Sandra Bullock and Leonardo DiCaprio each donated about $1 million for disaster relief following the recent tsunami in Southeast Asia. The Steven Spielberg family donated $1.5 million. Jet Li donated more than $125,000; Jackie Chan added at least $64,000. Among several dozen rock bands which donated proceeds of their concerts or made outright donations, U-2 and Linkin Park each donated $100,000; Ozzie and Sharon Osborn donated almost $200,000. At the Laugh Factory in both L.A. and New York, major comedians donated their time, with proceeds benefiting the victims. The Red Cross says innumerable celebrities made anonymous donations.
Dozens of “A”-list celebrities, many with Oscars, Grammys, Emmys, Tonys, and Obies became part of a live broadcast fund-raiser for the tsunami victims-and worked the phones to take pledges from Americans whose names are unknown outside their own communities. George Clooney, who had helped organize the creative community for the 9/11 telethon that raised more than $130 million three years earlier, again rounded up his friends and their friends for “Tsunami Aid: a Concert of Hope.”
These are the people whom President George W. Bush believes “don’t represent the heart and soul of America.” To innumerable conservative talk-show hosts who bash celebrities, while bathing in the limelight of celebrity themselves, they’re the “Hollyweird.” Rush Limbaugh and his Dittoheads call most of the creative community “Left Coast Hollywood Kooks,” even if they live in Omaha; simply, they’re traitors who should be exiled. But it is these “kooks” who are among the first to respond to humanitarian needs.
In 1985, Bob Geldof organized Live Aid. From Black Sabbath and Judas Priest to B.B. King, Joan Baez, and the Beach Boys, dozens of the best pop singers and musicians came together for 16 hours that led to more than $100 million in contributions for the people of Ethiopia who were dying in a famine that had been flamed by the world’s neglect.
Shortly after Live Aid, on a suggestion from Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Neil Young, and John Mellencamp organized Farm Aid to help struggling farmers who were being forced into poverty and bankruptcy by corporate farming.
Following 9/11, Madonna and Julia Roberts each donated $2 million for victims and their families. They were only two of thousands from the creative community, most earning less than $50,000 a year, to contribute.
The “Left Coast Liberals” have been the face of almost every charity in America. It’s Danny Kaye and Audrey Hepburn who spent innumerable days every year working with UNICEF in places Americans seldom want to tour. It’s Jerry Lewis, who has worked tirelessly for the Muscular Dystrophy Association for more than 40 years. It’s Paul Simon who’s an active contributor for the Children’s Health Fund, and it’s Paul Newman whose company has donated more than $150 million to charities, and provides millions of dollars a year to help children with cancer and blood diseases. It’s Michael J. Fox whose foundation has raised more than $50 million in the past five years for research into Parkinson’s disease. It’s Marlo Thomas who has continued the work of her father at St. Jude Hospital. It’s Elizabeth Taylor who helped Americans develop a conscience about AIDS at a time when many Americans, if they even had heard about the fatal disease, believed it was “God’s revenge” for people being gay, a belief that unfortunately still remains among the ignorant. It’s Sting who campaigns to save the rain forests, Robert Redford who is active in environmental issues, and Bono whose work with Amnesty International is as important as his music. It’s Angelina Jolie, who unselfishly works with Third World poverty and who donated $1 million for Afghan refugees and $5 million for an animal sanctuary in Cambodia. It’s Bradley Whitford and Jane Kaczmarek who organized Clothes Off Our Backs, a continuing auction of stars’ clothes that provides funds for not only tsunami victims but also for other humanitarian charities. And it’s conservatives Donnie and Marie Osmond, lumped into the “celebrity” swatch, who pitch for the Children’s Miracle Network. Name a charity, and a celebrity is out front donating funds and time.
However, to America’s vitriolic right-wing, anyone opposed to President Bush’s policies is wrong. In internet chat rooms, and on blogs and call-in radio shows, they are babbling that the “left-wing” donated millions to try to defeat George W. Bush for a second term, but failed to contribute like amounts for disaster relief. When confronted with the facts, which seldom happens on radio talk-shows, they blather that the celebrities donated only so they could get their names in the papers-and that these celebrities should have donated even more. There is no medication for the verbal diarrhea that gushes from their loose minds that celebrities should be contributing to American causes, not those of “them furriners” who didn’t provide money for disasters in the U.S. There’s no salve that will heal the viciousness of the rabid-mouths who castigate the Heinz Endowment for donating “only” $450,000 for tsunami relief, or who believe that Kirk Douglas, Martin Sheen, Rob Reiner, Alan Alda, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon, and Barbra Streisand, who donate millions to humanitarian causes, are self-promoting unpatriotic scum who should donate even more.
If the “Left-Wing Kooks” responded in similar fashion as the “Right-Wing Nuts” they would flood the Internet, the radio talk shows, and the newspaper’s letters columns. They would call the Bush administration hypocrites for staging a $50 million inauguration while there is world-wide famine, a war in Iraq, and a natural disaster that left more than 150,000 dead and two million homeless. They would question why multimillionaire George W. Bush personally donated only $10,000 for the relief fund. They would wonder if that donation was made only because Bush’s political advisors believed the donation might placate a worldwide storm of indignation that grew while the Compassionate-Conservative-in-Chief continued to bicycle and clear brush from his ranch as millions were swept into the ocean’s fury. They would say that the President’s personal contribution was made amid a fusillade of notices from the government’s massive public relations operation, proving that the donation was political and not from the heart. They would spend far more time attacking the President than in working to help others less fortunate.
But they don’t. They just keep giving, some using their media-induced fame to generate even more donations for humanitarian needs, many of them making large donations of time and money anonymously. The creative community keeps giving, even while being viciously attacked for using their self-endowed rights of dissent that Jefferson, Madison, and the Founding Fathers demanded of all citizens. And that’s what true patriotism is all about.
Assisting on this column was Rosemary R. Brasch.
WALTER BRASCH, professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University, is an award-winning syndicated columnist and the author of 15 books, most of them about social issues, the First Amendment, and the media. His forthcoming book is America’s Unpatriotic Acts; The Federal Government’s Violation of Constitutional and Civil Liberties (Peter Lang Publishing.) You may contact Brasch at firstname.lastname@example.org or at www.walterbrasch.com