This article first appeared at The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Monday, June 2, 2014:
The Obama presidency’s parade of miscues is jaw-dropping….
This president and his closest aides are the most negligent managers of the federal government in our lifetimes.
There’s the Fast and Furious scandal, the murder of four Americans in Benghazi, the IRS attack on conservative groups, the ObamaCare disaster, and now the Veterans Affairs scandal. These, along with others, have made White Press Secretary Jay Carney’s life miserable.
He has been the media mouthpiece for the administration since February 2011, the same administration that is “committed” to “transparency.” Here’s what the president said following his inauguration in 2009:
My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in government.
Government should be transparent. Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their government is doing. Information maintained by the federal government is a national asset. My Administration will take appropriate action, consistent with law and policy, to disclose information rapidly in forms that the public can readily find and use.
As the scandals broke, Carney’s job became more and more difficult. There was information that the administration was determined to keep secret, while at the same time it continued to promote its myth of transparency. What’s a good press secretary to do?
It turns out, now that Carney has resigned, that he had developed it to a high art form. It took the kept media until May last year to figure out that they weren’t being informed, but instead were being hoodwinked and misled. That was the month that Politico revealed the results of a survey it did of more than 60 White House press correspondents asking them about White House transparency. More than 25 of them thought the Bush administration was more transparent than Obama’s, while just 3 thought the opposite.
The survey asked if they agreed with former New York Times Executive Director Jill Abramson’s assessment that Obama ran “the most secretive White House” she had ever covered. A plurality of these sycophants said yes! Half of them said that they had been lied to at least once by a White House official, while 23 of them had actually been sworn at by a White House staff member.
Carney had his work cut out for him. As the mouthpiece for Obama, his job was messaging, shaping the public perception of his administration, providing cover for him as these scandals broke, and in general protecting him from public outrage. So he developed “Carneyisms” – responses that would deflect or stifle questions that would generate embarrassing answers. Remarkably, Time magazine was the first to discover Carney’s new skill set: since his first press conference on February 16, 2011, Carney had responded “I don’t know” – or some variation of it – more than 1,900 times!
In June, a no doubt excessively obsessive reporter for Yahoo News with time on his hands decided to review every press conference since Carney took over from Robert Gibbs, and add up all the responses used by him to defer, delay, or defuse a question asked by the press. There were – ready? – 9,486 separate and distinct responses that were less than forthright in giving a complete answer. Here they are:
– I don’t have the answer (1,905 times)
– I would refer you to someone else (1,383 times)
– You already know the answer (1,125 times)
– I’m not going to tell you (939 times)
– Not that I know of (927 times)
– I don’t want to (588 times)
– I’m not sure (549 times)
– I won’t speculate (525 times)
– No comment (429 times)
– That’s a good question (381 times)
– See my response to that yesterday (231 times)
– The President won’t tell me (117 times)
And the best one of all: “I’ll get back to you on that.” (387 times)
Perhaps the best example of Carney’s dissembling happened during his press conference last Thursday when Carney tangled with ABC‘s Jon Karl over Eric Shinseki, the day before Shinseki was fired. It’s a masterpiece:
JON KARL: Does the president have confidence in Secretary Shinseki?
JAY CARNEY: Jon, the president addressed this question from the podium.
KARL: He wasn’t asked directly does he have “confidence” in Sec. Shinseki.
CARNEY: The president believes that – and is confident that Secretary Shinseki has served his nation admirably, heroically as a soldier, as a general, and that he has accomplished some very important things as the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, and I listed them, but they include extending education benefits, reducing veteran homelessness, and reducing the size of the backlog for disability claims while expanding vastly the number of veterans who can make a claim.
KARL: But does the president right now have confidence in Secretary Shinseki, yes or no? It’s a very simple yes or no question. You told us last week he did have confidence, does he have confidence now?
CARNEY: What I would point you to is what the president said –
KARL: But he wasn’t asked directly if he was confident.
CARNEY: And I don’t have – I’m not going to improve upon his words. He talked about accountability.
KARL: But he wasn’t asked directly if he had confidence in him.
CARNEY: I understand that, the word play here. What I think is more important –
KARL: It’s a basic question. It’s not wordplay. It’s a central question: Does he have confidence in a member of his cabinet?
CARNEY: On the issue you are referring to when it comes to the revelations that have come to light about Phoenix and other veterans health centers, the President was deeply troubled by what we saw in the interim report from the inspector general, and he awaits the preliminary report from Secretary Shinseki from the internal audit that the secretary is conducting.
The master dissembler is resigning, effective in a week or so. He will be replaced by Josh Earnest, Carney’s deputy. Earnest has sat at the feet of the master. Whether Earnest will be able to outdo Carney for baffling, perplexing, befuddling, confounding, obscuring, stifling, suppressing, eclipsing, quashing, shading, smothering or otherwise squelching the press corps’ questions remains to be seen. Carney set the bar of equivocation very high and Earnest is going to have his work cut out for him to exceed it.
USA Today : White House spokesman Jay Carney resigns