Last night, CNBC's John Harwood offered an outrageous quote from "an anonymous White House adviser." Saying he didn't think the National Equality March yesterday was a serious sign of frustration or dissatisfaction with the president among his base, Harwood said:
Sure, but if you look at the polling, Barack Obama is doing well with 90 percent or more of Democrats so the White House views this opposition as really part of the “Internet left fringe,” Lester. And for a sign of how seriously the White House does or doesn’t take this opposition, one adviser told me today those bloggers need to take off the pajamas, get dressed and realize that governing a closely divided country is complicated and difficult.
I'd describe this as the journalistic equivalent of a "your mama" joke, except generally those aren't also anonymous. Glenn Greenwald, Jane Hamsher and Pam Spaulding all reacted angrily -- which is understandable, given the circumstances -- the president has yet to make serious headway on a number of campaign promises on gay rights.
Still, I'd take this with a grain of salt. If an "anonymous White House adviser" was quoted as saying the president planned to repeal DOMA or DADT next month, everyone -- the bloggers I've mentioned above in particular--would treat that claim with skepticism. But because the above quote fits with their general frustrations about the president's foot-dragging on gay-rights issues and confirms their suspicion that the president's sloth is ultimately rooted in contempt for LGBT people, they're taking it almost entirely at face value. As Hamsher put it, "After pandering to LGBT leaders last night the truth comes out. Dear gays: grow up and let us get about the serious business of governance." How is it that Hamsher knows this is "the truth" and the speech the president gave on Saturday night was a "lie," other than the fact that it confirms what she already suspected?
Of course, the reaction Hamsher gave is the one the reporter was trying to get -- I was taught in journalism school never to grant someone anonymity just to talk smack, but doing so is now simply a part of political journalism, for the simple reason that it pisses people off and thus makes more news.
It's impossible to know where the reporters' own editorializing and characterization of the "adviser's" quote begins or ends, how highly ranked the adviser is, or how indicative his views are of the president's or even anyone in the White House of any significance. Greenwald observes that there's someone in the White House who appears prone to give such quotes -- this suggests to me that the above statement is even less evocative of the administration's thinking than we might assume and more representative of one person's grudge toward the netroots. While I sincerely doubt Harwood fabricated the quote, a number of facts about the quote aren't just unknown, they're unverifiable.
In light of that, it seems more appropriate to judge the president on what he's done or hasn't done, rather than on the kind of anonymous smack-talking that helps reporters make news. There's plenty to be angry about already.
UPDATE: A White House spokesman tells Greg Sargent that "that sentiment does not reflect White House thinking at all."
-- A. Serwer