Last night following the equality march in DC, John Harwood appeared on MSNBC saying that the White House viewed these “base” problems as “part of the internet left fringe.” He quoted a White House “adviser” who said that “bloggers need to take off their pajamas, get dressed and realize that governing a closely divided country is complicated and difficult.” We put up the video and transcript.
Almost immediately I got an email from Jesse Lee, the Online Programs Director for the White House who used to work for Rahm Emanuel at the DCCC. The subject line was “Off-record note on Harwood’s blind quote.”
Jesse and I have been through this before when he sent me something then tried to claim it was “off the record” during the transition — I told him at the time that “off the record” isn’t something he can just assume, it has to be requested by a source and only granted for cause. We went around and around with two other members of the transition team, and in the end I decided against publishing what he sent me.
But I warned them all in writing that I thought the White House practice of operating off the record for no good reason was wrong and that in the future, it was something he needed to ask for and justified before it was granted. I told him I didn’t see any need to be having off-the-record conversations with the White House anyway.
So here is what he sent to me and other bloggers last night:
Hey, wanted to get something out on this tonight. Obviously it’s the kind of thing where, as a blind quote, there’s an inclination to believe “that’s what they really think.” And obviously there have been other quotes along these lines over time, even if nothing so blatant. It goes without saying that this quote and others indeed reflect what *someone* actually thinks (who we haven’t been able to determine), but I want to say flatly that it is not what “the White House” or for that matter the President thinks.
Now most receiving this email know me, and I think have known me not to shovel shit that I knew was, well, shit. But at the same time I want to offer some evidence as to why I’m not shoveling shit now. The quote in question displays a disdain for bloggers, and while I’ll unequivocally give my word that I do not hear this sentiment from virtually anywhere inside the White House, this is difficult to disprove one way or another. But I think the quote also displays a belief that bloggers don’t matter, since nobody would give that quote to Harwood if they thought blogs did — and I think there is quite a bit of evidence that this is not what the White House at large believes, and therefore that the quote iws not representative. Certainly a belief that “blogs matter” is part of why I was hired, but more importantly we have hosted I would estimate 15-20 calls with top principals in their fields (including the President himself) exclusively for bloggers, and it is not at all unusual that I am asked to get help from bloggers on this issue or that from very high up the chain. These conversations involve top ranking people from policy to political to communications — so again, nobody involved with such conversations would logically give a quote that so obviously displayed a disregard for blogs’ importance. And to be clear again, I also give my word that I do not hear this sort of disdain displayed there either, but I wanted to make clear that there is a case to be made that doesn’t rest of my word.
As another point that in many ways doesn’t matter, but in some important ways does, the quote Harwood gave did not sound to me like it was given as an actual response to the LGBT March or LGBT discontent, it sounded like something unrelated (perhaps from a conversation on health care) that Harwood found a way to work into that segment. And while I think the person who gave it was very wrong and silly I also honestly believe that nobody in the White House would give that comment directed at LGBT rights. Like I say, I’m not sure that makes it any smarter but it does seem a clarification worth making.
Alright, so that’s a long email, and I feel confident that few will feel enormously assuaged, but it still seemed worth sending.
Hope all’s well — Jesse
As Glenn Greenwald notes today in a superb column, that just doesn’t pass the smell test:
Just this weekend, a “top gay Democrat close to Obama” was granted anonymity by Politico to dismiss administration critics on gay issues as “naive.” Just six weeks ago, an equally cowardly “senior White House adviser” hiding behind anonymity told The Washington Post that the only people who cared about the public option in health care were “the left of the left” — those same fringe, irrational extremists. In June, an anonymous “friend of John Brennan’s” told Jane Mayer in The New Yorker that the people who prevented Brennan’s nomination as CIA Director (because of his support for some of the most radical Bush Terrorism policies) were nothing more than “a few Cheeto-eating people in the basement working in their underwear who write blogs.” Last year, “Democrats on the Hill” anonymously dismissed opposition to telecom immunity and warrantless eavesdropping as nothing more than a fringe issue being exploited by Chris Dodd for his presidential campaign, and then anonymously warned Dodd to abandon his left-wing obstructionism if he wanted to resume good standing in the Democratic caucus. Can anyone miss the pattern?
Obama himself said that blogs aren’t reliable, and dismissed bloggers as “people shouting at each other across the void.” John Aravosis has been giving Obama heartburn over gay issues all the way back to Donny McLurkin. The idea that it was just by coincidence that Harwood happened to mention blogs and LGTB dissent together is laughable. In this case — as frequently happens — “anonymity” was requested by the White House for the purpose of saying something that they didn’t want to publicly own — for good reason.