President Bush's 'all-time low'? Kanye West's dis on Katrina telethon

By Lisa de Moraes
Thursday, November 4, 2010; C04

Former president George W. Bush told NBC News's Matt Lauer that the "all-time low" of his eight years in the White House came when notorious loose cannon Kanye West appeared on a Hurricane Katrina relief fundraiser and said, "George Bush doesn't care about black people."

Really -- all-time low?

"You say you told Laura at the time it was the worst moment of your presidency?" Lauer asked Bush in a taped interview, citing a passage in Bush's new book, "Decision Points," which officially goes on sale Tuesday.

"Yes. My record was strong, I felt, when it came to race relations and giving people a chance. And -- it was a disgusting moment," Bush responded to Lauer in the interview, which NBC is holding to air in prime time Monday.

A clearly agitated West made the comment about Bush on national TV on Sept. 2, 2005, during a telethon to raise money for victims of Hurricane Katrina, which had devastated parts of the Gulf Coast.

"Were you watching?" Lauer asked Bush about the fundraiser.

"Nope," Bush responded, according to a transcript issued by NBC.

That's too bad, because it is one of The TV Column's Top-10 TV Moments Ever:

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 it was hoped they'd raise a chunk of change for a good cause, the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund.

Faith Hill sang "There Will Come a Time," Aaron Neville performed Randy Newman's "Louisiana 1927," and so on.

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 actor Mike Myers had been paired 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 threw it to West, who looked extremely nervous in a super-preppy designer rugby shirt and white pants.

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. . . . 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 threw it back to Myers, who looked like a guy who stopped on the tarmac to tie his shoe and got hit in the back with the 8:30 to LaGuardia.

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 then, because Myers is apparently as dumb as his Alfalfa hair, he threw it back to West.

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

Back to Myers, who by now was looking like the 8:30 to LaGuardia 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.

Cut back to present day, and George W. Bush talking to Matt Lauer about the worst moment of his presidency being West's comment.

"You remember what he said?" Lauer asked.

"Yes, I do. He called me a racist," Bush responded.

"Well, what he said: 'George Bush doesn't care about black people,' " Lauer corrected Bush.

"That's: 'He's a racist,' " Bush responded, adding: "And I didn't appreciate it then. I don't appreciate it now."

Lauer began to wonder whether some people, reading the passage in Bush's new book in which he writes that West's comment was the "worst moment" of his presidency, "might give you some heat for that. And the reason is this --"

"Don't care," Bush snapped.

"Well, here's the reason," Lauer persevered. "You're not saying that the worst moment in your presidency was watching the misery in Louisiana. You're saying it was when someone insulted you because of that."

"No -- that -- and I also make it clear that the misery in Louisiana affected me deeply, as well," Bush said. "There's a lot of tough moments in the book. And it was a disgusting moment, pure and simple."

Responding to Bush's comments, West said: "I definitely can understand the way he feels to be accused of being a racist in any way because the same thing happened to me -- I got accused of being a racist."

Kanye's reference was to the criticism he got after jumping on stage at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards, yanking the microphone out of the hand of Taylor Swift -- who had just won the VMA for best female video -- and shouting that Beyoncé had been robbed.

"With both situations, it was basically a lack of compassion that America saw," West said Wednesday in an interview with a Houston hip-hop radio station.

"With him, it was a lack of compassion with him not rushing, him not taking the time to rush down to New Orleans. With me, it was a lack of compassion of cutting someone off in their Moment. But nonetheless, I think we're all quick to pull a race card in America. . . . I really more connect with him just on a humanitarian level because that next morning, the next morning when he felt that, I felt that same thing, too," the morning after the VMAs.

Fox's big election night

Fox News Channel towered over its cable news rivals on election night, attracting more viewers than CNN and MSNBC combined.

An average of 7 million prime-time viewers chose to get their election news from FNC. CNN drew an average audience of 2.4 million, and MSNBC averaged just shy of 2 million.

For real election-news junkies, FNC was also the cable news place of choice. Between 6 a.m. Tuesday and 3 a.m. Wednesday -- so-called "total day" in Nielsen-speak -- FNC averaged just more than 3 million viewers, overshadowing CNN, which hovered at 980,000 viewers for the whole day, and MSNBC's 838,000.

Some media reports noted that FNC also beat ABC, CBS and NBC's coverage of the election. (Fox broadcast also aired election programming from 9 to 10 p.m. Tuesday night.)

From 10 to 11 p.m., FNC averaged 6.9 million viewers. Early Nielsen stats indicate that ABC averaged 9 million, CBS averaged 6 million and NBC averaged 6.1 million.

But ABC election coverage started at 9:30 p.m., and NBC started its election coverage at 9.

And in its first half-hour of election coverage, ABC logged a hefty 10.3 million viewers, according to early Nielsen stats. That's because ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" lead-in wrapped up its special 90-minute broadcast with a crowd of more than 19 million tuned in.

Additionally, broadcasters say they are expecting significant "adjustments" to their numbers for the night, when final Nielsen stats come in. This is typical on nights when a major event -- election results, live trophy shows, Super Bowl, State of the Union Address, etc. -- wreaks havoc with broadcast TV schedules.

The early stats on broadcast election coverage are not considered accurate, broadcast execs say, because of the feed patterns of election coverage. Nielsen has delayed issuing final Tuesday ratings for broadcast networks until Thursday morning.

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