White House Website Scrubbing: Far-Reaching,
Systematic, in Violation of 'The Rule of Law'
October 26, 2004
By Brad Friedman
1978 the Presidential Records Act was instituted in the wake of
the Nixon Administration's legal imbroglio over the status of presidential
to the National Archives, the Act "changed the legal ownership
of the official records of the President from private to public."
On Nov. 1, 2001 George W. Bush issued Executive
Order #13233 which modified some of the measures of the Presidential
Records Act of 1978. And in a bit of Orwellian irony that has now
become all too recognizable in the current administration, Executive
Order #13233 is not listed at all on the White House website page
Orders Issued by President Bush.
Despite the changes implemented by George W. Bush, the Presidential
Records Act still "Defines and states public ownership of the records"
as the National Archives points out.
The National Archives also specifically states that:
Presidential records are defined as:
Documentary materials, or an reasonably segregable portion thereof,
created or received by the President, his immediate staff, or
a unit or individual or the Executive Office of the President
whose function is to advise and assist the President, in the course
of conducting activities which relate to or have and effect upon
the carrying out of the constitutional, statutory, or other official
or ceremonial duties of the President [44 U.S.C. ß 2201(2)].
These records can be in a variety of media, including paper,
audiovisual, and electronic.
The Clinton Administration was the first to have a White House
website, and indeed the original architects of that site apparently
took great pains to create a precise "versioning" system to capture
various changes to the content over time. As the National Archives
website on this notes;
"These versions are historical materials." One can still view all
of the various versions of the Clinton White House's website via
Over the past several weeks, I have been chronicling the stark
difference in the Bush Administration's management of their White
House website. I caught them red-handed as they hastily
removed the website's list of Iraq "coalition" members just
after the V.P. Debate when Dick Cheney accused John Edwards of being
"dead wrong" for not counting Iraqi casualties as a percentage of
"coalition casualties." I caught them again after the third Presidential
Debate when the White House removed
damning video footage of Bush admitting at a press conference
that he was "not truly that concerned" about bin Laden - precisely
as John Kerry had charged during the debate.
investigation reveals a great deal of information that has vanished
from the site. Some of it is easily spotted, such as the link to
"Secretary of Treasury Paul O'Neil testifies about terrorism risk
insurance" still displayed on this
page (a sample from that page is pictured at right) but which
now leads instead to a "The file you have attempted to access cannot
be found" page.
More troubling, however, are those pages which have simply been
modified, or deleted all together and which are not tracked and/or
cached (and are therefore lost to the historic record entirely,
as discussed shortly) by Internet archive and caching sites. Enormous
sections of the White House website then are not indexed or cached
at all by these external public archive and search engines.
Therefore, any number of modified and/or deleted pages of "historical
material" may now be almost impossible to track, record or even
Notably, I've documented here
just a few examples of audio and video material that has been "disappeared"
from the website. Such audio and video media is not indexed or cached
at all on any site by search and archive sites. So the material
systematically removed from hundreds of pages at whitehouse.gov
may well be gone for good.
A few critics have suggested that the White House website has
a policy of removing old media after a year or so for space reasons.
Given how inexpensive digital storage space has become and the vast
amount of material already catalogued on their website, such an
explanation would constitute a strange reason to delete "historical
material." As well, such a practice is likely illegal, as defined
by the Presidential Records Act.
But even if one cites "lack of storage space" as a plausible explanation
for some of the vanished material, it certainly could not be used
to explain their purposefully
removed link to their "List of Coalition Members."
Good luck trying to find any up-to-date listing of coalition countries
on the whitehouse.gov website at this point. Pretty remarkable considering
we're in the middle of a war, and Bush/Cheney are parading around
the country talking about the strengths of this - apparently mysterious
- "coalition of the willing."
wire story that finally picked up on our original reporting
at the end of last week offered this "official" explanation:
"This is not unusual. If there is incorrect, or out of date
information, we take it down," White House spokesman Jimmy Orr
told AFP. "What we're doing right now, with the entire Iraq site,
is we're updating the information."
So, in other words, a simple list of coalition member countries
that had previously been updated regularly (here's an example of
one from April of 2003) to add new countries whenever one came on
board, can no longer just be updated to add or remove countries
as they come and go. Now, they must just "take it down" entirely
instead of updating the information on the page.
Of course they must. With Bush/Cheney running around the country
telling folks that Kerry/Edwards are disrespecting coalition countries
like Iraq (never, ever, ever named as a "Coalition Country" on any
White House or State Dept. or Pentagon website page that I've been
able to find - and those other websites have also been scrubbed
apparently of such information) they've now got to use the publically
owned White House website - in possible violation of both the Presidential
Records Act and existing campaign laws - to scrub any evidence that
might show the administration is actively lying to America.
Anyone willing to bet that the "entire Iraq site" won't be "updated"
accurately again until some time after, oh, say, November 2nd?
