The organizers of Earth Day 2000 cast movie star and "Titanic" teen-titillator Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead role of their Washington protest. Consider the movie poster: "First he saved Kate Winslet. Now he's saving the planet."
Just don't think they're thrilled with their casting. Crusty radical Earth Day boss Denis Hayes admitted to the Boston Globe, "Sure, it'd be preferable if policy issues could be discussed on a higher plane, but we live where we live.'" It doesn't help that DiCaprio has done his part in this year's main Earth Day theme - shadowboxing against the phantom of "global warming" - by owning a series of sport-utility vehicles.
But ABC's "news division" trumped that by inviting 25-years-young Leonardo to interview Bill Clinton for a one-hour Earth Day special. When the Earth-friendly compost hit the fan, ABC News President David Westin started dissembling. First, he sent an internal e-mail that quickly leaked to the press denying a DiCaprio interview: "We did not send him to interview the President. No one is that stupid...All roles of journalists must be played by journalists (duh!)."
Other ABC flacks dissembled, too. Senior Vice President Phyllis McGrady, who's in charge of the Earth Day special, told the Philadelphia Inquirer: "Obviously, we're not going to send Leo to the White House to interview the President. We have plenty of qualified people here to do that."
But then gleeful reporters found that ABC News had sent no less than four camera crews to chronicle the White House non-interview, and Westin had to admit that his e-mail was, as they say, no longer operative. The new spin: "We had worked with DiCaprio to prepare some very substantive, policy-oriented questions," which did result in an interview. "It doesn't matter whether you're walking or sitting." Looks like it depends on what the meaning of "is" is, and all that.
For his truth-twisting efforts, Westin received the ultimate punishment: being ridiculed by President Clinton at the Radio and Television Correspondents Association dinner. "Don't you news people ever learn? It isn't the mistake that kills you, it's the cover-up."
Luckily, Westin didn't have to address whether DiCaprio can walk and interview at the same time. One TV writer noted that DiCaprio, like Peter Jennings, seems to have never finished high school. In the March 1995 issue of Details magazine, this policy genius asked, "Who's Newt Gingrich? Oh, wait a minute, I've seen Newt on TV. He's that funny-looking guy. I haven't really been following politics lately." A look at DiCaprio's current talents on the official Earth Day Web site is not encouraging. In the kickoff press conference, DiCaprio interviewed Earth Day organizers with multiple insertions of "wow," "cool," and "scary stuff."
DiCaprio's answers in a related Internet chat suggested he hadn't exactly hit the books to determine his positions on the interaction of chlorofluorocarbons in the upper atmosphere. "I watched a lot of television programs, documentaries, and movies on wild life [sic] and the environment and was shocked to find out what we were doing to Earth. Now I am in a position to make a difference, and I really want to." When asked what is his first environmental concern, besides global warming, DiCaprio again underlined his video education: "Saving endangered species. I saw a program when I was very young about the wildlife that is now extinct."
The DiCaprio imbroglio is just the latest in a string of Westin's liberal manipulations of ABC News. He fired 21-year veteran reporter Bob Zelnick for writing a biography of Al Gore for Regnery, a conservative publisher. He canned right-leaning pundit Bill Kristol from "This Week." He vehemently protested the hiring of Internet star Matt Drudge as an ABC Radio host. In a foreshadowing of his fondness for DiCaprio, he made an "objective journalist" out of Clinton stooge George Stephanopoulos.
DiCaprio spokesman Ken Sunshine told USA Today that Leo "will be involved in editing of the show," and "is shocked that there is any controversy regarding this." Westin and others claim that no one should criticize the Leonardo special before it airs. But ABC's record on Earth Day specials is all too clear. Two Earth Days ago, ABC aired the one-hour special "The Apocalypse and Al Gore," which lovingly chronicled "one man's 30-year crusade to put global warming on the national agenda." Given that green activists were warning hysterically of global cooling in the 1970s, there's not too much to brag about on environmental issues at ABC News these days.