On Thursday the White House initiated a “chain email” under the name of David Axelrod. The email included a “Health Insurance Reform Reality Check” and a list of “8 common myths about health insurance reform.” Remember, children, we’re talking about “health insurance reform” now, not “health care reform.” Subtle.
We receved a message that morning from a recipient of Axelrod’s email. He forwarded Axelrod’s message (from [email protected]). He said he had never written the White House or solicited email updates from it.
FOX News White House correspondent Major Garrett must have received the same or similar messages. He addressed a series of questions to Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs at Thursday’s press briefing about Axelrod’s email. First Garrett asked about the substance of Axelrod’s message:
Q Robert, a couple things on public option. It wasn’t listed in the e-mail that David Axelrod sent out today where he was defining principal goals for health care reform. By my reading of it, I didn’t see any mention of a public option as a mechanism of achieving what you just outlined. Was that an oversight or is this — are there other —
MR. GIBBS: I’d have to go back and reread the e-mail.
Q Are there other priorities that take a higher precedent —
MR. GIBBS: Well, again —
Q — for the President than a public option?
MR. GIBBS: Let me be clear — I thought I was a minute ago, but I’ll take another whack at it — this is an option that provides choice and competition in an otherwise narrow or closed insurance market. That’s the President’s goal, is to ensure that if you didn’t get your health insurance through your employer, you didn’t have those type of options, that you would have something that might compete with the only game in town. That’s — I think that’s in David’s e-mail, choice and competition.
Well, thanks for clearing that up. Garrett then asked Gibbs about the report that Axelrod’s email had been sent to recipients who had not previously written the White House or solicited White House email updates:
Q Speaking of the e-mail, how was the list for who would receive it determined?
MR. GIBBS: I believe it’s for people that have signed up to receive e-mail updates from the White House.
Q The reason I ask is I have received e-mails from people who did not, in any way, shape, or form, seek any communication from the White House, who have never registered on OFA, who have never registered on a campaign Web site —
MR. GIBBS: Well, hold on, let’s —
Q Let me finish my question, let me finish my question.
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, but let’s be clear, because —
Q Let me finish my question.
MR. GIBBS: No, no, no, but let’s be clear before you — I’m going to give you a chance to finish your question. You’ve done this a couple of times, Major, and I just want to be very clear, okay. OFA — no, no, no, no, don’t look funny. OFA, whether Obama for America or Organizing for America has nothing to do with, never has had anything to do with what — if you sign up for, through whitehouse.gov, to receive e-mails, so let’s just — the reason I interrupted you is because I want you to rephrase your question that doesn’t continue to assume that —
Q Well, all I’m trying to get at is —
MR. GIBBS: — somebody is violating the law and mixing up political —
Q — I receive e-mails from people who have never, ever signed up for anything related to this White House, Senator Obama as a candidate, Senator Obama as anything, and have received e-mails from David Axelrod. How could that be?
MR. GIBBS: I’d have to look at who you said got the e-mail.
Q I mean, do you seek other pieces of information identifying who might be curious about health care outside of people who have asked for e-mails?
MR. GIBBS: I’m sorry, say that again.
Q Do you in any way seek databases or information about people who might be interested in health care?
MR. GIBBS: I will certainly check. I will certainly check. I am not under that impression. But again —
Q I mean, folks have emailed me — I just want to know — would like to know how they get an e-mail from the White House when they have never asked for one.
MR. GIBBS: I’d be interested to see who you got that e-mail from and whether or not they’re on the list. I don’t —
Q May I follow up politely on one of Major Garrett’s —
MR. GIBBS: Well, let me — let me finish needling Major.
Q — this row, please.
MR. GIBBS: Again, I just want to be — but I just want to be very —
Q So what you’re telling me is I need to give you these people’s e-mails so you can check them on a list? I’m just asking.
MR. GIBBS: Well, you’re asking me if they’re on a list.
Q No, they’re telling me —
MR. GIBBS: If you can figure out a different way of checking without asking me to double-check the name, I’m happy to —
Q Perhaps I’m not phrasing this correctly. They’re telling me they’re not — they can’t be on a list because they never asked for an e-mail from the White House.
MR. GIBBS: Right, but what I’m saying is I don’t — I’d have to look and see —
Q So there’s no — you don’t have an explanation for how someone who never signed up and never asked for anything from the White House would get an e-mail from David Axelrod?
MR. GIBBS: Well, I hesitate to give you an answer, because you might impugn the motives of the answer.
Q Why would you say that?
MR. GIBBS: Because of the way you phrased your follow-up. I’d have to look at what you got, Major. I don’t — I appreciate the fact that I have omnipotent clarity as to what you’ve received in your e-mail box today.
Q You don’t have to have omnipotent clarity. You don’t have to impugn anything. I’m telling you what I got — e-mails from people who said they never asked anything from the White House —
MR. GIBBS: And I’m simply saying —
Q — and yet they received something.
MR. GIBBS: We can — let me go to someplace else that might be constructive.
I have a gnawing suspicion that Robert Gibbs attended the Scott McClellan School of Public Relations before undertaking his work in the White House, but he has surpassed his teacher. Gibbs believes in the line he’s peddling and possesses the confidence necessary to display his struggles with the language on the job. Like Gibbs, McClellan lacked “omnipotent clarity.” He also lacked the nerve to try to recall the difference between “ominipotent” and “omniscient” under the pressure of explicating the administration’s line.
FOX News has posted an account of the exchange between Garrett and Gibbs including a video. FOX News reports that it obtained permission from some of the e-mailers who sent their concerns to it and forwarded them to the White House. Major Garrett has posted an interesting update here. The White House said it would review the names to determine how they ended up on the distribution list.
We can be clear about this much. No explanation has been offered yet.