Nightline Paints Conservatives, Including Limbaugh, as Too Cowardly to Help USO

In a December 23 USA Today front page story, “USO cheers troops, but Iraq gigs tough to book; Safety concerns, disagreement with war keeping many celebrities from volunteering,” reporters Martin Kasindorf and Steven Komarow related how actor/comedian Robin Williams, “who like [Al] Franken has been an outspoken critic of Bush's management of the war -- and [Wayne] Newton, a Republican who backs Bush, say some stars have turned down the USO because they thought such performances would amount to endorsing the war.” But in a Friday evening Nightline story, Terry Moran, through his use of soundbites from two left-wingers, portrayed cowardly conservatives, including Rush Limbaugh who isn't a stage performer, as the problem facing the USO in trying to get stars to go to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Moran asserted: “While the USO has been able to attract some big names for tours in recent years -- Jessica Simpson, Robin Williams, the rapper 50 Cent -- some of the top stars are AWOL. Like, say-" Comedian Kathy Griffin charged: "Mel Gibson, big conservative. Go on over, Mel, anytime. They'd be glad to see you. They all love Braveheart." Moran elaborated on how Griffin, a “opponent of the war” who has done several USO tours, “loves performing for the troops and she wonders why some vocal war supporters have stayed home." Moran then featured this blast from Griffin: “I think Rush Limbaugh should, you know, pop a few of those Oxycontin that he probably still has laying around and go over. I mean, I'm not saying go straight, he's got to take the edge off, but, you know, put your money where your mouth is, O'Reilly, go do a book tour or something over there." (In fact, Limbaugh hasn't gone on a USO tour, but in late February 2005 he did go on a U.S. Agency for International Development trip to visit troops in Afghanistan.)

Moran let Al Franken tell an anecdote about how Sylvester Stallone was too afraid to go to Iraq before excusing liberals from any responsibility: "USO President Ned Powell insists the divisive politics of the Iraq war and the liberal tilt of Hollywood have had no impact on the organization's ability to recruit stars.”

Video excerpt: (1:55) Real (3.3 MB) or Windows Media (3.8 MB), plus MP3 audio (900 KB). (Update, with Limbaugh's take, and full transcript follows.)

RushLimbaugh.com features a page with a picture of Limbaugh with some soldiers, as well as a compilation of Limbaugh's reports from Afghanistan during his February 2005 trip.

Of course, neither Limbaugh or Bill O'Reilly are in the same category as singers, actors, actresses and comedians who are professional stage performers. Franken may now host a radio talk show, but he's a comedian and an actor. If O'Reilly and Limbaugh should be doing USO stage shows, then so should Terry Moran and Brian Williams.

[UPDATE, 4:30pm EST: a) Rush Limbaugh led his third hour on Monday by discussing this NewsBusters item. RushLimbaugh.com has a transcript of Limbaugh's comments in which he credits NewsBusters, as well as a picture of him with some soldiers. He reported that the USO has never invited him to join a tour, and if they did, that he'd go. RushLimbaugh.com “24/7" members can listen to the audio.
b) The MRC's Rich Noyes skimmed the USO Web site and found a bunch of non-liberal Hollywood/entertainment types who have gone to the war zones since 2003: Arnold Schwarzenegger (2003); Bruce Willis (2003); Lee Greenwood (2003); Wayne Newton (2003, 2004); Toby Keith (2004, 2005); Ted Nugent (2004); and Vince Vaughn (2005). The 2005 tour participant list; the 2004 tour participant list and the 2003 tour participant list.]

A September 11 NewsBusters item recounted, accompanied by a video clip, how on a Comedy Central show “Griffin delivered not comedy but her vitriolic personal opinion as she shouted, to loud audience applause while she gesticulated with her arms: 'The President is a moron! I'm saying it. I don't care. He's an idiot. Cheney is evil. I'm sick of, impeach them, get them out! I hate them! I hate them. Get them out. They got to go!' She later pleaded: 'What is it going to take for you people? Get Bush out! Impeach! Out! Out! Out!' Griffin also denounced FNC's Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity: 'He and Hannity can suck it. I hate those two idiots! Those liars.'”

