Saving Celebrities from Themselves: Human Rights Watch to Advise on Dictators to Avoid

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November 8, 2011; Source: Macleans | Remember when Mariah Carey, Beyonce, and Nelly Furtado copped seven-figure paydays for one-night performances for the Qaddafi clan? We wrote about it here as they didn’t give it a second thought until the popular movement to topple the 42-year dictator created some bad press for them. We also knew that Naomi Campbell accepted a rather large blood diamond from the dictator of Liberia. We didn’t know, however, that Hilary Swank was paid $1.5 million to help Chechen President Ramzan A. Kadyrov celebrate his 35th birthday. In all of these instances—except Campbell’s, we think—the embarrassed stars pledged to donate their dictator paychecks to various charities, though Furtado may have been the only one to release the charitable specifics.

Until the bad PR, they didn’t seem to have a second thought about Qaddafi, Kadyrov, or Liberia’s Charles Taylor, essentially settling into the very large category of “clueless” star. Now, in what Macleans (the Canadian news magazine) called “probably the least expected outcome of the Arab Spring,” the celebrity philanthropic advisory organization, Global Philanthropy Group, is going to partner with Human Rights Watch “to help stars and their handlers verify the records of people who want to hire them to appear at birthday parties and other private events.” headlined its version of this story, “News Service Offers Celebrities Googling Skills, Conscience.”

Well, it probably should have required only a passing familiarity with network TV news to have known that there might be something a little awry in accepting a million or two for an evening’s private performance for the extended Qaddafi household. Global Philanthropy Group should know some of this stuff without having to go to Human Rights Watch, but maybe HRW will help celebrities identify some of the less well-known tyrants who might come offering quick and lucrative paydays.

Two things bothered us about the story, however. One is probably inconsequential. For the stars who announced that they would give their swag to charity, is anyone watching to see if they’ve actually done so, and if they have, where it went?

The other is the tone of the Macleans article. It focuses on “starlets,” as if somehow it’s only ditzy women, not ditzy men, who have cozied up to maniacal despots offering huge sums for an evening’s floor show. Remember that Usher and 50 Cent also did shows for the Qaddafi clan. Or think about how famous, brilliant academics such as Benjamin Barber, Hernando de Soto, Sir Richard Roberts, Michael Porter—and the London School of Economics, at least its administration—willingly did business with the Libyan dictator. Being stupid with a dictator in return for lots of cash seems to be something that both genders do, not just female celebrities.—Rick Cohen