History As Propaganda

Commentary’s Seth Mandel finds that the White House has done some odd things to the Presidential history entries on the White House web site:

The Heritage Foundation’s Rory Cooper tweeted that Obama had casually dropped his own name into Ronald Reagan’s official biography on www.whitehouse.gov, claiming credit for taking up the mantle of Reagan’s tax reform advocacy with his “Buffett Rule” gimmick. My first thought was, he must be joking. But he wasn’t—it turns out Obama has added bullet points bragging about his own accomplishments to the biographical sketches of every single U.S. president since Calvin Coolidge (except, for some reason, Gerald Ford).

Here are just a few examples:

  • On Feb. 22, 1924 Calvin Coolidge became the first president to make a public radio address to the American people. President Coolidge later helped create the Federal Radio Commission, which has now evolved to become the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). President Obama became the first president to hold virtual gatherings and town halls using Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, etc.
  • In a 1946 letter to the National Urban League, President Truman wrote that the government has “an obligation to see that the civil rights of every citizen are fully and equally protected.” He ended racial segregation in civil service and the armed forces in 1948. Today the Obama administration continues to strive toward upholding the civil rights of its citizens, repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, allowing people of all sexual orientations to serve openly in our armed forces.
  • President Lyndon Johnson signed Medicare signed (sic) into law in 1965—providing millions of elderly healthcare stability. President Obama’s historic health care reform law, the Affordable Care Act, strengthens Medicare, offers eligible seniors a range of preventive services with no cost-sharing, and provides discounts on drugs when in the coverage gap known as the “donut hole.”
  • In a June 28, 1985 speech Reagan called for a fairer tax code, one where a multi-millionaire did not have a lower tax rate than his secretary. Today, President Obama is calling for the same with the Buffett Rule.

Ed Morrissey found several more, including at least three for President Reagan. This is hardly the biggest story in the universe, hence the short post, but its is darned odd that the Administration took the time to go back through the biographies of President’s stretching back to 1924 to add in what is essentially political propaganda for the Obama Administration. Has any previous Administration (and in this case, that would be the Clinton and Bush Administrations since the White House Web Site has only been live since the 1990s) done this? I don’t know, but it would be just as odd if they’d done it too.


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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Neil Hudelson says:

    It makes sense. I remember the first presidential election I voted in. And how I went to the white house website to read every official biography and compare our past Presidents to the incumbent. It’s just what potential voters like to do.

    Really…bizarre move for Team Obama.

  2. What Obama does (or more likely some web management team does) on Whitehouse.gov is no bit.

    It’s only messing with history if they get into textbooks or encyclopedic sites or something. Think Avery Jessup, reporting from North Korea.

  3. Hey Norm says:

    OMG…the White House website is actively promoting the President?
    I say ready the impeachment documents.
    You have to be kidding me…aren’t you? Because it really is the silly season if you guys are reduced to making a stink about this.

  4. (Basically, it should not surprise you Doug that Whitehouse.gov is not your site. It’s Obama’s site for a few years, and then it will be someone else’s. Don’t feel bad. You have a site too, and as you’ve just shown, you are free to answer and (attempt to) create blowback for Whitehose.gov changes.)

  5. Hey Norm says:

    Ed Morrisey…no wonder. What a clown.

  6. MBunge says:

    Uh, Doug? Have you failed to notice that institutions like The Heritage Foundation have been engaged in full blown, non-stop historical revisionism for decades now?


  7. Gold Star for Robot Boy says:

    You know that annual mailer everyone gets from the Social Security Administration, the one that lists your salaries of the last few years? During the Bush years, the mailer had a piece about how (IIRC) Social Security privatization was needed and soon. I find that far weirder and inappropriate than this.

  8. Dean says:

    So I’m assuming if President Bush (either one) had done this no one would take issue with it, correct?

  9. walt moffett says:

    History has always been written by the victors and a natural step on the road of president as god king.

  10. Jeremy R says:

    Come on, this is like complaining about about the white house Flickr feed or the weekly presidential address — they’re both mediums to promote the president and his message. Try going to the speaker of the house’s .gov site, or the some of the congressional committee sites, or some of the individual house and senate member sites, and shockingly you’ll find politics in what they present there.

    As to the WH, I imagine what Heritage is promoting here in their latest idiotic daily outrageous outrage for the right to foam at the mouth about, is a Drupal sub-theme for inserting those “Did You Know?” sections about the president.

