Profile: Robert Gibbs
Robert Gibbs was a participant or observer in the following events:
PolitiFact, the nonpartisan, political fact-checking organization sponsored by the St. Petersburg Times, debunks Internet claims that Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), a presidential candidate, is a covert Muslim whose middle name is Mohammed. The claims appear to be sourced from anonymous emails circulating throughout right-wing blogs and organizations. PolitiFact writes: “First off, Barack Obama’s middle name is not Mohammed; it’s Hussein. He was named after his father, a Kenyan who came to the United States from Africa as a student.” PolitiFact also verifies that Obama is not a Muslim, “covert” or otherwise. Obama is a member of the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago (see January 6-11, 2008). PolitiFact notes that the emails contradict themselves, on the one hand making the claim that Obama is a Muslim and on the other attacking his membership in Trinity United. Obama campaign spokesman Robert Gibbs has said, “To be clear, Senator Obama has never been a Muslim, was not raised a Muslim, and is a committed Christian who attends the United Church of Christ in Chicago.” [St. Petersburg Times, 1/11/2008; St. Petersburg Times, 1/11/2008] PolitiFact does further investigation and again debunks the claims months later (see April 18, 2008). PolitiFact has already debunked earlier claims that in 2005, Obama took his Senate oath of office on a Koran, when in reality he used his family Bible (see December 19, 2007).
Military judge Colonel James Pohl denies the Obama administration’s request to suspend legal proceedings at Guantanamo Bay (see January 20, 2009) in the case of a detainee accused of planning the attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). Because of Pohl’s order, the Pentagon may be forced to temporarily withdraw charges against accused Cole plotter Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and perhaps 20 other detainees facing military trials, including 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see January 5-8, 2000 and November-December 2000).
White House Response - Obama officials are startled by Pohl’s order, as five other military judges have agreed to the government’s request. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says, “We just learned of the ruling here… and we are consulting with the Pentagon and the Department of Justice to explore our options in that case.” Asked if the decision will hamper the administration’s ability to evaluate detainees’ cases, Gibbs replies, “Not at all.”
Judge: Government Arguments 'Unpersuasive' - Pohl says he finds the government’s arguments in favor of suspension “unpersuasive” and that the case will go forward because “the public interest in a speedy trial will be harmed by the delay in the arraignment.” The White House wants the delay in order to review the cases of the approximately 245 detainees at Guantanamo and decide the disposition of each case. Pohl says he is bound by the Military Commissions Act (see October 17, 2006), “which remains in effect.”
Reactions Mixed - Navy Commander Kirk Lippold, who commanded the Cole when it was attacked, says he is “delighted” with the ruling, and adds, “It proves the military commissions work without undue command influence, and this decision puts us back on track to see an accounting for al-Nashiri’s terrorist acts.” Human rights activists disagree, with many arguing that the charges against al-Nashiri and perhaps other detainees should be withdrawn in order to allow the option of preserving or reforming military commissions at a new location. “Given that the Guantanamo order was issued on day two of the new administration, the president was clearly trying to make the immediate decisions needed while giving himself the flexibility to deal with the rest down the road,” says Human Rights Watch official Jennifer Daskal. “That said, the only sure way to ensure that the commissions process is brought to a halt is to now withdraw the charges.”
Options for Proceeding - Susan Crawford, the Pentagon official who approves charges and refers cases to trial (see January 14, 2009), can withdraw charges “without prejudice,” which would allow for refiling at a later date, whether under a modified military commissions procedure or for a civilian or military court. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell says, “And so while that executive order is in force and effect, trust me, there will be no proceedings continuing down at Gitmo with military commissions.” Al-Nashiri’s case is complicated by the fact that he is one of at least three detainees who were waterboarded by CIA interrogators (see May 2002-2003). [Washington Post, 1/30/2009]
Entity Tags: Susan Crawford, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Geoff Morrell, James L. Pohl, Jennifer Daskal, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Obama administration, US Department of Justice, Kirk Lippold, Robert Gibbs, US Department of Defense
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Less than one month after his inauguration, President Barack Obama signs into law a $787 billion recovery package, stating that this will “set our economy on a firmer foundation.” However, Obama reiterates during the bill’s signing ceremony at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science that he will not pretend “that today marks the end of our economic problems, nor does it constitute all of what we have to do to turn our economy around. Today marks the beginning of the end, the beginning of what we need to do to create jobs for Americans scrambling in the wake of layoffs.” The legislative battle on the bill ended with only three Republican votes in the Senate and none in the House. As president-elect, Obama initially expected to spend between $675 billion and $775 billion on the recovery package, and the final number is almost exactly that. However, Congress included $70 billion worth of tax cuts in the bill they approved, although more than a few economists say $70 billion in tax cuts won’t create as many new jobs as $70 billion in spending would. According to the government’s Recovery (.gov) Web site, the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act:
Saves and creates more than 3.5 million jobs over the next two years;
Takes a big step toward computerizing Americans’ health records, reducing medical errors, and saving billions in health care costs;
Revives the renewable energy industry and provides the capital over the next three years to eventually double domestic renewable energy capacity;
Undertakes the largest weatherization program in history by modernizing 75 percent of federal building space and more than one million homes;
Increases college affordability for seven million students by funding the shortfall in Pell Grants, increasing the maximum award level by $500, and providing a new higher education tax cut to nearly four million students;
Enacts the largest increase in funding of the nation’s roads, bridges, and mass transit systems since the creation of the national highway system in the 1950s;
Provides an $800 “Making Work Pay” tax credit for 129 million working households, and cuts taxes for the families of millions of children through an expansion of the Child Tax Credit;
Requires unprecedented levels of transparency, oversight, and accountability.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says Obama will seek additional stimulus/recovery funding if needed. [New York Times, 2/17/2009; recovery.gov, 2/17/2009]
A day after CNBC’s Rick Santelli engaged in a “rant” against President Obama’s economic policies, and called for a modern-day “tea party” to protest those policies (see February 19, 2009), White House press secretary Robert Gibbs invites Santelli to the White House for coffee and to discuss Obama’s plan to help homeowners. “I’d be happy to buy him a cup of coffee,” Gibbs says. “Decaf.” Gibbs has said that Santelli needs to learn more about the economic bailout before engaging in such sharp criticism. “I’ve watched Mr. Santelli on cable the past 24 hours or so,” he says. “I’m not entirely sure where Mr. Santelli lives or in what house he lives but the American people are struggling every day to meet their mortgages, stay in their jobs, pay their bills, send their kids to school.… Mr. Santelli has argued, I think quite wrongly, that this plan won’t help everyone. This plan helps people who have been playing by the rules.… I would encourage him to read the president’s plan.… It’s tremendously important for people who rant on cable TV to be responsible and understand what it is they’re talking about. I feel assured that Mr. Santelli doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” Santelli, who has admitted to not reading the White House’s bailout proposals, tells CNBC viewers he “would love to accept” the invitation, but—holding a tea bag to the cameras—says he prefers “tea” to coffee. [CNBC, 2/20/2009; Politico, 2/20/2009; Think Progress, 2/23/2009; New York Times, 2/23/2009; Associated Press, 3/2/2009] Shortly thereafter, Santelli will say that he felt “threatened” by Gibbs’s reference to not knowing where he lives (see February 23, 2009).
