Sunday, December 5, 2004

Puppy Politics

Just in time for Christmas, Barney, the First Dog, is back.

In his latest video, "Where in the White House is Miss Beazley" (the fourth in the BarneyCam series on, the President’s four-year old Scottish terrier is spurned for a Cabinet post. Instead, he is ordered to find his new baby sister, Miss Beazley, and take her under his wing. After unsuccessfully searching the White House, seeking help from various administration staff, Barney purchases a replacement dog online, hoping Laura Bush won’t notice the switch. The whole video cleverly presents a dog's eye view of the White House at Christmas while appealing to our basest “puppy love.”

And while children and adults alike, regardless of politics, can enjoy Barney’s frolic about the White House, the video release is no laughing matter for Web broadcasters. As of this writing, the White House has so far denied rebroadcast rights to online publishers, maintaining the video exclusively on its own Web site.

At the same time, the White House has granted TV networks broadcast rights to a pair of videos showing Barney, a playful Scottish terrier, cavorting with President Bush, First Lady Laura Bush and top presidential aides. Multimedia outlets, such as the cable news networks, which were authorized to show the video on TV, were subsequently prohibited from Web release.

This double standard, and the related lost advertising revenues, continues to confound online media and has lead to a battle, led by the Washington Post, playfully called the “Free Barney” wars. Previous Barney holiday videos have drawn more than 24 million viewers to the White House Web site – about the same number of people who visited political sites in the final month of the 2004 presidential race. That the films are paid for with taxpayer dollars – and U.S. intellectual property law specifically allows the distribution of content created by federal employees on the government's clock – only compounds the issue.

The debate began during the 2003 release of Barney II: Barney Reloaded, a humorous Christmas story in which various Bush administration officials and White House workers – including President and Mrs. Bush, White House chief of staff Andy Card, Bush spokesman Scott McClellan and political adviser Karl Rove – imploring Barney to work rather than to play.

Regardless of the “Free Barney” wars, the little Scottie’s annual holiday films have become a quick and popular White House tradition. And there is something in the video for everyone, even if you’re not a dog-lover. One of the funniest moments in "Where in the White House is Miss Beazley" doesn’t even feature Barney; it features Karl Rove complaining about all the blue ornaments on the Christmas tree as a hail of red ornaments rains upon him.

And, of course, no Barney video would be complete without the obligatory soccer ball scene – reason enough for me to watch again and again.

Barney is just the most recent in a long line of presidential dogs that have captured the media’s, and the nation’s, attention – from campaign winning pooches like Herbert Hoovers' German shepherd, King Tut; Franklin D. Roosevelt's much-adored black Scottie, Fala; and Richard Nixon’s black and white cocker spaniel, Checkers. fb

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