In response to the comment about White House disdain for the “liberal fringe” reported by NBC’s John Harwood last night, some are suggesting that the word “adviser” could mean this is coming from someone outside the White House.

Steve Benen:

Harwood cited “one adviser.” Now, “adviser” can have ambiguous meanings in political reporting. I’ve seen it used to describe top White House aides, but also applied to outsiders who may have the ear of someone in the West Wing. What did Harwood mean? I have no idea.

I asked Harwood to clarify. He confirmed that the quote came from “an Obama adviser.” He did say that the comments weren’t specifically directed at “the LGBT community or the marchers,” but “referred more broadly to those grumbling on the left about an array of issues including the war in Afghanistan and health care and Guantanamo.”

But the White House is now openly challenging the accuracy of Harwood’s reporting. Obama adviser Dan Pfeiffer emails Greg Sargent and refutes Harwood’s claims:

That sentiment does not reflect White House thinking at all, we’ve held easily a dozen calls with the progressive online community because we believe the online communities can often keep the focus on how policy will affect the American people rather than just the political back-and-forth.

The White House just called into question the reporting of a senior White House reporter for the New York Times and NBC News, and it is being interpreted as such all over the internet.

This is what happens when journalists allow sources to take cheap shots from behind the cloak of anonymity granted for no good reason. The source doesn’t have to own it if it backfires, and the journalist gets stuck with the reputation for sloppy and erroneous reporting if they decide to dump it on you. Which is exactly what’s happening here.

NBC should release a statement either defending Harwood’s reporting on the matter or retract it.   And the White House should identify Harwood’s source, because it doesn’t do much good to claim “we love you, we really really love you” and still protect the person who said it.