Politics
8:00 am
Sat March 17, 2012

Clooney One Of Many Celebrities To Grace The Hill

Washington, D.C., was dazzled this week by a VIP. He visited the White and got the prized seat next to the first lady at this week's state dinner.

No, we're not talking about British Prime Minister David Cameron, though he was in town also.

It was actor and activist George Clooney, in town to raise awareness about the humanitarian crisis in Sudan. In addition to getting arrested for protesting in front of the Sudanese embassy, Clooney also testified before a congressional panel.

Yet for all the excitement, there's nothing new about stars testifying before Congress. John Legend testified about the arts. Oprah Winfrey testified about child abuse. The late Elizabeth Taylor gave one of her best performances testifying about AIDS in 1992.

Back in '92, when a big movie star like Liz Taylor swept onto the Hill, dripping in pearls and diamonds, lawmakers and their staffers listened.

When George Clooney appeared in a suit with carefully manicured stubble, senators did the same.

Inside the hearing room, senators listened somberly to his testimony about Sudanese atrocities. Outside, women and men of all ages packed the halls to get a glimpse of the star.

Susan Toffler is a media strategist who normally doesn't attend Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearings, but she happened to be in the building.

"George Clooney makes this special," she said. "Because he's doing a great job reaching out on behalf of Sudan — and he's in my age group!"

Jim Manley has worked on Capitol Hill for more than 20 years for Ted Kennedy, as well as George Mitchell and Harry Reid. He says the celebrities who come through town are almost always sincere and passionate about their causes, but:

"Beautiful though she may be, Angelina Jolie coming through town? Already seen that a couple of times before," he says.

Manley says as celebrities have gotten more and more involved in politics on the Hill, their impact has waned since the days of Liz Taylor.

In other words, star-powered awareness of worthy causes is becoming as fleeting as fame itself.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

JACKI LYDEN, BYLINE: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.

Washington, D.C. has been dazzled this week by an important visitor. At the White House he got the prized seat next to the first lady at this week's state dinner. No, we're not talking about British Prime Minister David Cameron, though he too was in town. It was actor and activist George Clooney, who put in an appearance to raise awareness about the humanitarian crisis in Sudan.

In addition to getting arrested for protesting in front of the Sudanese embassy, Clooney also testified before a congressional panel. NPR's Sonari Glinton looks at Capitol Hill's love affair with celebrities.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: There's nothing new about stars testifying before Congress. John Legend testified about the arts. Oprah Winfrey testified about child abuse. And the late Elizabeth Taylor gave one of her best performances testifying about AIDS in 1992.

ELIZABETH TAYLOR: And despite the ever-increasing caseload in our cities, funding for this bill has been at best totally inadequate and at worst non-existent.

GLINTON: Back in '92 when a big movie star like Liz Taylor swept onto the Hill dripping in pearls and diamonds, lawmakers and their staffers listened. And when George Clooney appeared in his tailored suit and carefully manicured stubble, Senators did the same.

GEORGE CLOONEY: There's a long list of things we can do that won't cost lives or much money. We can't give the lives back, but we can put an end to it if we work together as a nation and as an international community. And it can start here.

GLINTON: Inside the hearing room, senators sat somberly listening to Clooney's testimony about Sudanese atrocities. Outside, women and men of all ages packed the halls to get a glimpse of the star.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Wrong gray hair.

GLINTON: Susan Toffler is a media strategist who normally doesn't attend Senate Foreign Relations committee hearings, but she happened to be in the building.

SUSAN TOFFLER: So I was like, well, I'm downstairs. I'm going to go upstairs.

GLINTON: Do you normally do things like this?

TOFFLER: No. George Clooney makes this special because he's doing a great job reaching out on behalf of Sudan and when he talks people listen. And he's in my age group.

GLINTON: Jim Manley worked on Capitol Hill for more than 20 years for the late Ted Kennedy, as well as George Mitchell and Harry Reid. He says celebrities who come through town are almost always sincere and passionate about their causes, but...

JIM MANLEY: Beautiful though she may be, Angelina Jolie coming through town - oh, OK, you know, already seen that a couple of times before.

GLINTON: Manley says as celebrities have gotten more and more involved in politics on the hill, their impact has waned since the days of, say, Liz Taylor.

MANLEY: George Clooney is in town and at least people are focusing on Sudan for once. You know, the problem, of course, is that it just ebbs and flows. And the next celebrity comes in, the next cause, the next issue. And it's just this ongoing cycle.

GLINTON: In other words, awareness of worthy causes is becoming as fleeting as fame itself.

Sonari Glinton, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.