Saturday, May 17, 2008

Ludicrous Anonymity

Dan Froomkin writes

President Bush yesterday took the highly provocative rhetorical step of likening those who support negotiating with our enemies to Nazi appeasers. For most people following the presidential campaign, it was an obvious attack on Democratic frontrunner Barack Obama, who has been particularly critical of Bush's refusal to talk with leaders who disagree with him.

On the record, White House officials issued disingenuous denials that Bush was talking about Obama. But on background, they admitted as much.

CNN's Ed Henry reported that "White House aides privately acknowledged the remarks were aimed at the presidential candidate and others in his party."

Sasha Issenberg writes for the Boston Globe: "White House officials indicated that the criticism applied to Obama."

Brian Williams reported on the NBC Nightly News that "it was clear to those listening that it was in part to make a point about Barack Obama back home." NBC correspondent John Yang then added: "Privately, White House officials said the shoe fits the Democratic frontrunner."

When asked at yesterday's gaggle if Bush's remark was "in any way directed at Senator Obama," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino replied: "It is not." And not only that: She tried to blame Obama for such an interpretation. "I understand when you're running for office you sometimes think the world revolves around you," she said. "That is not always true and it is not true in this case."

He doesn't mention the obvious fact that Yang, Williams, Issenberg, and Henry violated good journalistic practice by granting anonymity to the officials who were obviously dishing the official off the record line.

Granting anonymity in this case served no legitimate journalistic purpose. The journalists are complicit in the unusually clumsy charade.


Brendan said...


I disagree completely. It seems to me that there was useful information obtained here -- that despite official protestations that Bush was not attacking Obama, everyone on the inside knew better.

Do I wish that these anonymous sources had instead been on the record? Of course. But this collection of background material is better than nothing.

Robert said...

I assume that the Bush administration made an unofficially official decision to leave no doubt that Obama was the target, and, therefore, publicly officially said he wasn't and privately anonymously officially said he was. The want "Obama is an appeaser" out there.

I would guess that "administration officials" are reluctant to be named saying that as they know that if their name is associated with the equation negotiation = appeasement, their career prospects will be harmed.

Refusing to grant anonymity, makes it harder for people to get absurd attacks out there without hurting themselves. This is an excellent reason to refuse anonymity.

Brendan said...

I take your point about people being able to skate, and I share your general distaste for anonymous sources, but I still think there was some net gain obtained here. I prefer the outcome in this case to the old Bush Administration approach of being in absolute lockstep, no matter how ludicrous the message, since it defused the attempt by the right wing to pronounce Obama as "imagining things" or "paranoid."

Guess we'll just have to agree to disagree on this one.