It’s a tried-and-true tactic on Capitol Hill that if you want people to pay attention to what you’re doing, you trot out a celebrity to talk about it.
“I certainly hope that my star power can bump this hearing all the way up to C-SPAN 1,” Colbert said during a 2010 House Judiciary Committee hearing.
So it makes sense, particularly from a public-relations standpoint, that Ben Affleck would be on the Hill to talk about the recent mass killings and violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo. But he’ll be testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday as an expert on the central African nation, alongside a former American ambassador and the U.S. special envoy to the nation.
Affleck’s forthcoming testimony, first reported by Foreign Policy‘s The Cable and confirmed by a Senate aide, is not his first Washington foray as an expert on the region. He spoke before the House Armed Services panel in 2012, calling what was happening in the Congo “the deadliest conflict since World War II.” He also testified in 2011.
Affleck founded the Eastern Congo Initiative in 2010, an advocacy and grant-making organization. There’s been some debate on the Hill as to whether having Affleck testify as an expert is appropriate, given the plethora of people who have focused professionally on the region for years, The Cable reports.
But Affleck isn’t alone. The African continent attracts a lot of star-power advocacy: Angelina Jolie, Madonna, George Clooney. (Mother Jones has a thorough timeline tracking how this came to be and a map showing which celeb has claimed which countries.) Some critics worry that such interest doesn’t always translate into the best interests of the people actually living in these nations, and, at worst, this amounts to a sort of a “celebrity recolonization” of Africa.
But what’s also troubling — and not mentioned as often — is how such star power influences American perceptions and interest in Africa. A 2007 analysis by the left-leaning Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting found that African coverage by broadcast news spiked when American celebrities traveled there or sang songs or acted in movies that dealt with some sort of conflict there. Over the course of two years, nearly two-thirds of the news coverage Sierra Leone received by ABC, NBC, and CBS was with a celebrity-driven angle.
“African countries and issues are to a striking degree seen through the prism of celebrity,” the report concluded.
There are practical reasons for this; maintaining news bureaus in Africa, for instance, is expensive for news outlets.
And there’s this unfortunate reality: Many more consumers of media in the U.S. are interested in what a celebrity is up to these days than in tracking the latest developments in central Africa. And, really, is this Ben Affleck’s fault, or our own?
What We're Following See More »
"American spies collected information last summer revealing that senior Russian intelligence and political officials were discussing how to exert influence over Donald J. Trump through his advisers." The conversations centered around Paul Manafort, who was campaign chairman at the time, and Michael Flynn, former national security adviser and then a close campaign surrogate. Both men have been tied heavily with Russia and Flynn is currently at the center of the FBI investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
"Former FBI Director Robert Mueller has been cleared by U.S. Department of Justice ethics experts to oversee an investigation into possible collusion between then-candidate Donald Trump's 2016 election campaign and Russia." Some had speculated that the White House would use "an ethics rule limiting government attorneys from investigating people their former law firm represented" to trip up Mueller's appointment. Jared Kushner is a client of Mueller's firm, WilmerHale. "Although Mueller has now been cleared by the Justice Department, the White House may still use his former law firm's connection to Manafort and Kushner to undermine the findings of his investigation, according to two sources close to the White House."
Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and ranking member Mark Warner (D-VA) will subpoena two businesses owned by former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Burr said, "We would like to hear from General Flynn. We'd like to see his documents. We'd like him to tell his story because he publicly said he had a story to tell."