Taking out the Sestak Trash

With Obama’s promise at yesterday’s press conference that the White House would imminently (“When I say ‘shortly,’ I mean shortly. I don’t mean weeks or months”) offer an accounting of its communications with Congressman Joe Sestak before he announced his challenge to party-switching incumbent Arlen Specter—the administration’s favored candidate—in Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senate primary, we should have seen this coming: if it’s Friday, it’s trash day at the White House.

Months ago, when he was a confirmed underdog, Sestak told a local television interviewer that the White House had offered him a job to dissuade him from the race. Some—including Republican Representative Darrell Issa—have pointed to little cited and slightly dusty portions of the law to suggest that such an alleged quid pro quo would be illegal. It’s a slightly sticky situation for the White House, and one which, to date, they’ve been rather reluctant to address substantively on the record.

And so, today is the Friday before the Memorial Day holiday. If the empty hallways in my own building are any indication, plenty of people are already checked out for the weekend, if not literally, than perhaps mentally.

What a perfect day to release a statement, as the administration promises to do, dealing with something like this. It’s not the first time this White House, following in the footsteps of its predecessors, has saved some problematic news for a Friday, or the Friday before a long weekend. In December, the Associated Press’s Sharon Theimer ran down the list in a valuable piece on the practice that’s certainly worth a read, and not only for this priceless quote offered by spokesman Josh Earnest when asked how the administration squared the boss’s oft-toted commitment to transparency with quietly releasing uncomfortable information when the press and public might be off their guard:

“The First Amendment to the Constitution ensures that the media is independently responsible for how and when that information is covered.”

How? Yes. When? Not entirely.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Clint Hendler is the managing editor of Mother Jones, and a former deputy editor of CJR.