The White House on Wednesday fessed up to lowering the quality of public discourse and acknowledged that its sniping at radio show host Rush Limbaugh has been “counterproductive,” even as Democratic political committees continued to use the issue in a political line of attack approved by the Obama administration itself.
“It may be counterproductive. I’ll give you that,” said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, when asked about his repeated verbal jousting with Mr. Limbaugh and other media personalities who have criticized President Obama.
Mr. Obama himself has regularly employed the term “cable chatter” to dismiss criticisms of his economic agenda that he thinks are uninformed or inaccurate. And his administration has often complained about superficial, back-and-forth debates that substitute for political discourse or journalism.
But Mr. Gibbs said he has been “feeding” the very beast that he and others in the White House have lambasted.
“There are days in which, yes, your head throbs from listening to arguments that aren’t necessarily centered on delving into some important issue, but finding two people at completely opposite ends of the spectrum to yell loudest in a seven-minute segment before we go on to something else,” Mr. Gibbs said.
“I certainly criticize it, and I even occasionally watch it,” he said. “I certainly believe that feeding it, undoubtedly, I’ll plead guilty to counterproductivity.”
Mr. Gibbs made the remark Wednesday after several weeks in which he pointedly blasted one cable television reporter, ridiculed the audience of a cable network and questioned who was in control of Republicans. But it served to keep the issue in the news yet again, in what appears to be an intentional strategy.
The White House has pushed Mr. Limbaugh’s comments about Mr. Obama’s policies into the public debate beginning with Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, who on CBS’ “Face the Nation” show Sunday brought up the talk show host without being asked.
The morning after Mr. Limbaugh spoke to a conservative conference in Washington, Mr. Emanuel called the talk show host “the voice and the intellectual force and energy behind the Republican Party.”
Mr. Emanuel highlighted Mr. Limbaugh’s comments that he wants the Obama administration’s economic policies to fail.
Politico reported later in the week that Mr. Emanuel consorted with top Democratic operatives, including regular CNN contributors James Carville and Paul Begala, to try to make the flamboyant radio personality the face of the Republican Party.
White House spokesman Bill Burton said he disputed the Politico report but would not specify his point of contention.
Mr. Limbaugh has said he wants the president’s economic policies to fail because he thinks they will harm the country, and that he wants the country to succeed.
But on Monday, Mr. Gibbs said Mr. Limbaugh was “wishing and hoping for economic failure in this country.”