Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Billie Eilish and other celebrities excluded from HHS COVID campaign for critical comments about Trump

Billie Eilish
Billie Eilish
Photo: Frazer Harrison (Getty Images)

Update: Since publishing this story, it has been confirmed in newly resurfaced documents that it was not the Trump administration that said Billie Eilish was “destroying our country and everything we care about,” but the reverse: She said that about Trump. It was unclear in the original Washington Post story we were reporting on, which had said that Eilish was “described as not a Trump Supporter’ and ‘destroying our country and everything we care about,’ according to a document that outlines issues with numerous celebrities under consideration for the campaign.” Politico has the Trump administration document that this all apparently comes from, and it does make it clear that it’s Eilish who said that Trump is “destroying our country.” It also lists hundreds of other potential disqualifying factors for celebrities, like being arrested, tweeting about politics, or—in Constance Wu’s case— being “active in eliminating fear in racism.”

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We regret the error regarding Billie Eilish’s quote, and our original story is below.

Original Story: In September, we reported that the Trump administration was planning to “defeat despair” from the COVID-19 pandemic with a $300 million ad campaign featuring a bunch of big-name celebrities. Pretty much from the moment the idea was mentioned to the public, though, questions started to come up about who was making money off of it, whether or not it was all an attempt to use government resources to try and get Trump reelected, and why in the world Dennis Quaid was the only big-name celebrity that the campaign had managed to get on board. We later learned from an anonymous Health And Human Services employee that the whole thing had quickly become a “boondoggle,” with the administration having hired an advertising firm that had no experience making this kind of thing and supposedly demanding that they get 20 of these PSAs done by Election Day. What does Election Day have to do with a campaign about raising the country’s morale in the middle of a pandemic? We haven’t got a clue.

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Now a Washington Post story has some more details on how the HHS chose which celebrities to approach about joining this thing, and—hold on for the shock of your life—the administration apparently made a point to exclude famous people who had ever been critical of Donald Trump or had ever “supported former president Barack Obama, gay rights, or same-sex marriage.” 274 celebrities were apparently considered, and only 10 were ever approved. That list apparently did not include people like Jennifer Lopez, whose Super Bowl performance was deemed critical of Trump’s immigration policies (that’s how The Washington Post puts it, but that’s an awfully gentle way of saying that his administration put children in cages and separated them from their parents with no plans for how to reunite some of them) or Billie Eilish, who the Trump administration reportedly says is “destroying our country and everything we care about.”

This list was probably put together after Eilish performed at the Democratic National Convention, but holy shit, is it possible to sound like more of a snooty yacht-club asshole than by saying that the teenager with green hair is “destroying our country and everything we care about?” Is there a chance they heard “Bad Guy” and got scared because they’re all bad guys and don’t want the competition? Or maybe they read the lyrics and don’t like the idea of a woman standing up for herself against a man who thinks he’s hot shit?

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Here are some other rejections:

The same document indicates that singer-songwriter Christina Aguilera “is an Obama-supporting Democrat and a gay rights supporting liberal”; singer Adam Levine is a “liberal Democrat who supported Obama and fights for gay rights”; singer-songwriter Justin Timberlake “publicly endorsed Obama and supports gay marriage”; actor Johnny Depp “appears to be aligned with the liberal left”; and actor Jack Black is “known to be a classic Hollywood liberal.”

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As for the 10 who were approved and who agreed to participate, they were Quaid (as previously mentioned), CeCE Winans, Marc Anthony, Shulem Lemmer, Dr. Oz, Billy Ray Cyrus, Miranda Lambert, Garth Brooks, Dwyane Wade, and Enrique Iglesias. Of those 10, three actually sat down for interviews that would be used in the campaign, but all of them have since apparently withdrawn their consent, meaning there’s absolutely nothing to show for all the taxpayer money that Trump and his goons threw at this. It would almost be hilarious if it weren’t so depressingly predictable.

The bigger story here is probably that these new details about the COVID campaign came up because a number of “high-ranking Democrats” believe that the administration was using it—and therefore $300 million of taxpayer money—to bolster Trump’s reelection chances, not to mention the fact that there may have been “a violation of federal contracting law related to conflicts of interest” from the subcontractors who were hired to make these things. In other words, the Democrats are suggesting that this is all part of a scheme to use “hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars for partisan political purposes ahead of the upcoming election, and to direct taxpayer funds to friends and allies of Trump Administration officials.” Again, depressingly predictable.

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