Did Fox News Break the White House Email?

emptymailboxIs the White House overreacting to an overreaction?

Last Thursday, you may recall, Fox News’ Major Garrett got into it with Press Secretary Robert Gibbs over Garrett’s questioning of White House email procedures. He asked Gibbs a question that there was only one way to answer, then attacked him for trying to answer it. On the air later, Garrett admitted there was a problem with his question.

That didn’t stop Fox News from hounding the White House all weekend. At issue were what Garrett described as “hundreds” of Fox viewers who claimed to have gotten unsolicited emails from the White House. When Gibbs offered to check those people’s names against a list to determine the answer, Garrett acted as though the White House was trying to steal their souls.

Since then, Fox News has posted several breathless updates to the story, including a statement, yesterday, from the White House. As I caught up on this story, I realized that I hadn’t gotten any emails from the White House since 5:25 pm yesterday.

Is it possible that the White House has frozen outgoing emails while it investigates this story? I emailed them to find out, but I haven’t heard back!

Fox has apparently sent some examples to Gibbs to check out, after getting permission from the emailers. If they’re anything like this guy that Garrett interviewed, it should be apparent what’s going on here:

Benjamin, who also described himself as a Republican, said he received the Axelrod health care e-mail as a pop-up ad while he was reading a blog. He said the pop-up must have been approved by his internet service provider, AOL.

“The White House wants to put out a message so they have a conduit to put the message out to people who haven’t contacted them in any way,” Benjamin said. “Therefore, they’re using AOL the same way that a spammer would be. I’m not particularly interested in hearing from David Axelrod.

So, Major Garrett is getting complaints from dialup users who still haven’t figured out that the CD-ROM drive isn’t a cupholder, and stoking the paranoia of NObama Nation in the bargain.

The British Print Their Blogs

UK_TJHuffPo’s magazine man James Warren (formerly managing editor and Washington bureau chief of the Chicago Tribune) took a trip across the pond recently and discovered, much to his amazement, that the British know how to have more fun than we do! Or more fun with their newspapers, anyway.

[A]mid the reflexive [American] industry rationalisations, many involving societal change and the coming of the internet, there’s rarely an admission of self-inflicted wounds, including the dreaded Curse of Tedium. Indeed, the country that makes the rest of the world envious of its technological and entertainment creativity, be it Microsoft, Google or Hollywood film studios, needs an emergency boost of British high-energy imagination and flair. We’re drowning in editorial sobriety.

After a few days with the British papers however, which contained “lots of gossip, speculation about possible soccer transactions, and hard-nosed political columns, with Gordon Brown served up as a two-legged, Scottish piñata,” Warren came away feeling “rather informed.” And that wasn’t all.

I came away feeling rather informed – it’s an embarrassment how much more international news there is to be found in British newspapers than in the average US paper – and, I dare say, having had some actual fun. And there is the critical difference.

Newspapers are boring! Americans are too bloody puritan about their news! Actually, Warren’s description of his holiday reading material sounds a lot like the blogosphere, no? Gossip, news, speculation, personality. If our papers were a more fun read — something like the Wall St. Journal meets the New York Post — would they have a better chance at survival? Probably not. Why buy the paper cow when you can get the digital milk for free (for now)? But that’s not to say we wouldn’t like the Times to give it a shot.

Newt Gingrich, Health Insurance Shill, Objectively Debates Health Care

newtpcma-300x200Since Obama was elected, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich has positioned himself at the heart of the national debate over health care, arguing from a pro-business, anti-public option vantage. He’s written countless op-eds, blogged, Twittered, given newspaper interviews, and made the rounds on political talk shows, most recently This Week with George Stephanopoulos and The O’Reilly Factor, to promote his platform.

But despite the image of level-headed punditry that he seeks to project, Gingrich enters the debate with the most basic kind of bias: major financial ties to health insurance companies with an interest in insurance remaining private. Why does Gingrich so often neglect to mention that he has a big financial stake in the outcome of the healthcare debate, and that it happens to line up with the side he’s arguing? And why do so many outlets give him a free pass? In light of Obama’s recent hints that he may be backing away from the public option, it’s a question worth asking whether Gingrich and his ilk have been treated more leniently by the media. Continue reading "Newt Gingrich, Health Insurance Shill, Objectively Debates Health Care"

Huffpo, Facebook Spawn Big Brother Social Media Demon

Picture 6This morning the Huffington Post and Facebook rolled out their latest scheme to take over the Internet: HuffPost Social News, which allows Facebook-using HuffPo readers to share the stories they’re reading and the comments their leaving on the Huffington Post with their friends on Facebook.

“It’s HuffPost’s version of a digital water cooler, enriching and deepening conversations around the day’s news,” wrote Arianna Huffington in a press release. “News has become something around which we gather, connect, and converse. HuffPost Social News makes this more dynamic than ever.”

According to Huffington, there were more than 1.7 million comments left on the news site last month — as many as 10,000 on a single story. By posting comments for friends to see on Facebook, Huffington hopes to facilitate conversation on a more micro, personal level.

In a blog post about the new partnership, Huffington wrote:

HuffPost Social News also taps into the other coming big trend in news: personalization. People connecting to each other using their real identities and having real conversations.

HuffPo already has profile pages for commenters (here’s one) like many other sites, but tracking comments through Facebook will hopefully spark more genuine conversation and encourage people to use their real identities.