As this story has gained momentum in the blogosphere, there has
been a critic or two - okay, one, Jim
Gilliam, one of the producers of the excellent Outfoxed documentary
- who seems to be backing up the White House line from the AFP article
suggesting the White House is simply removing old media after a
year, as some sort of a space-saving policy.
He is wrong. Clearly, on the "Coalition List" issue there is no
denying their purposeful cover-up to avoid telling America who the
coaltion countries are. On that, they've been caught with a hand
directly in the cookie jar.
But on the issue of various audio and video being removed from
the site, also as reported here,
there is ample evidence that Gilliam is giving far too much credence
to the White House spin of removing old media after a certain date.
While such a policy, questionable in and of itself, might have
explained why some of the media is no longer available, there is
far more evidence suggesting that there is no blanket policy for
the removal of audio and video media from the site. Rather, if there
is such a policy, it is either a haphazard operation or, more likely,
done as the political operatives see fit.
How otherwise to explain the January 21, 2002 video from a Martin
Luther King Day event which is still available from the White House
website? We're well beyond the suggested one-year expiry date for
such material. And, of course, that's just one of many videos well
over a year old which are still available for viewing at the White
And take a look at a sampling of Bush's Radio Addresses from all
the way back in 2001, just before and after 9/11. Some audio is
still there, some isn't:
Aug 4, 2001: "President
Announces Medicaid Reform in Weekly Radio Address" (REMOVED)
Aug 11, 2001: "Radio
Address by the President to the Nation" (Stem Cell Research)
Aug 18, 2001: "Radio
Address of the President to the Nation" (Values, Faith-Based
Initiative, Compassion) (STILL THERE)
Aug 25, 2001: "President
Discusses Budget in Radio Address" (REMOVED)
Sep 1, 2001: "President
Urges Quick Passage of Education Plan in Radio Address" (REMOVED)
Sep 8, 2001: "President
Emphasizes Education Reform in Radio Address" (REMOVED)
Sep 15, 2001: "Radio
Address of the President to the Nation" (9/11, National Security)
Sep 22, 2001: "Radio
Address: Despite Challenges, Economy Fundamentally Strong"
Could that simply be the result of sloppy webmastering? I suppose
so. Though it's certainly of note that only audio from the "National
Security" and "Compassionate Conservatism" addresses remains online,
while economic, education and stem cell-related addresses are no
Even so, why should a White House as politically structured from
the ground up as this one has proven to be - which has now been
caught specifically removing politically damaging material and lying
about virtually every aspect of their four years in power as part
of a clearly orchestrated campaign strategy - be given the benefit
of the doubt on anything anymore?
That notion alone underscores why these guys need to go; if they
can't even be trusted in their own country by their own citizens,
how are they to be able to represent our best interests and be trusted
by any of the nations in the world?
The unavoidable perception is that of arrogant attempts at deception,
displayed by a willful manipulation of the publicly-funded and historically-relevant
records of the White House website. The arrogance here is revealed
by the fact that it's so simple to demonstrate what these guys are
doing, and yet they both continue to do it - and lie about it.
We're able to follow some of the shenanigans thanks in part to
Internet cache and search sites such as Google's
Cache and The
Wayback Machine. But those sites do not cache old media
(audio and video) files, only old documents - and the White
House has even attempted to block
caching of those, as reported over a year ago by 2600.com and
That policy is still in effect today via a robots.txt
file on the site which provides a long list for Internet search
and archive engines describing precisely which directories should
not be indexed.
And yet, even with all the evidence to the contrary, this White
House baldly announces to the American people that this entire process
is nothing more essentially than routine maintenance. Right. And
George W. Bush never said he was "truly not that concerned" about
Osama bin Laden. It's just one of those... exaggerations
in a world where words, they continue to hope in these last few
days of the campaign, will speak louder than actions.
With the exception of a single AFP report filed on this on-going
matter, and despite the story becoming amongst the most discussed
in the entire blogosphere over the past week, we still continue
to scratch our head and wonder how the mainstream media can file
report after report about lesbians, wolfpacks, and goose-hunting
while possible violations of federal laws by a sitting administration
go virtually unreported.
That is a courtesy granted, apparently, only to this administration.
I'm sure Al Gore would have appreciated the same back in 2000 when
literally hundreds, if not thousands, of reports were filed on a
couple of campaign-related phone calls alleged to have been made
from a White House telephone and "no controlling legal authority"
became the buzz phrase of both the right-wing and the so-called
"liberal" media from then on through Election Day.
As ever, a different set of media rules seem to apply to Democratic
versus Republican administrations. Never fear. I'm sure the media
will suddenly begin to "get it right" again during the Kerry administration.
Brad Friedman is a freelance writer and software designer. He
is also a proud "Liberal Hollywood Elitist" sharing all of the great
esteem and many rewards that come with it. His blog can be read