“Have you heard about the Ellen DeGeneres controversy?”
That’s actually a dangerous way to open a conversation. Why? Because Ellen is embroiled in so many controversies lately!
Of course, her most recent scandal emerged in July 2020 when Buzzfeed reported dozens of employee allegations that Ellen’s executive producers “engaged in rampant sexual misconduct and harassment.”
With all these allegations of a toxic work environment, suddenly Ellen’s reputation as the “Queen of Nice” went down the drains. But this isn’t the first time Ellen’s squeaky clean public persona has come under fire.
In many ways, public goodwill for Ellen started going down when she was spotted palling around with former president George W. Bush at an NFL game in October 2019. Their controversial friendship lit the world on fire, and Ellen’s reputation nearly went up in flames.
Here is everything you need to know about Ellen’s friendship with George W. Bush and why people find it so controversial.
Ellen and George W. Bush are spotted together at a football game
Ellen DeGeneres is one of the most famous openly gay celebrities in the world. And George W. Bush famously fought against gay marriage when he was president. Normally, you’d think these two would be unlikely to travel in the same circles, much less hang out and have major fun together.
But that’s exactly what happened when both Ellen and Bush attended an NFL game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Green Bay Packers on October 6, 2019.
It all started when Ellen and her wife Porta de Rossi were invited by Charlotte Jones, daughter of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, to sit in Jones’ exclusive suite at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Who else happened to be guests in Jones’ suite at the time? None other than former president George W. Bush and his wife Laura Bush.
Rather than shun each other, Ellen and the former president were spotted sitting next to each other and laughing together as if they had been friends for years.
Needless to say, the photos from the game became very controversial. Some of Ellen’s loyal fans lauded her ability to hang out with diverse audiences. Critics, however, saw this as hypocritical in light of her views, her lifestyle, and her reaction to previous celebs.
Ellen defends her friendship with George W. Bush
To her credit, Ellen tried to get ahead of this controversy right away. And what better platform to defend herself than her own TV show?
Ellen used her show (which had invited George W. Bush on in 2017) to offer a defense of both herself and anyone who wants a diverse circle of friends.
“I’m friends with George Bush,” Ellen said. “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 that we’ve forgotten that that’s okay that we’re all different.”
Ellen summed it all up by saying, “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.”
But while this is a lovely sentiment, critics were quick to point out that Ellen doesn’t always hold to her own standards.
Ellen is accused of hypocrisy
As a talk show host, Ellen has the power to invite just about anyone on her show. And given her statement about being kind and friendly to those with different beliefs, you might imagine that all celebrities are fair game.
However, Ellen hasn’t hesitated to ban certain celebrities from her show for their beliefs. She has reportedly banned Caitlyn Jenner for making statements against gay marriage and Vince Vaughn for homophobic lines his character said in the trailer for the 2011 film The Dilemma. It’s weird to reconcile such bans with her decision to pal around with the number one opponent of gay marriage, George W. Bush.
On top of that, Ellen was criticized for inviting comedian Kevin Hart on her show in January 2019 after his own homophobic comments went public. It’s possible Ellen was trying to live up to her own lofty ideals of accepting people with different views when she invited Kevin Hart to her show. Instead, this action even further divided her fans, and it came in the midst of other Ellen controversies.
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Bush’s camp defends Ellen
After Ellen went to bat for befriending those with different beliefs, George W. Bush’s camp got involved.
“President and Mrs. Bush really enjoyed being with Ellen and Portia and appreciated Ellen’s comments about respecting one another. They respect her,” Bush’s spokesman told USA Today.
It was a kind gesture, and it showed Bush basically returning the favor of Ellen’s kind words. Unfortunately, this added more fuel to the fiery controversy about Ellen’s politics vs. her actions.
Ellen and George W. Bush become a topic at the presidential debates
Some Ellen fans never really understood the controversy to begin with. What’s wrong with her befriending George W. Bush? In some ways, the perfect answer to this came amid a Democratic presidential debate on October 16, 2019, 10 days after Ellen and Bush were spotted together.
The candidates were asked who they get along with despite vast political differences. And the moderator went so far as to reference Ellen as part of the question.
This was mostly intended as a softball question so each candidate could present themselves as a bridge-builder. However, candidate and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro had some words that might be viewed as critical toward Ellen.
“I think that we can be kind to people and also hold them accountable for their actions,” he said. “And there are people, whether it’s our former president George W. Bush or others that should be held accountable.”
And that’s the Ellen/Bush controversy in a nutshell. By befriending someone who actively tried to suppress marriage equality, some people think Ellen helped to normalize the views that are harmful to gay people around the world.
Old controversies add up
The controversy about hanging with Bush was really just the tip of the iceberg. Over the next year came plenty of accusations from staff and even guests about Ellen being cruel, manipulative, and downright mean.
It would be one thing if Ellen had to weather a single controversy every now and then. But all of these controversies all at once quickly added up.
Despite being the focal point of the initial controversy, it looks like George W. Bush may come out of this looking far better than Ellen.
George W. Bush embraces differences
Since he left the White House, George W. Bush has been mostly out of the public eye. In fact, his most frequent public activity comes in the form of his artwork.
Bush has practiced painting for many years. Now, he has unveiled a new book focusing on his paintings of America’s immigrants. Entitled Out of Many, One: Portraits of American Immigrants, it is set for release on March 2, 2021.
“While I recognize that immigration can be an emotional issue, I reject the premise that it is a partisan issue,” Bush said in a statement describing the book. “It is perhaps the most American of issues, and it should be one that unites us.”
He went on to say, “My hope is that this book will help focus our collective attention on the positive impacts that immigrants are making on our country.” What is most interesting about this is that it flies in the face of most modern conservative thoughts on immigrants and immigration.
In the long run, maybe Ellen was right. Perhaps hanging out with those who are different is a way to open hearts and minds that were previously closed. And if George W. Bush can change his tune on such a controversial issue, maybe there is hope for all of us.