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Obama Rallies Grassroots Allies with Call to Root Out Rumors

BY Nancy Scola | Friday, August 21 2009

If there was anything on display at yesterday's Organizing for America "National Health Care Forum with the President," it's that this operation is punctual. At precisely the appointed hour of 2:45pm ET, Barack Obama bounded into Democratic National Committee headquarters, took off his jacket, rolled up his sleeves, and delivered his message to those selected volunteers in the auditorium, those watching online, and those listening over the phone. That message, in essence, is that the primary job of supporters during the health care debate is act as surrogates and advocates armed with information. Said Obama: "The best ambassadors for true information, factual information, is all of you. You have more credibility than people on television."

The event served as a pep rally for OFA field organizers and volunteers. Deputy Director Jeremy Bird laid out what he called the "untold story of [Organizing for America's] meticulous and tireless work." Bird came equipped with numbers. More than 11,900 local health care events have been planned. OFA collected more than 230,000 stories of Americans' health care challenges. They completed nearly 65,000 Capitol Hill visits in one week alone. And, testified Bird, they managed to outnumber townhall protestors and what DNC chair Tim Kaine called via telephone call-in their "rudeness, bizarre tactics, [and] shouting" -- despite what YouTube clips and cable news shows might lead one to believe.

And that was the focus of Obama's words of inspiration to the assembled crowd. Invoking a seldom -- okay, never -- heard phrase, the president argued that "there's something about August going into September that everyone in Washington gets all wee-weed up.'" (White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs later explained that the colloquialism Obama-ism as referring to "when people get all nervous for no particular reason.") For example, said Obama, remember when, said Obama, Sarah Palin's nomination in August '08 spelled the end of his quest for the presidency? You'll hear, said the president, talk of "Obama's lost his mojo." Ignore it, he said, and focus on winning hearts and minds of your friends and neighbors.

The enemy, as Obama framed it, is misinformation. And he called on his troops to root out and slay it wherever it may live, online and off.

A case in point. Asked about "death panels," Obama cited it as an "interesting example" of how bad information spreads in the modern world. The concept of covering the costs of end-of-life counseling sessions was once a bipartisan idea, considered sensible on both sides of the aisle, said Obama. It has since morphed into a terrifying conservative talking point.

Obama pinned blame on "the way reporting is done today," of the he said/she said variety. "What comes across," said the president, "is 'Today such-and-such accused Obama of putting forward death panels. The White House responded that it wasn't true.'" What the press doesn't do, said Obama, "is to say, 'Oh, and by the way, it's not true.'"

Obama, Organizing for America, and the White House are all attempting to equip supporters and allies with it's-not-true ammunition. That comes in the form of such things as the White House's Reality Check site, OFA's Setting the Record Straight,* and pointers to third-party investigations of some of the claims floating about -- like this one, from the St. Petersburg Times' PolitiFact site, which calls the idea of so-called death panels "a ridiculous falsehood."

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