On Friday September 2, 2005, American television networks NBC
and Pax TV
broadcast "A Concert for Hurricane Relief", a fund-raising evening designed to help those affected by Hurricane Katrina
. It featured performances by Harry Connick Jr
, Faith Hill
and her husband Tim McGraw
, among others.
Other celebrities took up linking jobs, introducing new acts and requesting donations from viewers. Around two thirds of the way through the programme, comedian Mike Myers and hip hop star Kanye West came onscreen to do the requests. From the start, it was clear that West was not his usual self. Whilst Myers calmly went through the autocue routine, Kanye twitched and blinked, looking unusually nervous and jumpy. Then it was his turn to speak, and every TV director's nightmare began.
Barely keeping emotions at bay, West ripped into what he percieved as the media's double standards toward black and white looters before denouncing the length of time it had taken to get help to the people of New Orleans. He claimed that the then-Republican government was intentionally allowing the people of New Orleans to die because of their colour, and tore into the president's decision to send soldiers to fight in Iraq when they were needed at home. He ended by stating: "George Bush doesn't care about black people."
The station released a statement distancing itself from West's comments, and NBC spokeswoman Rebecca Marks later told the media that the person in charge of listening for troublesome content "was instructed to listen for a curse word, and didn't realize (West) had gone off-script." When the show was later broadcast to the West Coast, West's comments had been removed.
A clip of West's rant can be streamed from You Tube.
A transcript follows. The whole segment lasts one minute 37 seconds. For the director it must have seemed an eternity.
The camera pulls in slowly on Mike Myers and Kanye West. A bar at the bottom reads "A Concert for Hurricane Relief: 1-800-HELP-NOW". Two flat-screen TVs in the background show helicopter camera footage of a devastated New Orleans; pools of petrol alight on the surface of the water, remnants of houses floating in filth etc.
Myers is wearing a white shirt and smart jacket with blue jeans. He has his hands behind his back. West is wearing a blue and white striped polo shirt and white slacks. He has his hands in his pockets and his face is twitching with discomfort. As he blinks and shakes, Myers calmly reads from the autocue.
...the landscape of the city has changed dramatically, tragically and perhaps irreversibly. There is now over 25 feet of water where there was once city streets and thriving neighbourhoods.
West seems to jump a little, as if he's surprised it's his turn to read. He licks his lips quickly before speaking. He sounds like he's on the verge of tears.
Oh. I hate the way--
There is a half-second pause as West breathes in; Myers seems to have just picked up on what West has said, but being a professional, no look of recognition crosses his face. His torso swings quickly around to West and then back to the camera. West, obviously only just keeping his emotions in check, continues, oblivious to his co-host.
KANYE WEST (cont.)
--they portray us in the media. If you see a black family it says they're looting.
Myers's eyes swing towards West and back again. Uh-oh. He thinks he knows where this is going. Throughout the rest of West's speech, Myers's face seems to take on the look of concentrated neutrality that people have when they're trying not to laugh. He keeps glancing between West and the camera. He's got no idea what to do.
KANYE WEST (cont.)
If you see a white family it says they're looking for food. And you know that it's been five days 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 tee- tuh- the- TV because it's too hard to watch. I've even been shopping before- (I've) even given a donation so now I'm calling my business manager right now to see what's- what is the biggest amount I can give and- and- just to imagine if I was- if I was down there and those are- those are my people down there so anybody out there that wants to do anything that we can help- with- with the set-up, the way America is set up to help the, uh, uh, the poor, the, the black people, the, uh, the less well off as slow as possible, I mean this is- Red Cross is doing everything they can--
Myers suddenly loosens up and begins nodding and blinking again. Phew! Safe territory. He can agree with this...
KANYE WEST (cont.)
--we, we already realise that a lot of the people that could help are at war right now--
KANYE WEST (cont.)
--fighting another way and they-they- they've given them permission to go down and shoot us.
There's a second of silence. West shifts uneasily from foot to foot, never looking away from the camera and breathing heavily. Myers looks across at West and back to the camera, taking in a deep, deep breath of air and rubbing under his eye. Is he wiping away a tear? He audibly breathes out as he picks up the autocue again. His voice sounds flat and hurried, like he's aware of how fatuous these comments sound in the aftermath of West's outburst.
And subtle but in even many ways more profoundly devastating is the lasting damage to the survivor's will to rebuild and remain in the area. The destruction of the spirit of the people of Southern Louisiana and Mississippi may end up being the most tragic loss of all.
West, still staring straight ahead, calmly but loudly proclaims:
George Bush doesn't care about black people.
A half-second of silence. Myers's mouth drops open and he turns to West.
ABRUPTLY CUT TO: Chris Tucker. He looks like he's just shat himself.