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October 28, 2004

Society of Environmental Journalists

Ever wonder what’s with all the Hollywood stars endorsing environmental groups? You’re not alone. Three-hundred reporters and editors from around the nation met last week in Pittsburgh at the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) annual convention, to listen to an opening-night panel discussion on “Celebrity, the Media and the Environment.” It was an exploration of how celebrities impact how the public views environmental issues.

Ted Danson addressing the SEJThe lead celebrities on the panel were Oceana’s own Ted Danson, who is a member of our Board of Directors, and former Pittsburgh Steelers football great Franco Harris, who is now heavily involved in community and environmental work. Representatives also attended from Conservation International and one from the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Andy Rivkind, the New York Times environmental reporter, was moderator.

Earlier that evening, both Danson and Harris had spoken at a political rally in Pittsburgh by Sen. John Kerry. During the SEJ panel discussion, Teresa Heinz Kerry, the candidate’s wife, made a surprise appearance. She got a standing ovation from the 300 journalists as she walked in for a very brief visit – she was in and out in under five minutes. She urged those present to vote in the Nov. 2 ballot.

Danson – a 1972 graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, where the SEJ held its convention — had many interesting things to say about his work with Oceana. Among them were:

  • “I’m the red flag that waves to get attention.” He told of how he and Oceana staffers visited Capitol Hill in recent weeks, and while he was capitalizing on his star power, getting his picture taken with a senator and signing autographs, Oceana policy staffers were meeting with the senator’s aides, lobbying for our issues. He added: “I’m a fool for the environment. But I take what Oceana does very seriously.”
  • He started his American Oceans Campaign group in 1987 after his brother-in-law, a scientist who worked at Woods Hole and later at Scripps, told him about the deep trouble the oceans are in. After his AOC merged with Oceana in 2001, Danson said Oceana became “the biggest group of people working on the ocean alone in the world.” He said that while AOC started small, Oceana is now growing so fast, “now I’m holding on to the shirt-tails” of Oceana, as it keeps expanding.
  • “I’m a firm believer that we must work with business… The source of the problem is business and it can also be the solution.”

Panelist Myron Ebell, director of Global Warming and International Environmental Policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, had this to tell reporters:

“Ted Danson is a serious environmentalist, so that celebrity tag doesn’t apply to him…. With great power comes great responsibility. Celebrities have an entrée to the public” and they can use that entrée responsibly. “I think Ted Danson is a good example of someone who’s done it – he knows what he’s talking about.”