By Carole on Sep 20, 2011
President Barack Obama and his team just can't seem to help themselves from making bad situations worse. Latest case in point: When a new book showed the administration in a less than favorable light, the accusations and denials came pouring out like so many tears during a two-year-old's tantrum. The result? What the media would have barely noticed has become a journalistic gotcha moment as the author has proven he got it right.
For his book Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, and the Education of a President, author Ron Suskind conducted over 700 hours of interviews with Obama administration insiders including the president himself. One of those interviews, with former White House communications director Anita Dunn, reflected poorly on the way women staffers were treated. "This place would be in court for a hostile workplace," she is quoted as saying, "Because it actually fit all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace to women."
Those words drew passing interest from the mainstream media when they were released days before the book hit store shelves, but what really made it a story was when Ms. Dunn immediately went public to claim that she had been quoted out of context and that she had told the author "point blank" that the White House was not a hostile work environment. That 'he said/she said' element elevated the story from the kind of criticism every president endures to a potential hit-piece on some money-grubbing pseudo-journalist trying to smear public figures (see Joe McGinniss). But it doesn't end there.
Mr. Suskind has now allowed a Washington Post reporter to listen to that part of the interview with Ms. Dunn which he recorded. The recorded quote: "I remember once I told Valerie [Jarrett] that, I said if it weren’t for the president, this place would be in court for a hostile workplace. Because it actually fit all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace to women." Obviously Ms. Dunn was not accusing Mr. Obama himself of anything but there's no way "it actually fit all of the classic legal requirements for a genuinely hostile workplace to women" actually means "point blank" that the White House was not a hostile work environment.
So we've gone from a run of the mill criticism to a who's telling the truth and finally to proof of who told the truth. Let's we move on to several other objections by administration officials interviewed for the book. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has said the reports he's read of the book "bear no resemblance to the reality we had together." Former chairman of the White House Economic Council Larry Summers said of the book "the hearsay attributed to me is a combination of fiction, distortion and words being taken out of context."
Arguably one of the most damaging statements in the book came from an interview with Citigroup Vice Chairman Peter Orszag. While working with the White House to ensure the banking giant's solvency in 2009, Mr. Orszag said he was told by Mr. Summers, "You know, Peter, we're really home alone. There's no adult in charge. Clinton would never have made these mistakes."
Appearing on NBC's Today program this morning, Mr. Suskind responded to these charges by saying, "The fact of the matter is, all of them said everything; we have extensive notes and tapes for this book." He even claimed to have vetted the "home alone" quote with Mr. Summers directly. Considering what just happened to Ms. Dunn, I'd say the credibility meter is pointing in Mr. Suskind's direction.
But the important story here isn't really the specific criticisms from staffers and ex-staffers. That's the kind of treatment every president gets and most seem to be able to ignore it and just get on with their duties. But this is the president who brought us attackwatch.com - the pathetic tool with which his dwindling army of supporters can report those who dare speak against their hero. This is the president who, like Narcissus staring into the pool, is so obsessed with his own image that whenever an unflattering truth sneaks out it must be quickly and completely denied...at least until the proof is revealed.
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