Matt Drudge of the Drudge Report tweeted last week that he’d just paid his first Obamacare penalty as a small-scale employer. He toyed with words, recasting the penalty as a “liberty tax.” But Jesse Lee, White House Director of Progressive Media, used his official Twitter page to call Drudge a liar, saying he couldn’t have paid a penalty because there isn’t one for anyone paying 2013 taxes. Lee was wrong about that, but the mainstream media took off with the disinformation, and a whole lot of people made fools of themselves.
That’s a synopsis of what happened, and it was predictable and interesting for 15 minutes. But what continues to puzzle us is the fact that “White House Director of Progressive Media” is a thing that exists.
The Obama Administration created the “Progressive Media and Online Response” position in 2011, just as President Barack Obama’s second Presidential campaign was ramping up. Obama hired Jesse Lee, who’d had plenty of experience using the Internet as a community organizing tool (the White House calls it “online outreach”), to the position. The newly created role was first announced by a blogger for The Huffington Post.
The job of White House Director of Progressive Media appears to be one of accepting the People’s money as remuneration for issuing unilateral political attacks on elected leaders, private individuals, companies, nonprofits and news outlets under the safe cover of a government job — one that exists at the leisure of the President of the United States.
At the time, NewsBusters’ Aubrey Vaughan described things this way:
The White House is amping up its vigilance in silencing its critics with the creation of a new communications position designed to respond to unfavorable online stories about the President.
Attacking critics is nothing new for the administration, and the creation of this position is only the latest effort to throw the considerable weight of the White House bully pulpit behind efforts to attack Obama’s critics. For the president, this tactic began during the campaign and has continued to date.
Until now, though, the fight was mostly funded by the DNC or campaign teams, as is standard practice for the sort of oppositional approach this position seems poised to adopt. But as an official White House position, taxpayers are actually the ones footing the bill for Obama’s new attack dog.
Lee indeed performed his attack dog function on cue last week, when he responded to the Drudge tweet with this (false) retort:
Flat lie, no fee for previous year. Scary how much influence he once had. RT @DRUDGE: Just paid Obamacare penalty for not ‘getting covered’
— Jesse Lee (@jesseclee44) March 21, 2014
Lee’s role isn’t one that’s gotten a lot of attention since the 2012 campaign season. But we’re betting Lee just inadvertently raised the profile (and, hopefully, the scrutiny) of the White House propaganda machine by hitching his star to Drudge’s wagon.