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Obama White House Unveils "Online Response" Lead

BY Nancy Scola | Monday, May 23 2011

The Obama White House is moving Jesse Lee, a veteran of online Democratic politics, from his role as the White House's Online Programs Director to a newly created post: Director of Progressive Media & Online Response. The Huffington Post's Sam Stein has the report.

For Lee, it's the formalization of a familiar role, particularly given his deep experience doing something similar on the Hill and in the Democratic Party. It's probably fair to say that when you thinking about people doing online political rapid response from inside government or the party apparatus, Lee is one of the first two or three people you'd think about.

But the way that the White House has chosen to roll this out is still, perhaps, a little surprising. Clearly, someone handed the news to Stein, who identifies himself as a friend of Lee's. (Okay, full disclosure: back in a previous life, Lee and I worked in the same circles, and I'd still consider us friendly.) They didn't really need to do it. As Stein's report mentions, Lee had been doing the job already. The White House, though, seems eager to put a name on it. Critics and opponents could easily look at this and see someone working on the taxpayer dollar to be an online activist on behalf of the administration, and to do it while working closely with liberal bloggers and other progressive media. At its essence, what Lee's being tasked with is nothing all that new, despite the tech angle to it. But we can imagine the reaction had President George W. Bush had appointed a "Director of Conservative Media" in the lead up to 2004. Not only did they give Stein the report, Lee rolled out today a official White House Twitter account under his name.

One way to look at this, then, is to see the Obama White House saying, "Does this look like we're empowering a online specialist to go on the political offense from inside the White House? Well, that's because that's exactly what we're doing." Perhaps it's in the spirit of the old  jiu-jitsu notion of turning a potential weakness into a point of strength. Perhaps this is part of that David Plouffe approach to winning the Internet -- make your move, make no apologies, and move on.