Johnston on the Obama Press Operation

This piece by David Cay Johnston was interesting to me: Who’s undercutting Obama? I’m not in a position to pass judgement on Obama’s press operation with regard to whether people answer the phone, get snippy when asked to spell their names, or assume they can unilaterally declare their comments off the record. But I do feel qualified to judge the changes to

I know J.A.Y.S.O.N. thinks it’s a much better-designed website than it was under Bush, and since he knows a lot more about design than I do I’ll take that as a given. I’m more of a content guy. The thing that gets me excited in a website is content. Ridiculous amounts of content. Stacks of content. Reams of content. Browseable. Linkable.

For all Bush’s failings (at least a couple of which I seem to recall mentioning before), the White House website under Bush was a vast improvement over his predecessor’s. And from the perspective of content, Obama’s version of the site, at least so far, looks like a big step backward.

It’s not just that many thousands of pages went fwap! and disappeared overnight. That’s a serious issue (in light of the intent behind the Presidential Records Act, I’d think it might even be a legal issue, or at least ought to be, if and when the law catches up). But I can understand that requiring a new president to maintain the web content of his predecessor might be problematic, and would become moreso over time. But maybe the former site could have been transitioned to a permanent home at the Library of Congress, with the old URLs being redirected? Massive amounts of linkrot isn’t the sort of change I believe in.

(Update: Well, duh. It’s at the Bush Library: Welcome to the White House.)

Setting that aside, and judging the new site on its own merits, it just isn’t very good from a content standpoint. Yes, it has a some nice images and an actual “blog” that dares to speak its name, and the link farm at the bottom of every page has been helpful as I poke around. And yes, I know that Obama has been putting out videos on YouTube. But the press materials at are seriously lacking, which I assume is related to the press office problems that David Cay Johnston is griping about.

It looks like we’re getting briefing transcripts, which is nice. But the old site had transcripts and full audio files and full video streams of all news conferences and press briefings. I really liked that stuff. And lest you think I’m being all rich-media snobby, allow me to repeat: I’m a content guy from way back. I think putting out a ridiculous profusion of primary source material in every conceivable format and getting the fuck out of the way is, or should be, a web content creator’s first responsibility. And as much as it pains me to say it, at this point Team Obama’s geeks are getting their web-content asses handed to them by Team Bush. They’re thinking small, in an area where their small-minded predecessor thought big (or at least was oblivious enough that some geeky underling was able to think big on his behalf).

What’s up with that?

41 Responses to “Johnston on the Obama Press Operation”

  1. shcb Says:

    I’m not one to browse through page after page of a website, and I’m not overly impressed with glitz. There is a certain level of professionalism I expect but I’m more of a content guy too. I get information off the net like I shop at the mall, park at the closest entrance to the store I want to visit, go to the isle that has the product I’m interested in, make my purchase and leave. Luckily for the longevity of our marriage my wife shops the same way. Except for Christmas, but even then I am contractually bound to stay with her only until her hand touches the first rack of clothing, at that time my only responsibility is to meet her at the car when the cell phone leash informs me it is time to do so.

    Antidotally, I was a little disappointed when I went to read Obama’s first Executive Orders and found them to not be numbered, executive orders are numbered sequentially with no change at administrations, so the number was just going to be the next after Bush’s last EO. When I went to the Library of Congress there wasn’t even a page for Obama, now I wouldn’t think the administration has any responsibility to the Library of Congress, but I thought it was odd. But I had no benchmark since I don’t recall ever looking up an EO that soon after signage with the Bush administration. If this is a problem, meaning if this new format and lack of information isn’t purposeful I’m sure Obama will rectify the situation, he doesn’t seem to me to be one that suffers incompetency well. I’m just basing that assessment on how he looks at people, I know I have chided folks here for basing opinions of people based on looks, so yes I am being a bit hypocritical, you don’t need to spend time looking it up, quality time you could be spending with your wife hanging new Hunter Douglas blinds in every room in your house. Hey, we are really slow and free advertising is free advertising.

    I’ve noticed the same trend in other places though, was always good at putting a link to the raw data, text of speech, link to the bill on Thomas, that sort of thing in a little box on the right hand side of the page, sorry I don’t know web design lingo. But unless it is an important speech I don’t see that much anymore. When I went to search for Obama’s EO one of the results on Google said it was the text of the EO, when I went to the AP site it was just an article, no text and no link to the text. I hope this isn’t a trend.

