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Clooney, O'Reilly spar over tsunami telethon

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Red Cross
George Clooney
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Bill O'Reilly

(CNN) -- Three years after jousting over a celebrity telethon that raised millions for 9/11 victims, Fox News' Bill O'Reilly and actor George Clooney are at it again, this time over what will happen to funds pledged in a telethon for tsunami victims.

In a letter sent by e-mail Monday, Clooney lashed out at the host of "The O'Reilly Factor," saying comments he made last week on his program will lead to lower contributions in Saturday's celebrity-driven telethon.

NBC and its sister cable networks -- USA, Bravo, Trio, the Sci-Fi Channel, MSNBC and CNBC -- plan to simulcast a benefit special featuring celebrities and musical performances.

The caustic message from Clooney also challenges O'Reilly to be a presenter at the event.

"This is your chance to put your considerable money where your considerable mouth is," Clooney writes in the note sarcastically signed "Your fan."

On his show Monday night, O'Reilly responded, "That sounds good to me, but I have to see what the format is.

"Whether I can make a pitch or not depends on how organized things are," he said. "We have to be sure the situation is under control."

O'Reilly also responded on his show when Clooney sent him a letter amid the dispute three years ago.

The new brouhaha began with O'Reilly's comments during his program Thursday.

"As Yogi Berra once said, 'It is deja vu all over again,' " he said, according to a transcript on Fox News' Web site. "You may remember that, in the aftermath of the 9/11 attack, there was a celebrity-driven TV telethon that raised millions for the affected families. And now, there will be another telethon raising money for those hurt by the tsunami."

After the telethon in the wake of the September 11 attacks, O'Reilly complained on his program that not all the money pledged was making its way to the victims.

"You may also remember that Clooney strenuously objected to 'The Factor' investigation that uncovered problems in distributing the 9/11 money, even though we proved our case and the Red Cross revamped its entire operation because of it," O'Reilly told viewers Thursday.

He said his program "will be watching to see if the money gets to the tsunami victims. If it does not, there will be trouble. And this time nobody can say they weren't warned."

The Red Cross has credited O'Reilly with helping to craft a revised policy on the distribution of donations after the 9/11 attacks. But Clooney wrote in his note, "it was not the Red Cross but the United Way that sponsored that telethon ... an easy mistake to make ... if you're 3."

He added, "Contrary to what you claim, no one objected to you investigating where the funds were going, but we strenuously objected to you insinuating that it was a fraud [which is what you did] as we were still waiting for a list of names of the dead."

Clooney called the telethon "an unqualified success" and noted that he is on the United Way's board of directors.

The telethon raised $129.5 million, plus an additional $12 million in CD and DVD sales, said Jeannette Reed, spokeswoman for the United Way of New York City. The funds were given to victims and surviving families in the form of cash assistance, she said.

Clooney, in his latest letter to O'Reilly, said people canceled their pledges following remarks by the Fox News host.

A United Way document from October 2001 says that "more than $150 million was pledged as a result of the 'America: A Tribute to Heroes' telethon, which solely benefited the September 11 Fund."

Arguing that O'Reilly's latest comments were for "personal gain," the star of "Ocean's Twelve" said, "Because of it, fewer people will donate money to help truly traumatized victims; they'll be afraid that their money will do no good."

O'Reilly wished the event well when he discussed it Thursday.

"We want the telethon to be a big success, and we applaud the time and generosity of George Clooney and the other stars," he said. "But with power comes responsibility. And we expect all the telethon people to understand that."

Clooney, in turn, accused O'Reilly of failing to recognize his responsibility, noting "you have become quite powerful."

He added, "I don't make as much money as you."

Then came the challenge:

"I'm booking the talent for the Tsunami event ... and you, Mr. O'Reilly, are now officially invited to be a presenter ... [at this point, not one of the people I've invited to donate their time has said, 'No']. ... This way, you can personally follow up on our fund-raising. ... This is your chance to put your considerable money where your considerable mouth is. ... Show up ... help raise money ... and if we're doing something wrong, point it out.

"Either you ante up and help out and be that watchdog that you feel we clearly need ... or you simply stand on the sidelines and cast stones."

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