The Politics of George Clooney, Actor and Liberal Activist

Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images.
"I'm a liberal. I'm confused when that became a bad word..." George Clooney told CNN's Larry King on February 16, 2006. "It's interesting. I think what happened over a period of time probably in the late '80s when it became sort of a political tool...."

Clooney continued, "...the liberal movement morally, you know, has stood on the right side of an awful lot of issues. We thought that blacks should be allowed to sit at the front of the bus and women should be able to vote, McCarthy was wrong, Vietnam was a mistake."

Mr. Clooney was appearing on the CNN program as a prelude to the March 5 Academy Awards, at which he won a coveted Oscar for supporting actor in Syriana, a Clooney-produced film infused in the political intrigue of the global oil industry and the dogged pursuit of wealth and power.

Actor, Director, Producer
George Clooney is best-known as a TV and film actor for over twenty years, and more recently, as acclaimed film director and producer. Most Americans first noticed him as the handsome Dr. Doug Ross on popular televison show ER from 1994 to 1999. Clooney regularly appeared in five other shows prior to ER.

From 1986 through 2005, Clooney acted in 28 films, ranging widely in quality and seriousness from Return of the Killer Tomatoes (1988) and the poorly-regarded Batman & Robin (1997), to his recent successful film forays into political-commentary with Good Night, and Good Luck (2005) and Syriana (2005).

In 2006, George Clooney became the first person in Academy Award history to be nominated for directing one film, Good Night, and Good Luck, and for acting in another, Syriana, in the same year.

George Clooney on Darfur
In 2006, George Clooney's longtime liberal activism and unabashed political views also rose to headline-attracting public prominence.

In April 2006 after a 5-day visit to Darfur, Clooney spoke out against genocide in that country and urged greater US and NATO involvement. In September 2006, Clooney testified before the UN Security Council, urging that UN peacekeepers enter Darfur.

The Clooney Family
He was born in 1961 near Lexington, Kentucky to Nick Clooney, a regional newscaster and well-liked TV personality, and Nina Warren Clooney, local city council member and former Kentucky beauty queen. He's also the nephew of the late post-World War II singer Rosemary Clooney and cousin of actor Miguel Ferrer. One 2003 article dubs the Clooney clan "the Kennedys of Kentucky" for their formidable influence in the conservative northern part of that state.

"My parents were the biggest liberal Democrats. They both voted for George McGovern." Clooney told a Playboy interviewer in 2000 about his parents. And he told another interviewer in 2005, "My dad, who went after OPEC for raising gas prices and Gerald Ford for pardoning Richard Nixon, believed it's your responsibiity---not just your right---to question authority."

By all reports, the Clooneys are a close-knit, Irish-Catholic family, and George is fiercely loyal to his father.

When Nick Clooney ran for Congress in 2004, George raised over $600,000 from fellow celebrity-activists for his father's unsuccessful campaign, and made personal appearances on behalf of his father.

Young George Clooney
At Kentucky's Augusta High School, Clooney was an excellent baseball player, but uninterested in academics. He tried out for the Cincinnati Reds, but failed to make the cut. He studied broadcasting at Northern Kentucky University, but soon dropped out because he "was no good at it....I wasn't nearly as good as my father. From the beginning, I was always compared to him." (Quote from July 2000 Playboy interview with George Clooney.) He admits that his college time was spent mainly on girls and partying. While pondering his future, he picked tobacco, sold mens' suits, and took a bit-part in never-released horse-racing film with cousin Miguel Ferrer and his father, actor Jose Ferrer, then married to Rosemary Clooney.

And the rest is Hollywood history
Enthralled by this acting stint, in 1982 with $450 in his pocket, 21-year-old George Clooney drove cross-country in a rusted Monte Carlo to Aunt Rosemary's Los Angeles home, where he chauffeured for her while taking acting lessons and working in construction. He landed his first TV series by 1984 and next film role by 1987.

George Clooney & The O'Reilly Factor
In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, George, inspired to support the families of the 9/11 dead, was a prime organizer behind the September 21, 2001 America: A Tribute to Heroes telecast. The program featured dozens of top Hollywood stars, including Clooney, Tom Hanks, Will Smith, Jim Carrey, Sarah Jessica Parker, Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts and Chris Rock, and raised about $129 million, which was given to the United Way for distribution.

On October 31, 2001, Bill O'Reilly attacked attacked celebrities like Clooney, Roberts and Hanks for not coming on his Fox News program, The O'Reilly Factor, to defend themselves from scattered news reports that money they helped to raise through the Tribute to Heroes telethon wasn't going to the victims of September 11.

Quipped O'Reilly, "When a telethon to help the victims' families is presented, the stars clamor to be a part of it....Those fundraisers bring the stars great publicity." He continued to the New York Post, "[These stars] get a lot of positive publicity when they do these events, but when it's time to take some responsibility, they are MIA."

Infuriated, Clooney famously wrote an angry letter to O'Reilly on November 6, 2001 in which he scolded, "The fund is not only the most successful single fundraiser ever, it is doing exactly what it is designed to do. Responsibly. The money is going out to the right people...

It took one phone call to find this information. One phone call you did not make. But hey, it's the first week of sweeps and you need to run a hard-hitting expose of irresponsible, pampered performers and try to bait them on your show with inflammatory statements. I'm sure it must have been frustrting for yu that not one person took the bait. Hell Bill, even McCarthy got a few people to show up."

Clooney's missive was the stuff of headlines and talk show fodder for weeks after O'Reilly discussed it on air.

