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Hollywood Crowds Into New Orleans

Tuesday, 06 September 2005 12:00 AM

James Hirsen's "Left Coast Report" follows:

Hollywood's elite didn't miss a beat in using Hurricane Katrina to launch a political attack on the Bush administration – or to seek publicity for themselves.

While many of the stars' actions have been well-intentioned, some sought to turn the hurricane tragedy to their own political advantage and to further an agenda that seemingly blames Bush and the GOP for all of the world's ills – even a natural disaster.

According to some on Hollywood's political fringe, whether it's global warming, the wetlands, the funding for levees, racism, the tax cut or the president's vacation, Hurricane Katrina and the devastation that ensued is somehow the fault of George W. Bush.

It's a further indication of a growing trend explored in my new book

The opportunistic villains in the Katrina tragedy include:

"There are people dying and (the U.S. government is) not putting the boats in the water. I think that's criminal negligence. I don't think anybody ever anticipated the criminal negligence of the Bush administration in this situation."

Penn's personal crusade to rescue stranded victims hit a snag when his small boat – which also carried his personal photographer – sprang a leak and began taking on water.

No wonder he complained on one interview that authorities have yet to provide a place for people to rinse off the sludge from their bodies after wading through flood waters.

Regarding efforts to improve the levees protecting New Orleans, Moore maintained that Bush "specifically reduced the Army Corps of Engineers' budget for New Orleans this summer for the third year in a row," adding that there was a "much more important construction job for them - BUILDING DEMOCRACY IN IRAQ!"

Moore is apparently still having problems with his fact checking. Sadly, even with full funding, none of the flood-control projects would have been completed in time to prevent the surge of water that rushed over the city. And on another woeful note, a concrete wall that was breached had already been completely upgraded in accordance with plans that spanned several administrations.

West said when African-Americans were caught stealing in New Orleans "they were called looters," but when whites were caught they were "just feeding their families." He then suggested that "George Bush doesn't care about black people." NBC producers promptly cut away before West could go any further.

She sent letters to members of Congress and the White House asking them to increase aid efforts.

The idea that the president would intentionally withhold assistance to any of our people who are in need in such desperate times is so out of line with the character of the man, statements like these are self-refuting.

Other celebrities refrained from sharply criticizing Bush or the relief efforts, but jumped at the chance to showboat and garner some of the media spotlight.

She also said she would be presenting her show live from the area to ensure that their "stories would be told."


For sure, Hollywooders have a right to voice their opinion – just like everyone else. But in a time of emergency and crisis, should celebrities be floating through New Orleans in row boats looking for photo ops? Is this the future of newsfotainment?

Celebrities who have been out front trying to use their people power to help Americans in need have shown the "right stuff" and deserve to be lauded.

Last week, Matt Lauer hosted an NBC fund-raising telethon featuring Connick, Tim McGraw, Faith Hill, Mike Myers, Aaron Neville, Kanye West, Hilary Swank, Lindsay Lohan, Glenn Close, Richard Gere, John Goodman and Leonardo DiCaprio.

Jerry Lewis added hurricane victims to the recipients of his Labor Day telethon.

Alan Jackson agreed to headline a concert at the Grand Ole Opry. BET made plans for a benefit telecast starring Stevie Wonder, Chris Rock, Brandy, Diddy, Usher, Alicia Keys and Wynton Marsalis.

ABC, CBS and Fox are currently collaborating on an Ellen DeGeneres-hosted one-hour live broadcast, which will reportedly be similar to the post-9/11 "A Tribute to Heroes" telethon.

MTV, VH1 and CMT announced they would hold a joint benefit featuring Ludacris, Green Day, Gretchen Wilson, Usher, Alicia Keys, John Mellencamp and Dave Matthews Band.

The intrusion of celebrities into national events and politics exemplifies how Hollywood is trying to set the news agenda. As my book "Hollywood Nation" details, the entertainment world has a subtle but powerful influence in shaping public opinion.

Media moguls, with their politically charged films, distorted documentaries and skewed docudramas, are trying to set the agenda with little regard for the truth.

Even worse, some so-called journalists are mixing information and entertainment in an attempt to ratchet up ratings – and inject their own views into the news.

Often those views are at direct odds with the facts.

Some folks who are opposed to the war are trying to tie our military presence in Iraq to the Katrina response, claiming that if those members of the National Guard who were in Iraq had been available, they would have stopped the looting and shooting and been able to rescue everyone.

This talking point with a Democratic scent is making the media rounds. Jesse Jackson recently took to the airwaves and made reference to the "five-billion-dollar-a-month war in Iraq."

The numbers here don't really work out. Only 12 percent of our military forces are in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait. Louisiana actually had plenty of guardsmen available.

The tragic truth is the number of troops wasn't the problem. Getting to the area was. Interstate 10 and other highways had collapsed and the roads were flooded.

While much of the media coverage deserves praise, some demands criticism.

Just prior to the disaster, we remember how the media seemed to be immersed in a 24-hour Aruba-oriented news cycle. Initially some appeared to take this same type of approach to the hurricane coverage.

The result was a sense of a stretch for the sensational without the sensitivity needed to correspond with the unfolding crisis.

Most striking in contrast are the set of media standards that were in place following 9/11 and the moving of the marker that seems to have occurred with some of the hurricane disaster coverage.

Following 9/11, in deference to those who had lost life and in consideration of viewers' sensibilities, the media generally avoided showing pictures of the bodies of the deceased. With the hurricane catastrophe, though, many of the networks repeatedly showed images of people who had died, sometimes with makeshift coverings strewn over their lifeless forms.

When we think about mainstream media's frequent left-of-center take on events and issues, we realize that the potential for selective coverage exists even in the face of a national disaster. Unfortunately, in this regard, some media networks remained in bias mode.

Less than stellar leadership on the part of local and state officials escaped scrutiny while negative remarks about President Bush garnered ample airtime. Party affiliation appeared to be the "newsworthy" deciding factor.

On one occasion, CNN's Jack Cafferty asked, "Where's President Bush? Is he still on vacation?

"Based on his approval rating in the latest polls, my guess is getting back to work might not be a terrible idea."

As if fresh from a Cindy Sheehan rally, MSNBC's Keith Olbermann reported that "8,000 Guardsmen from Mississippi and Louisiana who might have helped, might have been deployed in the relief efforts are, in fact, in Iraq and not in Mississippi and Louisiana."

And MSNBC anchor Lisa Daniels dourly characterized trucks arriving with emergency supplies as "too little too late."

While discussion is warranted to determine whether 72 hours is a reasonable time for a federal response to a crisis of this proportion, for some opportunists appropriate analysis gave way to political sniping.

A few facts are in order:

On August 29 Hurricane Katrina roared into the Gulf region, crushing cities, severing families and destroying lives. Here on the Left Coast our arms stretch out to surround those who grieve. And though our hearts ache at the sight of the devastation and the toll this disaster has taken, our lips join in prayer and our spirit in hope that God will wipe away every tear, work out all things for good and heal our land.

The Left Coast Report is written by James L. Hirsen and the staff of NewsMax.

Get your FREE copy of James Hirsen's new book Hollywood Nation


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James Hirsen's "Left Coast Report" follows: Hollywood's elite didn't miss a beat in using Hurricane Katrina to launch a political attack on the Bush administration - or to seek publicity for themselves. While many of the stars' actions have been well-intentioned, some...
Tuesday, 06 September 2005 12:00 AM
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