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White House Website Draws Petition To End All Petitions

Dec 31, 2012
Originally published on December 31, 2012 3:32 pm

Jeff Jarvis has had enough of the White House's petition site.

The 1-year-old site, We the People, is meant to be a place for Americans to directly entreat the president. Any petition that gathers more than 25,000 signatures in its first month is supposed to generate an official response from the Obama administration.

Since the site's launch, the White House has released statements related to petitions on human rights violations in Sri Lanka and responded to calls to save the U.S. Postal Service, and President Obama recorded a video in response to a petition with more than 150,000 signatures that asked the White House to address gun violence.

But Jarvis, a journalist, author, professor, media critic and Buzz Machine blogger, thinks the project is just enabling the attention-starved, especially in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting.

So naturally, he created his own petition on the site calling for an end to stunty, attention-seeking petitioning. "Petitioning government is a right as well as an opportunity for citizens to convene and for government to collaborate with them," he wrote. "But this facility is becoming farcical. Indeed, this petition itself is merely link-bait, to demonstrate the point. If you'd like media to stop making fake stories out of fake petitions, sign below."

As of this writing, his petition is about 24,989 shy of the 25,000-signature threshold.

We the People has become a hotbed of pro- and anti-gun sentiment in the wake of the Connecticut shootings, but many of those petitions have served essentially as vehicles to flog public figures who've waded into the heated debate. More than 97,000 people have called for Piers Morgan, the voluble CNN talk show host and a Brit, to be deported for his pointed criticism of what he sees as the United States' lax gun laws. Nearly 16,000 want an investigation of NBC's David Gregory, who brandished what he said was a high-capacity magazine for an assault weapon during some pointed questioning of an NRA official on Meet the Press — a possible violation of D.C. firearms regulations. Another cohort wants Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., a proponent of gun control, banned from ever holding public office. (We're going to hazard a guess and say that these requests might fall outside of the White House's purview.)

And there are plenty of requests that are less serious. More than 30,000 people want the White House to secure funding by 2016 for the Death Star, Darth Vader's planet-sized space fortress. A handful of other Americans want John Darnielle, the lead singer of the folk rock group The Mountain Goats, to be named the nation's poet laureate. (Darnielle, the petition creator asserts, has "struggled on our behalf to come to terms with the base instincts of the human psyche.")

Do you agree with Jarvis? And is there anything you think the White House's petition site could do better? Let us know in the comments.

Gene Demby is a new NPR blogger who will be part of an initiative focusing on race, ethnicity and culture. You can follow him on Twitter at @GeeDee215.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.