  2. shcb Says:

    One other thing, I’m a little surprised it changes that much between administrations, I would have though the web site would be run by career staffers that would transcend administrations, interesting.

  3. enkidu Says:

    The bush era is out there somewhere (I think hosted by his ‘library’ – which probably consists of a couple comic books and a dog eared playboy)

    I would imagine the whole thing is backed up somewhere. Write them an email and ask them to host it in some nook or cranny of teh intertubes. pswd protected if need be. Make your other concerns known and start griping about it often. You will get results.

    boingboing had a note that the robots.txt file used to be 2400 lines of ‘you can’t search here!’ under dumbya and is now all of two lines. How’s that for a first toddling step towards a more open gov? me likey

  4. jbc Says:

    Cool! Yeah, there it is: Welcome to the White House. Okay. Mr. Crankypants will go back inside now. You kids can keep playing on the lawn.

  5. not_a_democrat Says:

    President Obama campaigned as a blank slate, ideal for us voters to project our hopes and dreams on. Post-racialism, world peace, cool, informative web sites, hot and cold running celebrity endorsements.

    What if he really is just a hack Chicago machine politician after all?

  6. knarlyknight Says:

    Well Gee, even that would be a vast improvement over the last guy.

  7. shcb Says:

    I don’t understand that logic, why does he have to be better than the last guy? Even if the last guy was the worse guy to fill whatever position you are talking about, there can always be someone worse.

  8. knarlyknight Says:

    SHCB, now pay attention:

    “Rarely is the questioned asked: Is our children learning?” –Florence, South Carolina, Jan. 11, 2000

    “We spent a lot of time talking about Africa, as we should. Africa is a nation that suffers from incredible disease.” –Gothenburg, Sweden, June 14, 2001

    “Do you have blacks, too?” –to Brazilian President Fernando Cardoso, Washington, D.C., Nov. 8, 2001

    “The most important thing is for us to find Osama bin Laden. It is our number one priority and we will not rest until we find him.” –Washington, D.C., Sept. 13, 2001
    Then, excatly 6 months later: “I don’t know where bin Laden is. I have no idea and really don’t care. It’s not that important. It’s not our priority.” –Washington, D.C., March 13, 2002

    “I just want you to know that, when we talk about war, we’re really talking about peace.” –Washington, D.C. June 18, 2002

    “We found the weapons of mass destruction. We found biological laboratories … And we’ll find more weapons as time goes on. But for those who say we haven’t found the banned manufacturing devices or banned weapons, they’re wrong, we found them.” –Washington, D.C., May 30, 2003

    “I trust God speaks through me. Without that, I couldn’t do my job.” –to a group of Amish he met with privately, July 9, 2004

    “See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda.” –Greece, N.Y., May 24, 2005

    “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees.” –on “Good Morning America,” Sept. 1, 2005, six days after repeated warnings from experts about the scope of damage expected from Hurricane Katrina

    “You know, one of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror.” –interview with CBS News’ Katie Couric, Sept. 6, 2006

    “Goodbye from the world’s biggest polluter.” –in parting words to world leaders at his final G-8 Summit, punching the air and grinning widely as those present looked on in shock, Rusutsu, Japan, July 10, 2008

    I’ll be long gone before some smart person ever figures out what happened inside this Oval Office.” –Washington, D.C., May 12, 2008

    It’s incomprehensible that any other president in our life times will be worse than that.

  9. shcb Says:

    carter already was

  10. knarlyknight Says:

    Not even close. Carter brokered a historical peace agreement between Egypt an Israel which has lasted to this day. That alone sets him far above Bush. Bush destroyed the stability of Iraq, the country with the second(?) largest light sweet oil reserves in the world, and through incompetence virtually handed power and influence of that country over to extremists sympathetic to Iran. While OPEC rose to prominance via evolving nationalism in under-developed “colonialistic” oil producers, Carter presided over the chaos of the resulting historically high oil & gas prices and glided the economy to soft landings. Bush confronted a financial crisis of epic proportions and let the fuse burn to the powder and explode when he allowed Lehman Brothers to go bankrupt (in hindsight, an enormously stupid move for the situation unfolding) and that set into motion the cascading effects of financial meltdowns that has yet to reach the floor.

  11. NorthernLite Says:

    But Bill Clinton got a bj knarly!! That makes him the worst!!

