In 2008, Barack Obama once complained about mainstream reporters asking about rumors from the fringiest blogs; three years later, the White House is responding to faux scandals before they even make it to Politico. On Tuesday, the Washington Times's James S. Robbins claimed video with no audio proves that during a solemn ceremony commemorating 9/11, Michelle Obama dismissively whispered to her husband, "All that for a flag." It was a reference to "the American flag -- you know the one brave men died for," Fox News pundit Debbie Schlussel said, and several blogs joined in. The first lady's communications director, Kristina Schake, quickly moved to refute it to Media Matters Wednesday. The story seems of the type that in the olden days press secretaries would indignantly declare was beneath responding to. But not in the age of email forwards.
Back in 2007, the campaign vowed Obama would not be "swift boated." But that's meant responding to crazier and crazier rumors. In 2008, when rumor of a video of Michelle using the word "whitey" circulated, then-candidate Obama chided the press for even asking about it. "There is dirt and lies that are circulated in e-mails and they pump them out long enough until finally you, a mainstream reporter, asks me about it... That gives legs to the story," Obama said. It doesn't appear the first lady's office bothered with that ineffective protest when they were asked about the flag flap, which plays neatly into the same long-standing smear that Obama is an America-hating black nationalist.
President Obama's reelection campaign has launched a controversial sequel to its Fight the Smears effort from 2008, Attack Watch. The site is mostly black and red, and looks a little, well, fascist. It's the subject of much mockery from tie right, with Free Republic posters, for example, calling it Orwellian: "Readers are encouraged to sign up for the feeds and to report any 'attack' or 'smear' on Obama that they come across anywhere in the media, on the Internet, and even in emails -- yes, in personal emails." The Obama-flag video isn't on the Attack Watch site, but the quick response shows that Obama's 2012 reelection campaign is going to take even the fringiest memes seriously.
A looped clip of the footage, with a racist fake voiceover: