MOVIE MOGUL, P.R. FIRM STAGED RETURN ‘SPECIAL’
WASHINGTON — Bill Clinton’s triumphant return from North Korea with two rescued US journalists had Hollywood written all over it — from the Burbank airport to the big-time producer who bankrolled the expedition to the celebrity public-relations firm that orchestrated the homecoming.
A key player in Clinton’s high-flying diplomatic mission to rescue Laura Ling and Euna Lee was entertainment mogul Steve Bing, a longtime “Friend of Bill” who lent the ex-president his private Boeing 737.
The multimillionaire mogul paid about $200,000 in fuel and other costs that came with the trans-Pacific flight.
Bing’s Shangri-La entertainment firm also funded a major logistical effort to carefully showcase Clinton’s arrival in Tinseltown — which featured Ling lauding the former president while almost in tears.
The company knows a blockbuster when it sees one, having produced Tom Hanks’ “Polar Express,” “Beowulf,” starring Crispin Glover and Angelina Jolie, and Martin Scorsese’s 2008 Rolling Stones rock-umentary, “Shine a Light,” filmed at Clinton’s 60th birthday bash at the Beacon Theater on the Upper West Side.
Hollywood p.r. firm Rogers & Cowan, which represents Bing along with a bevy of A-list celebs, began organizing the arrival ceremony after it got word Tuesday morning — while Clinton was still on the ground in Pyongyang — to get ready, according to a Hollywood source.
The firm chose as its venue Hangar 25 at Bob Hope International Airport in Burbank, a solar-powered facility that has hosted other press events.
Bing is a major financial backer of Bill and Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party and environmental causes, and has a business constructing environmentally friendly hangars. He also made news over a dispute about whether he fathered British actress Elizabeth Hurley’s child, which was revealed to be the care.
Staffers put together three press risers to accommodate more than 100 media and TV crews, and contracted an in-house photographer to capture the event.
The p.r. firm closely coordinated with Bill Clinton’s foundation, which worked with former Vice President Al Gore’s Current TV to have family members on hand for the homecoming.
The journalists were working for Gore’s company when they were captured along the North Korean/Chinese border.
When Lee stepped off the jet before 6 a.m. yesterday morning, she was greeted by her husband, Michael Saldate, and 4-year-old daughter, Hana, whom she hugged. Ling embraced her husband, Iain Clayton, amid a crowd of tearful family members.
Stepping before the cameras, Ling — who, like Lee, had been sentenced to 12 years of hard labor — fought back tears as she described the moment when she first saw Clinton.
“Thirty hours ago, Euna Lee and I were prisoners in North Korea,” she said. “We feared that at any moment we could be prisoners in a hard-labor camp. Then, suddenly, we were told that we were going to a meeting.
“We were taken to a location, and when we walked through the doors, we saw, standing before us, President Bill Clinton.
“We were shocked, but we knew instantly in our hearts that the nightmare of our lives was finally coming to an end. And now we stand here home and free.”
Ling — who praised Bill Clinton and his “super-cool team,” which included his former top aides John Podesta and Doug Band — said she was looking forward to eating fresh fruit after subsisting on rice with rocks in it during her 140 days in captivity.
Her sister, TV reporter Lisa Ling, said, “We always maintained our hope and knew in our hearts that we would see Laura again; we just didn’t know when.”
Clinton hugged Gore when he emerged from the jet, and Gore twice thanked his former boss in his own remarks.
President Obama, appearing outside the White House, called Clinton immediately after his arrival and thanked him for his “the extraordinary humanitarian effort.”