Kanye West's latest rap didn't win him any fans at NBC--or the White House.
Appearing on Friday's night's A Concert for Hurricane Relief telethon, simulcast on NBC, MSNBC, CNBC and Pax, the loose cannon hip-hop star ignored the TelePrompTer and riffed that "George Bush doesn't care about black people" in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
The telethon had stuck to the script for the first 45 minutes or so of the hour-long broadcast before the cameras cut to West and Mike Myers for what was supposed to be a 90-second segment.
Myers began by discussing the terrible catastrophe and how the nation was rallying to prevent the "destruction of the spirit of the people of Louisiana and Mississippi." West, whose latest album Late Registration was released last week, was supposed to continue, making an appeal for viewers to contribute to relief efforts. Instead, he went way off script.
"I hate the way they portray us in the media. If you see a black family, they say, 'They're looting.' See a white family, it says, 'They are looking for food,' " the Grammy winning artist began.
He noted that it took five days before federal help kicked in and then suggested the lag was "because most of the people are black."
"And even for me to complain about it, I would be a hypocrite because I've tried to turn away from the TV because it's too hard to watch. I've even been shopping before even giving a donation, so now I'm calling my business manager right now to see what is the biggest amount I can give, and just to imagine if I was down there, and those are my people down there," he continued as Myers looked on, shell-shocked.
"So anybody out there that wants to do anything that we can help--with the way America is set up to help the poor, the black people, the less well-off, as slow as possible. I mean, the Red Cross is doing everything they can. We already realize a lot of people that could help are at war right now, fighting another way...and they've given them permission to go down and shoot us!"
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He then started to say, "George Bush doesn't care about black people..." before MSNBC President Rick Kaplan, who produced the telethon at New York's Rockefeller Plaza, decided to cut off West's microphone and cut to an unaware Chris Tucker, who was staring off into space waiting for his scheduled time. Tucker managed to keep to the script, as did the rest of the show.
Telethon host Matt Lauer wrapped the telecast by saying, "Emotions in this country right now are running very high. Sometimes that emotion is translated into inspiration, sometimes into criticism. We've heard some of that tonight. But it's still part of the American way of life."
He then led the assembled stars, including New Orleans fixtures like Aaron Neville, Wynton Marsalis and Harry Connick Jr., along with A-listers like Hilary Swank and Leonardo DiCaprio, in a sing-along of When the Saints Go Marching In.
NBC immediately went into damage control following the show. The network released a statement distancing itself from the rapper. "Kanye West departed from the scripted comments that were prepared for him, and his opinions in no way represent the views of the networks. It would be most unfortunate if the efforts of the artists who participated tonight and the generosity of millions of Americans who are helping those in need are overshadowed by one person's opinion."
By the time the telecast aired on the West Coast three hours later, West's anti-Bush statement was edited out, although much of the rest of his rant remained.
There was no immediate comment from West, who earned a reputation as a live wire at last November's American Music Awards, when he had a hissy fit after failing to win any trophies ("I was definitely robbed") and threatened to boycott future ceremonies.
NBC Universal spokeswoman Rebecca Marks described the benefit as "a live television event wrought with emotion" and attempted to justify the excising of West's remark by saying the company did not want to politicize the telethon and possibly discourage some viewers from donating.
Even though the show aired on a slight delay in the Eastern and Central time zones (something all networks have instituted in the post-wardrobe malfunction era), NBC didn't initially bleep out the Bush bashing, because, per Marks, the person manning the bleep button was only "instructed to listen for a curse word."
NBC has not yet reported how much money was raised for the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund, although during the show New York Governor George Pataki handed over a $2.5 million check, while pledging his "great state will do far more."
The NBC event was the first major Hollywood televised benefit. The Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon, concluding Monday, raised more than $1 million for hurricane victims in additon to $54.9 million for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
This Friday, the six major broadcast networks joined by PBS, cable outlets like E!, radio stations and the Internet, will simulcast Shelter from the Storm: A Concert for the Gulf Coast. BET will also air a benefit that night, titled, S.O.S. (Saving Ourselves), and MTV, VH1 and CMT will air a special program, ReAct Now: Music & Relief, on Saturday. And, adding a bit of intrigue to the telecasts, West is scheduled to appear live on both the BET and MTV events.