  12. knarlyknight Says:

    NL, at least you provided some rationale instead of just making a stupid assertion like shcb. I don’t have much good to say about the Clintons so I’ll stop there.

  13. enkidu Says:

    Worst president in our lifetimes? well in the last 100 years, it is a race between Hoover and dumbya. I am old enough to remember Nixon as pres… and let us not forget that during the Clinton years, things were good, damn good. Economically speaking. However, the quality of presidential mistresses would seem to have taken a precipitous drop if you look at Marilyn Monroe vs Monica Whatsername.

    Carter continues to lead. And if the Iran Contra buyoff hadn’t happened (it did), then Carter’s legacy would have been even better. If we had heeded his advice on energy, we’d already be at 20% solar and rising. But no, all Rs are good at is F-ing up wars and corruption.

  14. shcb Says:

    Well, it is pointless to try and debate the relative position of President Bush with the poster boys of BHD, but that wasn’t really my point anyway. My point was that it is a silly statement that say someone can’t be worse than someone else, or course they can. Obama could end up being much worse than Bush and the Republican that replaces Obama could be worse still. We could have two presidents that make Clinton and Bush look like Lincoln and Washington. Now that probably won’t happen due in no small part to our system. They are only president, not king; Obama is getting slapped down a little by Republicans and moderate Democrats on his Entitlement Stimulus plan just like Bush had the reigns tugged pretty hard on his War on Terror.

    But a bigger issue is when you say someone is better or worse you are taking them as a sum of their parts and prioritizing their parts, look at Knarly’s list, it is mostly things Bush said, not what he did. Knarly puts a high priority on what people say, most liberal so, I like most conservatives, put a higher priority on what people do. Enky places Carter high because things Carter achieved he sees as plusses, I see as minuses, same with Bush in reverse. Now we can all agree on some specifics, Obama gives a better speech than Bush, Clinton gives a better speech than both, and Reagan would be a push with Clinton. But our biases get in the way when you put all the parts together. Now I know people say things like “how are you today” when they really don’t want to know, and “Bush is the worst” falls in that category until people actually start believing it.

  15. NorthernLite Says:

    LOL Oh that’s right. The 80% of people that see Bush as a complete failure, lier and retard are the one’s with the disorder. It’s NOT not 20% goat-ropin’ chciken-fuckers. Yeah, WE’RE the morans.

    LOL thanks for the laugh man. Btw, are you going to list all Bush’s accomplishments, since you jugde hime for what he did, not the retarded things he said?

    Oh, before you say, “he kept America safe” let me smack that down with the fact that the worst terrorist attack on American soil happened during his watch, not Clinton’s, Regan’s or Carter’s – it was Dumbya.

    Ok go.


  16. shcb Says:

    no, keeping us safe is pretty much it, and since that is by far and away the biggest responsability of the federal government, and about the only thing a president can do on his own that is a biggy. But you see, Clinton, Carter and Reagan could have slapped the Arabs harder and maybe avoided 911 but all chose not to.

  17. shcb Says:

    BTW if 80% of the people get a cold this year it doesn’t mean the cold season didn’t exist. and I don’t think 80% of the people have BHD just the Daily Kos crowd.

  18. enkidu Says:

    shcb, so he has to have TWO worst-terrorist-attacks-ever for it to count?
    funny how no one ever says: well at least Clinton kept us safe for 7 years or so!
    btw… the whackjobs who perped the first WTC bombing are now rotting in jail – they had trials, we applied the law. Where’s ol deadralive, Osama bin Forgotten?

    Can we compare the economies between presidents? Because by any objective non-Bush Derangement Syndrome (you know, where right wing nut jobs can’t admit reality or face the truth?) assessment, shrubco was nothing short of colossal failure after failure. The economy, the stock market, iraq, afghanistan, the environment, katrina response, foreign policy (hey how’d that Roadmap to Peace thing work out? crickets). His only highlights are he increased funding to fight disease in Africa and he managed to survive eating pretzels. Plus he can ride a bike!

    Quite the legacy.

