Hollywood Raises Funds for Katrina Victims

Hollywood and musicians are rallying the public to donate money for victims of Hurricane Katrina through telethons on NBC, BET, MTV Networks and other outlets. But some of these efforts have become politically charged.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

TV networks along with scores of musicians and Hollywood celebrities have kicked into action, raising money for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. NPR's Elizabeth Blair reports.

ELIZABETH BLAIR reporting:

NBC's live telethon to raise money for the American Red Cross aired Friday night. It was organized by Louisiana native Tim McGraw, Harry Connick Jr. and Wynton Marsalis.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans, miss her each night and day?

BLAIR: In between songs, pairs of celebrities pleaded for donations. When it was actor Mike Myers and rapper Kanye West's turn, West ignored the prepared script and delivered some searing words of his own.

Mr. KANYE WEST (Rapper): 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, and you know it's been five days because most of the people are black...

BLAIR: Kanye West also had some pointed words about the president.

Mr. WEST: George Bush doesn't care about black people.

BLAIR: NBC cut that last comment from the West Coast feed of the show and issued a statement saying the live broadcast was, quote, "wrought with emotion," and that "West's opinions in no way represent the views of the network." Emotions were high at BET, Black Entertainment Television, before the hurricane hit. Debra Lee is BET's president and CEO.

Ms. DEBRA LEE (President & CEO of BET): We followed the story early on. The first call I got was on Sunday afternoon from my head of programming who said, `African-Americans in New Orleans are not leaving town. We have to do something.' So we put up crawls on our network Sunday evening, telling people to get out of town, that this was very serious and, please, heed all those warnings.

BLAIR: BET's telethon, called "S.O.S. (Saving Our Selves)," airs this Friday night. Artists include Stevie Wonder and Alicia Keys. Funds will go to the American Red Cross. MTV's telethon airs Saturday, broadcasting from Nashville, New York and Los Angeles. Some 30 artists will participate, including Usher, Green Day and the Rolling Stones. Today, Louisiana native Ellen DeGeneres will devote her TV show to the crisis. She also plans to set up a hurricane relief fund. And the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethon is also joining the effort.

Mr. JERRY LEWIS: I know my kids will understand if I hold up the beginning of their show because there are hundreds of thousands of people who now know what suffering really is.

BLAIR: During the first and last four hours of the telethon, celebrities are appealing for donations to the Salvation Army. Ed McMahon, Jerry Lewis' longtime partner in the annual fund-raiser, says this is the first time they've raised money for a cause other than muscular dystrophy.

Mr. ED McMAHON: Jerry came up with the idea first. We all felt that it was a great idea and said, `Go for it.' You know, we're in the process of helping. That's what we've been doing for 40 years. And when all the accounts are in, this will be the worst disaster ever in this country.

BLAIR: There has been a surge of donations over the last week. Pledges to the American Red Cross alone have exceeded $350 million. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

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