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Stars to turn out for Haiti telethon Friday

Denise Martin and Matea Gold
Los Angeles Times (MCT)

Less than 24 hours after an earthquake devastated Haiti on Jan. 12, George Clooney was on the phone with MTV Networks president Judy McGrath trying to orchestrate a star-studded telethon to raise funds for its victims.

Clooney, who helped organize televised benefits for Sept. 11 and 2004's South Asian tsunami, told MTV on the Golden Globes' red carpet, "There are times in our life when people are really without any form of help and in real danger. This is one of those times."

Since that first phone call, more than 100 actors and musicians have signed on to headline "Hope for Haiti Now: A Global Benefit for Earthquake Relief," which airs Friday night commercial-free on more than 60 networks and online. Clooney and hip-hop star Wyclef Jean, a native Haitian, will host the event from Los Angeles and New York, respectively, and CNN's Anderson Cooper will report live from Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

Top-billed performers include Beyonce, Madonna, Bruce Springsteen, Mary J. Blige, Alicia Keys, Justin Timberlake, Taylor Swift, Bono, Jay-Z and Coldplay. In addition, former President Bill Clinton and actors Ben Stiller, Brad Pitt, Chris Rock, Denzel Washington, Julia Roberts, Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Meryl Streep, Robert Pattinson, Tom Hanks and Will Smith will appear.

According to MTV, it will be the most widely distributed telethon ever. Executive producer Joel Gallen said Thursday that the event will be difficult to miss.

The networks airing the event include ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, CNN, BET, the CW, HBO, MTV, VH1 and CMT. "Hope for Haiti Now" also will air across MTV Networks Worldwide, which reaches 640 million households, and CNN International, available in 260 million.

Gallen reached out to CNN after he was recruited by MTV to pull it together. Susan Bunda, executive vice president of content development and strategy for CNN Worldwide, said the event is a natural extension of the network's efforts to provide viewers with ways to get involved when they are moved by the news.

"Hope for Haiti Now" will include taped pieces featuring CNN's coverage of the disaster in Haiti, putting CNN reporters in an odd position of helping raise money for organizations whose work they are covering. Cooper, in particular, has raised questions on the air about the delay in getting medical supplies to doctors treating the wounded in Haiti.

But Bunda said she does not think CNN's involvement in the telethon poses a conflict. "I don't look at it as our reporters are advocating for any one charity," she said. "The role our team will be playing is in telling stories about the people of Haiti."

Gallen said he'd worked with each of the artists to select songs that would best fit the event's tone; most will not be singing their hits. "They'll be singing songs that they have an emotional connection to and that best reflect their feelings about this tragic situation," he said. The evening's performances will be widely available for purchase and download.

"Hope for Haiti Now" will benefit Oxfam America, Partners in Health, the Red Cross, UNICEF, United Nations World Food Programme, Yele Haiti Foundation and the newly formed Clinton Bush Haiti Fund. The event begins accepting donations Friday at 9 a.m. Pacific time.

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