    BDS is very real, it afflicts roughly 25% of the population. It is mostly confined to Dumfukistan and the South, but it infects editorialists in the WSJ and various neocon ‘institutes’. The transmission vector appears to be AM hate radio and Fox’NEWS’. Rush Limpbaugh is confirmed to be Patient Zero…

    Dear wwnj appears to have a nasty infection of BDS. We can only hope that modern science will find a cure (it’s called the truth: he was a lousy president, really lousy, perhaps the worst of the last 100 years or more)

  19. NorthernLite Says:

    Hey enk – I heard stem cell research on embryos from little babies is showing some hope for a BDS cure. Let’s keep our fingers crossed ;)

    Also, get on your legislators about this “Buy American” policy. After all, you don’t want us to shut down the flow of oil (or Molson Canadian/Labatt’s Blue) do you?

  20. enkidu Says:

    I am more of an Upper Canada dark kinda guy. Sleeman’s is a bit sweet for me. And those lagers you mentioned aint fit fer wimin n chillin! Tho on a hot day at the X…

  21. NorthernLite Says:

    Now I’m thinking forget the oil & beer, cutting off Blackberry shippents might be a more effective retalliation.

  22. NorthernLite Says:

    And kudos to your knowledge of Canadian suds.

    Cheers eh! :)

  23. knarlyknight Says:

    Worst President ever:

  24. knarlyknight Says:

    Old news flash from that link: “George Bush et al are paying cronies to do fake work in Iraq so that billions of dollars earmarked for humanitarian purposes instead goes to private bank accounts. And they are not on trial. In fact, most people don’t even know it’s happening.”

  25. shcb Says:

    Enky, (and the rest)

    By experience I know I can’t have a rational discussion with you guys on the subjects you list, and since I can’t, by definition you have BHD, it is pointless to discuss those issues since people with BHD are irrational in discussing Bush related subjects. It gets kind of circular. Maybe after you finish therapy we can try again, of course we risk a relapse. I’ll be gentle.

  26. enkidu Says:

    I’d love to hear you try to sing the pretzelnitwit’s praises.
    Objective reality won’t be treating you BDS sufferers very nicely.

    Can you at least try to answer these clear challenges? “The economy, the stock market, iraq, afghanistan, the environment, katrina response, foreign policy”

    He has sucked on every single item – ok, Iraq may not be sucking quite so badly at the moment, but long term? its a bottomless pit of suckage.
    More harm than good.

  27. shcb Says:

    Just google this site with “shcb says” and any of those keywords and you will get volumes of what I have said about any of those issues.

  28. shcb Says:

    Oh, by the way, you understand that you are displaying the classic symptoms of BHD, my point, the one I am making for the third time now, was simply that the statement Obama can’t be worse than Bush is nonsensical, but you guys immediately turned it into a Bush sucks discussion, classic.

  29. NorthernLite Says:

    Dude, Bush doesn’t just suck, he’s the Worst President Ever , history has already confirmed that.

    No matter how hard the 20% of you try, you’re not going to change that fact.

    What did you expect from a presidency that brought you the worst terrorist attack in history and the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression? Then toss in things like Katrina, Terri Shiavo and the fact that he can’t speak proper English, to name just a few, and really it’s a slam dunk.

    Keep trying though, it’s cute.

  30. enkidu Says:

    Ummm how am I displaying BHD when I just ask you – very politely mind you – to address a serious list of shortcomings from the bush presidency? I could have made a much longer and more detailed list, but these are the major fuckups.

    It is clear shrub was a massive fail on almost all categories of assessment. When we say ‘thank god we have new leadership, couldn’t be as bad as that last crop of morans’ it isn’t as if the performance bar is very high. In point of fact the bar is pathetically low. gwb was one of the worst presidents of all time. He and Hoover have pretty much sealed the deal: Rs are terrible at governing, economics, foreign policy and domestic responsibility.

    You can’t address any of those items, because on each of them there is a measurable, verifiable massive concatenated series of screw ups. Bush Derangement Syndrome is a willful denial of reality for a comforting fantasy of competence.

    It is clear the 25%ers will fight and obstruct and harm America for partisan gain at every turn. It’s time to take out the garbage. Our goal will be to whittle the morans down to just 5% (the clinically crazy).

  31. shcb Says:


    Let me explain how this works, then you can go back and look at past exchanges and see if I’m right.

    If I were to pick Katrina for instance since that is an easy one, I would say that New Orleans was primarily a local and state level screw up.

    You would respond that we should have sent in help sooner, that those poor people were in the filth of the Super Dome too long.