CNBC commentator Rick Santelli appears on two conservative radio programs, hosted by G. Gordon Liddy and Mike Gallagher respectively, to promote his “tea party” “rant” against the White House’s economic bailouts (see February 19, 2009). He tells both Liddy and Gallagher that he felt “threatened” by the White House’s response to his remarks (see February 20, 2009). Santelli tells Liddy that White House press secretary Robert Gibbs “started that press conference saying, ‘I don’t know where he lives, I don’t know where his house is.’ This is the press secretary of the White House. Is that the kind of thing we want?” Liddy calls Gibbs’s remark “a veiled threat.” Santelli replies: “It really is.… I don’t really want to be a spokesman, but I really am very proud of a) the response I’m getting, which is overwhelmingly positive, and b) discourse, that is debate. That if the pressure and the heat I’m taking from the White House—the fact my kids are nervous to go to school—I can take that, okay.” Santelli tells Gallagher he finds it “very scary” for Gibbs to say “we don’t know where he lives or where his house is.” Progressive news Web site Think Progress publishes Gibbs’s full quote from the February 21 press conference, which it says proves Gibbs made no such threats towards Santelli. Gibbs said: “I’ve watched Mr. Santelli on cable the past 24 hours or so. I’m not entirely sure where Mr. Santelli lives or in what house he lives but the American people are struggling every day to meet their mortgages, stay in their jobs, pay their bills, send their kids to school.” Think Progress’s Lee Fang writes, “Gibbs wasn’t threatening Santelli; he was pointing out the sheer absurdity of a well-to-do pundit criticizing Obama’s housing plan as seeking to simply [quoting Santelli] ‘subsidize the losers’ mortgages.’” [Think Progress, 2/23/2009]
President Barack Obama orders a review of former President Bush’s signing statements. Bush often used signing statements to instruct administration officials how to implement, or to ignore, Congressional legislation and other laws (see Early 2005, January 13, 2006, and September 2007). Obama has sent memos to numerous federal agencies directing them to review Bush’s signing statements. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says that other presidents have used signing statements to note potential problems and conflicts, and says Obama will continue that practice. But, Gibbs says, Obama will not use signing statements to disregard Congress’s intent in its legislation. [Associated Press, 3/9/2009]
House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) produces a Republican alternative to the Obama administration’s $3.6 trillion budget proposal. Calling President Obama’s budget “completely irresponsible,” Boehner holds up a booklet on the floor of the House and says: “Two nights ago the president said, ‘We haven’t seen a budget yet out of Republicans.’ Well, it’s just not true because—Here it is, Mr. President.” Boehner calls the booklet a “blueprint for where we’re going.” However, the booklet contains almost no details and no actual numbers; the Associated Press calls it “a glossy pamphlet short on detail.” Boehner’s House colleague Paul Ryan (R-WI) says more details will be revealed next week. “We’re going to show a leaner budget, a budget with lower taxes, lower spending, and lower borrowing,” Ryan says. “Our plan curbs spending, creates jobs, and cuts taxes, while reducing the deficit,” says Boehner. When asked about specifics, including where the cuts would come from, Boehner tells a reporter, “We’ll wait and see next week.” [CNN, 3/26/2009; Associated Press, 3/27/2009]
Cutting Deficits, Lowering Taxes for Wealthy Americans and Working Class - The proposal does not specify how it would reduce the federal deficit. It does advocate heavy cuts in domestic spending and lowering tax rates: the Republicans propose reducing the 35 percent, 33 percent, and 28 percent tax brackets to 25 percent, which would result in significant tax cuts for wealthier Americans. The proposal would also reduce the tax rate for those making below $100,000 to 10 percent. Liberal analyst Matthew Yglesias notes, “It’s strange that the Republicans railing about long-term deficits seem to love long-term deficits when the point of the deficits is to further enrich the rich.” [Think Progress, 3/26/2009]
No Actual Numbers - Representative Mike Pence (R-IN) says “[i]t’s not likely” that the GOP budget will be adopted. However, Pence says he believes “that a minority in Congress plus the American people equals the majority.” Pence adds, “We intend to take our case for fiscal discipline, growth, and tax relief to the American people from sea to shining sea and if the American people will rise up, anything is possible on Capitol Hill.” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs laughs at the Republicans’ budget proposal, noting that the blueprint contains more pictures of windmills than charts. “It’s interesting to have a budget that doesn’t contain any numbers,” he says. “I think the ‘party of no’ has become the ‘party of no new ideas.‘… The administration is glad that the Republicans heard the president’s call to submit an alternative,” he says. “We just hope that next time it will contain actual numbers so somebody can evaluate what it means.” Obama’s proposal is likely to be modified by more conservative Democrats in the upcoming days. Senate Republicans later say that they do not intend to submit a specific alternate proposal to Obama’s budget, a decision that the Associated Press notes “spares them the need to make politically difficult choices.” [CNN, 3/26/2009; Associated Press, 3/27/2009] Asked about the proposal’s effect on the federal deficit by MSNBC correspondent Norah O’Donnell, Pence is unable to answer the question. O’Donnell asks: “So you don’t have the numbers now? About what your plan would be in terms of how it would cut the deficit or add to the deficit? You don’t have any numbers on that?” Pence attempts to duck the question: “Well, it’s really a broad—when the White House a few minutes ago was attacking the numbers in this bill, the tax cut numbers. There’s plenty of numbers in the Republican recovery plan. And we just really believe the president’s plan to raise taxes by nearly 2 trillion dollars on almost every American… deserves a debate on Capitol Hill.” O’Donnell responds, “[H]ow is your plan credible?” Pence replies: “Well, I thought through this morning, we didn’t have a plan, so it may be progress our plan is being attacked.… This is the broad outline.” [Think Progress, 3/26/2009]
'Marketing Document' - Five days later, Ryan will admit that the “budget proposal” being offered by Boehner is nothing more than a “marketing document” (see April 1, 2009).
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) says that because Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) is what he calls a “Latina woman racist,” she should immediately withdraw her nomination. Gingrich bases his remark on a 2001 comment by Sotomayor in which she said she “hopes that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life” (see October 26, 2001). Sending a text message on Twitter, Gingrich writes: “Imagine a judicial nominee said, ‘My experience as a white man makes me better than a Latina woman.’ New racism is no better than old racism.” He follows with another message: “White man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw.” Republican National Committee (RNC) media chairman Todd Herman quickly “retweets” Gingrich’s message, which usually signifies agreement with the message, but the RNC will refuse to say whether or not it officially endorses Gingrich’s comment. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs replies that Gingrich is probably not the best source of information or guidance on the issue, and warns against excessive rhetoric: “I think it is probably important for any involved in this debate to be exceedingly careful with the way in which they’ve decided to describe different aspects of the impending confirmation. I think we’re satisfied that when the people of America and the people of the Senate get a chance to look at more than just the blog of a former lawmaker that they’ll come to the same conclusion that the president did.” [Think Progress, 5/27/2009; Plum Line, 5/27/2009; Washington Times, 5/28/2009] Orrin Hatch (R-UT), who sits on the Senate Judiciary Committee, refuses to align himself with Gingrich’s characterization. Asked about Gingrich’s remark, Hatch says, “No, I don’t agree with that.” [Think Progress, 5/27/2009] Days later, Gingrich will appear to withdraw the “racist” characterization, although he will go on to accuse Sotomayor of “betray[ing]” the “American system” of law (see June 3, 2009).
Lester Kinsolving, in a photo taken during a 2007 Christmas celebration at the White House. [Source: Houston Chronicle]Journalist Lester Kinsolving, representing the conservative news blog WorldNetDaily (WND), asks White House press secretary Robert Gibbs about President Obama’s birth certificate. Obama has been hounded for well over a year with questions concerning his heritage and his citizenship. Kinsolving begins by asking: “One question concerning what the president said in his speech on Thursday, and I quote: ‘I ran for president promising transparency, and I meant what I said. This is why, whenever possible, we will make information available to the American people so they can make informed judgments and hold us accountable.’ End of quote. Do you remember that statement?” Gibbs responds, “I can confirm he said that.” Kinsolving says: “Good. In consideration of this very good promise of transparency, why can’t the president respond to the petitioned requests of 400,000 American citizens by releasing a certified copy of his long form birth certificate listing hospital and physician?” Kinsolving is referring to an online petition hosted by WND that, the site claims, has over 400,000 signatures asking for Obama’s “true” birth certificate. Gibbs tells Kinsolving that the certificate “is on the Internet, Lester” (see June 13, 2008). Kinsolving responds, “No, no, no—the long form listing his hospital and physician” (see July 1, 2009). Kinsolving is referring to the “long form” birth certificate that is by Hawaiian law kept in state vaults; only “short form” certificates are given to individuals and/or family members. Gibbs replies: “Lester.… This question in many ways continues to astound me. The state of Hawaii provided a copy, with a seal, of the president’s birth (see June 27, 2008 and August 21, 2008). I know there are apparently at least 400,000 people that continue to doubt the existence of and the certification by the state of Hawaii of the president’s birth there, but it’s on the Internet because we put it on the Internet for each of those 400,000 to download. I certainly hope by the fourth year of our administration that we’ll have dealt with this burgeoning birth controversy.” WND will respond to Gibbs’s statement by taking out an ad in the conservative publication Human Events calling Gibbs “arrogant… factually incorrect,” and a liar, and accuses other journalists in the White House press corp, “members of the liberal elitist media,” of “openly laugh[ing]” at Kinsolving’s line of inquiry. PolitiFact researcher Robert Fairley will confirm that journalists could indeed be heard “chuckling” at Kinsolving’s questions. [St. Petersburg Times, 6/17/2009; St. Petersburg Times, 7/1/2009]
President Barack Obama lambasts critics of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) for their attacks on her (see May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 27-29, 2009, May 27, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 28, 2009, and May 29, 2009). Obama says that Sotomayor regrets her choice of words in a 2001 speech in which she said a “wise Latina” judge would often make better decisions than a white male (see October 26, 2001), but goes on to condemn “all this nonsense that is being spewed out” by critics who have accused her of racism and belonging to racist groups. Of her speech, Obama says: “I’m sure she would have restated it. But if you look in the entire sweep of the essay that she wrote, what’s clear is that she was simply saying that her life experiences will give her information about the struggles and hardships that people are going through. That will make her a good judge.” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says of the racial accusations: “It’s sort of hard to completely quantify the outrage I think almost anybody would feel at the notion that you’re being compared to somebody who used to be a member of the Ku Klux Klan. It’s amazing.” Republican strategist John Ullyot, who worked on judicial nominations as a Congressional staffer, says that “any comments politically on race or gender are fraught with peril for Republicans.” He continues: “A few conservatives from outside of the Senate, in their zeal to pick a fight over Obama’s nominee, decided to get very ugly very quickly. No one in the Senate has followed along, and that’s the loudest condemnation you can have.” Ullyot fails to mention attacks from Republican Senators James Inhofe (R-OK) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL—see May 26, 2009). [Washington Post, 5/29/2009]
