During July and August, many Americans go on vacation, where they may be either unable or unwilling to obtain their minimum daily requirements of local and national news.
Because, as things now appear, the case of how many of President Carter's missing papers were stolen from the White House will be with us through Labor Day, it might be helpful to review quickly the predictable responses that an administration generally employs when confronted with an unwelcome report that it prefers not to challenge as inaccurate. For those readers just returning from a semi-newsless vacation or just leaving for same, we are now somewhere between the Third and Fourth stages.
First Stage. Confidently Attack the Report's Newsworthiness. The official spokesman hastens to point out that the story has been around forever, which implies that "responsible" reporters and news organizations have already investigated thoroughly and found nothing. There is no story to the story. This may be followed by an on-the-record quote like "Much Ado About Nothing."
Second Stage. Quietly Acknowledge, But Loudly Disparage the Value. This is a variation of: "What stolen horse? That nag was crippled."
Whatever it was that was supposed to have been done was of no real value to the people who did it, so therefore let's just forget it. In the current melodrama, the quoted version is "Carter would have lost anyway, right?"
Third Stage. Don't Be So Naive: Everybody Does It. Preferably with a swashbuckling swagger, the official spokesman suggests that the press and the public are unsophisticated ingenues. The spokesman may sardonically confide: "These things happen in politics." This explanation is sometimes more difficult for an administration that crusaded successfully against "politics as usual." It's a little tough to run as an anti-Washington "citizen-politician" and then to try to excuse your actions by saying you were doing what politicians do.
Fourth Stage. The "Cover Your Own Area" Response. If it begins to appear that eventually one or more somebodies will be punished for what was done, make sure that those somebodies do not include you or your immediate administration allies. If somebody will have to be thrown overboard to save the ship, nominate--in the press--your administration enemies for the honor. These responses generally do not have a public spokesman, but are more often attributed to a "high-ranking White House source" or "an intimate of the president." This stage is especially awkward for Washington power groupies, who understandably prefer not to get caught licking the boot or dropping the name of someone only formerly powerful.
This stage is also referred to flippantly as the civil war in the leper colony phase. It recalls the wisdom of William Herbert Page, the noted Wisconsin law professor: "Some people say there is honor among thieves, but I say they're no better than the rest of us."
Now, here for those who cannot wait are some yet-to-be-released-responses from members and friends of the administration.
The entire controversy will be said to be hurting one or more of the following: the economic recovery (if Democrats really cared about the unemployed, they would drop this issue); the NATO alliance; the prospects for real progress in disarmament talks.
Two historians from a previously unknown Midwestern college will release their findings that the administrations of both Adamses and Grover Cleveland did far worse.
What really went on at Yalta?
What about Chappaquiddick?
Do you want to turn the United States into a pitiful, helpless giant?
Who lost China?