Jewish World Review Jan. 17, 2005 / 7 Shevat, 5765
George Clooney is writing me letters again, and that can only mean trouble. You may remember the actor and I went at it over whether celebrities had a responsibility to make sure donated 9/11 telethon money was efficiently dispensed by the charities that received it.
I opined that if you ask somebody for a charitable contribution, you have an obligation to do everything you can to see that it gets to the right place. Clooney disagreed, and he even insisted I fabricated the chaos that initially engulfed the United Way, Red Cross and other charities involved with helping the 9/11 families.
Now it is deja vu all over again, as Yogi Berra might put it. Clooney is again involved in a charity telethon this time for tsunami victims. And I am watching what happens with the money.
The truth is that it is enormously difficult to help people in need, especially overseas. In 1999, Hurricane Mitch devastated Central America. Countries and individuals around the world pledged $9 billion to help those affected. But according to the Center on International Cooperation, most of the money never materialized, and most of the hurricane victims had to fend for themselves.
In 2003, an earthquake flattened the city of Bam in Iran. One billion dollars was pledged to help the people there. The Iranian government says only $17 million arrived.
When money is involved, there are usually problems. Hostile governments like the one in Iran and chaotic situations like Sri Lanka make it almost impossible for aid to get to those who need it unless Western organizations are on the ground actually handing it to the folks. For years, corrupt leaders have been stealing foreign donations. How did Yassir Arafat become a multi-millionaire? Did he win the lottery?
Even in the USA, where the government is supposed to oversee the charity business, problems abound. The United Way recently had a huge scandal in Washington D.C. And, according to its own chapter in Bergen County, N.J., the United Way screwed up big time in the first few months after 9/11, even if George Clooney won't admit it.
So now, Mr. Clooney and other stars are asking for money again. In a great public relations stroke, he even asked me to be a part of the tsunami telethon. His invitation stated: "Mr. O'Reilly, either you ante up and help out and be that watchdog that you feel we clearly need, or you stand on the sidelines and cast stones."
My reply: "woof."
Because the telethon donations are all going to the American Red Cross, I have agreed to help the cause. The ARC is now transparent and accountable, and I respect the changes its leadership has put in place since 9/11.
Whether all the money the telethon raised will really help the tsunami victims, I can't say. But generosity is its own reward, and if we can help, we should. Nothing in life is guaranteed, but Americans have always helped the downtrodden, and continuing the tradition is worthy.
Besides, maybe now George Clooney will be my pal. You think?
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JWR contributor Bill O'Reilly is host of the
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