How Kamala Harris’ Space Video Failed

After a tough summer of headlines for Vice President Kamala Harris, her office drafted a carefully scripted plan to gain positive coverage with the release of a video where she discussed space with the kids.

The provisional plan: the show “Today” would broadcast the exclusive video. Jenna Bush Hager and Al Roker would announce their intention to interview the vice president on space. One of the children who appeared with Harris in the video or a female astronaut could appear on a different morning show to draw attention to the YouTube special.

But after months of preparation and behind-the-scenes production, the rollout didn’t go as planned, according to emails recently obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. The vice president’s office is not subject to FOIA, so his aides’ communications with NASA regarding the production and deployment of space video offer unusual insight into the inner workings of Harris’ office.

Days after the video was released, Harris was at the center of a firestorm after reports surfaced that the child actors had appeared alongside the vice president in the video. Conservatives like Fox News host Tucker Carlson and Donald Trump Jr. mocked Harris’ performance and criticized her for messing with actors.

The controversy has been noted by conservative publications as well as national news outlets like CNN and Newsweek. In Harris’ home state, the Los Angeles Times ran a story with the caption: “How VP Kamala Harris’ appearance on a YouTube children’s special backfired.”

It came at a difficult time for Harris, who was already under intense scrutiny after a series of stories that were detailed reports on staff dysfunction within his office. By fall, his office was looking for positive coverage of the video showing Harris talking to space kids, the emails show.

The video – a YouTube Originals production titled “Be Curious with Vice President Harris– features five excited children from across the United States arriving at the Naval Observatory, where Harris lives. They go on a treasure hunt, look through the observatory telescope, and talk to the Vice President, who also chairs the National Space Council.

The video took months to prepare.

In August of last year, YouTube’s Doug Christman wrote to Brittany Brown, who heads NASA’s digital communications. He hoped NASA would host the video when it launched in October. He also wanted to line up an astronaut to film clues for kids on a scavenger hunt. “If there was a way for one of the astronauts in space to record it, it would be a dream come true,” he wrote.

The team wanted to launch the video the week of October 4 to coincide with World Space Week, according to the emails. Harris’ assistant, Brenna Parker, asked if an astronaut could do “some kind of action (hand wave/backflip, etc.)”.

Brown later confirmed that astronaut Shane Kimbrough would take part in the video, in which he somersaulted from the International Space Station and told kids how to build their own telescope.

The rock deployment

In late September, Ashley Etienne, then director of communications for Harris, circulated a media deployment plan. This involved giving the “Today” program the exclusive right to air the special regional press interviews with the children featured in the special, and possibly having one of the children or a female astronaut appear in a morning show other than “Today”.

His plan also called for “Today” to air the exclusive special, with the hosts announcing that Harris would host a “Rising Stars” event and “call on Americans to get out and explore the night sky.” Hager and Roker could then announce that they would attend the Vice President’s event and interview him.

Lauren Vrazilek, a YouTube Originals producer who previously served as deputy press secretary to then-First Lady Michelle Obama, responded with another detailed media rollout plan. This involved sending embargoed press releases and “exclusive clips” to outlets such as “Today”, “People”, “Entertainment Weekly” and “ET”.

NBC did not respond to a request from this story about whether the “Today” show or its hosts had been in contact with Harris’ office regarding the video.

Several news outlets previewed the Harris special. “People” ran a narrative on October 5 with the title: “Kamala Harris will host a YouTube special on space exploration: ‘We are going to learn so much.’ “The Hill” too preview the video that day.

The cover changed a few days later.

On October 11, a Monterey, California television station reported the story of a 13-year-old local actor who appeared alongside Harris in the video. Trevor Bernardino Told KSBW Action News 8, he had to send a monologue of him speaking to get the role.

Carlson aired a clip of the video on Fox News later that day and criticized the appearance of an actor who had to audition for the role.

Then NASA’s press office began fielding inquiries.

A CBS News reporter on October 12 asked NASA for comments and additional information on reports that child actors appeared in the video. A Los Angeles Times journalist asked the next day if NASA knew the kids in the video were actors. This reporter also wanted to know why NASA did not specify that the video was not a NASA production.

The NASA press office sent the Los Angeles Times‘ asks Harris’ office.

An aide to the vice president – whose name was redacted in the FOIA document – wrote to NASA press secretary Jackie McGuinness, “Jackie thanks again for chatting – we are awaiting news from our attorney on any advice here.”

A White House official told CNN last fall that the vice president’s office failed to select the children who participated in the video. A YouTube spokesperson told the outlet that the company selected the children.

All five children in the video were actors, Bernardino’s father, Carlo Bernardino, told the Washington Examiner Last year.

carlo bernardino say it Examiner that the video had been shown to his son as a pilot, and he hoped the series would continue.

Harris’ office and YouTube did not respond to requests for comment on this story, including a question about whether the video was part of an ongoing series.

It doesn’t appear that any additional “Get Curious with Vice President Harris” videos have been released.

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