Do Politics Drive Hollywood's Slow Response to Heartland Disasters?

A savvy man once said: “The biggest factor in attracting aid is not the amount of human suffering caused by an event, but the amount of media coverage it receives.”

Celebrities traditionally love to depict themselves as humanitarians, often rushing to seize headlines in relief efforts following natural disasters. But are Hollywood celebrities politically selective when publicizing human tragedy?

The problem is that celebrity showcasing of natural disasters, such as concerts for domestic relief, can be politically touchy: They imply governmental inaction or mishandling, hence the “need” for private fundraising, and second, they highlight tragedy and suffering by Americans in our country. Together these are political buzzkill for an administration in full reelection mode desperate to keep a happy face on the state of the union.

Does Hollywood tend to publicly spotlight American suffering when Republicans control the White House? Recall FarmAid during the Reagan Administration? Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp rallied to “help” the suffering of farmers facing foreclosures under a backdrop of relentless media presentation of their suffering. Yet during the Obama Administration, more homeowners have suffered foreclosure and repossession than anytime in history. Yet no sweet music there. No nationally publicized Hollywood relief to emphasize the suffering plight of Americans under Obama.

During Bush 43’s Administration, “A Concert for Hurricane Relief” was thrown together with, well, whirlwind speed and nationally broadcast on NBC, MSNBC and CNBC, showcasing artists including Harry Connick Jr., Wynton Marsalis and Tim McGraw. Matt Lauer of the “Today” show acted as host of the telethon. “Shelter From the Storm” was another big Hollywood fundraiser featuring a Bush-bashing Kanye West. Such star-studded Katrina fundraising is still ongoing.

Yet in May 2011, as hundreds of Americans have been killed and thousands made homeless in the storm and flood ravaged Midwest and South, the headline-grabbing stars of Katrina and FarmAid are strangely absent. No Kayne West attacks on government inaction, no Sean Penn boat rides to New Orleans.

By contrast, and far from Hollywood, the Bible Belt/gun rack/Country Western music crowd has already stepped up with the “Music Builds: CMT Disaster Relief Concert” aired live on CMT and CMT.com. But such Bible Belt bitter-clingers hardly count as part of the true Hollywood elite pop culture warriors.

So why has the Hollywood Elite ignored Midwest flood and tornado victims? Just like movie releases, timing is everything.

With a liberal president inoculated against criticism by virtue of his race, the media moguls in Hollywood know better than to kill the golden goose. Hollywood liberals won’t gear up their media machine unless a domestic disaster can be spun as political commentary against a sitting Republican adversary or until it can be spun to political advantage. A cruel irony for disaster victims is that, if John McCain had instead won the White House, Hollywood would likely be rushing to their aid and turning these heartland natural disasters into a commentary on heartless Republican policies faster than an overnight twister.

But to be fair, Justin Bieber’s youthful sympathy tweet has set the stage for a Midwest youth revival concert.

If Hollywood really cared, if it weren’t the political partner of the DNC, the recent weeks’ devastation and flooding would have been enough to set aside political allegiances to help those in need. The announcements would have already gone out. PSAs would be airing. The donation text messages to millions of celebrities fans and followers would have already flooded as would breathless appeals through Twitter and Facebook. There’s been plenty of time for Tinsel Town to shine for those regular Americans who watch their movies and buy their concert tickets.

Never let a natural disaster go to waste.

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