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Thank you LA Times for teaching me absolutely nothing

November 8, 2009

A headline on the LA Times website this morning read: ‘Democratic consultant says he got a warning from White House after appearing on Fox News.

As you might expect from the headline, it goes on to say that the consultant was threatened by the White House, and that this was part of a pattern of behavior from the Administration in the war it’s waging on Fox. There are categorical denials from named Administration officials, and evidence presented that undermines the article’s assertion.

What the article does not include is the name of the Democractic consultant, the name of the official he or she claims threatened him or or her, nor any attempt to sort the truth from the mud. In short, it’s a not-particularly-interesting gossip column masquerading as news, occupying valuable space in at least two major papers (the LA Times and Chicago Tribume).

A lot of digital ink has been spilled over use of anonymous sources, and Peter Nicholas is hardly the first writer unable or unwilling to educate his readers beyond a he said/she said retelling of two positions. I don’t know why this article got under my skin, but it did. Let’s break it down:

At least one Democratic political strategist has gotten a blunt warning from the White House to never appear on Fox News Channel, an outlet that presidential aides have depicted as not so much a news-gathering operation as a political opponent bent on damaging the Obama administration.

The Democratic strategist said that shortly after an appearance on Fox, he got a phone call from a White House official telling him not to be a guest on the show again. The call had an intimidating tone, he said.

Makes the Administration out to sound power- mad and totally paranoid, but it’s a juicy start and I’m sure facts to come will back all this up, right?

The message was, “We better not see you on again,” said the strategist, who spoke on condition of anonymity so as not to run afoul of the White House. An implicit suggestion, he said, was that “clients might stop using you if you continue.”

Ok, so they’re not going to name names. Don’t know who’s making the accusation, or even who they’re accusing, which already makes this a bit of a non-story. And this is a typically pathetic reason for withholding names. If this is true, surely the strategist will have ‘run afoul of the White House’ by getting the story into print. And if this is true, surely the ‘White House’ will have a fairly simple time of it figuring out who the nameless strategist is. Whatever test for granting anonymity the Times/Tribune were using, this has got to fail.

White House Communications Director Anita Dunn said that she had checked with colleagues who “deal with TV issues” and that they had not told people to avoid Fox. On the contrary, they had urged people to appear on the network, Dunn wrote in an e-mail.

A name! Accountability! A categorical denial! That pours a bit of cold water on the story, no? No.

But Patrick Caddell, a Fox News contributor and former pollster for President Carter, said he had spoken to Democratic consultants who said they were told by the White House to avoid appearances on Fox. He declined to give their names.

Caddell said he had not gotten that message himself from the White House.

He added: “I have heard that they’ve done that to others in not too subtle ways. I find it appalling. When the White House gets in the business of suppressing dissent and comment, particularly from its own party, it hurts itself.”

Another name! Great. And he says he’s never received any threats – a bit more cold water. But wait! More accusations from more nameless sources. I don’t see why the Names bother – they’re getting their asses handed to them by Anon. Then there’s the accusation from Caddell, that the White House is suppressing dissent and comment. Assuming this whole story is true, banning people from Fox News is hardly suppressing dissent. You could argue it’s dumb politics, but it’s not like nameless dem strategists don’t have other gullible media to get their stories out.

Some observers say White House officials might be urging consultants to spurn Fox to isolate the network and make it appear more partisan. A boycott by Democratic strategists could help drive the White House narrative that Fox is a fundamentally different creature than the other TV news networks.

White House officials appear on Fox News, but sporadically and with their “eyes wide open,” as one aide put it.

Yes, White House officials could be doing that. Or they could be doing something else. And what about this ‘White House narrative’ we keep coming back to? Is there anything to that? Well, Nicholas didn’t think these questions were worth considering so I guess WE’LL NEVER KNOW. I also like that going on TV with your “eyes wide open” is evidence of a grudge.

Then, after lobbing accusations at the White House of intimidating Dems off Fox for half the article, we then learn that two high profile Administration members – David Axelrod and Hilary Clinton – were on Fox just this past week. So there goes that.

Of course, John Doe #1’s accusations might be totally legit, and the Obama White House might be engaging in some shady shit. However, I know exactly nothing more about this now than I did before I read the article.

All in all, a great piece of journalism.

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