Revised Forecast: Snow! Lots and Lots of Snow!

Remember what the New York Times told you on Monday about Treasury Secretary John Snow’s certain doom, as “signaled” by anonymous insiders? Scratch that. The Bush administration announced yesterday that Snow will stay on. So, are certain publications today eating crow?

Grudgingly, dear children, only grudgingly.

The New York Times’ David Stout yesterday afternoon offered a semi-rowback in a piece on the Times website, headlined: “Defying Speculation [Our Own Reporting], Snow Will Remain Treasury Secretary.”

That bracketed, italicized passage, along with the ones to follow, represent CJR Daily’s handy translation of the words written.

“John W. Snow will stay on as treasury secretary, the White House said this afternoon, dashing speculation that he would soon be forced out of the Cabinet,” Stout reported. [But not exactly “dashing” further speculation, as you’ll see when we get to today’s Times and Washington Post stories later on in this post.]

“Over the past week,” Stout continued, “there had been increasing speculation [much of it perpetuated by this publication] that Mr. Snow was on his way out …” Stout did refer, in the next sentence, to his own paper’s reporting on Monday that Snow was soon to go, as well as to a Washington Post article in which an unnamed aide noted that Snow could stay “as long as he wants, provided it is not very long.” [Hey, it wasn’t just us, the doofuses at the Post did it, too!]

And then came this: “Whether people predicting Mr. Snow’s departure were misinformed, or Mr. Bush changed his mind, may not be known for a while, if ever …” Stout wrote. [Could it be we relied on anonymous sources who didn’t know what they were talking about and/or were using us to push for some agenda or outcome that did not pan out? Beats the hell out of us, and you’re not going to find out here.]

Today, the Times’ David E. Sanger follows up with an A1 piece rife with yet more quotes from unnamed insiders — “administration officials” actually get the final word in Sanger’s story. [Let’s hope these are not the same trustworthy officials who led the Times astray earlier.]

The Washington Post’s Mike Allen and Jonathan Weisman also rely today on anonymice to explain how, in the words of their colleague Howard Kurtz today, they “got Snowed.”

Allen and Weisman write: “Snow was kept on only after the White House considered a variety of possible replacements and sounded out at least one top official on Wall Street” who, “according to financial executives,” turned the job down. “Several officials said they had been led to believe by the White House that Snow was on his way out,” the duo writes. And, “Administration officials said that when no ideal successor could be found, Bush aides decided to retain Snow to put an end to rampant speculation that the former railroad executive was on his way out.” (All emphasis ours.) To quote Kurtz again, “speculation isn’t ‘rampant’ unless it appears in the newspapers, which are then complicit.”

But, as we have noted before, reporters rarely acknowledge their own role in these elaborately staged minuets — not even when the highlight of the dance is them falling all over their own feet. To wit, Allen and Weisman write: “The Washington intrigue was touched off just after Thanksgiving when a senior administration official said Snow could stay as long as he wanted, provided it was not very long.” Why not mention that this anonymous official had his say in Allen’s own contribution last week to the “intrigue”? The Times’ Sanger similarly demurs, referring vaguely to “the endless Washington speculation games” in which potential Snow replacements — including Andrew Card — were discussed. Missing is any mention of the Times’s own participation in the “speculation games” and its own reporting on the Card angle on Monday.

But wait! Because Cabinetstakes must not die, both Sanger of the Times and the Post’s Allen and Weisman add that “White House officials” didn’t say just how long Snow may hang around, with Allen and Weisman also noting that the administration has not offered a timetable for how long Donald Rumsfeld might remain as Defense Secretary.

Whew. Close call. For a moment there, we were worried that this whole embarrassment might bring a temporary surcease to stories relying on random speculation from anonymice who either don’t have a clue whereof they speak or are using reporters for their own purposes.

Liz Cox Barrett

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.