Los Angeles Times

YouTube space video had a flaw at launch: paid actors

The vice president’s filmed special was her 2nd recent stumble

- By Erin B. Logan and Noah Bierman

WASHINGTON — It should have been the safest of political appearance­s — a group of kids gushing about their love of science and space exploratio­n with Vice President Kamala Harris.

But for Harris, it became a controvers­y.

The children, it turned out, were paid actors. And the video, filmed on location at the White House and the vice president’s official residence at the Naval Observator­y, was promoted on NASA’s YouTube Channel and Harris’ Twitter account last week without making that clear.

The fallout over the video, produced for YouTube’s original programmin­g platform, is the second in recent weeks in which a seemingly innocuous appearance by Harris has become modestly troublesom­e.

Late last month, Harris generated more serious consternat­ion and criticism from pro-Israel Democrats and media for not pushing back when a student at a classroom encounter at George Mason University in Virginia accused Israel of “ethnic genocide.” Harris spent the next several days clarifying her long-standing support for Israel and reaching out to pro-Israel organizati­ons, including the AntiDefama­tion League.

Such stumbles have been featured extensivel­y in conservati­ve media, where Harris is a regular target. But they also reinforce concerns among Democrats that Harris has not yet found her political footing since taking office amid high expectatio­ns. The presumed front-runner to succeed President Biden on the Democratic ticket in 2024 or 2028, Harris recently enlisted two veteran Democrats to help stabilize her communicat­ions efforts.

Harris’ office and NASA would not discuss the decision-making process that led to her participat­ion in the YouTube Original or the administra­tion’s marketing of the special, which was produced by a Canadabase­d company called Sinking Ship Entertainm­ent.

Harris’ office did not select the children who participat­ed in the YouTube Originals special, a White House official said. A YouTube spokespers­on said that “the casting process for this show was no different from typical unscripted kids’ shows across other networks and streaming platforms.”

The special debuted during World Space Week. It features NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough giving five children the clues for a scavenger hunt that takes them to the U.S. Naval Observator­y, where they notso-casually run into Harris, who welcomes them onto the porch of the vice presidenti­al residence.

While sitting in a white chair alongside the children, Harris reminisces about going to the lab with her scientist mother during her childhood and says she is excited to chair the National Space Council. She offers advice to the children about showing their true selves.

“Never let anybody tell you who you are,” she tells them. “You tell them who you are.”

Like many online production­s, the special has the feel of something between a kids-oriented news segment and a scripted show. The children, who introduce themselves with their hometowns, act surprised and excited as they meet the reallife astronaut and the vice president.

Earlier this week, one of the children who appeared in the video described in detail his audition process to KSBW-TV in Salinas, which sparked mockery online and news coverage.

Harris’ appearance drew especially sharp critiques in conservati­ve news outlets. Fox News, in its coverage, has tried to draw a comparison to the criticism unleashed on former President Trump after his 2015 campaign launch in which he paid people to act like supporters.

Appearing as a guest on Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s show, commentato­r Candace Owens falsely told viewers that Harris paid children to appear in the special.

White House officials have a long history of appearing as themselves in scripted shows, often with children. First Lady Nancy Reagan promoted her antidrug message on the popular 1980s sitcom “Diff’rent Strokes,” and then-President Obama participat­ed in a televised sketch alongside comedy duo KeeganMich­ael Key and Jordan Peele during the White House Correspond­ents’ Dinner.

The difference this time was that the show’s format was ambiguous, and its presentati­on and promotion by Harris and NASA led commentato­rs to believe it had been produced by the government.

Communicat­ions consultant­s said the vice president’s staff should have more thoroughly vetted the program and ensured it was clearly labeled as a reality show with paid actors when the U.S. government promoted it.

Ultimately, Harris’ staff let her down, they said.

“The vice president and the president can’t do their own vetting on things like this,” said Kevin Madden, who served in senior communicat­ions roles for Mitt Romney’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns.

Madden added that Harris should not have participat­ed in the program with paid actors, especially “in an era where there is a very high quotient of fake news and misinforma­tion, you have to expect this kind of scrutiny.”

“The criticism [here] becomes warranted,” he said.

 ?? Lawrence Jackson ?? VICE PRESIDENT Kamala Harris uses the telescope at the Naval Observator­y in Washington in August while making the YouTube video. Her office did not select the children who appeared, the White House said.
Lawrence Jackson VICE PRESIDENT Kamala Harris uses the telescope at the Naval Observator­y in Washington in August while making the YouTube video. Her office did not select the children who appeared, the White House said.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States