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PREACH IT! Sean Penn vs. Wyclef Jean in a verbal cage match to the death!

August 6, 2010 |  4:57 pm

First, Wyclef Jean announced a bid to be president of Haiti. Then, Sean Penn emerged from his own derriere for a couple of seconds to intone that Wyclef’s candidacy lacked sincerity. Or seriousness. Or something. Point is, he called Wyclef a "non-presence" in the troubled country, and that got Jean’s hackles up.

Now Jean has speechified a response, in a growing battle for which star is, once and for all, more Haitian-than-thou.

"He hasn't seen me for six months -- I've been going to Haiti for over five years,” Jean spat. “I am not absent in Haiti, maybe the tent city you're in, maybe I'm absent in that."

What stands out about the argument isn’t so much the star power -- despite Penn’s ability to carry a picture, it isn’t exactly supernova on supernova -- or even Jean’s really fun tendency to speak about himself in the third person. What’s odd about all this is the lack of interference from hand-wringing toadies. Just a few years ago, in a situation like this involving Third World do-goodery, we’d usually be fielding feverish spin from a publicist by now -- or maybe a lawyer, or at least someone on the star’s payroll.

Sean-penn-haiti Take Madonna. When she first vogued into Malawi to adopt a baby girl, and maybe throw in some charity money, locals leaped all over her motives and her methods, accusing her of doing an end run around the country’s adoption laws. She defended her actions largely through written statements and through a lawyer. And when Sharon Stone made that stupendous gaffe about the China earthquake being "karma" for the country’s occupation of Tibet, she let her sponsor, the fashion company Dior, issue an apology on her behalf.

Now it seems that celebrities are having less and less use for handlers when they venture outside their private bubbles of fabulousness. The result: some very, um, entertaining quotes.

"I have sweat in my blood," Jean has proclaimed in his defense.

If Jean does have any flacks working with him on his campaign, we wish them luck in spinning that one.

-- Leslie Gornstein

Top photo: Singer Wyclef Jean amid supporters in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on Aug. 5, 2010. Credit: Andres Martinez Casares / EPA

Second photo: Former President Bill Clinton, who heads UN efforts to rebuild Haiti, shakes hands with Sean Penn after the actor received a medal during a remembrance ceremony on July 12, 2010, on the grounds of the destroyed presidential palace in Port-au-Prince, on the six-month anniversary of the devastating Jan. 12 earthquake. Credit: Thony Belizaire / AFP / Getty Images

Related dispatches from the Ministry of Gossip: 

Robin Wright and Sean Penn officially divorced [poll]

Sean Penn cuts a deal over altercation with photographer

Paparazzo's sex-furniture business far more intriguing than his lawsuit against Sean Penn

Maria Conchita Alonso goes off on Sean Penn for supporting Hugo Chavez

Haiti quake relief: Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt rally behind Wyclef Jean to help; Twitter roster grows

Earthquake in Haiti: celebrities and fans respond on Twitter

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