Okay, folks. I know I’m slacking off, but my new J-O-B (imagine that, a job created!) has made it extremely difficult to put entire pieces of writing together during the day. Therefore, the majority of the material needs to be done at night for now, when time for America’s Right is being split with time for an enormously time-consuming project that could actually–no hyperbole here–make a slight but still tangible difference in the 2012 election should it come to fruition, and should I actually get it done right.
In this case, it’s a story that’s already two days old. It centers around a congressional report released on Monday by California Republican Congressman Darrell Issa, ranking member on the House Oversight Committee, detailing the Obama administration’s improper–and likely illegal–use of taxpayer funds for various public relations and propaganda initiatives meant to force the administration’s agenda onto the American people. Here’s an excerpt from the executive summary:
Since the beginning of the Obama Administration on January 20, 2009, ordinary Americans have financed and been exposed to an unprecedented number of public relations and propaganda efforts. Federal spending for public relations contracts rose to historically-high levels during the Bush Administration. Under one-party rule in 2009, the White House used the machinery of the Obama campaign to tout the President’s agenda through inappropriate and sometimes unlawful public relations and propaganda initiatives. Congress buoyed the Administration’s propaganda efforts by increasing federal spending on public relations for the first time since 2005.
The Obama Administration frequently used federal resources to promote the President’s agenda. In many cases, the Administration relied on the reach and resources of federal agencies and their personnel to promote certain of the President’s favorite programs. The White House also leveraged ties to the arts and entertainment community to embed propaganda in the content of television programming and artwork. These propaganda efforts violated appropriations riders and federal law prohibiting the use of appropriated funds for publicity or propaganda purposes.
Some of you may have seen it before. HotAir was on it right away, for example, putting together a fantastic synopsis early on Monday while I was at work, drafting complaints and proposed orders and answering phones and fetching coffee. (Some people get to have all the fun.) Nevertheless, I thought it was extremely important to include here as well. It’s long, for sure, but it can be found in PDF form HERE and at thirty-someodd pages is definitely worth the read.
Despite the time crunch and the work I did into the wee hours on Monday night on my still undisclosed project, I did manage to read through the report yesterday evening after work–I’ll never assign reading that I haven’t done myself–and can say that the contents of Issa’s work are as useful as they are explosive. Some choice excerpts:
Instead of facilitating openness, the public relations and propaganda activities of the White House have had precisely the opposite effect. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has historically deemed activities involving “covert propaganda” to be unlawful. In those cases, the source of the public relations or propaganda materials did not disclose his or her identity as a federal employee or contractor. Many of the Obama Administration’s propaganda activities are unlawful because they are covert. Furthermore, several programs closely resemble those decried by Democrats and ruled unlawful by GAO during the Bush Administration.
The worst abuse of propaganda is directly connected to the White House. BarackObama.com, run by the Democratic National Committee, has been featured during the president’s speeches. It has been used by the administration and the DNC as a mechanism to lobby Congress, again apparently illegally, and to use the president’s high profile to solicit funds for the DNC as part of what has been mocked by some as the president’s “permanent campaign.” Additional efforts by First Lady Michelle Obama, detailed in the report’s reporting on the “iParticipate” initiative, find that the administration skirted the Hatch Act and and federal anti-lobbying laws by using Mrs. Obama to support the presidents social and health care agendas with $240 million worth of free advertising.
My favorite part, highlighted by the folks at HotAir, is this:
In October 2008, the Justice Department’s Office of Public Affairs (OPA) added Tracy Russo to direct the Department’s “new media efforts.” Russo, the Chief Blogger and Deputy Director of Online Communications for the John Edwards for President Campaign,58 was given the title “New Media Specialist.”59 Since October, Russo has served as the author of the Justice Department’s official blog.60
Shortly after Russo was hired, reports surfaced that indicated she was covertly attempting to shape public opinion by searching online for articles, blogs or other entries critical of the Administration and then anonymously, or through the use of a pseudonym, posting comments to those sites attacking the author or contents.61
The blogging and campaign communities refer to this propaganda tactic as “astroturfing.”62 Astroturfing is the action of using fake and anonymous postings on message boards and blogs to push a point of view or to create the appearance of grassroots support for a particular agenda.63
HotAir’s Ed Morrissey–who I may actually get the chance to meet at a blogger conference in Washington, D.C. next month–hit the nail on the head by calling it a “ridiculous exercise.” First of all, I could very easily trash obvious “astroturf” and effectively flush down the toilet a purported hard day’s work for Tracy Russo. (As it stands, though, I trash very few comments, and even then usually only those which are over-the-top obscene or, even more rarely, those which are obviously posted solely for the purpose of unnecessarily stirring up trouble. In fact, I think I probably reject more comments from right-leaning folks than left-leaners.) That the administration is earmarking your money and my money to officially pay someone to post stupid stuff under a fake name at sites like America’s Right should be enough to boggle the mind.
Then again, though, Barack Obama famously told his supporters to “get in the face” of detractors, so we shouldn’t be surprised that this president has created a Trolling Czar. Trolling … it’s like the online equivalent of getting roughed up by an SEIU thug at a town hall meeting.
As for my two cents on the entire report, for what it’s worth: I have no problem whatsoever with a president of the United States selling his worldview, perspective and policies to Congress and to the American people. That’s just fine and, frankly, is more than expected. In fact, the separation of powers inherent in the Constitution almost guarantees that a president will need to take certain limited PR-related steps — the problem, however, is when the campaign never ends, and public money has taken the place of voluntary campaign donations.
This president has never stopped being in campaign mode. He bashes Republicans constantly, sleighting the other side more than I’ve seen any president do in recent memory. And can you blame him? Campaigning has been the only thing he’s been successful at. Nevertheless, publicly funded politicking is wrong no matter who does it.
Of course, I highly doubt that Congress will make anything of Issa’s report. At least not this Congress. Issa, however, has more than proven himself to be an investigative thorn in this administration’s side, and for the sake of the nation I hope he continues his work.