How Republicans and Tea Partiers Alike Used the Heritage Foundation's #AskObama Script

by Abe Sauer

Yesterday, President Obama held a live chat session on Twitter. Billed as a “townhall,” the President spent an hour fielding questions from Twitter users about the state of the nation. It was a magnificent stunt in which the greatest beneficiaries were Twitter itself and amateur comedians.

That doesn’t mean nobody took it seriously. A day before the event, The Heritage Foundation, a tax exempt, 501c(3) nonpartisan “educational institution” whose goal is “to formulate and promote conservative public policies,” published five Twitter questions to “put President Obama on the spot.”

These five questions, gift-wrapped by Ericka Anderson, Heritage Foundation’s senior digital communications associate and former communications director for Congressman Todd Rokita, were fascinating. And boy, did they get asked.

Your budget was rejected by Senate 97–0 & Dems haven’t produced budget in 700+ days. Where is your economic plan? #AskObama

You said your stimulus plan would keep unemployment below 8%. Do you agree that was a trillion dollars wasted? #AskObama

You said it wasn’t a good idea to raise taxes in a recession but that is all you offer now to fix debt. Why? #AskObama

You’ve added more costly regulations in 2yrs than any of your predecessors, who all reviewed. When will it stop? #AskObama

Gas prices are high. We’re losing 90m barrels of oil due to your moratorium, plus jobs. Why release 30m from SPR? #AskObama

Heritage implored readers to “follow suit, or tweet these.”

As expected, conservative organizations did just what The Heritage Foundation asked. Americans for Tax Reform and the 60 Plus Association, tweeted the texts verbatim. Don Irvine, chairman of “Accuracy in Media,” tweeted not just one or two, but nearly all five of Heritage’s set ups.

Demonstrating just how little difference there is between the two when it comes to thought leadership, tea party organizations such as the Philadelphia Tea Party and mainstream GOP orgs such as Kansas Republican Party and the Arizona Legislative District 20 Republican Party, all tweeted the Heritage tweets as their own.

This influence of Heritage followed through when it came to the elected officials who used the foundation’s pre-written tweets are their own.

An establishment Republican who once called the Tea Party “disruptive,” Texas Rep. Bill Flores, tweeted:

Meanwhile, Tea Party Caucus member and North Carolina Rep. Sue Myrick asked:

Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL):

Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN):

Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-IN):

Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ):

Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC):

Jim Pfaff, Chief of Staff for Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R-KS):

And then there was Utah Senator Orrin Hatch:

But maybe Hatch doesn’t write his own tweets. Hatch’s director of strategic communications, Jessica Fawson, tweeted from her personal account:

Fawson’s resume lists her as a member of The Heritage Foundation.

Also doing what Heritage directed? Ed Morrissey, senior editor of one of the right’s “leading news and commentary” blog Hot Air. Morrissey tweeted:

Hot Air’s Associate Editor Tina Korbe joined in, not a surprise since she was once an “investigative journalist” for The Heritage Foundation. Before joining Hot Air, Morrissey also worked for the Heritage Foundation’s Policy Blog. (It’s noteworthy that Anderson, the author of the Heritage Twitter directions, used to blog for Town Hall, which acquired Hot Air in 2010.)

The extent to which elected politicians are taking direct talking points from The Heritage Foundation is hardly surprising given the Politico report from just a couple weeks ago that revealed the organization pays millions of dollars a year to the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. In exchange, in some cases, these conservative captains of ideology read scripts from Heritage as if they were the host’s own words.

Speaking for Senator Hatch, Jessica Fawson was less than eager to answer questions about the tweets a day later. After offering an explanation about how the senator often “retweets” things, Fawson replied to a direct comparison of the Senator’s tweets to the Heritage ones with an official statement: “The American people are asking the same types of questions that Senator Hatch asked of the President. These are the issues that Senator Hatch is focusing on in the United States Senate and as Ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee.”

This seems to imply that Senator Hatch believes The Heritage Foundation is the same as the voice of the American people, a question Fawson chose not to answer. “We already answered your first questions,” she told us.

Abe Sauer can be reached at abesauer at gmail dot com. He’s also on Twitter.