The conservative Judicial Confirmation Network releases a television and Internet advertisement that attacks Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) for being “personally biased” in her rulings. The ad, which claims Sotomayor’s ascension to the high court will place “equal justice… under attack,” is based largely on comments Sotomayor made in a 2001 speech (see October 26, 2001). [Think Progress, 5/29/2009] White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says that Sotomayor made a “poor word choice” in her 2001 comments (see May 29, 2009) [Associated Press, 5/29/2009] , but both President Obama and liberal news and analysis Web site Think Progress note that in that same 2001 speech, Sotomayor was firm in reiterating her belief that judges must base their decisions on the rule of law, not on personal bias or preference. And an analysis of her record shows that she has ruled against plaintiffs in discrimination lawsuits a large majority of the time (see May 29, 2009). [Think Progress, 5/29/2009] After the ad draws fire from across the political spectrum, Judicial Confirmation Network spokeswoman Wendy Long
(see May 26, 2009) backs away from the controversy, writing that the debate over Sotomayor “is turning into an argument about race and identity politics.” She adds, “Many of us in the conservative movement believe that Judge Sotomayor is intelligent, and that, at least on paper, she has professional qualifications that are certainly sufficient for occupying a seat on the US Supreme Court.” Long continues to call Sotomayor’s judicial philosophy “very troubling.” [MSNBC, 5/29/2009]
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) writes what appears to be a retraction or withdrawal of his previous accusations that Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) is a racist (see May 27, 2009). He writes that he was reacting to the news of remarks she made during a 2001 speech in which she said a “wise Latina” judge would often make better decisions than a white male (see October 26, 2001), and calls his “initial reaction… perhaps too strong and too direct.” Others have criticized his “word choice” in his vilification of Sotomayor, and Gingrich writes, “The word ‘racist’ should not have been applied to Judge Sotomayor as a person, even if her words themselves are unacceptable (a fact which both President Obama and his press secretary, Robert Gibbs, have since admitted)” (see May 29, 2009). Gingrich then launches an attack on Sotomayor’s “judicial impartiality” and accuses her of “a betrayal of a fundamental principle of the American system—that everyone is equal before the law.” Gingrich is either unaware of, or ignoring, a recent analysis which disproves the thesis that Sotomayor has systematically exhibited racial bias in her rulings (see May 29, 2009). He calls her a “radical liberal activist” masquerading as a “convention[al] liberal,” and lambasts Obama for believing that “judicial impartiality” is “no longer a quality we can and should demand from our Supreme Court justices.” [Think Progress, 4/3/2007; Human Events, 6/3/2009] Liberal news and analysis Web site Think Progress notes that Gingrich may not be the most impartial person to weigh in on this issue, having called Spanish “the language of living in the ghetto” and warned of “gay and secular fascism” as an imminent threat to American society. [Think Progress, 4/3/2007; Think Progress, 11/17/2008]
Hours after a white supremacist kills a security guard in the Washington, DC, Holocaust Museum (see June 10, 2009 and After), White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says that President Obama is “obviously saddened by what has happened.” The next day, Obama says: “We have lost a courageous security guard who stood watch at this place of solemn remembrance. This outrageous act reminds us that we must remain vigilant against anti-Semitism and prejudice. No American institution is more important to this effort than the Holocaust museum.” A week before, on a visit to the site of a Nazi concentration camp at Buchenwald, Germany, Obama said: “There are those who insist the Holocaust never happened.… This place is the ultimate rebuke to such thoughts, a reminder of our duty to confront those who would tell lies about our history.” Israeli government official Yuli Edelstein says the shooting is “further proof that anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial have not passed from the world.” And the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a prominent American Muslim organization, says in a statement, “We condemn this apparent bias-motivated attack and stand with the Jewish community and with Americans of all faiths in repudiating the kind of hatred and intolerance that can lead to such disturbing incidents.” [WJLA-TV, 6/10/2009; NBC New York, 6/11/2009; USA Today, 6/11/2009]
Conservatives for Patients’ Rights logo. [Source: Conservatives for Patients? Rights]An organization called Conservatives for Patients’ Rights (CPR) publicly takes credit for orchestrating the disruptive and sometimes-violent protests against the White House’s health care reform proposals (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 2, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, and August 4, 2009). Washington Post reporter Greg Sargent says the admission “rais[es] questions about [the protests’] spontaneity.” CPR is headed by Rick Scott, a former health industry CEO who once ran Columbia/HCA before being ousted for malfeasance in 1997. (Columbia/HCA subsequently paid the US government $1.7 billion dollars in fines due to fraud that occured during Scott’s tenure.) Scott, who was once a part owner of the Texas Rangers with George W. Bush, now owns an investment firm that primarily traffics in health care, and owns a chain of Florida urgent care clinics called Solantic. [Washington Post, 5/10/2009; Plum Line, 8/4/2009] (Solantic also boasts former Bush administration official Thomas Scully as a member of its board. In 2004, Scully deliberately withheld information from Congress that the Bush administration’s Medicare reforms would cost $200 billion more than acknowledged.) [MSNBC, 8/7/2009]
Contracting with 'Swift Boat' PR Firm - Scott is spending millions on CPR’s public relations effort, and has contracted with CRC Public Relations, the group that masterminded the “swift boat” attacks against 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. He is also coordinating his efforts with Grover Norquist, the conservative advocate and influential Washington insider. CPR spokesman Brian Burgess confirms that CPR is e-mailing “town hall alert” flyers and schedules of town hall meetings to its mailing list. CPR is also actively recruiting members for the “tea party,” a loosely organized group of conservative protesters (see April 8, 2009). Scott says, “We have invested a lot of time, energy, and resources into educating Americans over the past several months about the dangers of government-run health care and I think we’re seeing some of the fruits of that campaign.” Doug Thornell, a House Democratic staff member, says: “The more you dig the more you learn that this is a carefully orchestrated effort by special interest lobbyists and the Republican Party, who are using fringe elements on the right to protect insurance company profits and defeat health care reform. The anger at these events looks very similar to what we saw at McCain/Palin rallies in the fall.” [Washington Post, 5/10/2009; Plum Line, 8/4/2009]
Group Interested in Protecting Industry Profits, Critics Say - Richard Kirsch of Health Care for America Now, a pro-reform group, says of Scott: “Those attacking reform are really looking to protect their own profits, and he’s a perfect messenger for that. His history of making a fortune by destroying quality in the health care system and ripping off the government is a great example of what’s really going on.” CPR plans on spending over $1 million a month in anti-reform television and radio ads. [Washington Post, 5/10/2009] White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, learning of CPR’s admission, says the organization is led by a “CEO that used to run a health care company that was fined by the federal government $1.7 billion for fraud. I think that’s a lot of what you need to know about the motives of that group.” Scott retorts, “It is a shame that Mr. Gibbs chooses to dismiss these Americans and their very real concerns, instead opting to level personal attacks.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 8/4/2009]
Entity Tags: Greg Sargent, Doug Thornell, Columbia/HCA, CRC Public Relations, Brian Burgess, Conservatives for Patients’ Rights, Solantic, Thomas A. Scully, Rick Scott, Richard Kirsch, Obama administration, Robert Gibbs, Grover Norquist, Republican Party, Medicare
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Civil Liberties, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections
Local ‘tea party’ protesters at the Arcuri/Hoyer town hall. [Source: WKTV]Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), taking part in a town hall meeting in upstate New York hosted by House member Michael Arcuri (D-NY), is browbeaten and verbally assaulted by conservative protesters who are against health care reform. The meeting is to discuss a proposal for a high-speed rail system for the area. “You’re lying to me!” one protester, local conservative activist Don Jeror, screams during the assemblage. “Just because I don’t have sophisticated language, I can recognize a liar when I see one!” Jeror adds, “Why would you guys try to stuff a health care bill down our throats in three to four weeks, when the president took six months to pick a dog for his kids?!” Jeror and many of the activists, who continue to scream and shout over Hoyer during his entire presentation, belong to a group called the “Fort Stanwix Tea Party ‘Patriots.’” House Member Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), who was recently accosted by conservative protesters during a town hall meeting in his district (see August 1, 2009), says the protests are anything but spontaneous and citizen-driven. “This notion of a grass-roots campaign is totally and completely phony,” he says. “The Republican Party has coordinated this apparent outrage and stirred it up.” While he and fellow Democrats welcome dialogue, he says, “there’s no way you can change the legislation to satisfy any of these Republicans and their insurance allies.” Doggett is referring to allegations that corporate lobbying groups such as Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks (see April 14, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 29, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 5, 2009, and Before August 6, 2009) are behind the protests. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs agrees, saying, “I think what you’ve seen is they have bragged about manufacturing, to some degree, that anger.” Bob MacGuffie, a Connecticut conservative activists who recently wrote a strategy memo directing fellow conservatives in methods to disrupt and dominate town hall meetings (see Late July, 2009), says that while there is organization, the anger and resistance to reform is “most assuredly real.… We’re organizing those voices, but it’s a real emotion, coast to coast.” ABC News reports that polls show the “protesters are not representative of the public at large, which overwhelmingly supports provisions such as ‘requiring insurance companies to sell health coverage to people, even if they have pre-existing medical conditions’ and ‘requiring that all Americans have health insurance, with the government providing financial help for those who can’t afford it.’” [ABC News, 8/4/2009; TPMDC, 8/4/2009; WKTV, 8/4/2009]
Entity Tags: Lloyd Doggett, Americans for Prosperity, ABC News, Bob MacGuffie, FreedomWorks, Robert Gibbs, Don Jeror, Michael Arcuri, Steny Hoyer, Republican Party
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections
