Jake Tapper Flummoxes Jay Carney On White House Press Policy Hypocrisy

We take broadside shots at the press fairly regularly, both directly and as a vehicle for explaining ills and issues surrounding the government and, at least in my case, law. And there have been plenty of said shots aimed at the White House press over the years (stenographers!) and, pretty much, well earned. But fair is fair, and when there is good work done, it should be pointed out every now and then too. Today is a day for that.

At today’s White House press briefing, Jake Tapper of ABC News bored straight into WH Press Secretary Jay Carney, and it was a thing of beauty. The briefing opened with Carney evincing praise for the two journalists who died last night covering the Syrian popular uprising and resultant government crackdown and oppression, Marie Colvin and Rémi Ochlik as well as the New York Times’ recently deceased, Anthony Shadid. There is little doubt but that Carney, and the White House, have genuine sadness over the deaths. But Carney, on behalf of the White House, was taking it further and using them as shaded vehicle for political posturing and Tapper flat out called him on it. The exchange transcript, from Jake and ABC News:

TAPPER: The White House keeps praising these journalists who are — who’ve been killed –

CARNEY: I don’t know about “keep” — I think –

TAPPER: You’ve done it, Vice President Biden did it in a statement. How does that square with the fact that this administration has been so aggressively trying to stop aggressive journalism in the United States by using the Espionage Act to take whistleblowers to court?
You’re — currently I think that you’ve invoked it the sixth time, and before the Obama administration, it had only been used three times in history. You’re — this is the sixth time you’re suing a CIA officer for allegedly providing information in 2009 about CIA torture. Certainly that’s something that’s in the public interest of the United States. The administration is taking this person to court. There just seems to be disconnect here. You want aggressive journalism abroad; you just don’t want it in the United States.

CARNEY: Well, I would hesitate to speak to any particular case, for obvious reasons, and I would refer you to the Department of Justice for more on that.
I think we absolutely honor and praise the bravery of reporters who are placing themselves in extremely dangerous situations in order to bring a story of oppression and brutality to the world. I think that is commendable, and it’s certainly worth noting by us. And as somebody who knew both Anthony and Marie, I particularly appreciate what they did to bring that story to the American people.
I — as for other cases, again, without addressing any specific case, I think that there are issues here that involve highly sensitive classified information, and I think that, you know, those are — divulging or to — divulging that kind of information is a serious issue, and it always has been.

TAPPER: So the truth should come out abroad; it shouldn’t come out here?

CARNEY: Well, that’s not at all what I’m saying, Jake, and you know it’s not. Again, I can’t — specific –

TAPPER: That’s what the Justice Department’s doing.

CARNEY: Well, you’re making a judgment about a broad array of cases, and I can’t address those specifically.

TAPPER: It’s also the judgment that a lot of whistleblowers’ organizations and good government groups are making as well.

CARNEY: Not one that I’m going to make.

That is good work. Clearly Carney was not ready for such a pointed line of questioning, and tried to shine it on by going back and trying to hide behind the fallen reporters. But Jake Tapper was having none of it and kept boring in. It was an example of not needing to get an answer to make a solid point. Frankly, I think it would be a very good thing if there was a lot more of this done in the face of the pablum shoved out daily by government spokesmen, of which the White House Press Shop is merely the most public, and glaring, example.

Lastly, and this is not a criticism in the least, because I think it is fairly clear Jake tapped Carney out about as far as he could in the exchange today, but I would like to see him, or another reporter, go back at Carney on not just the Obama Administration’s attack on leakers, but the pernicious and chilling attacks on the press themselves. It is an easy out for Carney to say he cannot talk about defendants and cases, but he can sure be questioned about the consistent policy of chilling reporters such as Jim Risen and Siobhan Gorman.

If you really want to show the hypocrisy, there is the story that is not emphasized enough. The Bush DOJ had subpoenaed Risen in the Sterling matter for the grand jury phase, but dropped it when he moved to quash. The Obama Administration, once again going to extremes even the much maligned Bush/Cheney one would not, reinstated the effort to haul Risen in front of a grand jury on Sterling and break his source protection. Judge Leonie Brinkema quashed the effort rather sharply.

But the DOJ has now gone after Risen a third time in their effort to squelch the ability of reporters to interact with sources, and protect the relationship. Even after Brinkema granted limited questioning of Risen at trial, that was not enough, the DOJ has appealed to get more. The thing is, the government does not need more from Risen to try Jeffrey Sterling, and that finding was made and supported well by Judge Brinkema. It is gratuitous and meant to chill the press, not just leakers. It is not just me saying that, it is a coalition of 29 news organizations, including ABC News.

Jake Tapper clearly flummoxed Carney on the White House press reporters hypocrisy, even if just a bit. A followup round further pointing out the even deeper underlying hypocrisy in the direct attacks on the press would be even better. Thanks to Jake for today, how about a rematch for Round Two?

