Republicans and even House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer were none-too-pleased with Stephen Colbert’s testimony Friday on immigration, but he’s far from the only celebrity to bring the sacrosanct hearings down to a new low.
Compare Colbert appearing in character to highlight that the agricultural work performed by many illegal immigrants is backbreaking, with, say, Michael Crichton helping push Republicans’ line that global warming is fake, or with a Sesame Street muppet championing education reform. From the Jonas Brothers to Sean Astin, celebrities have long offered their fame to highlight some pet issue. And let’s face it, Congressional hearings are far from pristine, serious events. Half the time members don’t show up, or they check out, reading the newspaper. Witnesses go through some pre-coaching, and protesters interrupt proceedings.[TPM SLIDESHOW: Stephen Colbert Testifies On Capitol Hill]
According to this bit of academic research, there have been 400-plus celebrities to testify on Capitol Hill since 1969.
Sure, some of these celebrities had legitimate ties to the issue they were championing, and it can’t hurt when someone prominent asks for more funding for health research. Mary Tyler Moore was among the most frequent witnesses a few decades ago, for example, talking about diabetes.
TPM rounded up the more unusual “celebrity” hearings that match up with the “mockery” Republicans say happened on Friday.
1. Michael Crichton
Then-Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), the same lawmaker who called global warming the “greatest hoax” ever perpetrated on the American people, had the famed Jurassic Park author testify in 2005 on the issue as an expert.
The late Crichton did have a science background, but was also frequently cited at the time by global warming deniers such as Inhofe. His testimony was intended to push a political message to counter Al Gore’s not-yet-released popular film.
As the New York Times put it, Crichton spent two hours “hewing to his firm belief that lawmakers should examine more closely ‘whether the methodology of climate science is sufficiently rigorous to yield a reliable result.'”
Then-Sen. Hillary Clinton accused Crichton of trying to “muddy the issues around sound science,” and Sen. Barbara Boxer said the focus should be on “facts, not fiction.”
Sure, he’s a cuddly puppet, but does he really belong on Capitol Hill? There the furry Muppet was in 2002, talking about the importance of music education. He declared that his goal was to make sure that, “when Elmo goes to school, there will be the instruments to play.” Elmo’s appearance was so serious, he attempted to eat the microphone.
And the testimony wasn’t even all that unique, since the guy really gets around.
3. Backstreet Boy Kevin Richardson
Kevin Richardson of Backstreet Boys fame drew the ire of Sen. George Voinovich in 2002 when he testified about mountaintop mining. Richardson was invited because he had his own environmental group formed to educate voters about the practice in his home state of Kentucky.
But Voinovich (R-OH) would have none of it. From the CBS report:
“It’s just a joke to think that this witness can provide members of the United States Senate with information on important geological and water quality issues,” said Voinovich who boycotted the session. “We’re either serious about the issues or we’re running a sideshow.”
“I object to those that are brought in for show business,” he said. “This witness was put in as an afterthought because someone thought it would add to the glamour of the hearing and attract media attention.”
4. John Travolta
From Grease to Pulp Fiction, Travolta is famous for his moves. But in 1997 he was testifying about freedom of religion. Issac Hayes joined him.
Travolta decried the boycotting of his fellow Scientologists in Germany.
From his testimony:
Of course, we can chuckle about it because in the overall scheme of things these boycotts did no great harm. However, the mere attempt by politicians to censor art because of the artists’ religious affiliation sends chills down my spine. As Americans, we are reminded of McCarthyism at its worst. The most fearsome aspect of this undemocratic behavior is that it indicates just how bad discrimination must be for ordinary German Scientologists who do not have the same opportunities to speak out against this type of arrogant intolerance. The freedom to create and communicate an artists’ vision free from state interference is the most cherished of all freedoms and the most fundamental of human rights. If we do not challenge these unwarranted acts of discrimination, what will happen next? What other artists will be banned or boycotted because of their religion or beliefs? Will artists who happen to be associated with other minority religions also be singled out? Are the “thought police” far behind?
(Fun fact: Terry Jones of will-he-or-won’t-he Koran-burning fame also testified.)
5. Tommy Lasorda
Though Congress did call on a number of current and former baseball players to testify about steroid use in Major League Baseball in 2005, it wasn’t the first time the Boys of Summer spent time on the Hill. It was, however, more relevant than the time LA Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda told a patriotic yarn to add his two cents about the Constitutionality of flag burning.
Additional reporting by Jon Terbush