Trying to Set the Record Straight About Efforts to Try and Set the Record Straight

Earlier this week, in an attempt to rebut all the lies and misinformation being spread about health care reform, the White House asked people to send them examples of the sorts of things they are seeing so that the administration could help set the record straight:

There is a lot of disinformation about health insurance reform out there, spanning from control of personal finances to end of life care. These rumors often travel just below the surface via chain emails or through casual conversation. Since we can’t keep track of all of them here at the White House, we’re asking for your help. If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to flag@whitehouse.gov.

Now, that seems pretty simple and self-explanatory, but as Steve Benen noted, nothing is simple when dealing with the Right because it is impossible "to anticipate just how paranoid some people will choose to be":

This hardly seemed controversial. There's an aggressive campaign underway to mislead Americans, and the White House wants to help set the record straight. If some especially pernicious lies are making the rounds, folks can let the White House know directly, so officials can get the truth out.

Except, that's not how the right sees it. RedState interpreted this to mean "the White House wants you to report ... anybody publicly opposing" health care reform. Soon after, Rush Limbaugh had embraced the same line, and Malkin wasn't far behind. Naturally, Drudge joined the fun.

By late yesterday, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) was asserting that the White House wants Americans to report on each other. Today, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) appears to have completely lost his mind.

Cornyn says this practice would let the White House collect personal information about people who oppose the President.

"By requesting citizens send 'fishy' emails to the White House, it is inevitable that the names, email, addresses, IP addresses and private speech of U.S. citizens will be reported to the White House," Cornyn wrote in a letter to Obama. "You should not be surprised that these actions taken by your White House staff raise the specter of a data collection program."

Cornyn asked Obama to cease the program immediately, or at the very least explain what the White House would do with the information it collects.

This is what politics in America in the 21st century has come to

Today, Tony Perkins released a video statement about this White House effort, suggesting that it was part of a plot "to intimidate and if possible silence their opponents":

The White House apparently subscribes to Vince Lombardi’s idea that the best defense is a good offense. The widespread opposition to the Presidents proposed takeover of health care has apparently blind sided the administration and is causing panic over the prospects the whole plan could be sacked by the American public.

As a result the White House is striking back. Macon Phillips on the White House blog wrote, “Scary chain emails and videos are starting to percolate on the internet.” he goes on to say that “since we cant keep track of all of them here at the White House, we’re asking for your help.” Phillips goes on to ask individuals to send the White House any email or health care message on the web that seems fishy.

Fishy? If there is anything fishy it is the White House wanting people to help them keep track of those who oppose the government takeover of health care. Is the White House is simply wanting to keep a scrapbook of the emails that primarily quote the President and the legislation that he is pushing, or is it possible they are simply looking to use this information to intimidate and if possible silence their opponents?

In essence, a White House effort to try and clarify right-wing misinformation and lies about health care reform has now itself become the subject of a right-wing misinformation campaign.

UPDATE: The ACLJ has now issued its own statement demanding that President Obama repudiate this "attempt to stifle the free speech of Americans" and "intimidate" conservatives:

The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), focusing on constitutional law, today called on President Obama to repudiate comments made by his Director of New Media – comments that call on Americans to report those who make “fishy” statements about health care. The ACLJ asserts that the official White House release is an attack on free speech and designed to stifle public debate about the health care issue – including growing concerns from Americans opposed to making abortion services mandatory health benefits.

“This is a very troubling attempt to stifle the free speech of Americans who have the constitutional right to express their opinion and concerns about health care,” said Jay Sekulow, Chief Counsel of the ACLJ. “This move is an attempt to intimidate those who have legitimate concerns about the health care plan. And, worse, it turns the White House into some sort of self-appointed ‘speech police’ – urging Americans to monitor and report those who engage in ‘fishy’ speech. What will the Obama Administration do with those names? Who will be ‘flagged’ next? President Obama must reject this assault on free speech. It’s not only wrong, it directly contradicts his repeated promise to conduct a more open and transparent government.”

...

“In a nutshell, the White House is asking Americans to report on their neighbors, family, and friends who disagree with the President’s policy choices on health care,” said Sekulow. “The White House is also implying that you should think twice before sending an email disagreeing with the President, since it might end up being forwarded to them. The White House email address says it all – let’s ‘flag’ those who disagree with us. This new White House reporting program strikes at the heart of the First Amendment and has no place in this important debate about health care.”