Ellen DeGeneres has responded to the rising negative reaction to her hanging out with former US president George W Bush on her talkshow.
The TV comedian hit back at criticism after she and her wife, Portia de Rossi, were spotted laughing with the Republican lawmaker, who plunged the US into a war with Iraq in 2003, and his wife, former first lady Laura Bush.
The group were spied on Sunday’s game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Green Bay Packers, TV cameras at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
The sighting was met with backlash from viewers, who felt that the ex-president’s policy track record clash with the TV personality’s values.
Moreover, as president, Bush made a failed push for a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex couples from marrying, and spent eight years defending the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy that blocked queer people from serving in the armed forces.
Ellen DeGeneres: ‘Here’s the thing. I’m friends with Bush.’
A few minutes into the second quarter of the game, cameras cut to stadium owner Jerry Jones’s private suite.
But many viewers were perplexed by what they saw.
DeGeneres appeared to be sharing a joke with Bush, who snickered as she read something from her phone.
Enjoying a view of the stadium on back-padded seats, the group giggled and pointed towards the game.
Viewers were bemused by the odd couple, considering the former president’s problematic past with LGBT+ rights and both DeGeneres and de Rossi being outspoken activists.
But detractors’ confusion quickly turned to rage as many took to Twitter to slam the pairing. An outcry so intense that it prompted DeGeneres to confront criticism on her show today.
“During the game, they showed a shot of George and me laughing together and so people were upset,” the host said in an advance clip posted on Twitter.
“They thought: ‘Why is a gay Hollywood liberal sitting next to a conservative Republican president?’”
She later added: “Here’s the thing, I’m friends with George Bush.
“In fact, I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs that I have. We’re all different and I think we’ve forgotten that that’s OK that we’re all different.”
‘We went because we wanted to keep up with the Joneses,’ Ellen DeGeneres defends herself.
In the segment, the daytime television host explained that she and her wife were invited by Cowboys executive and Jones’s daughter, Charlotte Jones Anderson.
“We went because we wanted to keep up with the Joneses,” DeGeneres described.
“His suite is fancy and he’s got fancy friends. I don’t mean fancy like ‘Real Housewives’ fancy, I mean like fancy.”
She also quoted a tweet which read: “Ellen and George Bush together makes me have faith in America again.”
DeGeneres further defended herself by encouraging people to be nice to those they might not agree with: “For instance, I wish people wouldn’t wear fur,” she said.
“I don’t like it, but I’m friends with people who wear fur.”
She continued: “Just because I don’t agree with someone on everything doesn’t mean that I’m not going to be friends with them. When I say, ‘Be kind to one another,’ I don’t mean only the people that think the same way that you do. I mean be kind to everyone.”
Finally, DeGeneres played a video she shot from her seat that caught Bush making a comical face. A clip that incited cheers from the crowd.
Fans remain unmoved in flurry of mixed reactions.
But while some applauded DeGeneres for promoting a kind of unity, the explanation sparked a fresh round of backlash. Several fans were unswayed by DeGeneres.
“Disagreeing with friends that wear fur is not the same as being friends with an anti-gay war criminal president that directly and negatively impacted millions of lives,” one user said.
Another added: “Sounds about white.”
“I, too, am friend with war criminals,” joked a user, “no big deal!”
“Look, I’m too rich for his decisions to really affect me.” Is what this boils down to.
— The Favourite Liker (@angela_zagami) October 8, 2019
The crux of contention for some fans was DeGeneres’ apparent derision of the criticism.
She didn’t directly address the negativity, instead saying: “A lot of people were mad and they did what people do when they’re mad, they tweet.”
This is fuckin dumb. pic.twitter.com/csD6wFM2C3
— Ξvan Ross Katz (@evanrosskatz) October 8, 2019
Users stressed that Bush’s chaffing history with civil rights and international relations is slightly more than a mere difference of opinion.
As a user summarised: “This story sucks.”
Also Twitter users continued to echo their criticism from the weekend, some supporters praised her.
“From what I’m gathering, people would rather be divided and bring up past drama than to move forward,” a user said.
I’m a 26 year old conservative so I have A LOT of liberal friends. Not once have I thought to not be friends with them because of our differing beliefs. This is an amazing message that everyone needs to hear and be reminded of! I ❤️ Ellen #bekind
— Alyssa Ahlgren (@AlyssaRuza) October 8, 2019
“If anyone can bring back civility, it’s Ellen,” one user opined.