WRITETHRU: President Obama accepted the Shoah Foundation’s Ambassador of Humanity Award from Steven Spielberg tonight during a ceremony at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza. Following some jokes from host Conan O’Brien and acoustic takes on set from Bruce Springsteen (“The Promised Land” and a haunting “Dancing In The Dark”), Spielberg presented the president with the honor, after which Obama gave a heartfelt and somber speech before a crowd of about 1,300, according to the White House pool report. He didn’t touch on any subjects directly related to the entertainment industry, but the crowd that included many Hollywood heavy-hitters was moved by its universal themes of violence, war and intolerance. “The work of this foundation,” he said, “the testimonies of survivors like those with us tonight, also remind us that the purpose of memory is not simply to preserve the past; it is to protect the future.” It was the second stop on the president’s visit to Los Angeles. Earlier in the evening, he spoke at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser hosted by Alan and Cindy Horn at their Bel-Air home. The mood was much lighter for the roughly 90 guests, including Jeffrey Katzenberg and Barbra Streisand, who shelled out $64,800 a couple. They heard the president give what amounted to a stump speech that also eschewed any mention of showbiz. Obama will stay overnight before leaving for San Diego in the late morning. A full transcript of his Shoah Foundation speech is at the bottom of the original post.
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4TH UPDATE, 10:15 PM: Host Conan O’Brien kicked off the Shoah Foundation event where President Obama was being honored with a few zingers. “Whoever Steven [Spielberg] suckered to tell jokes at this event is a true idiot,” he said in his opening remarks. The late-night host teased Obama about the traffic gridlock his visit caused. “You left Washington six hours ago, but I left Burbank seven hours ago.” But O’Brien got one of the night’s biggest laughs when he mentioned Spielberg’s efforts to record Holocaust survivors and other victims of genocide. O’Brien said the filmmaker “was recording evidence of intolerance long before Donald Sterling’s girlfriend.” Obama was seen laughing at the remark. The TBS host also acknowledged the philanthropists and other humanitarians in the room before reminding everyone of the true nature of Hollywood. “I’m also told there are some people from CAA here, so that evens it out,” he said to a huge laugh. “They don’t represent me, so I don’t care.” He then introduced Bruce Springsteen, who played a couple of acoustic numbers including a haunting version of “Dancing In The Dark.” As he introduced Spielberg after the performance, O’Brien recalled a lunch they’d had when he first moved to LA in 2009 for what ended up being a short stint hosting The Tonight Show. “Steven took me on a tour of his awards,” he said. “It took 5 hours.”
Spielberg then took the podium. “Everywhere from Syria to southern Sudan, the world has yet to learn the lessons,” he said of genocide and war during his introduction of Obama.”This program exists because we know the future can be re-written.” Then he introduced the president, who gave a somber and heartfelt speech that ran about 15 minutes.
“Memory has become a sacred duty of all people of good will,” Obama said after accepting the Ambassador of Humanity Award from Spielberg. The president passionately praised genocide survivors in the packed ballroom as “inspirations of hope.” He also praised the foundation’s work capturing on video the survivors’ stories “Recording the memories that would be lost to time. … They turn never forget into never again.”
He later said, “It’s up to us to search our own hearts for those stories that have no place in our world.” The president asked the crowd to “erode” the destructive forces of anti-Semitism and other bigotry and injustice. “Drop by drop by drop … never forget, never again,” said Obama, who mention in closing the abduction of hundreds of schoolgirls in Nigeria and the civil war in Syria. Read More »