Why No Hurricane Maria National Telethon?

Donald Trump isn't the only one whose response is worthy of criticism.
10/04/2017 07:41 pm ET Updated Oct 05, 2017

Donald Trump is rightfully getting slammed over his lackadaisical response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. The relief efforts were slow to start and are still pretty disappointing ― the Navy hospital ship just arrived in Puerto Rico yesterday, for instance, a full two weeks after the storm hit. Most of the island still has no electrical power or phone service. Drinking water is not universally available. The critics of Trump are right in pointing all of this out. But there’s another glaring absence that also should be raising questions: where is the response from Hollywood? Where is the nationally-televised relief telethon? Why did this happen for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, but has not happened for Hurricane Maria? Puerto Ricans are justified in calling attention to their second-class citizenship (as far as Donald Trump is concerned), but it’s inexplicable why they are being also snubbed by the liberal artists who normally leap at an opportunity to be seen as doing good.

Hurricane Harvey hit Texas on August 25. Soon after, it was announced that there would be a telethon ― on all the broadcast networks simultaneously ― on September 12. That is roughly two-and-a-half weeks after the disaster struck. This relief effort was expanded before it even happened, because Hurricane Irma hit Florida on September 10. Oprah was there, as was Justin Timberlake, George Clooney, Barbra Streisand, and dozens and dozens of other Hollywood A-listers. The list of attendees is stunning in its sheer size, in fact. The one-hour event raised an impressive $55 million for relief from both Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma.

Eight days after this telethon, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico hard. It has now been two weeks since then, and I have yet to hear plans for any comparable effort from Hollywood to provide relief for Puerto Rico. Telemundo and Univision are holding a joint telethon, but that’s not exactly the same thing as the star-studded effort which was launched for Harvey and Irma victims. Think about the message that sends: only Spanish-speakers are supposed to donate to the cause? The list of people who have signed up for this telethon is a tiny fraction of the star power that turned out for Texas and Florida.

Liberals have to walk the walk and not just talk the talk when it comes to demanding an equal response for all American citizens affected by hurricanes this year. To be fair, some individual people in Hollywood have been trying to make a difference ― notably late-night hosts who have live shows every night to use as a convenient megaphone. Jimmy Kimmel, once again, has taken the lead on this particular front, and should be applauded for doing so. But a couple of pleas during monologues late at night just isn’t the same thing as a prime-time telethon on all the broadcast channels at once.

If you think about it, this should be an easy thing for Hollywood liberals to do, because not only is their do-gooding very publicly seen, but they will also have a great opportunity to make a political point, whether subtle or direct. Even without any mention of Donald Trump, the entire event would be seen as a rebuke to his inadequate response. All they’d have to do is roll footage of the devastation, and tell the viewers “this situation still exists, because nothing has been done.” Or someone could even go “full Kanye” on Trump, and echo the devastating line used during a telethon for Hurricane Katrina victims: “Donald Trump doesn’t care about brown people.” But even without such an outburst, the political statement would still be pretty clear. Meaning, for Hollywood liberals, a double benefit ― public do-gooding and criticizing Trump. Which only makes the absence of such an effort more head-scratching.

Hurricane Maria victims are being included in another high-profile event, a concert that was originally for the purpose of celebrating the 20th anniversary of George H. W. Bush’s presidential library. This will take place on October 21 in Austin, and all five ex-presidents will be in attendance. But again, this isn’t quite the same thing as an event dedicated to Maria’s victims.

So, yes, Trump dropped the ball on Hurricane Maria. There’s no denying it. But also dropping the same ball are all the television executives, promoters, and Hollywood celebrities. By not holding a comparable event to what happened after Harvey and Irma, the same message is being sent to Puerto Ricans: Sorry, but you just don’t qualify for the same level of relief effort as other Americans get. This is a very bad message to send, no matter whether it comes from the Oval Office or from the Hollywood elite.

Chris Weigant blogs at ChrisWeigant.com

Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

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