Some Democratic politicians accuse Republicans of organizing “angry mobs” to disrupt town hall meetings around the country (see June 30, 2009, July 6, 2009, July 25, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 31, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, and August 5, 2009). Conservatives retort that the protests are spontaneous outbursts of anger and concern from ordinary citizens who oppose the White House’s health care reform proposals. According to a Democratic National Committee (DNC) ad, Republicans “have no plan for moving our country forward, so they’ve called out the mob.… [D]esperate Republicans and their well-funded allies” are trying to “destroy President Obama.” Senator Arlen Specter, who took part in a contentious town hall three days ago (see August 2, 2009), says: “I think that a fair amount of the activity was orchestrated. I think a fair amount of it was involved individuals who came without being orchestrated. But it was a battleground.” And White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says some of the anger from the crowds is manufactured: “In fact, I think you’ve had groups today, Conservatives for Patients Rights [CPR], that have bragged about organizing and manufacturing that anger” (see August 4, 2009). In return, CPR spokesman Brian Burgess says, “The White House is desperate for a scapegoat to blame for their failure to convince Americans to let the government take over health care.” A Democratic organization with connections to the Obama administration, Organizing for America, is planning strategy for upcoming events, including a Michigan appearance by Vice President Joe Biden. An e-mail from the organization encourages Michigan Democrats to “stand with the vice president and against the angry mobs being directed by Republican operatives in Washington to disrupt events throughout the month of August.” DNC spokesman Brad Woodhouse says that mobs of right-wing activists are being transported from one rally to another by “well-funded, highly organized groups run by Republican operatives and funded by the special interests who are desperately trying to stop the agenda for change the president was elected to bring to Washington.… This type of anger and discord did not serve Republicans well in 2008—and it is bound to backfire again.” Republican National Committee (RNC) spokeswoman Gail Gitcho responds: “In a remarkable example of callousness, the White House and Democrats have reduced the concerns and opinions of millions of Americans to ‘manufactured’ and have labeled them as ‘angry extremists,’ for voicing their opposition to President Obama’s government-run health care experiment.… Are Democrats so out of touch that they are shocked to learn that Americans are concerned about their $1.6 trillion government-run health care experiment?” CNN political analyst Bill Schneider observes: “On issues like this, intensity of opinion matters as much as numbers. Opponents of the president’s health care reform seem to feel more intensely about it than Obama’s supporters.” [CNN, 8/5/2009] Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, says he believes the use of intimidation and extreme tactics—including displays of overtly Nazi symbols and hanging representatives in effigy—will “backfire in a big way” because their aim is to keep people from talking about health care. “When you’ve got people shouting and hanging members of Congress in effigy,” he says, “most people are going to react badly to that. I think most people want to have a civil discussion.” Van Hollen says that House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and other Republican leaders “are actively involved in sort of fueling the fire of these disruptions. They’ve got to be careful what they ask for here.… If Republicans want to continue to ally themselves with these fringe groups, it will continue to discredit them.” National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ken Spain counters: “Democrats have gone from blaming Republican obstruction, to the insurance industry, to Matt Drudge, and now they are even blaming the voters who are registering their opposition at town halls across the country. At what point are they going to get the message that people simply don’t want a government takeover of health care?” [Roll Call, 8/5/2009]
Entity Tags: Chris Van Hollen, Robert Gibbs, Bill Schneider, Barack Obama, Arlen Specter, Brian Burgess, Obama administration, Republican National Committee, Ken Spain, Democratic National Committee, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, Conservatives for Patients Rights, Gail Gitcho, National Republican Congressional Committee, Joseph Biden, John Boehner, Brad Woodhouse
Timeline Tags: US Health Care, Domestic Propaganda, 2010 Elections
Senator Johnny Isakson (R-GA) denounces comments by President Obama (see August 11, 2009) and press secretary Robert Gibbs that, he says, implies he supports some version of the Democrats’ health care reform legislation. The day before, Isakson had told reporters that claims by former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) and others about so-called “death panels” were “nuts” (see August 10, 2009). Isakson says he “vehemently opposes” both the House and Senate versions of reform legislation, and denies that he drafted language in the bill calling for the government to expand Medicare and provide for “end-of-life counseling.” In a statement, he says: “I categorically oppose the House bill and find it incredulous that the White House and others would use my amendment as a scapegoat for their misguided policies. My Senate amendment simply puts health care choices back in the hands of the individual and allows them to consider if they so choose a living will or durable power of attorney. The House provision is merely another ill-advised attempt at more government mandates, more government intrusion, and more government involvement in what should be an individual choice.” [US Senate, 8/11/2009]
After briefly backing away (see August 10, 2009) from her earlier claim that the Democrats’ health care reform legislation would mandate so-called “death panels” (see August 7, 2009), former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK) reiterates her claim. In a post on her Facebook page, Palin writes: “Yesterday President Obama responded to my statement that Democratic health care proposals would lead to rationed care (see August 11, 2009); that the sick, the elderly, and the disabled would suffer the most under such rationing; and that under such a system, these ‘unproductive’ members of society could face the prospect of government bureaucrats determining whether they deserve health care. The provision that President Obama refers to is Section 1233 of HR 3200, entitled ‘Advance Care Planning Consultation.’ With all due respect, it’s misleading for the president to describe this section as an entirely voluntary provision that simply increases the information offered to Medicare recipients.… Section 1233 authorizes advanced care planning consultations for senior citizens on Medicare every five years, and more often ‘if there is a significant change in the health condition of the individual… or upon admission to a skilled nursing facility, a long-term care facility… or a hospice program.‘… President Obama can try to gloss over the effects of government-authorized end-of-life consultations, but the views of one of his top health care advisers are clear enough (see July 23-24, 2009). It’s all just more evidence that the Democratic legislative proposals will lead to health care rationing and more evidence that the top-down plans of government bureaucrats will never result in real health care reform.” Members of Palin’s own party have called her claims inaccurate (see August 11, 2009) and “nuts” (see August 10, 2009), White House press secretary Robert Gibbs has identified Palin as one of the persons responsible for spreading “wrong” information about health care reform, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is using her claims in a fundraising plea to supporters, calling her statement “disgusting” and “outrageous.” [Politico, 8/13/2009]
Van Jones. [Source: Politico]White House official Van Jones, the Obama administration’s special advisor for environmental jobs, resigns after a barrage of criticism from conservative critics and Republican officials. Jones is an author, community organizer, and “green jobs” expert from the San Francisco area; before his resignation, he was in charge of a small White House program advocating for jobs in energy-efficient industries. Indications are that Jones was asked by White House officials to resign, in part because administration officials wanted to “move beyond” the criticism of him as Obama prepares to address Congress on the subject of health care reform (see September 9, 2009). In 2004, Jones signed a petition asking for an investigation into whether the Bush administration had allowed the 9/11 terrorist attacks in order to provide a pretext for war in the Middle East, though he has always said he does not support the so-called “truther” movement that features allegations of Bush officials’ involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Shortly before joining the administration, Jones used the term “_ssholes” to characterize Republicans. He is a public supporter of Mumia Abu-Jamal, convicted of murdering a Philadelphia police officer. Conservatives have termed him a “radical Communist” for his affiliation with some left-wing protest movements. The New York Times calls the controversy around Jones a “significant distraction” to Obama’s health care agenda. Critics have attacked Jones specifically as well as administration officials such as him, sometimes called “czars,” who are appointed to positions of some influence in the White House without having to be approved by Congress. White House officials say that they were unaware of Jones’s more controversial statements and positions because his position was not considered senior enough to warrant complete vetting. Press secretary Robert Gibbs says that Obama does not endorse Jones’s views and did not hesitate to accept his resignation: “Well, what Van Jones decided was that the agenda of this president was bigger than any one individual. The president thanks Van Jones for his service in the first eight months, helping to coordinate renewable energy jobs and lay the foundation for our future economic growth.” [New York Times, 9/6/2009; Politico, 9/7/2009] The online news site Politico writes: “Jones’ departure from the position is the first real scalp claimed by the Republican right, which stoked much of the criticism of Jones.… Jones’ controversial statements fit snugly into the narrative woven by some conservative critics of Obama as a dangerous leftist, a critique that goes back to the campaign and was based as much on his past work as a community organizer and associations with the likes of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and William Ayers as on his policies. Jones’ roots in radical politics, and a spate of newly surfaced links Saturday documenting his advocacy for convicted cop killer and former Black Panther Mumia Abu Jamal—a death row prisoner who many in the activist left view as an unjustly convicted political prisoner—threatened to play into that narrative.” [Politico, 9/7/2009] One of Jones’s loudest critics was Fox News’s Glenn Beck, who has repeatedly targeted Jones on his show since July 2009. Beck regularly calls Jones a “Communist-anarchist radical.” Some speculate that Beck began attacking Jones because an organization co-founded by Jones, Color of Change, began a movement to force Beck’s resignation after Beck called Obama a “racist” (see July 28-29, 2009). The influential conservative news blog World Net Daily (WND) has attacked Jones since at least April 2009, calling him “an admitted radical communist and black nationalist leader” who “sees [the] environment as [a] racial issue.” Beck has used much of WND’s rhetoric in his attacks on Jones. [WorldNetDaily, 4/12/2009; Washington Independent, 9/4/2009; New York Times, 9/6/2009] In recent days, Representative Mike Pence (R-IN) called on Jones to resign, and Senator Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-MO) called for an investigation into Jones’s appointment, labeling Jones as “erratic and unstable” in a letter to Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), the chairman of the Green Jobs and New Economy Subcommittee. Former Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean defends Jones, saying he was being penalized for not realizing what the petition he signed in 2004 was: “This guy’s a Yale-educated lawyer. He’s a best-selling author about his specialty. I think he was brought down, and I think it’s too bad. Washington’s a tough place that way, and I think it’s a loss for the country.” In his resignation letter, Jones writes: “On the eve of historic fights for health care and clean energy, opponents of reform have mounted a vicious smear campaign against me. They are using lies and distortions to distract and divide.” However, he writes, though many have advised him to stay and fight for his position: “I cannot in good conscience ask my colleagues to expend precious time and energy defending or explaining my past. We need all hands on deck, fighting for our future.” [New York Times, 9/6/2009; Politico, 9/7/2009]
Entity Tags: Barack Obama, Glenn Beck, Bush administration (43), Howard Dean, New York Times, Mike Pence, WorldNetDaily, Obama administration, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Politico, Van Jones, Robert Gibbs, Christopher (“Kit”) Bond
