Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Designated Liar

Another courageous thing Fred Hiatt did once, in 1999. Fortuitously it should help him manage Wapo's opinion coverage of the Trump White House.

Fred Hiatt joins the #Resistance!
Editor’s Note: Prior to publication of this column, The Post sought comment from the Department of Homeland Security but not from the White House. We should have done both. After publication, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told The Post that Stephen Bannon did not travel to see Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly on the evening of Jan. 28. – Fred Hiatt
On the evening of Saturday, Jan. 28, as airport protests raged over President Trump’s executive order on immigration, the man charged with implementing the order, Homeland Security Secretary John F. Kelly, had a plan. He would issue a waiver for lawful permanent residents, a.k.a. green-card holders, from the seven majority-Muslim countries whose citizens had been banned from entering the United States.
White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon wanted to stop Kelly in his tracks. Bannon paid a personal and unscheduled visit to Kelly’s Department of Homeland Security office to deliver an order: Don’t issue the waiver. Kelly, according to two administration officials familiar with the confrontation, refused to comply with Bannon’s instruction....
You see what he's doing? It's that at no point does Hiatt suggest, or even remotely acknowledge, the possibility that Spicer might be telling the truth. No revision to Josh Rogin's copy, obviously, but also no bracketed interpolation into it, and absolutely nothing like a correction or non-apology or whatever at the bottom. Just the acknowledgment that they should have asked Spicer for comment before publishing the piece, and a report of the words he gave them.

Of course Spicer is lying. That is, it's clear (if only from this story) that the visit did take place. Presumably he's lying on Bannon's behalf, in the sense that the whole thing of Bannon going to somebody else's office to ask for something instead of peremptorily summoning them to his office so he can demand it, and the fact that he got turned down, don't go with his self-image as the administration's Goering figure, or, to put it in a more Trumpian language, because it makes Bannon look like a loser.

Which he does, though Rogin demurely concludes that the battle ended in "a tie". (In fact the waiver was issued without any objection from Trump, as Kelly, Mattis, and Tillerson presented a united front in favor of it. And of course this morning's swift appeals court ruling against the Muslim ban as a whole makes these questions of detail kind of moot for the moment, and hopefully longer. See Steve M for some more interpretation of the incident.)

But I'm glad Hiatt made it clear he doesn't expect Spicer to tell the truth or even regard it as being an interesting question. Truthfulness is just not his job. He's the designated liar.

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