A transcript of the two-segment story on the January 20 Nightline:
Terry Moran: “65 years ago next month in response to a call from President Franklin Roosevelt, the USO was founded. The mission of the United Service Organizations was simple, enlist private citizens in groups to support the troops. And in 65 years, in wartime and in peacetime, that mission has never changed. The USO has always been there for the American GI. And Hollywood's always been right there with the USO. But this time, not all of Hollywood. All that laughter. All those smiles. All those years. All over the world.

Bob Hope in South Korea: “Hey, we're thrilled to be here at Oson air base, Korea. Oson, that's Korean for 'take it and stuff it.'”

Moran: “For 65 years, wherever US troops have been sent into harm's way, the USO has gone, too. Bringing Hollywood and home to their fellow Americans. It was a ritual of American life. Bob Hope, a real trooper if there ever was one, was always there, the ubiquitous emcee of the USO tours for almost 50 years.”

Hope: “Happy to be here. I don't know where the hell we are but I'm happy.”

Moran: “And in his wake, Bob Hope brought the most glittering stars in Hollywood to strut their stuff for the troops. Bing Crosby, Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Marilyn Monroe, Debbie Reynolds, Sammy Davis Jr., Raquel Welch, Ann Margaret, Elizabeth Taylor, William Holden. The list goes on and on. It was, it seemed, an obligation of stardom. If you could sing or tell jokes or dance or just stand there and look good, you did it for the troops.”

Moran: “Times have changed. Hollywood is a very different place. Bob Hope has left the stage. And his successor as the public face of the USO is Mr. Las Vegas himself Wayne Newton.”

Wayne Newton: “I don't think that there's a tour that I've ever taken that I didn't bring more home than I took with me.”

Moran: “The man who has defined nightclub entertainment for decades is now leading the USO's tours in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan. And he got the job from Bob Hope himself.”

Newton: “And he said, Wayne, of all the people I've worked with anywhere in the world, he said, no one has the love of our military more than you. And there's no one that I would rather see me pass the mantle to you than you. Would you consider doing it?”

Moran: “Bob Hope himself?”

Newton: “Bob Hope himself.”

Moran: “Now, Wayne Newton may not be to everyone's taste. And maybe Wayne, as everyone calls him, hasn't had a hit on the charts for a long time and maybe a lot of the young soldiers he performs for are, well, unfamiliar with his body of work. But at least he goes to see them and perform for them. Which is more than you can say for a lot of Hollywood stars today. While the USO has been able to attract some big names for tours in recent years -- Jessica Simpson, Robin Williams, the rapper 50 Cent -- some of the top stars are AWOL. Like, say-”

Kathy Griffin, comedian: “Mel Gibson, big conservative. Go on over, Mel, anytime. They'd be glad to see you. They all love Braveheart."

Moran: “Comedian Kathy Griffin has done one USO tour to Kuwait and Afghanistan and signed up for another soon to the Middle East. A self-described D-list celebrity and opponent of the war, she, too, loves performing for the troops and she wonders why some vocal war supporters have stayed home.”

Griffin: “I think Rush Limbaugh should, you know, pop a few of those Oxycontin that he probably still has laying around and go over. I mean, I'm not saying go straight, he's got to take the edge off, but, you know, put your money where your mouth is, O'Reilly, go do a book tour or something over there.”

Al Franken, comedian: “I went to this Hollywood party after I went the first time and I ran into Sylvester Stallone.”

Moran: “Comedian and talk show host Al Franken, another vocal opponent of the war, has been on six USO tours, including two to Iraq. He says danger is a factor for some Hollywood stars.”

Franken: “And he said, 'I hear you went over on a USO tour.' And I said 'yeah, yeah, I did.' He said, 'yeah, I was gonna go, but I didn't.' And I said, 'well, why didn't you go?' He said, 'well, I heard it might be dangerous.' And I said to him, 'weren't you friggin Rambo?'”

