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Sunday, September 4, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Kanye West criticizes Bush during NBC's live hurricane benefit

The Associated Press

NEW YORK — A celebrity telethon for Hurricane Katrina survivors took an unexpected turn when outspoken rapper Kanye West went off script during the live broadcast, declaring America is set up "to help the poor, the black people, the less well-off as slow as possible."

"A Concert for Hurricane Relief," which aired on NBC and other networks Friday night, began, fittingly enough, with jazz from New Orleans natives Harry Connick Jr. and Wynton Marsalis.

The host was NBC News' Matt Lauer, who invited viewers to contribute to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund by phone or on the Web. Some 18 presenters performed musical numbers or gave information on the tragedy's huge scope.

Since the hurricane, people have displayed a massive outpouring of charity. Total donations passed the $200 million mark by Friday, four days after the storm slammed into the Gulf Coast. The bulk of those funds were collected by the Red Cross, which said it has raised $196.9 million from individuals and corporations.

Appearing two-thirds through the program, West took the government to task, claiming "George Bush doesn't care about black people."

Comedian Mike Myers was paired with West for a 90-second segment that began with Myers speaking of Katrina's devastation. Then, to Myers' evident surprise, West began a rant by saying, "I hate the way they portray us in the media. If you see a black family, it says they're looting. See a white family, it says they're looking for food."

While allowing that "the Red Cross is doing everything they can," West — who delivered an emotional outburst at the American Music Awards after he was snubbed for an award — declared that government authorities are intentionally dragging their feet on aid to the Gulf Coast. Without getting specific, he added, "They've given them permission to go down and shoot us."

After he stated, "George Bush doesn't care about black people," the camera cut away to comedian Chris Tucker.

Concluding the hour a few minutes later, Lauer noted that "emotions in this country right now are running very high. Sometimes that emotion is translated into inspiration, sometimes into criticism. We've heard some of that tonight. But it's still part of the American way of life."

In a statement, NBC said, "Kanye West departed from the scripted comments that were prepared for him, and his opinions in no way represent the views of the networks.

"It would be most unfortunate," the statement continued, "if the efforts of the artists who participated tonight and the generosity of millions of Americans who are helping those in need are overshadowed by one person's opinion."

The show, simulcast from New York on NBC, MSNBC, CNBC and Pax, was aired live to the East Coast, enabling the Grammy-winning rapper's outburst to go out uncensored. West's comment about the president was cut from NBC's West Coast airing, which showed three hours later on tape.

There was a several-second tape delay, but the person in charge "was instructed to listen for a curse word, and didn't realize (West) had gone off-script," NBC spokeswoman Rebecca Marks added.

Friday's program was the first of several TV benefits planned through next weekend.

New Orleans son Aaron Neville performed Randy Newman's soulful "Louisiana 1927" with the memorable chorus, "they're trying to wash us away, they're trying to wash us away."

"In terms of property damage," said actress Hilary Swank, "the estimate is at least $26 billion in insured losses and perhaps twice that in uninsured losses over a 90,000-square-mile area — approximately the size of Kansas."

Other speakers included Lindsay Lohan, Eric LaSalle, Glenn Close, Richard Gere, John Goodman and Leonardo DiCaprio.

New York governor George Pataki presented the Red Cross with a check for $2.5 million and promised, "This great state will do far more."

NBC and the five other major commercial broadcast networks, along with PBS, plan to unite next Friday for a special. The same night, BET will air a benefit. And on Saturday, Sept. 10, the MTV networks will air a special.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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