In CJR’s just published report card on the Obama administration’s first year transparency record, I gave the White House an “F” for habitually doling out information and quotes to reporters via off the record background briefings. While noting yesterday’s high-level meeting on the Christmas bomb-attempt, this morning’s Politico playbook provides a perfect example of how absurd this practice and its corollaries can be:
The White House tells reporters on background that in the meeting, the President said: ‘This was a screw up that could have been disastrous. We dodged a bullet but just barely. It was averted by brave individuals not because the system worked and that is not acceptable. While there will be a tendency for finger pointing, I will not tolerate it.’
Why on earth does the White House insist that reporters not tell the public which press functionary doled out this supposed presidential quote? Having the self-serving statement in circulation serves the President’s interests by making him look like a tough manager. That’s ok as far as it goes, and what you’d expect from any politician’s handlers.
But there’s something deeply unseemly about his press shop demanding that some flack’s finger prints be wiped away from this anodyne utterance—and about reporters so willingly consenting to do so.
Not a good way to start the new year.Clint Hendler is the managing editor of Mother Jones, and a former deputy editor of CJR.