First Amendment be damned . . . If Oscar-winning actor Sean Penn had his way, any journalist who called Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez a dictator would quickly find himself behind bars.
Penn, appearing on HBO's "Real Time with Bill Maher" on Friday, defended Chavez during a segment in which he detailed his work with the JP Haitian Relief Organization, which he co-founded.
"Every day, this elected leader is called a dictator here, and we just accept it, and accept it" said Penn, winner of two Best Actor Academy Awards. "And this is mainstream media, who should -- truly, there should be a bar by which one goes to prison for these kinds of lies."
It was just the beginning of a busy weekend for Penn. When asked on CBS' "Sunday Morning" about those who question his motives for his humanitarian work in Haiti, he said:
"Do I hope that those people die screaming of rectal cancer? Yeah. You know, but I'm not going to spend a lot of energy on it."
Judge Andrew Napolitano, Fox News' senior judicial analyst, said the same constitutional protection that applies to journalists also applies to Penn, who can say pretty much anything he wants in the "political arena" -- aside from an immediate incitement of violence.
"What he is saying is protected, as wacky and weird as it is," Napolitano told FoxNews.com. "But the substance of what he's saying would be absolutely contrary to the First Amendment, which fully protects all political opinions. So if a journalist says Dick Cheney should go to jail, the journalist is privileged to say that."
"Mr. Penn is calling for a communist-like regime in which journalists who criticize the government are sent to jail because of that criticism," Napolitano added. "That is utterly un-American and hasn't happened here since the Civil War."
Lis Wiehl, a former federal prosecutor and Fox News legal analyst, echoed Napolitano’s comments, saying Penn’s statement is "completely counter" to First Amendment protections.
"Unless you're yelling 'fire' in a crowded theatre, i.e. stirring up immediate violence, you have the right as an American to voice your opinion, even if others (including Penn) disagree," she wrote FoxNews.com. "And, yes, Penn has the right to voice his opinion as well -- that's the beauty of the First Amendment. And, don't forget, truth is an absolute defense to any defamation or slander lawsuit."
According to a study by the Business and Media Institute, news coverage pertaining to Chavez from 1998 to 2006 found the Venezuelan president's human rights record was mentioned in only 10 percent of stories, and he was described as a leftist in 12 percent of stories.
Napolitano, meanwhile, said Penn apparently prefers "thuggery" to democracy.
"In light of his ignorance of freedom of speech, his wishing rectal cancer on his detractors, and his embracing tyrants, Mr. Penn obviously prefers thuggery to democracy," he continued. "Were he free to do so, he'd be a tyrant. Now we'll see if he can get me jailed for saying that!"