Clooney & O'Reilly Spar Again
Clooney and O'Reilly again sparred publicly three years later when Clooney took a leadership role in organizing the star-studded January 15, 2005 telethon, Tsunami Aid: A Concert of Hope, to benefit victims of the late-2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

O'Reilly sniped on his Fox News show that he "will be watching to see if the money gets to the tsunami victims....we applaud the time and generosity of George Clooney and the other stars. But with power comes responsibility. and we expect all the telethon people to understand that."

Clooney responded, "I'm booking the talent for the Tsunami event...and you, Mr. O'Reilly, are now officially invited to be a presenter....This way, you can personally follow up on our fund-raising. This is your chance to put your considerable money where your considerable mouth is...."

George Clooney in the 21st Century
Several media sources quote George Clooney saying in 2003, "The problem is we elected a manager, and we need a leader. Let's face it: Bush is just dim."

Ultra-conservative website CelebPolitics.com gives George "a conservative-friendly rating of -14, making George a Wacko Liberal Nutcase." The site also reports that Clooney has made $10,000 in liberal campaign contributions and none in conservative caampaign contributions.

Clooney publicly supported John Kerry for President in 2004, and donated $2,000 to his campaign. In fact, Clooney purchased his Lake Como, Italy villa from the Kerry-Heinz family for a reported $7.8 million prior to Kerry announcing his candidacy for the 2004 presidential race.

George Clooney donated $1 million in September 2005 to the United Way Hurricane Katrina Response Fund to help out the victims of the hurricane. Clooney is a member of the United Way Board of Trustees. Said Clooney when he made the donation, "Today our neighbors need food, shelter and health care, but the very near future is when the difficult part of rebuilding lives and homes and cities starts. We're all in this one together." In March 2006, Clooney donated his Oscar gift-bag (Value: about $100,000) to the United Way, to be auctioned off to benefit that humanitarian organization's programs.

In 2006, as he promoted his two most recent films, Good Night, and Good Luck and Syriana, Clooney spoke more openly and freely about politics.

In March, the Associated Press reported, "George Clooney has faulted Democrats for their timidity in the months before the start of the Iraq war, saying many party leaders muted their criticism of the Bush administration rather than risk being branded as unpatriotic. 'The fear of (being) criticized can be paralyzing. Just look at the way so many Democrats caved in the run up to the war,' Clooney said..."

In his Oscar acceptance speech on March 5, 2006, George Clooney proudly proclaimed his liberal values, "Listen, I don't quite know how you compare art.....They are stellar performances and wonderful work, and I'm honored, truly honored to be up here.

And finally, I would say that, you know, we are a little bit out of touch in Hollywood every once in a while. I think it's probably a good thing. We're the ones who talk about AIDS when it was just being whispered, and we talked about civil rights when it wasn't really popular. And we, you know, we bring up subjects. This Academy, this group of people gave Hattie McDaniel an Oscar in 1939 when blacks were still sitting in the backs of theaters. I'm proud to be a part of this Academy. Proud to be part of this community, and proud to be out of touch. And I thank you so much for this."

Politics in Clooney Films The first Clooney-starring film with a politically-infused message was The Peacemaker, in 1997, in which a nuclear scientist (Nicole Kidman) and military intelligence officer (Clooney) team to stop a terrorist and a Russian mercenary who've stolen nuclear weapons from the former Soviet Union.

Other Clooney films released through March 2006, with political and related themes are:

-- The Thin Red Line (1998) - He played a small role in this World War II story about a squad of American troops fighting the Japanese during the battle of Guadalcanal Island. The film examines the peace of the islanders and the chaos brought by war, and the randomness of life and death in wartime.

-- South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (1999) - Clooney did a major voice-over for this animated feature of the infamous South Park third-graders who spur a tongue-in-cheek war between the US and Canada.

-- Three Kings (1999) - At the Gulf War's end, four US soldiers come across a potential jackpot: a rolled up treasure map to Saddam Hussein's stashes of confiscated gold hidden bewteen the buttocks of a captured soldier. While pursuing selfish gain, the men collide with Iraqi civilians and experience a different side of the war.

-- Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (2002) - Based on the life of Chuck Barris, who claimed dual careers as loony game-show host and CIA operative for the US government. Also directed by Clooney.

-- Good Night, and Good Luck (2005) - Taking place during the early days of broadcast journalism in 1950's America, this film chronicles the real-life conflict between newsman Edward R. Murrow and Senator Joseph McCarthy and his House Un-American Activities Committee. In a political climate of fear and reprisal, the CBS news crew persists. McCarthy is brought before the Senate and made powerless as his lies and bullying tactics are finally uncovered. Geroge Clooney was nominated for a Best Director Oscar for this film.

-- Syriana (2005) - In this political thriller that unfolds against the intrigue of the global oil industry, Clooney plays the role of career CIA operative who disturbing truths about the work to which he has devoted his life. He won the 2006 Best Supporting Oscar and a Gloden Globe for this role.
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When asked in 2005 by German magazine, Brigitte, why conservatives continually vilify liberals, Clooney succinctly summed up liberalism....

"It's quite amazing that 'liberal' nowadays has become a swear word as in the history of our country it always meant to be on the side of justice. It started with the witchhunt in Salem, the conservatives' point of view was: 'Burn them at the stake', and the liberals' point of view was: 'There are no witches.'

And that's how it continued with the civil rights movement and womens suffrage. The liberals were always right in the end.