott, the union all but withdrew its once so vocal support for the boycott it alleges to have led months ago.
Only, by that point, more powerful forces had sent word down from the aerie of 'the old men' who still determine the way the vane turns that to be seen at the Beverly Hills Hotel or any property owned by the Sultan of Brunei would be deemed a career defining decision of the most unkind variety.
It should not go without notice that whether speaking of Ms. Daftari's employer, Rupert Murdoch, or David Geffen and Barry Diller, or even the eldest of the elder statesmen and the man termed "the last of the moguls," Sumner Redstone, not one notable -- agent, executive or talent -- has lunched at the Polo Lounge nor has a single industry event been held at the Beverly Hills Hotel since the start of the boycott.
Because, you see, the Beverly Hills Hotel boycott remains. With the Sultan's failed attempt to buy another trophy property, New York's Plaza Hotel, and a now yearlong blacklisting by the industry as the bookings right through the Academy Awards have locked the Sultan's properties out, it would appear the pressure remains for either a sale of the icon or the forever diminished role of the Pink Palace in the history of an industry known as Hollywood.
So, how could Lisa Daftari accept such an honor in the Sultan's ballroom knowing that while she was sipping champagne, women in Brunei still risked getting stoned to death?
Just the way she did. Not by crossing a line, nor by looking for another hook.
By taking a personal but very public stand. And come the next annual gala of the Iranian Women's Organization, this is certain, it will not be held at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
Gary Snyder is a member of the Redstone family, whose company, National Amusements, owns Viacom and CBS, among other media assets. He is an advisor on Western media and culture to China.