White House Takes Health Care Fight to the Web

So much of the campaign played out online, it’s only fitting that the biggest battle President Obama has fought to date should take center stage on the Web

Responding to what the administration sees as distortions and scare tactics aimed at derailing President Obama’s plan for health care reform, the White House new media machine kicked into high gear, today releasing a blog and a companion video to combat the misinformation.

In a post entitled, “Facts are stubborn things,” White House New Media Director Macon Phillips wrote: “Scary chain emails and videos are starting to percolate on the Internet, breathlessly claiming, for example, to ‘uncover’ the truth about the President’s health insurance reform positions.”

Embedded in Phillips’ post is a video featuring Linda Douglass, the communications director at the White House Office of Health Reform, trying debunk a clip that appeared on the influential conservative blog and aggregator Drudge Report, which featured a link to a video under the headline, “Uncovered Video: Obama Explains How His Health Care Plan Will ‘Eliminate’ Private Insurance … .'”

“Nothing could be farther from the truth,” Douglass said. “What happens is that because he’s talking to the American people so much, there are people out there with a computer and a lot of free time, and they 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.”

The Drudge Report linked to the site Breitbart.tv, which hosts the video purporting “evidence that Obama and the Dems health care goal is a government option that will ultimately eliminate private insurance.”

The White House took issue with the video for its creative editing. It opens with Obama speaking at the American Medical Association in June, and quickly cuts to remarks he made at a forum on health care in March of 2007.

“I don’t think we’re going to be able to eliminate employer coverage immediately. There’s going to be potentially some transition process,” Obama said in the clip. “I can envision a decade out or 15 years out or 20 years out.” The video then cuts abruptly to a clip from 2003, when Obama was speaking at an AFL-CIO event, voicing his support of a single-payer health care plan.

The nonprofit group MediaMatters.org (hardly an impartial observer — the group dedicates itself to “monitoring, analyzing, and correcting conservative misinformation in the U.S. media”) has filled in some of the blanks, noting that Obama went on to say that he wasn’t looking to phase out private health care, but that he looked forward to a “much more portable system.”

In the White House video, Douglass took issue with stories and videos like the one that surfaced on Drudge, which she said had a habit of “taking sentences and phrases out of context and cobbling them together to leave a very false impression.”

The White House video includes clips from public remarks Obama has made recently seeking to clarify his vision for the role the public option would play in health care reform.

Leaving aside the finer points of the health care policy debate, the fact that the White House felt the need to strike back against what it views as misinformation is reminiscent of the campaign, when then-candidate Obama was seeking to dispel popular myths such as the one that claimed he was a Muslim or that he refused to place his hand on the Bible when taking the oath of office for his Senate seat.

Obama’s response was FightTheSmears.com, a site the campaign set up to aggregate and dispute rumors about him.

The administration is doing something similar with the health care debate, asking Americans to drop a note to [email protected] if they “get an e-mail or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy.”

“There is a lot of disinformation about health insurance reform out there, spanning from control of personal finances to end of life care,” Phillips wrote in the White House blog. “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.”

The video hosted on the White House Web site is also available on YouTube, though it’s not exactly a viral sensation yet. As of this writing, the clip had been viewed just 329 times.

The “uncovered video” hosted by Breitbart and submitted by the conservative site NakedEmperorNews.com, by contrast, had been viewed more than 409,000 times on YouTube.

News Around the Web