‘NOBODY IS COLLECTING NAMES’…. It’s a shame yet another conspiracy theory reached the White House briefing room. ABC News’ Jake Tapper reports this afternoon:

Asked about Cornyn’s letter on Thursday afternoon, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said, “nobody is collecting names.”

The blog and tips email was because, Gibbs said, “we have seen, and as I’ve discussed from this podium, a lot of misinformation around health care reform. Some of it I think spread purposely. We have used on many occasions the Web site to debunk things that are simply not true. We ask people if they have questions about health care reform and about what they’re hearing about its affects on them, to let us know and we’d provide them information to show that that wasn’t true.”

Continued Gibbs: “but nobody is collecting names.”

Well, no, of course not. The very idea that the White House would be “collecting names” is about as legitimate as the idea that the president is a not a natural-born citizen. As nutty Republican conspiracy theories go, this was even more headache-inducing than most.

If you’re just joining us, a White House blog post encouraged folks who come across lies, scare tactics, and misinformation to email the White House Office of Health Reform. The point, obviously, is a renewed effort to combat deceptive tactics and set the record straight for those concerned about the facts.

Soon after, one prominent right-wing blog interpreted this to mean “the White House wants you to report … anybody publicly opposing” health care reform. Limbaugh, Malkin, and Drudge quickly followed. Tuesday, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) was asserting that the White House wants Americans to report on each other. Yesterday, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), who loved warrantless wiretaps, insisted that it seems to him the president’s team is trying to create a “program” to “monitor American citizens’ speech” and catalog “names, email, addresses, IP addresses.”

Last night, Krauthammer said this is a Hugh Chavez-like effort. This morning, “Fox & Friends” told its audience that the White House is creating a “snitch list.”

It’s a case study, not only of how vile nonsense works its way through the right-wing food chain, but also of how Republicans and their cohorts prey on public confusion to promote paranoia and mistrust. It’s American politics at its most insipid. I suspect all of these far-right activists and lawmakers were well aware of reality, but ran with the lie because it served their purposes — in this case, to deceive their base and generate more rage.

And today, an attack that originated as a transparently stupid far-right blog post has now garnered a response from the spokesperson for the President of the United States.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.