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Jimmy Carter speaks at Emory University. [Source: CNN]Former President Jimmy Carter says that he believes much of the opposition to President Barack Obama is fueled by racism. “When a radical fringe element of demonstrators and others begin to attack the president of the United States as an animal or as a reincarnation of Adolf Hitler or when they wave signs in the air that said we should have buried Obama with Kennedy, those kinds of things are beyond the bounds,” he tells a group of students at Emory University in Atlanta. Carter, a native Georgian, has taught at Emory since 1982. “I think people who are guilty of that kind of personal attack against Obama have been influenced to a major degree by a belief that he should not be president because he happens to be African-American. It’s a racist attitude, and my hope is and my expectation is that in the future both Democratic leaders and Republican leaders will take the initiative in condemning that kind of unprecedented attack on the president of the United States.” Carter adds: “I live in the south, and I’ve seen the south come a long way, and I’ve seen the rest of the country that shared the south’s attitude toward minority groups at that time, particularly African-Americans. And that racism inclination still exists. And I think it’s bubbled up to the surface because of the belief among many white people, not just in the south but around the country, that African-Americans are not qualified to lead this great country. It’s an abominable circumstance, and it grieves me and concerns me very deeply.” Carter said the day before that he believes the “You lie!” shout at Obama by Representative Joe Wilson (R-SC) during Obama’s address to Congress (see September 9, 2009) may have been racially motivated. Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee and the first African-American to hold that position, disagrees. “President Carter is flat-out wrong,” he says. “This isn’t about race. It is about policy.” Instead, Steele says Democrats are just trying to divert attention from what he calls Obama’s “wildly unpopular government-run health care plan.… Playing the race card shows that Democrats are willing to deal from the bottom of the deck.” Congressman Henry Johnson (D-GA), an African-American and a fellow Georgian, predicts that racial tensions will rise throughout the nation, saying, “I guess we’ll probably have folks putting on white hoods and white uniforms again and riding through the countryside.” Comedian Bill Cosby also agrees with Carter, calling Wilson’s shout and other displays of aggression towards Obama “public display[s] of disrespect.” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs refuses to comment on Carter’s statements [CNN, 9/15/2009; Guardian, 9/16/2009] other than noting, “I don’t believe the president agrees with [Carter].” He adds: “I don’t think the president believes that people are upset because of the color of his skin. I think people are upset because on Monday we celebrate the anniversary of the Lehman Brothers collapse that caused a financial catastrophe unlike anything we’ve ever seen.” [Christian Science Monitor, 9/16/2009] Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which tracks American hate groups, says Carter is correct in his assessment: “I think what President Carter said is precisely what is going on. I am not saying that everyone involved in opposing healthcare reform is a Klansman in disguise, but it is the elephant in the room.” Potok says the SPLC is tracking a sharp rise in the number of right-wing hate groups, violent plots, and racist incidents since Obama accepted the Democratic nomination for president in 2008. [Guardian, 9/16/2009]
The Chicago 2016 Olympic logo. [Source: LogoBlog (.org)]President Obama fails in an effort to persuade the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to choose Chicago, his home town, for the 2016 Olympics. Obama flies to Copenhagen to make an unprecedented personal appeal to the IOC on Chicago’s behalf, but the IOC chooses Brazil’s Rio de Janeiro instead. Chicago mayor Richard Daley says he is “shocked” by the IOC’s decision. Obama says of the decision and the IOC’s rebuff to his presentation, “One of the most valuable things about sports is that you can play a great game and still lose.” William Daley, the brother of Mayor Daley, says the decision may have been made in part because of anti-American sentiment in parts of the world: “I think Americans have a difficult time right now with the rest of the world. I think the rest of the world doesn’t look at the US the same way it did for many years.” Some conservatives and Republicans criticize Obama for the effort, with some saying that his motivation was more personal than patriotic (see September 25, 2009). White House press secretary Robert Gibbs disagrees, saying, “If it had been Los Angeles, I think the notion that the president would have done less because it was a different US city just doesn’t hold a lot of water.” [Time, 9/30/2009; CBS News, 10/2/2009] Some Republicans called Obama’s attempt to land the Olympics for Chicago little more than an effort to provide largesse for his hometown cronies. Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele said Obama let himself become distracted from other issues such as health care reform by the Olympics. “Where is the focus?” Steele asked. “At a time of war, at a time of recession… I think this trip is nice but not necessary for the president. The goal should be creating job opportunities not seven years from now, but job opportunities today.” Gibbs asked of Steele, “Who’s he rooting for?” Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, said Obama should focus more on the conflict in Afghanistan and not the Olympics. Republican strategist John Feehery said: “He’s taking a bunch of Chicago cronies on an all-expense-paid trip to Copenhagen for just one reason, to get the Olympics. For me it makes him seem unserious and look slightly desperate.” The right-wing Web site Drudge Report recently highlighted the murder of a Chicago teenager during a gang fight and headlined the story “Olympic Spirit.” Fox News commentator Glenn Beck insinuated that Obama’s Olympic push was at the behest of the Chicago Mafia. Curt Hamakawa, director of the Center for International Sport Business, retorted that had Obama not attempted to influence the IOC, “Republicans would have been crabbing that he didn’t do enough.” [Associated Press, 9/29/2009; Huffington Post, 10/2/2009] Many conservatives celebrate the US loss of the Olympics as a personal defeat for Obama (see October 2, 2009).
Portion of promotional poster for the HBO documentary ‘By the People.’ [Source: Wikimedia]Fox News falsely reports that President Obama watched, by himself, an HBO documentary about his 2008 presidential campaign instead of watching the election returns from races in Virginia and New Jersey during the evening of November 4. Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum tells viewers, “[Press secretary] Robert Gibbs said, well, he was actually watching, you know, the HBO special about his year-long campaign and how it all went.” MacCallum goes on to note: “[W]e know that Michelle [Obama] and the girls [the Obama’s two daughters] went to [a] concert last night.… So he’s all alone in that big house, right? Nothing to do but sit back and watch—reminisce about the long campaign and watch HBO and the special.” [NewsBusters, 11/4/2009; Media Matters, 11/5/2009] ABC News’s Jake Tapper writes on his Twitter account: “Gibbs did NOT say that POTUS [President Obama] watched the HBO film last night. I think someone must have misunderstood.” [Raw Story, 11/4/2009] Gibbs previously told reporters that Obama had already seen the documentary. [TPMDC, 11/1/2009] The same day as the Fox News report, conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh repeats the claim, telling his listeners: “I would be embarrassed if somebody put together a documentary about me the way this has been put together. I mean it is God-like.… If a documentary could get anal poisoning, this one could. I mean, it’s just kiss butt, kiss butt, kiss butt, and here he’s watching it.” [Raw Story, 11/4/2009; Media Matters, 11/4/2009] That evening, Fox News White House correspondent Major Garrett says the report is erroneous and apologizes for what he calls his “mistake,” blaming himself for “mishear[ing]” Gibbs during the daily press gaggle. However, on November 8, panelists on Fox News Watch make the original false claim. Host Jon Scott tells viewers that instead of watching the election returns, Obama was “watching the HBO documentary.… Now, maybe that’s the one thing that could pull him away from—from election returns.” Other panelists react with what progressive media watchdog Web site Media Matters calls “hysterical laughter.” One panelist, S. E. Cupp, says during the outbreak: “I’m sorry. I can’t even—I can’t even contain myself.” [Media Matters, 11/9/2009]
Scott Brown. [Source: Boston Herald]Republican Scott Brown (R-MA) narrowly wins a special election for the US Senate seat vacated by long-time Democratic Senator Edward Kennedy, who passed away in August 2009. Brown defeats Democrat Martha Coakley, the Massachusetts attorney general. The victory is seen as a strong victory for the “tea party” movement, which backed Brown, a former Massachusetts state senator, even though he is considered something of a moderate Republican. Brown raised over a million dollars in less than 24 hours, in large part due to money from lobbying groups that back tea party organizations. Brown’s victory makes the Senate makeup 59 Democrats and 41 Republicans, enough to allow Senate Republicans to mount filibusters against Democratic proposals without fear of party-line “cloture votes” that would let Democrats pass legislation without Republican support. [American Conservative Daily, 1/9/2010; BNO News, 1/19/2010; The Week, 4/15/2010] Brown went on Fox News a number of times in the days before the election to help raise his profile among conservative voters and donors alike. On January 11, Fox News analyst Dick Morris pleaded with Fox viewers to contribute money to the Brown campaign. [Media Matters, 1/11/2010] Some observers speculated that Brown’s choice to pose nude for a magazine centerfold in 1982 might hurt him with conservative voters, but Newsweek columnist Katie Connolly wrote that because Brown is male, voters would not hold it against him as they would a female. [Newsweek, 9/15/2009] Newsweek will later compile a number of sometimes-contradictory explanations for why Coakley loses the race. One is that Coakley ran a poor campaign, an explanation advanced by a number of Democratic figures and liberal commentators. New York columnist Jason Zengerle will write of the singular “ineptitude” of Coakley and her campaign. Some liberal commentators will accuse Democrats of taking Coakley’s victory for granted, backing their explanation with, among other evidence, a memo from the Coakley campaign that noted “apathy” among national Democrats and a lack of money from national sources. Some conservatives will say that voters are alienated by the aggression of the Obama administration and other liberals, which energized conservatives. Some, including White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, will note the “infighting” among Democrats over Obama’s health care reform compromises, and say that such infighting weakened voter support for Democratic candidates. A few liberal commentators will say flatly that Democrats did not do enough to promote Coakley’s candidacy and energize the base. Lastly, a number of liberal commentators, along with Gibbs, will say that Brown rode a wave of anti-Democratic support into office. Blogger Chris Bowers will write that the current “political environment is terrible for Democrats, and they are going to lose seats in 2010.” [Newsweek, 1/19/2010] Before the election, the Boston Herald noted that Brown had been “all but abandoned” by the Republican campaign committees, who apparently believed that he had little chance of winning and chose not to sink money into his campaign. [Boston Herald, 12/29/2009]
Chief Justice John Roberts tells a group of law students that President Obama and Congressional Democrats turned the recent State of the Union address into a “pep rally” targeting Court justices, and questions the need for justices to attend the event. During the speech, Obama criticized the Citizens United decision allowing corporations to spend unlimited amounts of money on political advertising (see January 21, 2010), and Justice Samuel Alito drew media attention by mouthing the words “Not true” in response to Obama’s remarks (see January 27-29, 2010). Roberts is referring to the fact that many Congressional Democrats cheered the president’s remarks. He calls the event “very troubling,” and says, “To the extent the State of the Union has degenerated into a political pep rally, I’m not sure why we are there.” Six of the Court’s nine justices, including Alito and Roberts, were in attendance. Roberts says he is less concerned about the criticism of the Court than the expectation that the justices must sit silently: “Anybody can criticize the Supreme Court.… I have no problem with that. The image of having the members of one branch of government standing up, literally surrounding the Supreme Court, cheering and hollering while the Court—according to the requirements of protocol—has to sit there expressionless, I think is very troubling. It does cause me to think… why are we there?” Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas did not attend, complaining that the address would be a “partisan” event (see February 2, 2010), and Justice John Paul Stevens, who strongly dissented from the Citizens United decision, did not attend due to age and health issues. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs responds strongly to Roberts’s remarks, saying, “What is troubling is that this decision opened the floodgates for corporations and special interests to pour money into elections, drowning out the voices of average Americans.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/10/2010] Three weeks after Roberts makes his observations, conservative talk show host David Limbaugh will call Obama’s criticisms a “public assault” on the justices. [David Limbaugh, 4/5/2012]
Senate Democrats are unable to break a filibuster by Senate Republicans that is blocking passage of the DISCLOSE Act.
