The former Chairman of the California Democratic Party was for some reason treated as a journalist during yesterday's White House press briefing, and used the opportunity to smear a prominent conservative blogger.
Bill Press, who chaired the California Democratic Party for a few years in the 1990s, and who now hosts a radio talk show, demonstrated his total lack of serious journalistic credibility at yesterday's briefing.
He misquoted RedState's Erick Erickson to make it seem as if he was encouraging the listeners of his radio show to not fill out the Census, and tried to turn Erickson's statement into an attack on CNN, who recently hired Erickson as a political correspondent.
The exchange went like this:
BILL PRESS: Robert, on the Census, Erick Erickson, a commentator for CNN, a couple of days ago, he said he was not going to fill out his Census form, and if a Census worker came to the door, he said he would “pull out my wife’s shotgun and see how that little twerp likes being scared at the door.” So my question is, do those remarks concern the White House? And are there any –
ROBERT GIBBS: It should concern CNN — probably first and foremost. Probably concerns his wife as well.
PRESS: Any thoughts about protection for Census workers?
GIBBS: Well, I think there are a lot of people that get on cable TV and say stuff so that people will quote it back to other people.
Obviously, the census determines the representation you have in what we call a representative democracy. I think it's why somebody like Karl Rove, who obviously I and others in this administration have disagreed with for going on many years, understands that the lunacy of ripping up your census form or not sending it in or, God forbid, the remarkable crazy remarks of somebody that would threaten somebody simply trying to ensure that they're adequately represented in this country.
First of all, Erickson did not say "he was not going to fill out his Census form," as Press claimed. In fact, during the same segment (full audio), he said the following:
Come on, people. It’s a Constitutional obligation. How can a 21st century society function without knowing how many people are actually living in the country, legally versus illegally for that matter? What’s the harm with filling out the census? The Constitution — for those of you who say I’m not filling out the c — it’s in the freaking Constitution. You got to fill out your census.
Erickson's shotgun comment was referring to the American Community Survey, which the Weekly Standard's Daniel Friedman has described as "downright Orwellian."
It's quite telling that Press quoted Erickson as saying "pull out my wife’s shotgun and see how that little twerp likes being scared at the door." He actually said "pull out my wife’s shotgun and see how that little ACS twerp likes being scared at the door."
Leaving "ACS" out of the quote allowed Press to paint Erickson as one of those Census conspiracy theorists and as generally and vehemently opposed to any effort by the federal government to record information about its citizens.
(In addition to Press, the Washington Post's Right Now blog attributed this quote to Erickson without "ACS" included. The audio clearly demonstrates that Erickson did say "ACS twerp". The Post should issue a correction.)
In fact, he had just finished making fun of those wackos -- and the New World Order conspiracy theories to which they generally ascribe -- when he made the "shotgun" comment. So either Press didn't listen to the segment he was criticizing, or he was being completely dishonest.
Press also misleadingly called Erickson "a commentator for CNN" when he neither made the comments in question on the cable network, nor does the majority of his reporting there. Was Press was trying to hurt Erickson's standing with the CNN? Perhaps he still harbors some ill-will towards the cable network that canned him.
Of course Gibbs was more than happy to play along with his fellow Democrat and perpetuate the dual myths that Erickson made these comments on CNN and advocated "ripping up" Census forms or in any way avoiding the Census.
But Gibbs can be excused for not knowing the facts. He had no obligation to know what Erickson said going into that briefing. Press did have that obligation -- at least if he was determined to bring it up -- and he failed miserably to meet it.