  11. Jeremy R says:

    From the whitehouse site in nov 2008, the history of the oval office:


    The Oval Office became a symbol of strength and reassurance the evening of September 11, 2001, when President George W. Bush delivered comforting words through a televised address from the Oval Office. Less than six months later, President George W. Bush welcomed Afghan Interim Authority Hamid Karzai to the Oval Office. The meeting was a sign of significant progress in the war on terrorism.

  12. Andy says:

    This is too fun to pass up. How about these:

    On February 19, 1942, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. Today the Obama Administration continues this tradition and protects America by holding terrorist suspects indefinitely at GITMO and killing enemies and non-compliant US citizens abroad without judicial review.

    On April 30, 1789, George Washington became the first white President of the United States. On January 20, 1993, William J. Clinton became the first black President. President Obama set a new “first” by becoming the first gay U.S. President. He also became the first President to campaign for reelection against a soulless automaton, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

  13. Jim Treacher says:

    @Hey Norm: And you’d say the same thing if George Bush had done it.

  14. Jeremy R says:

    @Jeremy R:

    Not surprisingly, that little bit has been removed from the current oval office history site. It’s much more generic now with nothing more recent cited than:

    In 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt enlarged the West Wing and added today’s Oval Office, designed by Eric Gugler.

  15. Hey Norm says:

    @ Jim Treacher…
    If a website being used to promote George Bush actually promoted George Bush?
    WTF? Who cares?
    You right-wing extremists get your panties all in a twist over what is usually either total fiction or small potatoes. Or both.
    If you got around to focusing on important things maybe you could contribute something to society.

  16. Hey Norm says:

    I think Andy is on to something big…

  17. Jeremy R says:

    @Jim Treacher:

    And you’d say the same thing if George Bush had done it.

    He did do it, just on different parts of the White House site history section. See that bit I quoted from the oval office history I posted above that promotes President Bush as the resolute protector of the nation. Looking around the internet archives I also see in the White House history section, under African-american history, the entire section is basically devoted to G.W.:


    Do you recall dems making a big deal out of these two during his presidency? I certainly don’t.

  18. michael reynolds says:

    I would think that a man capable of covering up his Kenyan birth and time traveling to ensure a birth notice in a Honolulu newspaper would be capable of more subtlety.

  19. Jeremy R says:

    Heh, I posted the links to the archived Pres. G.W. Bush oval office history & african-amercan history at the Commentary Magazine write-up on this story. I expected it to be down-voted into oblivion, but actually it didn’t get the chance — the comment lasted all of 4 minutes before it was deleted by moderators (I assume).

  20. “it turns out Obama has added bullet points bragging about his own accomplishments to the biographical sketches of every single U.S. president since Calvin Coolidge”

    Somehow I doubt that the President spends much time editing Whitehouse.gov….

  21. al-Ameda says:

    and from 2017:

    on March 14, 2017, first-term president Mitt Romney signed into law comprehensive new car- elevator safety regulations which will ensure that job creators and their household staff will be protected, in their first, second, and third homes, from injury or accidents resulting from defective car elevators.

  22. @Hey Norm: The White House landing page is a CAMPAIGN page. It’s not like I visited it daily previously, but I don’t recall seeing anything remotely like this in previous administrations.

    The “Did You Know” insertions were in every Presidential bio past Coolidge that I checked, just as this article says. I know that the prior website (George W. Bush) is permanently archived. Do not know about prior to that.

  23. @Jeremy R: I wouldn’t object to the White House including information in the “Oval Office” section. I do think it’s crazy to put the most minute details in other Presidents’ BIOGRAPHIES. Maybe there’s a reason that George W. Bush included this type of information in sections like “Oval Office,” which he was using at the time, and not some other President’s BIO. This information could go in a “general” section but does seem weird and ultra-egotistical being attached to every single contemporary President’s bio.

  24. Jeremy R says:

    @Amy Sterling Casil:

    The “Did You Know?” sub-sections follow the presidential bios with factoids relating the current occupant of the office to the old. They take advantage of the medium with links to the material they reference. The actual biographies themselves are untouched.

    It’s interesting you take issue with dry bullet-point factoids but find no issue with editing the History of the Oval Office to remind us all how Pres. Bush made it into a “a symbol of strength and reassurance” through his “comforting words” and that a meeting there with “Hamid Karzai” “was a sign of significant progress in the war on terrorism.” Both worthy additions, for the sake of history I’m sure…

  25. Jim Treacher says:

    @Hey Norm: Not enough seething.

  26. Jim Treacher says:

    @Jeremy R: He changed almost every president’s bio since Coolidge to insert campaign propaganda? Is that what he did?