Act Would Mandate Disclosure of Donors - The DISCLOSE Act—formally the Democracy Is Strengthened by Casting Light On Spending in Elections (DISCLOSE) Act—would overturn many elements of the Supreme Court’s controversial Citizens United decision that allows virtually unlimited and anonymous political spending by corporations and other entities (see January 21, 2010). If passed, it would have created new campaign finance disclosure requirements and made public the names of “super PAC” contributors (see March 26, 2010). Individuals, corporations, labor unions, and tax-exempt charitable organizations would, under the act, report to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) each time they spend $10,000 or more on campaign-related expenditures. Additionally, all outside groups, including “super PACs,” would have to report the names of donors. Moreover, the legislation would provide for so-called “Stand By Your Ad” requirements mandating that super PACs and other outside campaign groups producing political advertisements disclose the top funders in the ad. The CEO or highest-ranking official of an organization would, under the act, have to appear in the ad and officially “approve” the message. [Open Congress, 6/29/2010; OMB Watch, 7/24/2012]
Unbreakable Filibuster - Even public support from President Obama fails to sway enough Republican senators to vote against the filibuster, as did changes made to the bill by sponsor Charles Schumer (D-NY) designed to assuage some of Republicans’ concerns about the bill. The bill has already passed the House, shepherded through under Democratic leadership against Republican opposition. Democrats have a slim majority in the Senate also, but Senate rules allow the minority to mount filibusters that require 60 votes to overcome, and a number of Republicans would need to break from the Republican pack to vote down the filibuster. Additionally, some conservative senators such as Ben Nelson (D-NE) have not publicly stated their support for the bill. One Republican who had previously indicated she might vote for cloture (against the filibuster), Susan Collins (R-ME), dashed Democrats’ final hopes by saying she would not vote for cloture after all. “The bill would provide a clear and unfair advantage to unions while either shutting other organizations out of the election process or subjecting them to onerous reporting requirements that would not apply to unions,” says Collins spokesman Kevin Kelley. “Senator Collins believes that it is ironic that a bill aimed at curtailing special interests in the election process provides so many carve-outs and exemptions that favor some grass-roots organizations over others. This, too, is simply unfair.” Other so-called Republican moderates such as Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Scott Brown (R-MA) have previously indicated they would not vote for cloture. Ironically, one of the “carve-outs” in the bill Schumer added was on behalf of the far-right National Rifle Association (NRA), an addition that Schumer says was made to placate Republicans. Schumer says that even if the bill does not pass now, attempts to reintroduce it will be made. The DISCLOSE Act “is one of the most important for the future of our democracy, not just for the next six months but for the next six decades,” he says. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says: “I don’t know what the final vote will be tomorrow, but I know that you—if you had a sliver of Republicans that thought special-interest giving and corporate influence in elections was… part of the problem, then this bill would pass. Now we get to see who in the Senate thinks there’s too much corporate influence and too much special-interest money that dominate our elections and who doesn’t. I don’t know how it could be any clearer than that.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) retorts: “The DISCLOSE Act seeks to protect unpopular Democrat politicians by silencing their critics and exempting their campaign supporters from an all-out attack on the First Amendment (see January 21, 2010). In the process, the authors of the bill have decided to trade our constitutional rights away in a backroom deal that makes the Cornhusker Kickback look like a model of legislative transparency.” [Politico, 7/26/2010] The “Cornhusker Kickback” McConnell is referencing is a deal struck in late 2009 by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) to win Nelson’s support for the Democrats’ health care reform package, in which Nebraska, Nelson’s state, would receive 100 percent government financing for an expansion of Medicare. [Las Vegas Sun, 12/20/2009]
Entity Tags: Harry Reid, Federal Election Commission, Charles Schumer, Ben Nelson, Barack Obama, US Supreme Court, US Senate, Susan Collins, Scott Brown, DISCLOSE Act of 2010, Olympia Snowe, Mitch McConnell, National Rifle Association, Robert Gibbs, Kevin Kelley
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
General David Petraeus, commander of US forces in the Middle East, warns that a plan to burn a Koran by Florida pastor Terry Jones (see July 12, 2010 and After and September 9, 2010) will endanger the lives and safety of US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Petraeus says in a CNN interview that burning a Koran “is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems—not just here, but everywhere in the world we are engaged with the Islamic community.” In a statement issued by his office, Petraeus adds: “It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort in Afghanistan.… Even the rumor that it might take place has sparked demonstrations such as the one that took place in Kabul yesterday,” referring to a protest by Afghan citizens against the news of the planned Koran-burning. “Were the actual burning to take place, the safety of our soldiers and civilians would be put in jeopardy and accomplishment of the mission would be made more difficult.” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says that “any type of activity like that that puts our troops in harm’s way would be a concern to this administration.” NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen lambasts the plans, telling reporters that the planned Koran-burning violates NATO’s “values,” and adding, “There is a risk that it may also have a negative impact on security for our troops.” Lieutenant General William Caldwell, who oversees the training of Afghan security forces, says he was informed of Jones’s plans to burn a Koran a few days ago by a senior minister in the Afghan government. Caldwell says many Afghans do not understand Jones’s First Amendment rights to burn a Koran, or why President Obama cannot legally stop Jones from his demonstration. “There is no question about First Amendment rights; that is not the issue,” Caldwell says. “The question is: What is the implication over here? It is going to jeopardize the men and women serving in Afghanistan.” Jones has said he would go through with the burning no matter what kind of pressure he encounters: “We think the message is that important. We can not back down just because of fear, because if we back down, it won’t make Islam any more moderate,” said Jones, who has said he has the right to burn the Koran because “it’s full of lies.” Protests in Afghanistan, Indonesia, and other nations have followed news reports of Jones’s plans. An armed Christian militia called “Right Wing Extreme” has disassociated itself from the event, according to the blog Christianity Today. CNN had reported that the group was to provide security for the event, according to Christianity Today, and forum posters on the group’s Web site are engaged in harsh debate over the topic; one poster writes, “This could be the stupidest idea ever in the history of stupid ideas.” [Wall Street Journal, 9/6/2010; Christian Science Monitor, 9/7/2010; BBC, 9/7/2010] A senior defense official who asks to remain anonymous says Petraeus deliberately cast the issue first and foremost as a threat to US troops. “Then it no longer is simply a political issue,” he says. “That way you can get [Fox News talk show host] Glenn Beck and [Fox News commentator and former vice-presidential candidate] Sarah Palin and [Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton to agree.” [Washington Post, 9/10/2010] Right-wing blogger Robert Spencer, who runs JihadWatch (.org), writes that although he opposes the Koran-burning—he would rather people read the Koran and learn “the ways that jihadists use those contents to justify violence”—he disagrees with Petraeus’s statement against Jones’s demonstration. “The idea that in wartime one should be careful not to do anything that the enemy is likely to respond to with irrational and even murderous anger may seem tactically wise at first glance, but ultimately it is a recipe for surrender,” he writes. “One is already accepting the enemy’s worldview and perspective, and working to accommodate it, instead of working on various fronts, not just the military one, to show why it is wrong and should be opposed.” Instead, Spencer writes, Petraeus should defend Jones’s right to free speech, and use his defense “as a teaching moment in Afghanistan to say, ‘We are going to defend our vision of society, no matter what you bring against us.’” [Robert Spencer, 9/7/2010]
The Australian newspaper The Age publishes an analysis by reporter Matthew Weaver that examines the media’s role in bringing an obscure Florida pastor and his idea to burn Korans to international prominence. Pastor Terry Jones launched a Facebook page discussing his idea to burn Korans (see July 12, 2010 and After). The page did not garner a great deal of attention, Weaver says, but days later, the Religion News Service (RNS) published Jones’s claims that people had sent him copies of the Koran to burn. RNS asked the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) for a response. Weaver writes, “It didn’t take the bait, but other religious organizations did not show such restraint.” Jones began posting videos on YouTube; in one, he held up a copy of the Koran and said, “This is the book that is responsible for 9/11.” The national press began paying attention to Jones, ignoring pleas from Craig Lowe, the mayor of Gainesville, where Jones’s church is located, to ignore him. CAIR and other religious groups, such as the National Association of Evangelicals, began issuing public statements condemning the Koran-burning plans. A British group called Campaign Islam posted a YouTube message claiming that the event would “wake up the [Islamic] lion from the den.” An Egyptian Sunni authority, the al-Azhar supreme council, accused Jones of stirring up hate. By early September, when the holy month of Ramadan was coming to a close, demonstrators in Afghanistan and elsewhere began taking to the streets to burn Jones in effigy alongside the American flag, and national representatives from a number of countries issued their own condemnations and pleas to cancel the Koran-burning (see September 6-9, 2010). General David Petraeus, the supreme US commander in the Middle East, publicly warned that Jones’s Koran-burning would endanger US troops (see September 6, 2010). Weaver writes, “The general’s intervention pushed the story to the top of the international news agenda, where it stayed for the rest of the week.” He cites American counterterrorism expert David Schanzer as saying that Petraeus, more than any single figure, gave Jones more credibility than he deserved. Schanzer said, “By having the head of our entire operation in Afghanistan ask them to refrain from this action, we’ve brought much more attention to this fringe element than it deserves.” Ignoring Jones would have undercut his power, Schanzer said. Instead, White House officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, press secretary Robert Gibbs, and President Obama himself (see September 10, 2010), spoke out against Jones’s plans. Weaver concludes by citing the 2008 burning of a Koran by another extremist church, the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas. “[W]eary of the group’s gay-bashing provocations,” Weaver writes, “media organizations stayed away.” The 2008 Koran burning drew little media attention and few protests from Muslims. [The Age, 9/12/2010]
