Hollywood Worries Obama's 'Increasing Reliance on Stars' Could Backfire

Liberal journalists are already doing their hardball windups to mock the hoity-toityness of Romney’s major-donor gathering in Park City, Utah. But they haven’t exactly broken out the “unfortunate elite optics” bat for Barack Obama over his never-ending tour of celebrity fundraisers in Hollywood and New York – and soon, Miami. Tina Daunt at The Hollywood Reporter notes some Tinseltown Obama backers are worried about how it looks.  

"We don't like what he's doing, but we understand it," said one Hollywood fundraising insider. "He has to raise the money. It's a bad situation." Insiders expressed  "fear the increasing reliance on stars and celebrity contests could backfire with swing voters and mobilize the right."

Reaction was particularly strong to the $40,000-a-plate dinner co-hosted June 14 by Sarah Jessica Parker and Vogue editor Anna Wintour with guests including Meryl Streep, Aretha Franklin and Bravo's Andy Cohen. Critics say the tony, heavily promoted event -- Parker sent an e-mail to supporters promising the evening would be "fabulous," and Wintour posted a video online urging supporters to enter a lottery for two tickets -- risked creating the impression of an elitist, out-of-touch candidate in a period of ongoing distress and growing economic inequality.

"It's a mistake," a veteran Hollywood exec says flatly of the event, which the Drudge Report headlined "Checks in the City." The exec adds: "He's supposed to be a man of the people, and he's hanging out with Anna Wintour? Is he trying to turn the election into a celebrity reality show?"

The networks weren't exactly harsh. CBS barely noticed at all (with one mention of Parker and Wintour on The Early Show on June 15 in their quick-edit "Eye Opener" feature). NBC passed it along a few times. NBC's Chuck Todd breezily reported on that morning, "Well, it wasn't quite Bieber fever last night at Sarah Jessica Parker's house, but the president again found himself rubbing elbows with a bunch of celebrities as he tries to rake in as much cash as he can at a couple of fundraisers last night."

Only ABC's Jake Tapper and Terry Moran audibly expressed that it might not look good in hard economic times. On the June 4 Nightline, Moran said “there just seems to be something tone deaf about the Obama campaign's decision at the very moment unemployment is again on the rise to enlist Madame Wintour as one of the hostesses of his fundraiser.” But this was just a snippet here and there. The ongoing parade continues: 

And the Obama campaign is far from done: An online contest is underway that allows donor-participants to name the celebrity they'd like to join for dinner with the president, and on June 26, Obama will appear onstage in Miami at a benefit concert with singer Marc Anthony. Another online contest offers backstage passes to that event (with an entry form in English and Spanish, signaling how important Latinos will be to winning Florida).

In addition to the focus on high-profile events with the president, the Obama campaign is homing in on entertainment-industry donor lists, trying to milk even more money out of Hollywood.

"We need you to panic NOW!" wrote Cookie Parker of the Obama campaign in an e-mail that hit showbiz inboxes in early June, urging recipients to commit to giving or raising "$1,000 each month until the election." The increased urgency -- with an event slated for June 20 at actress Donna Mills' L.A. house touting Sharon Stone as a special guest -- also has left some with a bad taste.

"After he took office, he ignored everyone here," gripes one L.A. donor, "and now we feel like we're being used."

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis