March 14, 2003
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
You wouldn't think that Dick Cheney or his wife, Lynne, spend their leisurely hours patrolling the Internet, but they apparently have more time on their hands than you would suspect. That's what became clear to John Wooden, owner and creator of WhiteHouse.org, when he received a letter from Dick Cheney's White House Counsel (http://whitehouse.org/administration/love_letter.asp).
In legalese, Cheney's taxpayer salaried lawyer, warned Wooden to stop using photographs of Lynne Cheney and her "name" in his satire. The White House attorney also told Wooden that he couldn't use the presidential seal, even though the seal on WhiteHouse.org has a vulture in the center of it, rather than an American eagle.
Wooden responded by putting a red clown's nose on Mrs. Cheney's photos, posting a satirical statement from Cheney (The response: "Irate Vice President Cheney Issues A Punctilious, Legally Precise "Oh, Wise Guy, Eh? Why I Oughta!" Letter To Nefarious "Whitehouse.Org" Terror Portal!" http://whitehouse.org/news/2003/022003.asp), and adding the following disclaimer to the page Cheney was offended by:
Subsequently, the ACLU of New York, where Wooden lives, took up his case, the Vice President backed down, and thousands and thousands of new readers visited the site due to all of the publicity.
BuzzFlash is proud to regularly post links to WhiteHouse.org in our lighter side section (always at the bottom of the third headline column).
Recently, we interviewed Wooden about the little First Amendment dust-up with the Vice-President.
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BUZZFLASH: Overlooked in the coverage of the letter from the vice president's lawyer is that he also asked you not to use the Presidential Seal, but the Presidential Seal on your site has a vulture at the center of it instead of a bald eagle. What gives?
JOHN WOODEN: My question exactly. One would think that White House employees in general -- but especially those in the Cracker Jack legal department -- would be able to correctly differentiate between real and spoof Presidential seals. Then again, you'd think they'd have learned about the Bill of Rights, too.
BUZZFLASH: What happened after the ACLU took on your case and you received a lot of media coverage?
WOODEN: There was a big surge in visits to WhiteHouse.org for a few days, and I suppose we've picked up a decent number of new readers as a result, but basically we're back to business as usual. The folks at the NY ACLU have been totally amazing, and are continuing to pursue the matter to ensure that we're spared any more such government "requests" in the future.
BUZZFLASH: How did Lynne Cheney look on your site before and after your received the letter from the White House?
WOODEN: Prior to receiving the letter, the photos which accompanied Mrs. Cheney's WHITEHOUSE.ORG biography were normal. Upon receiving the letter, I personally was at a loss as to what to do. Fortunately, our staunchest Republican staffer -- Mrs. Betty Bowers (www.bettybowers.com) -- had the presence of mind to suggest appeasing the White House by reverently altering the photos to accentuate the Second Lady's best features.
BUZZFLASH: Another curious thing about the letter is the address it was sent to. Was it your correct address?
WOODEN: It was -- albeit two years ago. Hence the two month delay in its delivery. I suppose that's "Total Information Awareness" in effect.
BUZZFLASH: Do you feel vindicated now that the Vice President has backed off his request to have you remove the "objectionable" material?
WOODEN: Not vindicated, no. There was never any doubt in our minds that the contents of WHITEHOUSE.ORG are constitutionally protected free speech. And though the whole incident may have given the Bush Administration the tiniest of momentary PR black eyes, we won't feel like we're out of the woods until the formal request is retracted in writing. Having an unnamed aide tell reporters "we consider the matter closed" is insufficient -- and effectively gives the Vice President's office carte blanche to continue harassing others with the same kind of bullyish intimidation tactics.
BUZZFLASH: Have you received a lot of e-mails responding to the news coverage? Have they been supportive?
WOODEN: Overall, the response has been extremely positive -- supportive mail from all over the country and the world. Of course, there was also a torrent of hate mail for a day or two -- including some juicy anonymous death threats. You'll find the best of it published in WHITEHOUSE.ORG's reader mail section. Give it a look -- you've be overwhelmed by warm fuzzies in no time!
BUZZFLASH: When did you start your site? Does anyone still confuse it with the whitehouse.gov site (the Bush White House site)?
WOODEN: Before taking over the WhiteHouse.org domain in July of 2001, I was publishing a website called chickenhead.com with my writing partner John DeVore. As I started building WhiteHouse.org, I invited the geniuses behind my two favorite websites -- landoverbaptist.org and bettybowers.com -- to come on board, along with some friends from MAXIM and other online artists and writers whose work I'd been admiring from afar. Fortunately, everyone said yes. So currently, it's an all-volunteer, totally decentralized effort that we do mostly in our spare time via e-mail. Of course, if some crazy political Sugar Daddy or Mommy out there wanted to underwrite the whole effort, our writers could actually get paid -- and we could increase our output threefold. But that will never happen -- especially not if they flood me with generous, no-strings offers at email@example.com.
Also -- it's worth noting that WhiteHouse.org was active as a wonderful political parody during the Clinton/Gore years -- albeit under different editorial management. I suppose the previous administration wasn't quite so thin-skinned. Then again, maybe they just understood that whole silly First Amendment thingamajig.
As for people confusing WhiteHouse.ORG with WhiteHouse.GOV -- we've probably reached about 7 or 8 million people since we started publishing, and in that time have received maybe 450 pieces of e-mail from people who couldn't figure out we're a spoof. You do the math. I'm just worried someone's going to sell those folks a bridge or something.
BUZZFLASH: Have you framed the letter from the White House asking you to cease and desist?
WOODEN: Not yet. I'm trying to pick just the right gilded frame from the White House Historical Society catalog.
BUZZFLASH: We understand you're about to distribute some political trading cards. What is that all about?
WOODEN: Yes -- they've just been released TODAY! They're real, honest-to-goodness, tangible trading cards. They're called "PSYCHEDELIC REPUBLICANS" -- and they're a year and half in the making. Basically they're just like baseball cards -- except they're Republican politicians, as seen through the eyes of some deranged, hallucinogen-addled flower child freakazoid. They're on sale now at psychedelicrepublicans.com.
BUZZFLASH: Does Lynne Cheney have a red clown's nose on the trading cards?
WOODEN: They're Psychedelic, brother. Anything can happen.
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
otherwise noted, all original