White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest’s faced a minor media revolt at his daily press briefing Monday after he criticised a Washington Post story for its reliance on anonymous sources.
Several reporters at the briefing challenged Earnest’s critique by pointing out White House officials regularly insist information be anonymously attributed to members of the administration in conference calls and other communications.
“You criticise anonymous sources but we have anonymous sources from you every day,” one reporter said. “How can you criticise that when that’s what you basically give us every day, except for the briefing?”
Earnest responded sarcastically.
“Except for the briefing? Except for the fact that I’ve been standing here for over an hour answering all of your questions?” he said.
Earnest insisted his complaint wasn’t about the practice of anonymous sources, but rather the weight of those sources within the individual stories. The Washington Post story in question — which documents early information President Barack Obama’s administration had on the humanitarian crisis of undocumented children streaming across the Mexican border — included a mix of on-record and anonymous sources.
“I’m not suggesting that they shouldn’t run their story,” Earnest said. “They’re entirely entitled to doing that. What I think is important is that greater weight should be granted to those who are willing to put a face and a name with specific claims. Cecilia Muñoz, who’s the president’s top immigration adviser, is in that story conveying exactly the White House position.”
He proceeded to suggest reporters inform their sources that their information will be devalued unless it’s on the record.
“So what that means is if you have anonymous sources at the White House who are telling you something, and you’re going to say to them, that anonymous source, ‘Look, I’m going to give your side of the story a little less weight right now because you’re telling me this anonymously.’ That would be an entirely credible thing for you to do,” he continued.
Two reporters pointed out the White House is hosting its own anonymous call Monday afternoon on a job-training report.
“So, Josh, would you commit then when you have situations like today’s call, which is people picked specifically by the White House to roll out a policy of the White House — would you commit to having those people speak on the record?” asked one journalist.
“White House calls on White House policy should be on the record,” asserted another.
Earnest said those decisions would be made on a “case-by-case” basis and repeated his position about the “weight” given to the anonymous sources, and told reporters to enjoy the anonymous call later in the day.
“With that, I hope you all have a wonderful afternoon and enjoy the afternoon call today,” he said.
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