White House Uses Twitter to Bully Critics

COMMENTARY Political Process

White House Uses Twitter to Bully Critics

Jul 6th, 2011 2 min read
Robert B. Bluey

Vice President, Communications

Rob Bluey is vice president for communications and the executive editor for The Daily Signal.

President Obama’s director of progressive media is obsessed with one particular conservative provocateur. Jesse Lee’s duties at the White House include “online response” — and there has been no shortage of responses to one person who routinely communicates with him on Twitter.

Of the 267 tweets written by Lee in just over a month, a stunning 40 of them have been directed at Kevin Eder, a prolific Twitter user with more than 83,000 tweets to his credit. That means 15 percent of Lee’s tweets — from an official House account no less — have been with Eder.

One such example happened last week in a dispute over the budget.

Eder posted this tweet: “Hmm…it can’t be true that @SenateDems haven’t passed a budget in 790 days and the only plan Obama has is a speech. Right, @jesseclee44?”

To which Lee responded: “@keder @SenateDems Plan is keep negotiating w/ Rs & Ds, not default & trash economy, not voucherize Medicare to fund more tax cuts for rich.”

Lee’s obsession has impressed Eder, even if he’s a bit baffled by the White House’s decision to engage with him so aggressively.

“I like going back and forth with him,” Eder said of Lee. “But if you engage your fiercest critics on new media, you’re doing two things: On the one hand, you’re showing that you take their opinion seriously. That’s good for the non-influencer public to watch what’s happening. But on the other hand, the White House is legitimizing me. And quite literally, I’m a nobody.”

Lee, who is paid $72,500, didn’t respond to a phone call, email message or tweet to talk about his job and this new direction for the White House. Prior to his appointment in May, the White House didn’t have such a position. Neither did any previous administration for that matter.

Before joining the Obama transition team and then the White House in 2009, Lee worked for the Democratic National Committee, former Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (under the direction of Rahm Emanuel).

His new job coincides with the more aggressive tone adopted in recent months by the White House, highlighted by Obama’s own press conference last week. Targets include journalists, conservatives and, most recently, the global management consulting firm McKinsey & Co.

The Heritage Foundation was on the receiving end last week from both Lee and White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer, both of whom maintain official White House accounts on Twitter that are subject to archival under the Presidential Records Act.

The pattern of Lee’s behavior — and the aggressive nature of the White House communications office — hasn’t gone unnoticed by the press.

Veteran reporter Keith Koffler, who writes for White House Dossier, noted recently the “Obama White House has long practiced the tactic of bullying reporters who write stories it doesn’t like.” When Lee first got the job in May, Koffler predicted it would “formalize the strategy and signals that such behavior is likely to escalate as the campaign begins.”

And that’s exactly what has happened. Over the past three months, there has been a high-profile incident involving the White House and journalists on at least three occasions.

• In April, White House officials threatened to exclude The San Francisco Chronicle from press pool coverage of events in the Bay Area after the paper’s senior political reporter, Carla Marinucci, allegedly violated White House rules at an event with Obama. Marinucci filmed protesters heckling Obama, prompting the White House complaint.

• In May, the White House denied The Boston Herald full access to an Obama event in Boston because it had previously run a front-page op-ed by former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA). “I think that raises a fair question about whether the paper is unbiased in its coverage of the President’s visits,” said White House spokesman Matt Lehrich.

• And just last week, White House press secretary Jay Carney called MSNBC to complain about Time senior political analyst Mark Halperin’s unsavory description of Obama. The network swiftly suspended Halperin indefinitely.

Rob Bluey is a director of the Center for Media and Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation.

First appeared in The Daily Caller