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Clooney puts star power to work

The actor helps draw attention to bipartisan congressional efforts on Sudan's genocide crisis.

April 28, 2006|Jim Puzzanghera | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Academy Award winner George Clooney, one of Hollywood's most vocal political crusaders, has found a cause that Democrats and Republicans can agree on -- stopping the genocide in Darfur.

After taking not-so-veiled swipes at the Bush administration in his two Oscar-nominated movies last year, "Good Night, and Good Luck" and "Syriana," and making an off-color joke about disgraced GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff at this year's Golden Globe Awards, Clooney shared a podium Thursday with one of the most conservative members of Congress, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.).

The unlikely pair, along with Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), were trying to draw attention to the ongoing genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan days before Clooney headlines a bipartisan rally for the cause on the National Mall on Sunday.

And the attention came.

About 200 people, including nearly three dozen photographers and a larger than usual percentage of female journalists, crammed into a conference room at the National Press Club, where Clooney showed video from a recent trip he and his father, Nick, made to Africa to speak with Darfur refugees.

"It is the first genocide of the 21st century. The president wants to put a stop to it. Congress wants to put a stop to it. The U.N. wants to put a stop to it," Clooney said. "What they need now is the American people and the world's population to help them, to tell them that it matters that much to us, that it's that important to us."

All an actor can do, Clooney said, is try to use his star power to shine some light on the issue.

"I'm not a legislator. I'm not a politician," Clooney said. "I just try to use the credit card that you get for being famous in life in instances when I can."

Clooney proved Thursday he has a huge surplus in his celebrity account.

Brownback, who has been pressing for stronger U.S. action to stop the Darfur genocide for nearly two years, said afterward that he had never had so many cameras for any of his events on the issue.

"Not even with Angelina Jolie,'' he said.

And though Brownback, who is considering a run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, admitted that many of his supporters probably aren't big fans of Clooney's recent politically tinged films, he said working together could help an important issue resonate with the public.

"People look at it and say, 'Well, gosh, if those guys agree on it, this must be really be a) important, and b) really good,' " Brownback said.

Clooney stopped short of bashing Bush during the hourlong news conference. He qualified his criticisms of the administration for not acting more aggressively in Darfur by noting that the U.S. government is "stretched" financially and militarily.

And with Brownback sitting to his right, Clooney tried to strike a bipartisan chord.

"It's not a political issue,'' Clooney said. "There's no right or left, there is no conservative or liberal point of view. There is only right or wrong."

The right thing is to act, he said, to get peacekeeping forces into the region to stop the genocide and protect the refugees.

Clooney said he had come late to African issues, but was trying to catch up. He's a spokesman for "ONE: The Campaign to Make Poverty History" and last year traveled to the G8 Summit alongside rock star Bono to lobby world leaders for additional African aid.

Obama, who along with Brownback is the sponsor of legislation to increase funding for peacekeeping operations in Sudan, said Clooney's help was invaluable.

"Whether we like it or not, we are a celebrity-obsessed culture. When we get a movie star involved, people pay more attention. It's even better when the movie star actually knows what he's talking about," Obama said after the news conference. "He's not just a pretty face. Substantively, he's right on target and you can feel the passion in his voice about it."

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