Al Kamen
Al Kamen
In the Loop

It’s the intern’s fault

The National Transportation Safety Board was quick to find and punish the person responsible for that oh-so-embarrassing incident in which a Bay Area TV station aired names that were purported to be the pilots in the deadly Asiana Airlines crash.

The names were crude, pun-filled Asian stereotypes.

Al Kamen

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. He began his reporting career at the Rocky Mountain News and joined The Post in 1980. He has covered local and federal courts, the Supreme Court and the State Department. Follow him on Twitter.

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Was that remark caught on video at a private rally in New Hampshire about Scott Brown?

As the Internet collectively snickered, there were red faces all around. In its defense, the TV station said the information had been okayed by the NTSB.

The real culprit? An intern, the NTSB insisted, one they promptly fired.

Good strategy! Blaming the intern for cringe-inducing faux pas is a time-honored tradition. Interns, after all, make the perfect fall guys, with their not-always-fair reputation for cluelessness and laziness, and their status somewhere underneath the lowest rung on the Washington ladder. It’s not easy to earn respect when the most infamous alum is Monica Lewinsky.

But is it fair to turn eager young public servants into the equivalent of the dog who ate Washington’s homework? Joe Starrs, director of U.S. Summer Programs at the Fund for American Studies, which places Washington interns, said it’s an employer’s job to provide those young, inexperienced (and often unpaid) workers with guidance and a supervisor. “To throw the intern under the bus is the ultimate in abdicating responsibility,” he says.

The NTSB was trying to have it both ways, by blaming a clueless intern, but then (sort of) fessing up. “He shouldn’t have done that, but he did, and we’ve taken responsibility for it, and we’ve taken action to keep it from happening again,” NTSB spokeswoman Kelly Nantel told our colleague Paul Farhi .

But the agency was just following a script that’s reliably gotten politicians out of awkward jams. Here are some previous examples of pinning it on the intern:

●An intern for the 2008 presidential campaign of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) took the fall for “Farfalle-gate,” the scandal that ensued when recipes billed as Cindy McCain’s own culinary creations turned out to have been lifted from the Food Network. “The intern has been dealt with,” campaign spokesman Tucker Bounds told reporters. “We took away his zero pay.”

Ouch.

●Then-Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) in 2011 told the Boston Globe that a wayward “summer intern” had put together his new Senate Web site, and was thus responsible for passages that had been lifted verbatim from a speech given by former senator Elizabeth Dole.

●When the official Twitter account for then-Rep. Allan West retweeted a message from the band the Scissor Sisters defending gay people, the Florida Republican cried “unauthorized RT . . . an intern made an error.” The offending intern was sacked.

Perhaps it’s only a matter of time before clever pols figure out how to blame the real crises of our time on unpaid kids. Global warming? Partisan gridlock? Blame the intern.

Holder, AG for how long?

There have been constant rumors about when Attorney General Eric Holder will step down from his post.

Folks at Justice have said privately that they thought it might be in late August, around the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington.

Others have speculated that he might stay on until the end of the year, leaving in late November or December. Still others have said he wanted to stay until next July, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Conservatives have always been on Holder’s case, but recently there have been reports of widespread discontent amongst Democrats — even among “some” in the White House. (“Some” apparently does not include the only one who matters, Barack Obama.)

The acquittal of George Zimmerman in Florida — and questions about possible federal charges against him — may delay for a bit any change at Justice. And Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s departure in September may also delay things until her replacement can be found, nominated and confirmed — lest two key agencies be simultaneously leaderless.

Still, no one, including Holder, expects him to be in the job all that much longer. And history dictates that AGs simply don’t stay very long. With the exception of William Wirt (1817-1829), who served in the James Monroe and John Quincy Adams administrations, no AG has stayed a full two terms. Bill Clinton’s Janet Reno came closest, serving two months shy of eight years. (In fact, one-termers Jimmy Carter and George H.W. Bush each had two AGs.)

So Holder’s probably a short-timer. And that can only mean one thing: Yes, it’s the Loop’s Departure Date contest.

Simply predict when — day, month, year — Holder (or the administration) formally announces his departure.

Winners get one of our highly coveted Loop T-shirts.

Send entries — only one prediction per person — to intheloop@washpost.com. Be sure to provide your name, profession, mailing address and T-shirt size (M, L or XL), in case you’re a winner.

(Administration and congressional employees may enter “on background.”)

You must include a phone number — home, work or cell — to be eligible. Entries must be submitted by midnight July 24.

Good luck.


With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop
. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

 
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