Kanye West's Torrent of Criticism, Live on NBC

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By Lisa de Moraes
Saturday, September 3, 2005

Why We Love Live Television, Reason No. 137:

NBC's levee broke and Kanye West flooded through with a tear about the federal response in New Orleans during the network's live concert fundraiser for victims of Hurricane Katrina last night.

The rapper was among the celebs and singers participating in the one-hour special, produced by NBC News and run on the NBC broadcast network, as well as MSNBC and CNBC, because, hey, the numbers couldn't be any worse than usual on a Friday night and hopefully they'd raise a chunk of change for a good cause, the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund.

Among the performers, Faith Hill sang "There Will Come a Time," which included the lyrics, "The darkness will be gone, the weak shall be strong. Hold on to your faith." Aaron Neville performed Randy Newman's "Louisiana 1927" with its chorus: "They're trying to wash us away, they're trying to wash us away."

West was not scheduled to perform; he was one of the blah, blah, blahers, who would read from scripts prepared by the network about the impact of Katrina on southern Louisiana and Mississippi.

West and Mike Myers had been paired up to appear about halfway through the show. Their assignment: Take turns reading a script describing the breach in the levees around New Orleans.

Myers: The landscape of the city has changed dramatically, tragically and perhaps irreversibly. There is now over 25 feet of water where there was once city streets and thriving neighborhoods.

(Myers throws to West, who looked extremely nervous in his super-preppy designer rugby shirt and white pants, which is not like the arrogant West and which, in retrospect, should have been a tip-off.)

West: I hate the way they portray us in the media. You see a black family, it says, "They're looting." You see a white family, it says, "They're looking for food." And, you know, it's been five days [waiting for federal help] because most of the people are black. And even for me to complain about it, I would be a hypocrite because I've tried to turn away from the TV because it's too hard to watch. I've even been shopping before even giving a donation, so now I'm calling my business manager right now to see what is the biggest amount I can give, and just to imagine if I was down there, and those are my people down there. So anybody out there that wants to do anything that we can help -- with the way America is set up to help the poor, the black people, the less well-off, as slow as possible. I mean, the Red Cross is doing everything they can. We already realize a lot of people that could help are at war right now, fighting another way -- and they've given them permission to go down and shoot us!

(West throws back to Myers, who is looking like a guy who stopped on the tarmac to tie his shoe and got hit in the back with the 8:30 to La Guardia.)

Myers: And subtle, but in many ways even more profoundly devastating, is the lasting damage to the survivors' will to rebuild and remain in the area. The destruction of the spirit of the people of southern Louisiana and Mississippi may end up being the most tragic loss of all.

(And, because Myers is apparently as dumb as his Alfalfa hair, he throws it back to West.)

West: George Bush doesn't care about black people!

(Back to Myers, now looking like the 8:30 to La Guardia turned around and caught him square between the eyes.)

Myers: Please call . . .

At which point someone at NBC News finally regained control of the joystick and cut over to Chris Tucker, who started right in with more scripted blah, blah, blah.

"Tonight's telecast was a live television event wrought with emotion," parent company NBC Universal said in a statement issued to the Reporters Who Cover Television after the broadcast.

"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 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."

West's comments would be cut from the West Coast feed, an NBC spokeswoman told The TV Column. (The Associated Press later reported that only his comment about the president was edited out.) The show was live on the East Coast with a several-second delay; someone with his finger on a button was keeping an ear peeled in case someone uttered an obscenity but did not realize that West had gone off-script, the spokeswoman said.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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