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Patrick Goldstein and James Rainey
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Is Tom Cruise really one of Hollywood's top humanitarians?

Tom_cruise When I think of showbiz humanitarians, the images that first pop into my head are Sean Penn digging through debris in Haiti (and Katrina-ravaged New Orleans before that), George Clooney exposing the refugee crisis in Darfur and Stephen Colbert entertaining the troops in Iraq. One person who doesn't immediately come to mind is Tom Cruise, who is the subject of a heated debate in L.A.'s Jewish community after the news surfaced that the Wiesenthal Center is giving Cruise its Humanitarian Award on May 5.

Cruise, of course, is a controversial choice because of his high-profile involvement in the Church of Scientology. As the Jewish Journal's Danielle Berrin puts it in her Hollywood Jew blog, even if the actor is a consummate philanthropist, "Tapping Cruise with a 'humanitarian' award still seems like an odd choice, since one authentic and indisputable aspect of his image is as public champion for the Church of Scientology--and that impenetrable behemoth is reportedly under investigation by the FBI for human trafficking." Berrin cites a number of charities Cruise has supported over the years, but asks the compelling question: "Does giving away lots of dough a humanitarian make?"

It's a good point. But is Cruise any less of a humanitarian than Will Smith or Michael Douglas or Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, who are all previous Wiesenthal honorees? Should he really be declared persona non grata simply because of his association with Scientology? Using that logic, wouldn't it be OK for some crazy Fox News-type right-wingers to attack the Wiesenthal Center if they gave next year's humanitarian award to Muhammad Ali, just because he is a Muslim? 

Berrin spoke to filmmaker Brett Ratner, who sits on the Wiesenthal board of trustees. He defended the decision, saying, "You can't say [Cruise] is the reason the religion is doing what it's doing. It's like saying, 'The Jews killed [expletive] Jesus; why am I a Jew?' " Wiesenthal Center founder Rabbi Marvin Hier argues: "We've given a medal of valor to the pope. Does that mean we agree with everything the church has done? No."

The dirty little secret about the Wiesenthal Center's decision to honor Cruise is that it has less to do with his good works than his importance in Hollywood, since most honorees are chosen for their ability to fill the room with people willing to write big checks. That's how charities raise money. The bigger or more powerful the public figure, the bigger the donation. Cruise wasn't chosen by Hier but by the members of the center's entertainment dinner committee, who include Jeffrey Katzenberg, Ron Meyer, Tom Rothman and Brad Grey. They may have held their noses, but they must have decided that Cruise would be a magnet for sizable contributions.

In the past, this has occasionally led to questionable award selections. One unintentionally hilarious low point was the 1973 Man of the Year award given by the United Jewish Appeal to the late record mogul Morris Levy. Though he was a tireless fundraiser for the charity, Levy was also a longtime frontman for the mob in the music industry who was convicted on two counts of conspiracy to commit extortion, but died before serving any time. At the end of the UJA banquet, MC Joe Smith, then a top executive at Warner Bros., thanked the audience for coming, quipping, "I just got word from two of Morris' friends on the West Coast that my wife and two children have been released."

So at least we can breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that Tom Cruise is hardly the most questionable big shot ever to be honored by a charitable group. But is he a worthy humanitarian? I'd love to hear your thoughts. I believe that if you actually spend time doing good in the world, your private beliefs are your own business. After all, the Wiesenthal Center is the home of the Museum of Tolerance. Shouldn't it practice what it preaches?

--Patrick Goldstein 

Photo: Tom Cruise at the premiere of the TV series "The Kennedys" in Beverly Hills. Credit: Mario Anzuoni / Reuters






Comments () | Archives (14)

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"Using that logic, wouldn't it be OK for some crazy Fox News-type right-wingers to attack the Wiesenthal Center if they gave next year's humanitarian award to Muhammad Ali, just because he is a Muslim?"

Sorry to break this to you, but Fox hardly has the market cornered on "crazies". If you actually watched Fox, you'd know that.

Wow. So you basically just copied Danielle Berrin's article (even though you provide a link to it). There's absolutely nothing in your article that she didn't already report yesterday. Do you get paid for this?

Tom is for sure a person who has given a lot of support to shoah foundations and other organizations. He just does not make a fuss about it. That's why I think it is very, very sick for a newspaper to do an article without ANY research into the subject. Instead it's a critical story about Scientology and not Tom Cruise, the man, actor and humanitarian, at all.

For crying out loud, if Cruise pulls a crowd that gives aplenty for charity, then whole thing was worth it.

Slow news day....Pat Goldstein takes jabs at Tom any chance he gets. Loser.

As Goldstein puts it at the end of this story, if you're spending time in your life to do good in the world your private beliefs should assuredly be yours and yours alone. While many may not agree with Cruise's personal beliefs, he has a track record of charitable giving and generosity that extends beyond his faith. Further, he is a solid representative and citizen in the Hollywood community that will easily drum up a load of cash for this incredibly worthy charity. Holding him accountable for any purported behavior of Scientology is more than unfair, but attempts to negate the very real good he can do for others through events like these. I say give him the honor, enjoy the overpriced dinner, and let the wheelbarrow of massive donation checks come rolling in.

Sooo...We're gonna take the guy who donates millions to a Jewish organization and discriminate against HIS religion? Goofy I tell you....just goofy.

I'm sure Tom Cruise has donated much more than anyone else here. I don't see how it even matters that he is a Scientology, he is free to believe in whatever he wants. Like mentioned in the article, even the catholic, i mean really? It's absolutely ridiculous, that when someone is being honored for doing something good they are scrutinized.

Everyone has the right to choose their own spiritual path. And if it leads to doing good deeds like it has with Tom Cruise so be it. Leave poor Tom alone. It seems like this story is trying to make a controversy where there is none. Of course he deserves it. Maybe he is just the type of person who does not have to broadcast every nice thing that he does with a TV crew in tow. Congratulations Tom. Keep up the good work!

It's just so typical that publications turn their audience into a jury, without really giving them the right information to begin with. I don't think it's our place to judge whether he is a good humanitarian or not. Before we can judge others let's look at ourselves and ask what good we've done for humanity. This man probably has done more than we've done in our lifetime.

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