'I'm friends with George Bush': Ellen DeGeneres defends watching football with former GOP president
A few minutes into the second quarter of Sunday's game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Green Bay Packers, TV cameras at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, cut to owner Jerry Jones' exclusive suite. Many viewers were perplexed by what they saw.
"Is my vision screwed up?" one person asked.
Clinton Yates, a columnist with ESPN's The Undefeated, tweeted that the sight "definitely qualified as a Sunday shocker."
Sitting side-by-side in black padded seats with prime views of the cavernous stadium were former Republican president George W. Bush and liberal television host Ellen DeGeneres, an outspoken LGBT activist. The pair was joined by their spouses, former first lady Laura Bush and Australian actress and model Portia de Rossi. At one point, DeGeneres and Bush were caught on camera sharing a laugh.
But it wasn't long before confusion transformed into outrage as detractors slammed DeGeneres over appearing to share friendly exchanges with a president who started the Iraq War, and once endorsed a constitutional amendment against same-sex marriage. Some noted that Bush also lobbied for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who faced multiple sexual misconduct allegations last year ahead of his confirmation. (Kavanaugh has denied the allegations.)
The intense outcry prompted DeGeneres to take time address her relationship with Bush on her show. In a joke-filled monologue scheduled to air Tuesday, DeGeneres defended her interactions with the former president and urged people to "be kind to everyone." Bush was a guest on DeGeneres's show in 2017.
"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 shared to social media late Monday. "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."
By early Tuesday, the roughly four-minute video had been watched more than 2 million times across Twitter and YouTube.
While some applauded DeGeneres for putting aside her political differences, critics argued that the segment illustrated her privilege, sparking a fresh round of backlash Monday night.
In the clip, DeGeneres explained that she and de Rossi were invited by Jones' daughter, Charlotte Jones Anderson, who is also a Cowboys executive. One of Anderson's unofficial duties is working with her mother, Gene Jones, to decide which guests will join them in the coveted seats on the 50-yard-line, the New York Times reported in 2015.
According to the Times, the goal is to fill the box with a "diverse crowd." And for Gene Jones, the "task that concerns and vexes her like no other" is the seating chart.
"As if hosting a dinner party, she sketches out a schematic in pencil, always mindful of guests' interests and personalities, and then solicits thoughts from her daughter up until their guests arrive," the Times wrote, noting that the Bushes and family members are among the select few with standing invitations.
"We went because we wanted to keep up with the Joneses," DeGeneres quipped in the segment. "His suite is fancy and he's got fancy friends. I don't mean fancy like 'Real Housewives' fancy, I mean like fancy."
The daytime television host then played a video she shot from her seat that captured Bush making a funny face and laughing, drawing loud cheers from her studio audience.