Ned Powell, President of USO: “Our mission is very simple. We're here to convey the heart of America to the men and women who serve this country.”

Moran: “Ned Powell is the President of the USO.”

Moran: “Grade Hollywood.”

Powell: “We're finding all the support we need. It's, it's easy sometimes to try to make an issue of something because we, such and such a star doesn't go. Well there could be a myriad of reasons, not the least which is schedule. We find that the top talent today are busy.”

Moran: “But there may be other forces at work in Hollywood when it comes to supporting the USO. Politics, and lack of commitment.”

Newton: “People did say to me, 'I don't believe in war, Wayne.' And then there are those who say, 'sure, I'll be there. When, when is it, when is it?' And you give them the date, 'count me in.' Three days before you're to leave, they cancel on you.”

Moran: “When we come back, we'll look at just how much the politics of the Iraq war might be affecting the work of the USO. And we'll see what it's like to be a star on the road without the star treatment.”

[Ad break.]

Moran: “More now on the mission of the USO in this war and on Hollywood stars hitting the road to entertain US troops. There are no million-dollar RVs. For Hollywood celebrities who are used to being pampered, a USO tour is not very glamorous. Comedian Cathy Griffin's home movies of her first tour to Afghanistan capture the conditions. Military planes, Spartan quarters, small venues, and great crowds.”

Griffin: “And I, you know, make them all go 'hoo-hah.' They're really into that. The troops love to go 'hoo-hah.' So whenever I'm bombing -- and when I bomb there it's worst than the insurgents, then I just yell 'hoo-hah" and I try to get them back.”

Moran: “Is it fun?”

Griffin: “It's so much fun.”

Moran: “Why?”

Griffin: “It's everything. It's fun. It's touching. It's exhausting. It's eye-opening. It's fun because it's the greatest audience in the world. You know, I mean, the men and women there are very grateful and they're very open about it.”

Moran: “Every star who tours, it seems, has the same emotional reaction. And the fact that not all the stars are willing to go into the war zones, that doesn't seem to matter to the troops.”

Franken: “So I guess they're having, you know, trouble getting some people. All I can say is, our show, which was three hours long, they loved every minute of the show. It was a three-hour show. And they just want, they just want to not think about where they are for three hours and get a bit of home.”

Moran: “A bit of home, that's what the USO is all about. And it's far more than the show tours. It's more than 30,000 volunteers welcoming troops home at airports, serving snacks at 120 centers around the world. Making care packages for those so far from home.”

Powell: “When you think about the USO, the publicity that would surround an entertainment tour is clearly going to get the attention. And like so many different things, what you do every day doesn't. We have touched a wide range of people over the years. And in most cases, what the USO really is, is just a small act of kindness when it's not necessarily expected, but certainly appreciated.”

Moran: “USO president Ned Powell insists the divisive politics of the Iraq war and the liberal tilt of Hollywood have had no impact on the organization's ability to recruit stars. Wayne Newton does a lot of recruiting in Hollywood himself.”

Newton: “I believe that the performers who want to get it, get it. And those that want to argue politics are a different agenda. Theirs is not 'what's right, best, wrong, for the country.' Theirs is 'let me say something that will give me some publicity.' And I have no time for those people.”

Moran: “But out on the road with the USO, down through the decades, there are no politic politics. There's only that touch of home and a sense of what our home can be, an ideal that sometimes gets lost amid all our disagreements.”

Griffin: “My politics are so far to the left I'm not even a Democrat, I'm like a Sandinista at this point. So nobody wants to hear my blue state liberal crap over there. So I try to keep a lid on it and just try and make them laugh and do a good show.”

Franken: And you sing 'God Bless America' and you look out at the soldiers and you see a black soldier next to a white soldier next to a female soldier next to a transvestite soldier, which is very odd, but the point is -- it's just, it's a wonderful, wonderful feeling. And -- there is no transvestite soldiers.”

Moran: “So support the USO, especially if you're a big Hollywood star.”
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center