Website Review: www.whitehouse.gov
Reviewed by Alex Horvath
One of the best places for daily misinformation can be found by logging on to the White House web site: www.whitehouse.gov. There you will find the Bush administrations blatant attempt at media manipulation and the home page for what seems to be the United States information bureau. The frightening part is that often the news that is being reported in the mainstream press seems to be spun directly from the White House home page.
Depending on what is happening in the news, the whitehouse.gov often looks like a legitimate news web site, with "breaking news" and "latest developments" leading the home page. On slower news days the page is laid out in a way where many segments of American society are interested with coverage of the president's speech on Medicare, or a press conference detailing his visit with a foreign dignitary. The web visitor is offered a pitch like, "After meeting with Chancellor Schroeder of Germany, President Bush said, "I reaffirmed to Gerhard that America and German relations are very important to this administration. I have said so repeatedly. I said so in the Bundestag, and I reiterated it today with the Chancellor. Click here for Full Story." When the web visitor clicks on the link, instead of any kind of news article, the text turns into a transcript (sometimes only excerpts) from a press conference Bush responding to softball questions pitched by the media.
There are plenty of staged photo opportunities on the site, taken by White House photographers, a list of all presidential proclamations and executive orders, and for the truly interested, an ever-changing segment on America's "park of the week," and coverage of the White House tee-ball tournaments.
Virtual tours of the White House are available for adults and children. The president leads a camera around the oval office, Laura Bush chats about the diplomatic room and Karl Rove expounds on the Roosevelt Room. For the children's virtual tour, cartoon images of Spotty, Barney, Ofelia and India (2 dogs, a cow and a cat, all presidential animals owned by the Bush's in Washington and Texas) lead the children on tours, provide historical tidbits of information, and relate children's stories to kids about the Bush White House, arguably the best format for describing this presidential administration to anyone.
In one story, we learn how Spotty the dog, who like to chase tennis balls for the president, was born in the White House, the offspring of the presidents parents dog, Millie. In the biography of Barney, Spotty tells Barney about the time Bush owned a major league baseball team. Ofelia the cow, saved from slaughter, talks about "the American dream," and India the cat teaches about the president's busy schedule, national security and the state of the union.
A separate link leads to India's state of the union trivia quiz, with questions like "what does the president communicate in his state of the union message," and "How often is the state of the union message given?" Surprisingly even to this journalist, the answer to the latter question was "as often as the president chooses." According to India the cat, Spotty had aced all of the questions. The writer had missed one.
Clicking on Executive Orders we learn about the president renaming the Presidents Committee on Mental Retardation to the President Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities, making it sound smooth and breezy, as if it was a committee studying some of the dozens of people you find lining up out the door most mornings at Peet's Coffee in Mill Valley. If you press further you can read about the Executive Order protecting the Development Fund for Iraq and Certain Other Property in Which Iraq Has An Interest. There's also an order giving the European Central Bank immunity in our country to do business as they please. Under proclamations is information about matters as varied as the Prison Rape Elimination act to June being National Homeowners Month.
For the truly curious, an "Ask the White House" section poses questions in what is billed as an "interactive chat." However, the billing is incorrect as the questions to various White House staff, such as Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, appear to be, at the very least, submitted in advance, if not entirely staged by the very people who administer the web site.
The Q & A session sometimes appears on the web site the day before it is to have taken place. On June 6, Ridge was asked, "How hard are the tasks of organizing a new governmental department all while carrying out the huge function of keeping the homeland safe at the same time?" and "How does it feel to work with the president," among other questions. He was also posed the question, "Terrorists, Iraq, Homeland Security... all well and good, but here's what I want to know... Eagles or the Steelers?"
On September 11, 2003, Chief of Staff Card was asked several patriotic questions regarding the anniversary of 9/11, how he copes with the amount of pressure on his job, and another citizen wondered, "I just love kitchens and I would like to know what the White House Kitchen looks like."
Other less visible people from inside the administration, such as John F. Turner, Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, who answered an array of questions about international and marine legislation, and "who is the tenth president of United State of America and do you by any chance know where the NY Metropolitan Museum is located." Dr. Gregory N. Mankiw, Chairman, Council of Economic Advisers, was asked a few questions about the economy and economic growth (to which he pitched the presidents jobs and growth tax cut), and then questions about his favorite subject in school and what the "N" in his middle name stands for.
None of the questions seemed very challenging or believable. If it really were an interactive chat, it is difficult to imagine that harder questions would not have come up about the war in Iraq, Halliburton, corporate responsibility, and the economy.
The White House web site definitely comes off as being more of a promotional venue for White House spin than it does a web site for the people. Other links take you to the presidents Faith Based Initiatives page, where one can sign up to be on a mailing list. Visitors to the web site can also read Bush and Cheney's comments at the Bush/Cheney 2004 announcement ceremony.
I rate this web site with an F as having any kind of politically or socially redeeming value. It reeks of brainwashing and provides a one-sided approach to understanding our government. The children's section gets a B- for cartoons and an F for story development. A far more interesting web site to visit, that many find by accident, is www.whitehouse.com, which links to a popular adult-content site.