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We predict a few hang-ups with the new system, especially for anonymous HuffPo commenters who have no desire to wed their oft-commenting neurotic online selves with their real-world (inasmuch as Facebook can be said to reflect the real world) identities. And the level of automation seems troublesome:

From Huffington’s post:

A few notes about Social News:

What you’re reading will not appear on Facebook unless you hit the “Like” button or the “Facebook Share” button.

The articles you have read and the comments you have made will only automatically show up on HuffPost — and will be viewable only by your friends who have also joined HuffPost Social News.

If you don’t want people to see a story you have viewed, you can remove it from your list of recent activity. You can also place yourself in “Stealth Mode” before you read it.

We’re put-off by the idea of needing to enter “Stealth Mode” before reading the news: It’s like we’re in eighth grade trying to buy Playboy again, although we definitely wouldn’t want some of HuffPo’s Sex Watch-y content to go on our permanent record. And we’re confused: Stories won’t show up unless we click “Like” or is Big Brother social news media automatically going to track our article history?

Either way, millions of HuffPo readers will be very vocal about any problems with the new system. And maybe, once a few things are hammered out, the spawn of these two newlyweds will be  clicks aplenty.

Media Eager to Report Death of Public Option

Picture 30The big story this morning, aside from Mad Men and Michael Vick, is the death of the public health insurance option. On TV, on newspaper front pages, and on blogs, various stages of the public option’s demise are being reported. The basis for all of this pessimistic reporting? Statements, this weekend, by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that the public option is not a deal-breaker.

Ex-sueeze me? That’s the big news? This is one of those questions that come up so often at White House briefings, we can all recite the answer like a well-dressed Rocky Horror audience. “The President strongly supports a public health insurance option, but the main goal is to provide health care reform that results in quality, affordable care for every American.” (throw toast at Gibbs)

The media has stood ready to stick a fork in the public option since this debate began. Off the top of my head, there was this July report that Rahm Emanuel had “caved” on the public option by answering this very question. That story was quickly walked back by the President later that day.

The White House’s strategy seems to have been to “rope-a-dope” on the public option, putting it out there and letting opponents punch themselves out at it. In the end, the White House doesn’t need the Republicans, or many of the Blue Dogs, to push this through. The question is whether or not they realize what’s at stake.

An even bigger question is, why is the media so ready to eulogize the public option? While recent polls have reflected slipping support for health care reform as it is being debated, those same polls either show overwhelming support for the public option, or they simply don’t ask.

There are two obvious answers. First, corporate influence over the mass media that drives news coverage is always a popular go-to bogeyman, and not necessarily in the tinfoil-y, paranoid sense. A media culture that intersects so strongly with a corporate culture is bound to reflect those values disproportionately.
There’s also the voracious nature of the 24-hour, 1440-minute news cycle that grants outsized importance to mundanities and inanities, particularly in the entertainment-starved dog days.

The answer is a combination of the two, abetted by desperate and dishonest opponents of the public option and their squeaky wheels. Look for the White House to spend the day, and the week, pushing back against this.

Hammer Time! Tom Delay To Dance With the Stars, Literally

delay_mugshotJake Tapper twittered a little while ago that House Majority Leader Tom Delay will be competing on Dancing With the Stars this season. Um. Good Morning America is apparently announcing the new cast this morning so we believe Tapper (though we’d be even more impressed to discover that Tapper was capable of pulling a Twitter practical joke) but still!

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If we had to put money on what embattled former Republican politician would be making an appearance on DWTS our first pick would have obviously been Blago. That said, Delay has dallied with the show before, when he emailed supporters to vote for Sara Evans, a country music singer who had performed at the 2004 Republican National Convention. Alas, there are no DWTS voting districts for Delay to attempt to redraw in his favor, but it will be interesting to see what kind of support he is able to muster. Or if this is he attempt to return to relevance! Perhaps others should consider following suit.

Do As I Say, Not As I Do? Obama Says No More Staff Profiles

4wxrT8AcTmkl4k1zhAbYKkDco1_400There was an interesting aside dropped into yesterday’s long New York Times profile of Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel that suggests the press may no longer enjoy the sort of access to this White House it has become accustomed to. According to the Times our normally zen-like President was furious when Times Magazine profile of top adviser Valerie Jarrett scratched at her reportedly testy relationship with Emanuel.

[W]hen a New York Times Magazine profile of Ms. Jarrett last month explored the old scratchiness, White House officials said the normally calm Mr. Obama erupted with anger. An informal edict went out: no more cooperating with staff profiles. As a result, Mr. Emanuel declined a formal interview for this article.

Has the White House gone all Bush 43 on the press and become a closed off paranoid state unto itself? It seems unlikely. For one, a number of staffers participated in the profile of Emanuel — who, it should be noted, has enjoyed more profiling than any chief of staff in recent history. How much more do we need to know about Rahm? (He likes puppies, by the way). Clearly if David Axelrod, Robert Gibbs, and Peter Orszag are giving quotes to the Times the “informal edict” against the press is pretty informal. Maybe more like a Presidential time-out.

Also, who is there left to cover? As Politico’s Michael Calderone points out the Times has enjoyed plenty of White House access. Add to that the amount of unfiltered access the press, and the public, has via Twitter — can you imagine how Bush would have handled that? — combined with Obama’s “saturation” tactic what you are left with is a fairly accessible White House. It is sort of reassuring to know, however, that Obama is capable of erupting in anger once in a while.