REPORT: White House Planted Story To Get Revenge On Investigative Reporter
Spencer, Loyalists May Be Experimenting With Pro-Administration ‘Leaks’
The White House is dealing with its internal crises by doubling-down on their war with objective media, this week flirting with an administration-friendly “leak” of their own. On Sunday, Politico reporters Annie Karni and Alex Isenstadt published a story about White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s attempts to crack down on leaks coming from his staff.
A source inside a recent staff meeting told the journalists that Spicer harshly criticized deputy communications director Jessica Ditto’s work, causing her to cry. Politico then followed protocol and sought comment from Spicer and Ditto, who denied the anonymous leaker’s characterization of the meeting.
Here’s how Karni and Isenstadt reported the matter:
Within the communications office, the mood has grown tense. During a recent staff meeting, Spicer harshly criticized some of the work deputy communications director Jessica Ditto had done, causing her to cry, according to two people familiar with the incident. “The only time Jessica recalls almost getting emotional is when we had to relay the information on the death of Chief Ryan Owens,” Spicer said, referring to the Navy SEAL killed recently in action in Yemen.
Ditto also denied the accounts. “This is 100 percent not true,” she said Sunday after the incident was reported. “Sean and I have a great working relationship.”
This should have been a relatively non-controversial piece of reporting. Both the account provided by the source and the subsequent rebuff by Spicer and Ditto were included in Politico’s article.
But someone on Spicer’s staff apparently decided to seek revenge for what they thought was an unfair characterization of the meeting. They did so, not by handling the matter internally (to our knowledge, nobody on Spicer’s staff has been fired for leaking information), but by “leaking” an account of their own to the partisan Washington Examiner.
Unnamed White House officials told the paper that Isenstadt “appeared dismissive and laughed at Spicer’s answer”, an assertion Politico immediately rebuffed. Here’s how the Examiner reported the information:
…according to White House officials, is that Isenstadt appeared dismissive and laughed at Spicer’s answer. “He started laughing about that SEAL,” said one informed official, also upset at Politico’s “insulting” description of Ditto in the story as a “more junior spokesperson.”
Politico editor Carrie Brown rebuffed the claim on Twitter, and a spokesperson for the news organization called it a “patently false characterization of the conversation.”
Reporter writes story WH doesn't like/disputes. WH anonymously plants false story about reporter. https://t.co/2ZGue3uxfz
— Carrie Budoff Brown (@cbudoffbrown) February 27, 2017
Spicer and those loyal to him may be testing a new media strategy. If a leaky White House consistently undermines messaging from Spicer, leaking anonymous, administration-friendly statements to conservative newspapers muddies the waters, turning leaks into a partisan issue, and therefore making damaging information easier to deny—or attribute to an ideological enemy.
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Timothy Bertrand is an author and journalist from Houston, Texas. He is the Associate Editor at Reverb Press and splits his time between covering breaking news and penning thoughtful literary essays.