Just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should do that thing. Case in point: the White House’s decision to call representatives of fourteen large news organizations into a secret meeting right before White House press secretary Jay Carney was scheduled to hold a normal briefing for all White House reporters. Is the White House too stuck on itself to realize that, when your cover-up has been exposed, you don’t keep digging by starting Cover-Up II, the Sequel?
Wednesday’s House hearing about Benghazi marked a very bad day for the White House. Highly placed, very credible State Department officials with first-hand knowledge testified that the White house did nothing to save Americans while the Benghazi attack was taking place and worked feverishly to lie about the attack after it had ended.
Americans are a forgiving people. A few well-placed confessions and apologies might blunt the political consequences flowing from these revelations. An arrogant administration, though, won’t opt for confession and redemption. Instead, it will double down. Which is precisely what the White House did.
Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, was scheduled to hold an ordinary press briefing at 12:309 on Friday. Instead, the White House press office announced that the meeting was to be delayed and then invited representatives from 14 major news outlets to attend a secret “of the record” meeting to discuss Benghazi.
Those reporters who attended were told that this was to be a deep background, which meant that they could neither name nor quote anybody. Instead, the White House told them things (what things, we don’t know) solely for informational purposes. What the reporters heard will presumably end up in later news stories as “White House sources say . . .” without names or direct quotations.
Perhaps this might have worked out all right, except that word got out, in significant part because the regularly scheduled press briefing got pushed back almost three hours. Those reporters who weren’t invited were miffed. And the White House was scrambling. It announced that the meeting wasn’t actually “secret”; it was just an “off the record,” “deep background” gathering for a privileged few.
Veteran White House reporters understand that there is a virtue to “deep background” meetings. In ordinary cases, if the press had access only to official statements and briefings, they’d be missing large chunks of stories that the White House or Congress want to get out to the public but that, for various reasons, they are unable to state openly. Having more of the story helps their coverage, even if they can’t explicitly state those “deep background” facts.
In this case, however, a “deep background,” “off the record” meeting was just about the worst thing the White House could have done. Americans have learned that Hillary lied to Congress about the information she had before the attack; that the Obama and Hillary, almost certainly for fear of political fall-out, did nothing while Americans were besieged and dying on a small piece of American soil overseas; and then engaged in a massive cover-up that involved everything from editing talking-points to conform to a lie; having UN Ambassador Susan Rice lie on a series of news shows; and looking directly into the eyes of those parents who lost their sons and lying to them.
In an image-conscious world, to add secret meetings with the press on top of all of those lies and cover-ups looks bad and smells worse. The message it sends is that the administration is corrupt and that it’s working hand-in-hand with an equally corrupt media. The Obama administration’s promised “transparency” – a promise it’s never even attempted to fulfill – has been turned into a travesty, with an “of the record” meeting that makes it appear as if the administration and media are working hand-in-hand to deceive the American people.