False positives

FALSE POSITIVES…. I can only imagine how excited conservatives were yesterday afternoon after the White House released its visitors logs, detailing the thousands of people who’ve came to the White House since January. As the New York Daily News noted, “For one brief, shining moment, it looked like conspiracy theorists had found the mother lode.”

The reason for the short-lived exhilaration was that the logs included names such as William Ayers, Jeremiah Wright, and Michael Moore. True to form, several prominent conservatives pounced. The Weekly Standard‘s Michael Goldfarb proclaimed, “I tried to warn you, America. Rev. Wright and Bill Ayers!”

As is too often the case, the right failed to think this one through. As Norm Eisen, special counsel to the president for ethics and government reform, explained:

There’s an important lesson here as well. This unprecedented level of transparency can sometimes be confusing rather than providing clear information.

A lot of people visit the White House, up to 100,000 each month, with many of those folks coming to tour the buildings. Given this large amount of data, the records we are publishing today include a few “false positives” – names that make you think of a well-known person, but are actually someone else. In September, requests were submitted for the names of some famous or controversial figures (for example Michael Jordan, William Ayers, Michael Moore, Jeremiah Wright, Robert Kelly (“R. Kelly”), and Malik Shabazz). The well-known individuals with those names never actually came to the White House.

Yes, someone named William Ayers visited the White House this year, but not that William Ayers. Someone named Jeremiah Wright stopped by, but not that Jeremiah Wright.

Conservatives got excited for nothing. Goldfarb’s national “warnings” notwithstanding, there is no controversy here.

It’s also worth noting that the Obama White House deserves some credit for embracing this level of openness and transparency. The Bush team, as you may recall, fought like hell to keep visitor logs shielded from public view. Obama’s team is not only making the information available, it’s putting all the information online. It’s the most transparent White House ever.

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Steve Benen

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.