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White House rebuts Drudge Report link

In a campaign-style video, a spokeswoman points to a link about healthcare and discounts it, saying 'The people who always try to scare people... are at it again.'

August 05, 2009|Peter Nicholas

WASHINGTON — In another display of adapting campaign tactics to governing, the White House posted a video on its official website Tuesday to rebut accusations that President Obama's healthcare proposals would do away with private health insurance.

The video shows White House spokeswoman Linda Douglass sitting in front of a computer monitor displaying the Drudge Report website.

Douglass points to a link featured by Drudge and proceeds to discount it, assuring viewers that patients who are satisfied with their private health coverage would be able to keep it.

Looking into the camera, Douglass says: "The people who always try to scare people whenever you try to bring them health insurance reform are at it again. And they're taking sentences and phrases out of context and cobbling them together to leave a very false impression."

It's unusual for the White House to give such prominence to a conservative-leaning website -- one Democrats often deride. But in the battle to pass a healthcare bill, the administration has concluded that accusations cannot go unanswered and that campaign-style tools and technology are needed to prevail. The Obama political operation has enlisted its array of campaign supporters to press the president's policy goals.

Introducing herself in the three-minute video, Douglass says part of her job is to "keep track of all the disinformation that's out there about health insurance reform." Because the president has talked so much about healthcare, Douglass says, he is at risk of having his words distorted by people with "a computer and a lot of free time" who might "take a phrase here and there, they simply cherry pick and put it together and make it sound like he's saying something that he didn't really say."

Asked about the video, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters Tuesday that it was a necessary step.

"There's a tremendous amount of misinformation floating around on healthcare," Gibbs said. "We thought it was important to make sure that we answer the misinformation."

Veterans of the previous administration on Tuesday were divided over the move.

Dana Perino, press secretary for President George W. Bush, said in an e-mail that it would be more common for a national political party to air such a video rather than the White House proper. That said, Perino acknowledged that "new technologies have provided all sorts of new ways to communicate, and there's no rule book anymore."

Scott McClellan, another Bush press secretary who later broke with the administration, wrote in an e-mail: "The Obama team cannot afford to let such charges go unanswered when they are given such prominent play on a prominent conservative website and then, in this day and age, spread around the Internet with the click of a keypad. By posting the video response, the White House arms its countless Web-savvy supporters so they can flood the Internet with it."

One person who seemed happy with all the fuss was the creator of the website, Matt Drudge.

His site carried a link headlined: "West Wing Web Attack Against Drudge."

--

peter.nicholas@latimes.com

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