NEW YORK – "Nightline" will focus on the humanitarian crisis in the Congo with the help of an unusual correspondent — Ben Affleck.
The 35-year-old actor took a "Nightline" crew on his recent fact-finding mission to Africa with the goal of spreading the word on a story that gets relatively little notice in the United States. His essay airs 11:35 p.m. Thursday on ABC.
He's been to the Congo three times in the past year. He said his motive was to learn about the war and hunger that have killed thousands of people per month in the past decade in hopes that the outside world would be moved to help, and his celebrity opened some doors.
"It's fairly clear that in the modern age that there is a currency to celebrity, or celebrity is a currency, really," Affleck told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "I've discovered that you can spend it in a lot of ways, or you can squander it. You can be taxed, as well. I really started thinking long and hard about how to use that currency as long as I had it."
His representatives approached "Nightline" with the idea of reporting on his journey. Affleck said he was impressed by "Nightline" stories in 2005 where "Hotel Rwanda" actor Don Cheadle visited that country.
"Nightline" executive producer James Goldston admitted to skepticism. ABC News took heat a decade ago for letting Leonardo DiCaprio interview President Clinton, and the idea of a concerned celebrity taking on a world problem has become a news staple.
"I was quite persuaded by how candid he was about the cliche of it, or the potential cliche," Goldston said.
Affleck deals with that issue in the opening of his essay: "I want to try to bring people along to learn and if they might not tune into this unless there was some celebrity involved in it, either because they're interested in the celebrity or because they want to see the celebrity kind of make a fool of himself, then so be it," he says.
He doesn't act as a reporter, Goldston said. The idea was to present the story as a personal journey, following Affleck as he met with survivors of the conflict, relief officials and even some warlords.
"Nightline" hasn't done its own story on the Congo since 2002, although Cynthia McFadden recently took a trip to Africa to report on several issues there.
Affleck said one "Nightline" piece isn't likely to change much, but the goal is to spread the word and hope that people in the United States can identify with some people who are suffering.
Perhaps then they could be moved to help, he said. Affleck hasn't identified himself with any particular relief organization that is helping the Congo.
He believes people will respond to this approach.
"I don't think people respond particularly well to being hectored, or being made to feel guilty, or being made to feel as though they're kind of callow or insensitive for the life they've been leading up until then," he said.