… Who Shall Remain Anonymous Because He Doesn’t Want You to Know Who He Is

Cabinetstakes, as CJR Daily noted recently, is the new default choice of Washington reporters who no longer have a veepstakes to write about. As assorted members of President Bush’s Cabinet have announced their departures in recent weeks, the political press has been overrun with highly speculative, anonymously sourced stories with one thing in common:

From them, readers learn next to nothing.

Today, the New York Times’ Richard W. Stevenson files what could be a parody of the genre, a piece about Treasury Secretary John W. Snow and how he is, per the headline, “likely to leave soon.” And so it should surprise no reader that President Bush, as Stevenson notes in his lead, “has been looking closely at a number of replacements,” including — according to (anonymous source alert) “Republicans with ties to the White House” — his chief of staff, Andrew Card. (The Cabinetstakes game in particular seems to have rendered the Times’ renewed anonymice extermination efforts moot.)

And what about the timing of Snow’s departure? Well, Stevenson has apparently been picking up “hints” and “signals” from unnamed persons for some time now. “Administration officials and advisers had been signaling for weeks that Mr. Snow was likely to depart eventually,” Stevenson writes. And, “in recent days, administration officials have been hinting that Snow will go sooner rather than later.” Stevenson also brings us the breathless news that Snow would be replaced “as soon as Bush decided on a successor” — as stated by “an advisor to the White House, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic.” Finally, Stevenson tells readers, attributed to no one at all, that “it is not clear how close Mr. Bush is to a decision on a replacement for Mr. Snow or if he has already made one.” (All emphasis ours.) Readers would do just as well consulting a Magic 8 Ball: Will Snow depart “eventually”? “Signals” point to yes. Will Snow go “sooner rather than later”? Affirmative, according to “hints.” Will Snow go “as soon as Bush decides” on a replacement? Unnamed insider says it is so. Is Bush “close” to deciding on Snow’s replacement? Reply hazy, ask again later.

Besides Andrew Card — who, according to “some Republicans” is “very interested in the Treasury job” — “the [unnamed] advisor to the White House” also told Stevenson that former Republican Senator Phil Gramm is another contender, although “the prospects of him getting the job were unclear.” (Reply hazy, ask again later.) And, “other candidates are also being considered,” Stevenson reports helpfully, according to “Republicans who have spoken to administration officials” — in other words, according to second hand anonymous sources?

Finally, readers hear from Secretary Snow’s spokesman who tells Stevenson, “We don’t comment on personnel speculation and rumors.” Yet Stevenson forges on: “As speculation that Mr. Snow will leave has intensified, the White House, when asked about him by reporters, has pointedly declined to give him a public vote of confidence,” further fueling Stevenson and his colleague’s speculation and hence, this article.

Anonymice also ran amok in Stevenson’s Saturday Cabinetstakes piece on Bernard Kerik, co-written with Eric Lichtblau — including “administration and congressional officials,” “a senior department official,” and “another senior official.”

But if an award for the most absurd anonymouse of the day is to be given, Stevenson is, perhaps not surprisingly, bested today by his Times colleague Elisabeth Bumiller. Bumiller, in her “White House Letter” — that, as it often does, left us wondering, “What’s the point?” — quotes “a Bush aide” quoting President Bush while asking “not to be identified because the president’s remarks reflected impatience with his job.”

Liz Cox Barrett

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.