There was an odd moment during the White House press briefing on Wednesday when Robert Gibbs "pleaded guilty" to feeding "counterproductive" cable news chatter by engaging with Rush Limbaugh and other media personalities.
The press secretary was asked about the small but growing backlash among political observers over the White House's strategy of elevating Limbaugh, Jim Cramer, Rick Santelli and others as the face of the administration's opposition. From a campaign that consistently derided the talking heads of the commentariat, was this not hypocritical?
"It may be counterproductive," Gibbs replied. "I'll give you that. Are there days when I just turn my television off, yes... Look, there are days where your head drops from listening to arguments that aren't necessarily centered on some important issue, but finding two people at completely opposite ends of the spectrum to yell the loudest for a seven minute segment before they go on to something else."
Shouldn't the White House -- if this is their sentiment of the news media culture -- avoid putting more of a spotlight on the main culprits?, replied Jon Ward of the Washington Times, who brought up the issue.
"I won't kick the cable people out of the briefing room," Gibbs replied, "I'm certainly opposed to doing something as radical as that. Look, it is out there; we deal with it. I certainly criticize it and I even occasionally watch it. Whether it makes me hypocritical or not, I certainly believe that feeding it, undoubtedly, I will plead guilty to being counterproductive."
As many publications have fawned over the White House's political deftness in making Limbaugh the focal point of the GOP, others have begun questioning the utility and implications of the strategy.
Hillary Clinton's internet guru, Peter Daou, in an article for the Huffington Post, wrote:
"I don't buy into this 'brilliant' strategy of elevating Rush Limbaugh in the hopes that it will tarnish Republicans... It's bad for the country and it's bad politics. Limbaugh and his cohorts (Coulter, Hannity, Beck, Savage, and so on), are largely responsible for our toxic political environment. Given major media platforms to launch crude and brutal political and cultural attacks, to demonize liberals, and to use rage as a means of lining their own pockets, these 'entertainers' have poisoned our national discourse."
Time's Michael Scherer, meanwhile, offered a gloomier and more critical interpretation of the White House's "petty" Limbaugh strategy.
"At a time of unprecedented threats to the United States, a time of financial collapse, bank failures and record layoffs, at a time when the credit crisis has not been solved, and the stock market is in free fall, at a time of stagnating wars, rising terrorism in Pakistan and growing nuclear potential in Iran, the White House has done the easy thing. It has asked the American people to focus their attention not on solving the problems, but on a big-mouthed entertainer in Florida."
UPDATE: Sure enough, Republicans in the House seized on Gibb's comments as an indication of a lack of seriousness in political discourse.
"Now that the Obama Administration has declared their own distractions, diversions and manipulations strategy to be counterproductive, House Republicans would like to see this Administration join us in our bipartisan national conversation about job creation, stimulating small business and middle class tax relief," read a statement from Brad Dayspring, the press secretary for the House Republican Whip, Eric Cantor. "They should apologize to the American people for supporting these tactics and get back to work."