Today’s White House press briefing contained a bit of dramedy that should serve as a model for how to treat the pseudo-journalists from Fox News.
Fox’s Major Garrett was concerned about people who claim that they have received emails from presidential advisor David Axelrod despite never having signed up for any communications from the White House. Garret prefaced his question by conflating the communications activities of the White House with those of Organizing for America or other campaign operations.
Press secretary Robert Gibbs responded that the White House does not coordinate with outside political groups. Garret persisted in inquiring as to why people who have never requested these emails should be receiving them. Gibbs told him that he could not speculate as to the source of the emails and that he would be happy to check to see if the recipients were on the White House list. Here is where Garrett went off the rails. In a fit of disbelief he pressed Gibbs:
Garrett: “I need to give you these peoples’ email so you can check them on a list?”
Garrett was clearly implying that this was some sort of scam to harvest more names for White House propaganda. Gibbs responded that he couldn’t possibly know if these people received email from the White House if he didn’t know who to look for on their list. Indeed, how could Gibbs know the origin of the emails without seeing the email? These emails could very well have been received originally by people who did sign up for them and then forwarded them to their friends and family. The secondary recipients may be the people who contacted Garrett. How could Gibbs know?
Garrett somehow takes this as a personal affront and insists that he has received emails with this complaint. He implies that Gibbs is calling him a liar. Of course Gibbs never disputed that Garret received complaints, it’s just that he still has no idea where the emails came from and is only trying explain to this to Garrett (who, by the way, also has no idea where the emails came from).
Undaunted, Garrett continues to pester Gibbs even though he cannot provide any additional substance. And he seems not to have even the most rudimentary understanding of email and how it can be forwarded. So when Garret winds up for his next pitch, Gibbs lets him have it:
Gibbs: Let me go someplace else that might be constructive.
That’s telling him. And that response would work exceedingly well for ANY encounter with Fox News. During much of this exchange, Garrett had a look of utter surprise on his face. He seemed to be shocked that Gibbs was not clairvoyant. And he also seemed to be dismayed at what he perceived as a dismissive tone from Gibbs. But anyone listening to this dialogue would agree that Gibbs would be justified in being dismissive.
Garrett, like the rest of the Fox News cabal, is overtly partisan. Most people believe that the obvious right-wing bias at Fox is limited to the primetime shouters like Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and daytime’s Glenn Beck. But Garrett is the author of “The Enduring Revolution: The Inside Story of the Republican Ascendancy and Why It Will Continue.” That book was published in 2005. Its obvious partisanship is matched only by how monumentally wrong is its premise.
Look for Garrett to file a report that disparages Gibbs and accuses him of both avoiding the question and snubbing the questioner. Garrett’s pals at Fox News will probably also jump on this as an opportunity to whack the White House. But I would advise the President, and anyone contemplating an encounter with Fox News, to heed the advice of Robert Gibbs and “go someplace else that might be constructive.”
Update: For reference, the Axelrod email actually requests that it be forwarded:
“So let’s start a chain email of our own. At the end of my email, you’ll find a lot of information about health insurance reform, distilled into 8 ways reform provides security and stability to those with or without coverage, 8 common myths about reform and 8 reasons we need health insurance reform now.”
“Right now, someone you know probably has a question about reform that could be answered by what’s below. So what are you waiting for? Forward this email.”
The subject line for the email is: “Something worth forwarding.”
Follow up report posted 8/14/09: Garrett was on Fox News this morning to prove that he still doesn’t get it. He doesn’t understand that anyone can forward emails to anyone else. People can also go online and enter someone else’s email address into an email request form. Many sites, including the White House and Fox News (click to view), have a “share this” feature where people put in email addresses of their friends and family. Garrett needs to get former Sen. Ted Stevens to explain the series of tubes to him.