    I would respond that the President couldn’t send troops in there without authorization from the governor, I would include text or links to the Militia Act of 1792, and the subsequent bill in 18??. I would offer links explaining Posse Comitatus and maybe even a story of the army commander that rode his horse to the Governor’s house and asked permission to help after a disaster, permission was formally granted before his men went to work. I would offer an example of how the governor of Texas asked for assistance before the next hurricane even hit Houston and how permission was granted and troops and ships were prepositioned. Then I would give articles that show the governor of Louisiana didn’t ask for help until the day before the troops showed up on that bridge overlooking the Super Dome.

    You will never give me the satisfaction of admitting on those points I am right. Your response would be some misspelled diatribe with Browne is a Browneeee, Bush sucks bla bla bla.

    Now go back and read the article on BHD and see if that doesn’t fit the article to a tee.

    I gave Knarly this same type of clinical explanation on card check and he said he now understood, thanks shcb. You see, you guys can be reasonable on things that don’t relate to Bush but once BHD takes over your thought process you turn into rabid dogs.

  32. NorthernLite Says:

  33. NorthernLite Says:

  34. NorthernLite Says:

  35. NorthernLite Says:

    This is great! Just type in “Bush” and “Retarded” on Youtube and look at the videos you can find that people with BHD posted. It’s endless!

  36. NorthernLite Says:

  37. enkidu Says:


    I am not asking you to judge the local and state level response to Katrina. I asked about bush and what a sad and sorry job he did.

    So you think bush was being an effective leader when he was yukking it up on the tarmac in AZ with Johnny Mac? Thats what the CinC should be doing while thousands of people die? Posing for a photo op cutting ice cream cake. That’s a fact, but it doesn’t matter to wwnjs.

    You aren’t concerned about the many laws these criminals have broken (FISA, defense funding, etc etc etc) but you suddenly have to stick to the letter of the law when thousands of poor people are dying? Is it because they were black or creole? Posse comitatus? Wake up and smell the rotting corpse of the bush reality. There are plenty of other ways the feds could have helped. That the National Guard were mostly over in Iraq doesn’t seem to matter to you. That the Texas storm happened AFTER Katrina doesn’t seem to matter. All that matters to wwnjs is that the push the blame away from the their partisan buffoonery.

    So you are saying bush’s pick – he called him ‘brownee’ not I btw – was an effective FEMA head? The guy was canned from his previous post as president of the arabian horse show guild or some such. He had zero disaster response experience, but he was a die hard partisan incompetent (he must have felt right at home in the bush disaster, er i mean administration).

    Leaders lead, bush didn’t. He just fucked off and did the usual while we lost an entire city.

    I hate bush for his performance as president. I have yet to hear you sing his praises other than that he kept us safe! except for the worst terrorist attack on American soil ever and the anthrax and his counterproductive invasion of Iraq). Four years after Pearl Harbor, FDR – bless him – had led us to resounding victory over two fascist industrial powerhouses. You idiots can’t find a 6’5″ arab dialysis patient after 7 years. Epic fail.

    oh and just to reiterate, bush’s grandfather tried to overthrow FDR and install a fascist right wing dictatorship in America. hmmm, that sounds kind of familiar….

    Did I spell anything funny? That now seems to be the bar for you wrong wing nutjobs: if you don’t spell everything right, then the entire argument is invalid.

    Bush Derangement Syndrome would seem to be your problem son, not mine.

  38. enkidu Says:

    NL, I see your utubes and raise you a storm

  39. NorthernLite Says:

    LMFAO – That was fabulous!!

  40. NorthernLite Says:

    And my love affair with Obama continues (I like it when he gets a little angry :)

    “Don’t come to the table with the same tired arguments and worn ideas that helped to create this crisis.”

    “We’re not going to get relief by turning back to the very same policies that, for the last eight years, doubled the national debt and threw our economy into a tailspin,” he said. “We can’t embrace the losing formula that says only tax cuts will work for every problem we face, that ignores critical challenges like our addiction to foreign oil, or the soaring cost of health care, or failing schools and crumbling bridges and roads and levees.”

    “They did not send us here to get bogged down with the same old delay, the same old distractions, the same talking points, the same cable chatter,” he said. “They did not vote for the false theories of the past, and they didn’t vote for phony arguments and petty politics, and they did not vote for the status quo.”

    Indeed, change HAS finally come.

  41. shcb Says:

    you poor delusional soul

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