Bmaz is a rather large saguaro cactus in the Southwestern Sonoran desert. A lover of the Constitution, law, family, sports, food and spirits. As you might imagine, a bit prickly occasionally. Bmaz has attended all three state universities in Arizona, with both undergraduate and graduate degrees from Arizona State University, and with significant post-graduate work (in physics and organic chemistry, go figure) at both the University of Colorado in Boulder and the University of Arizona. Married, with both a lovely child and a giant Sasquatch dog. Bmaz has been a participant on the internet since the early 2000’s, including active participation in the precursor to Emptywheel, The Next Hurrah. Formally joined the Emptywheel blog as an original contributing member at its founding in 2007. Bmaz grew up around politics, education, sports and, most significantly, cars; notably around Formula One racing and Concours de Elegance automobile restoration and showing. Currently lives in the Cactus Patch with his lovely wife and beast of a dog, and practices both criminal and civil trial law.
12 replies
  1. scribe says:

    You left out the whole “we don’t need subpoenas – we know who you’re talking to” line of questioning.

  2. Peterr says:

    All this is true, but it would be a lot more compelling if the White House Press Corps gave much less cover to anonymous “Senior Administration Officials” or “Senior Republican leaders on The Hill”.

    Reporters fear that they’d lose their inside sources, but if they did this, they’d also gain a lot of power over them. Right now, insiders of both parties are confident that they can simply feed their spin to various sources and know it will get out there.

    If a more forceful pushback like this from Tapper were to be combined with a greater resistance to using sources who abuse the “speaking on background” thing, the press would be in a much better position to assert itself.

    Great post, bmaz!

  3. John Casper says:

    Thanks bmaz. I give YOU a lot of credit for Tapper and their editors finding a backbone. Can’t recall the issue, but I remember you calling out Tapper on Twitter for lazy reporting. Tweeted. Recommended.

  4. bmaz says:

    @John Casper: Heh, yeah I don’t know about that. Yes, I have griped more than a few times, not only about Jake, but several others on the WH beat. By the same token, Tapper I think really is one of the better ones in there for asking pointed questions and actually trying to get a real answer, or at least make the point as he did here.

  5. thatsdrfreak says:

    It’s nice to see somebody pushing back on this. Republicans won’t do it. Democrats are afraid to. Finally, a sign that the fourth estate is starting to do something.

  6. ondelette says:

    Your coverage of this, like Kevin Gosztola’s, is an exact parallel of Glenn Greenwald’s, save for some of the elaboration on Jake Tapper’s description of Jay Carney’s “praise”, which Glenn described as “he watched as Carney praised the heroism of two reporters killed this morning in Syria and then waxed poetic on the Vital Importance of Journalism.”

    Here is what Jay Carney actually said, in toto:

    Before I get started I wanted, on a serious note, to say something about two journalists who were killed yesterday in Syria. As you know, last week I, aboard Air Force One, said something about Anthony Shadid, who died last week in Syria. These tragic deaths underscore something that I think we all — all of us in this room, since we participate in — I did once and you do now — in this profession — it’s a reminder of the incredible risk that journalists take — Marie Colvin, Anthony Shadid, and the French photojournalist who was killed yesterday as well — in order to bring the truth about what’s happening in a country like Syria to those of us at home and in countries around the world. And our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of those journalists.

    In other words, he talked about how much of a risk some journalists (never, for instance, Jake Tapper) take to bring the truth to the world, in one sentence, and then said a condolence in a second sentence. That was all. Glenn, who didn’t probably actually read it, just made shit up. You, who accepted what Jake Tapper described, did the same.

    As of this morning, the NYT article makes clear that she got killed because the tanks were actively targeting the signals of those who were sending reports out from Homs. In other words, just perhaps, Mr. Tapper if he’d known his shit, might have asked more appropriately whether the U.S. had helped cultivate the climate which killed Ms. Colvin by targeting journalists in Iraq, or by targeting propagandists in Yemen. But Jake Tapper doesn’t really know his shit. He just knows how to mouth off. And the people who think he speaks truth to power, well, they don’t even bother to look up the truth before parroting him.

  7. Arbusto says:

    When, in a gaggle of henpecked stenographers, will a penetrating question again be asked? Even if Trapper is a hack, iced tea will be served in Hell before he’s called on again.

  8. Tom says:

    If only this could make TV and newspaper headline news. Jake is a hero! I’m so happy someone sees though all this DC BS and even more – stands up to it.

  9. Sparkles the Iguana says:

    And it’s still at the top of the Yahoo news page at 5:16 pm (central). Good going, emptywheel.net!

  10. Gabe Bruno says:

    As a gov’t whistleblower I want to nominate Jake for a Pulitzer on this exchange alone. He’s got a clear bead on this administrations active suppression of the truth.

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