White House enlists celebs to end sexual assault

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When US President Barack Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden urged Americans last Friday to end sexual assaults on college campuses, the event included a standard feature for this White House: celebrities. In a video, actors Jon Hamm and Connie Britton and other big names tell their fans to heed the president's call, suggesting that people need to take responsibility for preventing rape among college students. Stars have become an integral part of the White House messaging operation, from urging Americans to eat healthier to decrying the wage gap between men and women. While presidents have hobnobbed with celebrities for decades - Mr Ronald Reagan once brought Princess Diana and John Travolta together on a dance floor - Mr Obama and his aides have taken such relationships to a new level, working with Hollywood actors, professional athletes and music stars to help raise money and promote the top domestic policy priorities. The effort amounts to a separate publicity branch for the White House - at no extra cost. After several YouTube stars met the President in late February to discuss the Affordable Care Act, they created 25 videos touting the law - garnering more than 32 million total viewings. White House officials see such efforts as a way to reach key demographic groups, especially those who eschew traditional political media. The celebrity push, which encompasses issues ranging from sexual orientation to climate change, is in part an outgrowth of the administration's campaign to enrol young people, African Americans, Latinos and women under Mr Obama's health-care law. "Our purpose here is to meet people where they are," said White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett. "We're extremely strategic in how we engage and deploy validators and we're very fortunate that people who have tremendous followings across the country are willing to be very effective messengers." Republicans, for their part, said it shows how the President is out of touch with everyday Americans. "For years, Obama and the Democrats have seemingly put more time and emphasis on celebrities than their policies and, for years, we've questioned the value in that priority," said Republican National Committee spokesman Kirsten Kukowski, whose boss dubbed Mr Obama the "Celebrity-in-Chief" during the 2012 campaign. "With 57 per cent of the country disapproving of Obama and his policies, it's a good thing he has celebrities behind him." But with the President now well into his final term, his aides are less worried about whether bringing Hollywood types into his orbit could backfire politically. Mr Tommy Vietor, who served as the National Security Council spokesman during Mr Obama's first term, said "there are people who will reflexively attack the President for spending time with celebrities". Republicans have criticised him for his Hollywood connections and his own celebrity status from the start of his candidacy. But they are not immune to the lure of famous people. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy let Kevin Spacey shadow him to learn about whipping votes for the Netflix series House Of Cards and he attended the second-season premiere of the series.
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