Entity Tags: Matthew Weaver, Craig Lowe, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Campaign Islam, Barack Obama, David Petraeus, Hillary Clinton, National Association of Evangelicals, The Age, David Schanzer, Obama administration, Religion News Service, Robert Gibbs, Terry Jones (pastor)
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
Newt Gingrich, the former Republican House speaker and an apparent candidate for the presidency in 2012, tells the conservative National Review that President Obama only pretends to be a “normal” American, but in reality is driven by his belief in “Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior.” Gingrich cites a recent article by conservative author Dinesh D’Souza (see September 12, 2010), calling D’Souza’s insight into Obama’s behavior “stunning… [the] most profound insight I have read in the last six years about Barack Obama.… What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]? That is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior.… This is a person who is fundamentally out of touch with how the world works, who happened to have played a wonderful con, as a result of which he is now president. I think he worked very hard at being a person who is normal, reasonable, moderate, bipartisan, transparent, accommodating—none of which was true.… In the Alinksy [Saul Alinsky, a liberal community organizer] tradition, he was being the person he needed to be in order to achieve the position he needed to achieve.… He was authentically dishonest.” The progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters calls Gingrich’s comments the latest in a long line of “not-so-subtle race baiting” by right-wing media figures. Gingrich is a frequent guest on Fox News. [Media Matters, 9/12/2010] White House press secretary Robert Gibbs accuses Gingrich of “trying to appeal to the fringe.” In response, Gingrich tells the Daily Caller that his own remarks “seemed to touch some kind of irrational nerve on the left.” [Washington Post, 9/16/2010] Days later, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson asks if Gingrich is “just pretending to have lost his mind, or has he actually gone around the bend?” Robinson answers his own question: “His lunacy certainly seems genuine enough. It’s one thing to be a rhetorical bomb-thrower, as Gingrich has long fancied himself, and another to lob damp squibs of pure nonsense into the fray. The man’s contributions to the public discourse have become increasingly unhinged.” Robinson calls Gingrich’s assertions about Obama’s supposed “Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior” “bizarre.” If Gingrich is indeed rational, Robinson continues, then he is probably attempting to promote the “birther” conspiracy theory that Obama is not a US citizen, but instead “foreign, exotic, alien, somehow not American.” Moreover, Gingrich is trying to promote a much larger conspiracy theory: “that American democracy—indeed, the whole Anglo-American-Judeo-Christian enterprise—is under attack in a titanic clash of civilizations. In this view, we are threatened most acutely by the Islamic civilization. But we must also be on guard against the ‘Sinic’ civilization of China, the ‘Hindu’ civilization of India, and assorted others. This analysis was developed by Samuel P. Huntington, a Harvard professor who died in 2008—and who said he never intended his work to be read as a battle plan. Gingrich seems to believe that our culture and values are also threatened from within—by black and brown people who demand that they, too, be given a voice in defining that culture and those values.” [Washington Post, 9/14/2010] Post media observer Howard Kurtz observes on Twitter that he is “amazed that Newt Gingrich said Obama has a Kenyan view of politics. Not exactly subtle.” [Media Matters, 9/13/2010] Many conservatives have long accused Obama of being un-American because of his Kenyan ancestry (see February 25, 2008, August 1, 2008 and After, October 8-10, 2008, June 29, 2009, and August 11, 2009).
Kathleen Parker, a conservative columnist who is highly critical of the Forbes article depicting President Obama as a ‘Kenyan sympathizer.’ [Source: Crooks and Liars]Forbes Magazine encounters a firestorm of criticism due to its publication of a cover story alleging President Obama is driven by “anti-colonial” sentiments garnered from his Kenyan father (see September 12, 2010). The story was written by Dinesh D’Souza, a prominent conservative author and pundit, and has been praised and reiterated by conservative politician Newt Gingrich (see September 12, 2010 and After).
White House: 'New Low' for Forbes - White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says of the article: “It’s a stunning thing, to see a publication you would see in a dentist’s office, so lacking in truth and fact. I think it represents a new low.” He asks, “Did they not fact-check this at all, or did they fact-check it and just willfully ignore it?” In response, the magazine releases a statement saying: “Dinesh D’Souza’s cover story was presented as an analysis of how the president thinks. No facts are in contention. Forbes stands by the story.” D’Souza says that his article is based on a “psychological theory,” but insists, “the idea that Obama has roots that are foreign is not an allegation, it’s a statement of fact.” Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz notes that Obama’s father abandoned his family when Obama was two years old, and Obama only saw his father once more after that. Gibbs says that D’Souza’s article is another illustration of the fact that there is “no limit to innuendo” against the president. Forbes, he says, “left the facts on the cutting-room floor.” [Washington Post, 9/16/2010]
Columbia Journalism Review: 'Singularly Disgusting' and 'Racist' - The Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) calls the D’Souza article “a fact-twisting, error-laden piece of paranoia” and “the worst kind of smear journalism—a singularly disgusting work.” Reviewer Ryan Chittum writes: “Forbes for some reason gives Dinesh D’Souza the cover and lots of space to froth about the notion popular in the right-wing fever swamps that Obama is an ‘other’; that he doesn’t think like ‘an American,’ that his actions benefit foreigners rather than Amurricans. It’s too kind to call this innuendo. It’s far too overt for that.… This is loathsome stuff. And, again, it’s the cover story of one of the three big mainstream financial magazines.” Chittum continues: “The veneer of respectability, if you can call it that, that D’Souza and Forbes put on this noxious near-McCarthyite junk is that Obama is an ‘anticolonialist.’ It’s thin gruel. And, hey—I’m an anticolonialist, too. And so were George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and the rest of the gang.” He concludes, “Forbes has shamed itself with this one.” [Columbia Journalism Review, 9/13/2010] D’Souza responds to the CJR review by accusing Chittum of being one of what he calls the “confirmed Obamorons, who are only satisfied with hosannas and genuflections before the Anoin[t]ed One.” Chittum responds with a more detailed dissection of the lies, errors, and misinformation in the article, and concludes: “D’Souza denies in his blog post that the piece is racist, but of course it is. Indeed, it’s racist at its rotten core. That’s the whole point. You can’t write stuff like ‘Incredibly, the US is being ruled according to the dreams of a Luo tribesman of the 1950s,’ and credibly assert that it’s not racist.… That Forbes gave the cover of its mainstream magazine to this piece will be a black mark on its reputation for a long, long time.” [Columbia Journalism Review, 9/16/2010]
Washington Post Columnist: 'Big Gob of Gibberish' - Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson calls D’Souza’s article “a big gob of gibberish,” reading like something written by “one of those conspiracy theorists who believe the CIA is controlling our brain waves.” The article “makes assertion after assertion that is plainly, demonstrably unsupported,” he continues. [Washington Post, 9/14/2010]
Post Columnist: 'There's Nothing Here of Any Benefit' - Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker says that D’Souza has “jump[ed] the shark” with his article, and asks sarcastically: “What’s next? Obama is an extraterrestrial pod deposited on Planet Earth to occupy a human shell and get elected leader of the free world so that he can lull the population into complacent dependency in advance of a full invasion of body snatchers?” She labels the article a “Republican revenge fantasy” and concludes: “It’s time to move on, gentlemen. There’s nothing here of any benefit, whatsoever.” [Washington Post, 9/15/2010]
Media Matters: 'Completely Ridiculous' - The progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters calls D’Souza’s arguments “completely ridiculous… an impressive combination of factual distortions and twisted logic.” [Media Matters, 9/12/2010] Author Eric Boehlert, a Media Matters contributor, asks if Forbes believes so strongly in the story as to give it the cover, why won’t the magazine defend it? He writes: “I think the Obama cover story has done extraordinary damage to the Forbes brand. But I’d actually respect the magazine if someone—anyone—on staff in a position of power had the courage to come forward and be held accountable for, or even try to argue on behalf of, the D’Souza train wreck.” [Media Matters, 9/16/2010]
Entity Tags: Howard Kurtz, Eric Boehlert, Barack Obama, Dinesh D’Souza, Forbes magazine, Eugene Robinson, Ryan Chittum, Kathleen Parker, Media Matters, Columbia Journalism Review, Robert Gibbs, Newt Gingrich
