HHS ad blitz sputters as celebrities back away

The $300 million, taxpayer-funded campaign to tout the administration’s response to Covid-19 falls behind schedule amid widespread criticism.

They made a list of more than 30 celebrities including Justin Timberlake, Taylor Swift and Billy Joel to appear in their ad campaign to “inspire hope” about coronavirus, but they ended up with only Dennis Quaid, CeCe Winans and Hasidic singer Shulem Lemmer.

The health department’s $300 million-plus, taxpayer-funded vehicle to boost confidence in President Donald Trump’s response to the pandemic is sputtering. Celebrities are refusing to participate, and staff are arraying against it. Some complain of the unstated aim of helping Trump’s re-election. Others point to an ill-prepared video team and a 22-year-old political appointee who has repeatedly asserted control despite having no public health expertise, according to six people with close knowledge of the campaign and documents related to its operations.

Just three celebrities have recorded public service advertisements so far — Quaid, Winans and Lemmer — with Quaid and other potential participants reconsidering their involvement or dropping out altogether after a POLITICO report on Friday on the unusual roots of the campaign. A hoped-for recording with TV host Dr. Mehmet Oz also collapsed late last week, and representatives for other celebrities told POLITICO on Monday that they have little to no interest in joining the effort amid the scrutiny. 

“It would be malpractice to my client,” said the representative for one celebrity on the administration’s wish list, requesting anonymity to avoid linking the client’s name with a politically sensitive issue. “There are other ways to raise coronavirus awareness than partnering with the Trump administration.”


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