Valid questions. We’d add some more. Who are his parents? What did he study in school? (Maybe he studied with someone who could tell us something slightly interesting about him?) How much influence did he have on the president’s decision on Afghanistan? Does he ever disagree with the president? Has the president ever disagreed with him?
Cooper is generally a strong writer and reporter, with a well-received book under her belt. And while calling the piece a possible “beat sweetener,” as Shafer does, is to ascribe motive that we cannot know exists on behalf of Cooper or her editors, the profile does feel rather weightless. Shafer astutely points out that there are no enemies or naysayers quoted, something he calls “a necessary element of any profile.” In the Game Change era, some would say such material is the very stuff of the political profile.
Even if we are to give Cooper the benefit of the doubt, conceding that there were no curmudgeons to quote—or, as a commenter on Shafer’s piece claims, that they were too afraid of one of McDonough’s infamous e-mails to say anything critical—there is another issue we find problematic. Cooper’s piece reads like a profile written by a White House writer for other White House writers. Rather than the meat of who McDonough is and what he thinks, we’re given a series of anecdotes about how he deals with the press. As any one of us who has tried talking shop with non-industry friends knows, we’re only so interesting. (Notably, McDonough refused to be interviewed for the piece.)
We learn that McDonough is quick to critique other foreign policy wonks who criticize Obama in the press, that he chews out officials at the Pentagon and State Department for early leaks, and that he’s happy to let the media know how he feels.
He spent the entirety of his bike ride home to Takoma Park, Md., from the White House late one recent night arguing on the cellphone with a reporter who he believed had mischaracterized an internal administration debate over Iraq policy.
Such stories maketh the man, to an extent, but Shafer is right to want more. And we’d ask for it from somewhere other than McDonough’s BlackBerry.