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Forbes Magazine, after weathering weeks of intense criticism for its recent cover story by conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza alleging that President Obama is driven by “Kenyan anticolonialism” (see September 12, 2010 and September 12, 2010 and After), agrees to an unusual post-publication fact-checking process to see if, as many have alleged, many of D’Souza’s allegations are erroneous (see September 16, 2010). The agreement was reached after Forbes’s Washington bureau chief met with White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, though Forbes spokeswoman Monie Begley says the decision to fact-check the article was made because of the “general clamor in the news media” and not because of White House pressure. [New York Times, 9/24/2010] During the meeting, Gibbs asked the bureau chief if the magazine bothered to fact-check D’Souza’s article. [Media Matters, 9/25/2010] Forbes has already issued one minor correction to the article on its Web site, noting that D’Souza had “slightly misquoted” President Obama in a speech he’d made about the Gulf oil spill; D’Souza claimed that Obama did not focus on “cleanup strategies,” but Forbes now acknowledges that “Obama’s speech did discuss concrete measures to investigate the oil spill and bring it under control.” D’Souza’s article was drawn from an upcoming book, The Roots of Obama’s Rage, to be published by conservative publishing house Regnery on October 4; Regnery publicist Kathleen Sweetapple says in a statement, “[T]here are a couple of minor errors that are completely inconsequential; what the critics are fuming about are not factual errors but disagreements of interpretation.” Forbes staffers contact the Export-Import Bank to check D’Souza’s claim that the Obama administration had directly supported the bank’s decision to lend $2 billion to Petrobras, Brazil’s state-owned oil company, for offshore drilling. D’Souza wrote that Obama supported the deal “not so oil ends up in the US. He is funding Brazilian exploration so that the oil can stay in Brazil.” Observers have noted that Obama had no say in the bank’s decision, and all five of the bank’s board of directors are Bush-era appointees. As part of the bank’s response, senior vice president Kevin Varney posts a comment on D’Souza’s blog highly critical of the author’s decision not to contact the bank before publishing the article. “I received a call yesterday from Nathan Verdi, a fact checker at Forbes, who was calling to fact check your article after it was published,” Varney writes. ”(Is this how journalism works now?)” Varney tells a New York Times reporter that the Petrobras loan “was begun in 2008 with career staffers and approved in 2009 by five Bush-appointed board members.” Deals such as this one, Varney continues, do not usually rise to the level of presidential awareness. For D’Souza to cite the deal as evidence of “an anticolonial, Kenyan ideology” on Obama’s part is “preposterous, it’s false, and it’s wrong.” [New York Times, 9/24/2010]
Entity Tags: Monie Begley, Export-Import Bank, Dinesh D’Souza, Barack Obama, Forbes magazine, Kevin Varney, Petrobras, Robert Gibbs, Nathan Verdi, Kathleen Sweetapple, Regnery Publishing
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Jonathan Martin and John F. Harris, writing for the online news outlet Politico, say that President Obama’s decision to present his “long form” birth certificate as proof of his US citizenship (see April 27, 2011) is a “decisive new turn in the centuries-long American history of political accusation and innuendo. By directly and coolly engaging a debate with his most fevered critics, Obama offered the most unmistakable validation ever to the idea that we are living in an era of public life with no referee—and no common understandings between fair and unfair, between relevant and trivial, or even between facts and fantasy.” The authors note that presidents have been pursued by “[l]urid conspiracy theories” for centuries. However, until now, those presidents have “benefited from a widespread consensus that some types of personal allegations had no place in public debate unless or until they received some imprimatur of legitimacy—from an official investigation, for instance, or from a detailed report by a major news organization.” That is no longer the case, they say (see April 27, 2011). Former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs says: “There are no more arbiters of truth. So whatever you can prove factually, somebody else can find something else and point to it with enough ferocity to get people to believe it. We’ve crossed some Rubicon into the unknown.” The writers note their difficulty in envisioning former President Clinton “coming out to the White House briefing room to present evidence showing why people who thought he helped plot the murder of aide Vincent Foster—never mind official rulings of suicide—were wrong” (see April 27, 2011), or former President George W. Bush giving a press conference denying allegations that “he knew about the Sept. 11 attacks ahead of time and chose to let them happen.” Obama’s choice to release the documentation and even to make a personal appearance to announce it are a powerful indication that the political dynamic has changed. Obama advisers explain that he made the decision to do so “because of the radical reordering of the political-media universe over the past 15 years, or so. The decline of traditional media and the rise of viral emails and partisan Web and cable TV platforms has meant the near-collapse of common facts, believed across the political spectrum.” Debunking the myth of Obama’s “foreign birth” means nothing to a large percentage of Americans who still remain unconvinced, or firmly believe the myth, the authors write. After trying to ignore it and mock it into irrelevance, they write, Obama “finally gave in and affirmed a new truth of politics in the Internet era: Nothing can be dismissed and anything that poses a political threat must be confronted directly.” White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer says: “We’re dealing with a lot of the same things Clinton and frankly Bush dealt with, but we’re dealing with them at 1,000 times the speed and with fewer referees. That is the downside of the disaggregation of the media. If you don’t want to believe what someone is telling you, you can go somewhere else. If you believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that the president is not American, you can go somewhere to find somebody to validate that.” Another Obama adviser, who remains anonymous, adds: “Clinton never had to deal with a fully formed Internet. [Conservative Web gossip Matt] Drudge’s power was born out of the revelations of 1998. A fully automated cable TV universe with the Internet is something that [Clinton] never had to deal with.” Clinton’s press secretary Joe Lockhart says: “You’ve lost the ability to starve a story to death. So what you have to do is raise the price of those who are making the charges. If Donald Trump is out there saying this, you’ve got to make him pay a price for throwing a bomb before too much collateral damage is done.… You literally can’t laugh anything off. There’s nothing neutral in politics. It’s either helping you or hurting you. You’ve got to make sure it’s helping you or you’re going to lose.” The authors note that politicians are learning to use this phenomenon to their own advantage. While Washington Republicans often bemoan the ascendancy of “fringe” pundits like Fox News’s Glenn Beck, the authors write, “they relish the way Beck and ideological confederates excite the GOP base, a contributing factor in the party’s strong performance in 2010.” The authors also point to Democrats’ willingness to allow “liberal commentators” to push for the truth behind George W. Bush’s Vietnam-era service in the National Guard. The authors claim that the Obama team “enjoys giving the stage to the GOP’s most divisive voices,” noting that Gibbs and former White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel often called conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh “the de facto leader of the Republican Party.” Obama, and his successors, will have to do things previous presidents have never considered, from appearing on less “serious” talk shows such as those hosted by Oprah Winfrey and David Letterman, or making appearances on networks such as the sports broadcaster ESPN. “It’s hard to see a president doing those things 10 or 20 years ago, but it’s become almost a requirement now,” Gibbs says. It is hard to know where to draw the line, Gibbs continues. “Does it become incumbent to prove everything wrong? You have to be very careful to not fall into that trap because you’ll spend all of your time and energy chasing your own tail.” Pfeiffer says most open-minded Americans will take the “long form” certificate as the evidence required to settle the issue: “There will be some segment of the population who will believe what they’re going to believe, regardless of anything else. But for the majority of the country, we have the capacity to correct the record and convince people of the truth. It’s not as easy as it used to be, but it’s possible.” Pfeiffer notes the “huge amount of time and energy” spent on dealing with the “birther” issue, time better spent, he says, on issues confronting the country. Former Bush administration political adviser Karl Rove says the Obama administration has attempted to use the “birther” controversy against Republicans: “The president himself has hoped Republicans would continue to talk about it, thereby damaging their own credibility. It was a useful diversion (see April 27, 2011). But take a look at recent polls. The problem was the view was taking hold among independents. He got worried it was about to spin out of control” (see April 27, 2011). Rove says Obama was attempting to “play rope-a-dope with Republicans,” a charge Pfeiffer denies (see April 28, 2011). “Up until a month ago, nobody really asked for the long form. It was fringe. It was a settled issue for 99 percent of the country.” Former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer says: “It’s a terrible problem for the body politic. People like me who have been or are in the arena have an obligation to speak out against people in both parties who push untruths” (see January 25, 2001, January 25-27, 2001, and April 18, 2001). “The political discourse is much worse now, but that’s not always to the detriment of the so-called victim. In this case, President Obama came out looking better.” Lockhart agrees, saying: “Look at the rogue’s gallery of Clinton accusers. Most of them blew themselves up.” Lockhart acknowledges that for some, the issue will never be settled (see April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 28, 2011, and April 29, 2011). “They’ll probably ask for the first diaper. They’ll want to see the DNA.” [Politico, 4/28/2011]
Entity Tags: Joe Lockhart, Donald Trump, Dan Pfeiffer, Barack Obama, Ari Fleischer, Glenn Beck, Vince Foster, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Robert Gibbs, John F. Harris, George W. Bush, Karl C. Rove, Matt Drudge, Rahm Emanuel, Rush Limbaugh, Jonathan Martin
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
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