W.H. Pulls Plug on E-Mail Asking For "Fishy" Reports

5192097On August 4, White House aide Macon Phillips announced the launch of flag@whitehouse.gov, which encouraged Americans to report "fishy" information related to the the Obama health care proposal. Phillips' announcement was titled "Facts Are Stubborn Things."

Well, so is public opinion, as the White House acknowledged on Monday by quietly pulling the plug on the flag@whitehouse.gov e-mail address.

Messages sent there are now bounced back with this response:

[flag@whitehouse.gov]: host mailhub-wh2.whitehouse.gov[] said: 550 5.2.1 [flag@whitehouse.gov]... The email address you just sent a message to is no longer in service.We are now accepting your feedback about health insurance reform via:http://www.whitehouse.gov/realitycheck (in reply to RCPT TO command

The "Reality Check" Web page on WhiteHouse.gov doesn't encourage reporting misinformation to Washington, D.C.; instead, it features some videos about President Obama's proposal. There is an option to submit comments, but the Web form stresses "Please refrain from submitting any individual's personal information, including their email address, without their permission."

That's almost the opposite of the original flag@whitehouse.gov program, which had no obvious privacy safeguards -- and which became the focus of spirited criticism over the last two weeks.

Sen. John Cornyn, a Texas Republican, wrote in a letter to the president that: "I am not aware of any precedent for a president asking American citizens to report their fellow citizens to the White House for pure political speech that is deemed 'fishy' or otherwise inimical to the White House's political interests."

Cornyn wasn't alone. On his radio program, Glenn Beck dubbed flag@whitehouse.gov an "enemies list," and talk show how Rush Limbaugh characterized it as "Obama's own exclusive private domestic spying program." A t-shirt saying "REPORT ME" has appeared, and some conservatives mocked it by reporting themselves to the White House on grounds they were spreading "disinformation" by criticizing the Democratic health care legislation.

This hasn't been a very good month for the White House and its attempts to use e-mail communications. Earlier on Monday, CBSNews.com also reported that the White House will change its e-mail sign up procedures so make sure that people won't get spammed.

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    Declan McCullagh is the chief political correspondent for CNET. You can e-mail him or follow him on Twitter as declanm. Declan previously was a reporter for Time and the Washington bureau chief for Wired and wrote the Taking Liberties section and Other People's Money column for CBS News' Web site.