Is it still spam if the GOP does it?

Democrats wonder whether Fox News has a double standard for unsolicited e-mails from politicians


Mike Madden
October 21, 2009 11:22PM (UTC)

A few months ago, a typical Washington mini-scandal erupted after Fox News reported that the White House was sending e-mail to people who never signed up to receive it. Now it looks like a conservative Republican could soon be doing the same thing. Just how long will it take Fox to get around to noticing?

On Rep. Michele Bachmann's Web site, there's a link to sign up for "Bachmann Bulletin," her newsletter. The Minnesota Republican put a link on Twitter Wednesday asking people to go there or text "MN6" to 467468 in order to subscribe.

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That had some Democrats wondering if Bachmann wasn't effectively going to be spamming people soon. All you have to do to sign up is put in an e-mail address and a name; there's no requirement that you confirm the subscription before receiving messages. I signed up Salon's Alex Koppelman and our editor Mark Schone before adding myself to the list, as well. No message of any kind seems to have shown up to any of us alerting us that we were subscribed.

Which basically means some people -- Koppelman, and my boss, to name just two -- could soon be receiving mail from Bachmann even though they never asked for it. (This could also be a fun new prank -- sign your friends up to get updates from Bachmann!) When the White House was doing the same thing, of course, that was a big deal for Fox, which reported on "hundreds" of people who complained to the network that they were getting unsolicited messages from David Axelrod about healthcare reform. The network's White House correspondent, Major Garrett, had a sharp exchange with press secretary Robert Gibbs over it. After a few days of hectoring by the network, the administration changed its e-mail policy so groups couldn't sign people up to receive White House messages without their knowledge.

So far, though, Fox hasn't done any sort of follow-up about Bachmann's newsletter -- quite predictably, Obama allies say. "Given how obsessed they were to make a federal case out of this when it came to the White House, you would think that Fox 'News' would be asking all sorts of questions of Republicans about the same practice," one Democratic official said, adding the quotes around "News." "But apparently not. Maybe there's a breaking story about how ACORN is planning a swine flu vaccine that will indoctrinate children so they will support a world currency that will undermine the dollar that they are covering. But more likely, the disparate treatment here is just further evidence that Fox 'News' is an arm of the Republican Party."

UPDATE: Bachmann's press secretary, Debbee Keller, writes in to point out that several Democratic lawmakers have the same feature on their Web site. Which is true -- sort of. Signing up on the Web sites of two of the six Democrats Keller pointed out, Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts and Rep. James Oberstar, of Minnesota, generated verification e-mails that require recipients to confirm they want to receive mail before they're added to the list. But three others -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland and Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina -- appeared to sign me up without any confirmation at all. The sign up link for the sixth, Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, was broken.

Bachmann's office also pointed out that all the e-mail her newsletter sends includes an "unsubscribe" link on the bottom of the message. But then again, so did the e-mail from Axelrod that so upset Fox News in August.


Mike Madden

Mike Madden is Salon's Washington correspondent. A complete listing of his articles is here. Follow him on Twitter here.

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