The White House has taken down a petition posted to the We the People petition site that called for popstar Beyoncé to be "disinvited" from performing the National Anthem at President Obama's Inaugural ceremony on Jan. 21, thanks to her $50 million deal with PepsiCo.
The petition received 500 signatures after being posted on Jan. 14, and became unavailable for signing the next day, with a message posted on We the People that reads "The petition you are trying to access has been removed from the site under our Moderation Policy because it is in violation of our Terms of Participation."
Beyoncé, a very active surrogate for President Obama, helped raise millions of dollars for the reelection effort, and has also partnered with First Lady Michelle Obama for the Let's Move! campaign. Thanks to that, her deal with PepsiCo has outraged public health advocates, who are worried that she will inspire a global spike in obesity rates. The announcement that she would take center stage at the Inauguration caused even more condemnation.
But while the Presidential Inaugural Committee said that President Obama participated in selecting those chosen for his ceremony, White House spokesman Shin Inouye told Obama Foodorama that the petition was removed not due to any controversy, but simply because Beyoncé's Inaugural performance is "not something the White House actually has jurisdiction over."
The Committee has sole responsibility for masterminding everything from the Inaugural parade to the Balls, Inouye said, and thus the White House is something of a bystander in the whole process, and cannot do anything to get Beyoncé "disinvited."
"Since the Presidential Inaugural Committee is a whole separate entity that handles the inauguration...the White House doesn't control who is singing at the Inaugural ceremony," Inouye said.
Thus the petition did not meet the White House's "Terms of Participation."
But when asked about the President personally selecting his participants, Inouye said "The President obviously wears a lot of hats, and is involved in all kinds of activities," and repeated that "the White House is not in charge of the Inauguration."
After a flood of new petitions in recent weeks, the White House on Tuesday announced that it is quadrupling the number of signatures required in thirty days to get an official response, raising the "threshold" number from 25,000 to 100,000. The Beyoncé petition was created before the change, and would have needed the lower number to get a response. But Inouye said the change also had nothing to do with the petition being removed.
The petition to get Beyoncé "disinvited" was created by Laurie David, a longtime environmental activist and the producer of "An Inconvenient Truth" as well as the author of a book about the importance of family meals. David wrote a Huffington Post editorial on the subject asking for petition signatures, titled "Why Beyoncé is the wrong star for the Star-Spangled Banner."
"I was shocked at the hypocrisy of having Pepsi's newest spokesperson featured at the inauguration," David told Obama Foodorama, "considering the First Lady's great work on childhood obesity."
"We have to start being honest with people about what causes childhood obesity, and soda is one of those things. Having Beyoncé sing undermines the Administration's childhood obesity efforts."
Soda consumption, according to study after study, is one of the few "foods" that can be reliably tied to both child and adult obesity and other diet-related diseases. And Mrs. Obama's campaign coordinates an Administration-wide response to childhood obesity that includes at least thirteen federal agencies, from Treasury to Agriculture to Education to Interior. With one in three children overweight or obese, the First Lady and top Administration officials have declared childhood obesity an "epidemic," a "crisis" and the "number one threat to national security," and credited it with everything from lowering academic achievement to reducing adults' work output.
"I just don't understand how the White House thinks it's okay for Beyoncé to sing at the inauguration," David said. "It's just not right."
|Beyoncé in her Let's Move! tee|
"Beyoncé has been an active supporter of the First Lady's 'Let's Move!' initiative, even surprising students at a Harlem school during the 'Let's Move Flash Workout' in 2011," the Presidential Inaugural Committee noted in an official video created to announce Beyoncé's inaugural performance.
David's petition came on the heels of rebukes from other public health advocates. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has launched a campaign calling on Beyoncé to reconsider promoting Pepsi because it's "a product that contributes to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, tooth decay, and other health problems in adults and children." The group chastised the star for "associating" herself "with a product that is quite literally sickening Americans."
"[Beyoncé] is renting her image to a product that may one day be ranked with cigarettes as a killer we were too slow to rein in," wrote New York Times oped columnist Mark Bittman on Jan. 5.
"From saying, as she once did in referring to Let’s Move, that she was 'excited to be part of this effort that addresses a public health crisis,' she’s become part of an effort that promotes a public health crisis."
PepsiCo, for the record, claims itself a supporter of Let's Move!, among other things pointing to a difficult-to-quantify commitment to join other major food corporations in "dumping" 1.5 trillion calories from America's food chain as part of their support for Mrs. Obama's national initiative.
Still, Mrs. Obama's East Wing team is not yet ready to discuss the optics problem Beyoncé and her soda deal are now bringing to the Let's Move! campaign. Kristina Schake, Mrs. Obama's Director of Communications, offered a "no comment" when asked if Beyoncé's partnership is enough of a mixed message to get her song dumped from its top spot on the Let's Move! playlist.
Schake also declined to comment on whether the White House will come up with an official rubric for how adults might explain Beyoncé's seemingly disconnected value net to young fans, who will see the singer's lovely face on Pepsi cans, as well as be treated to the image of Beyoncé pushing that laden cart of soda, which will appear as a cardboard cutout at supermarkets across the nation.
In what is possibly the most ironic part of the whole Inaugural affair, the theme is "Faith in America's Future," while the tagline PepsiCo is using to promote Beyoncé's partnership is "Live for Now."
That stark contrast will be on full display on Jan. 21, when Beyoncé serenades the President.
*Top image from PepsiCo; second from Beyoncé.com