The Washington Post

Politico rankles White House with ‘breaking’ alert

White House defends Verrilli!!!! (Haraz N. Ghanbari/Associated Press)

POLITICO Breaking News


The White House is coming to the defense of Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr., whose performance before the Supreme Court Tuesday has been widely panned. “Mr. Verrilli is an extraordinarily talented advocate who possesses a sharp mind, keen judgment and unquestionable integrity,” White House Counsel Kathryn Ruemmler said Wednesday morning. “He ably and skillfully represented the United States before the Supreme Court yesterday, and we have every confidence that he will continue to do so.”

Every word of that statement is accurate. Dead on, in fact.

The context could use some work, however. Anyone reading this tidbit of “Breaking News,” after all, may well conclude that the White House was panicking about the shellacking that Verrilli has taken since his less-than-commanding performance yesterday at the high court. And so it decided to issue a statement. Get ahead of this story !

That’s not how this alert evolved.

John Harris, Politico’s editor in chief, sends word that reporter Jonathan Allen was doing some reporting for a Verrilli profile. So he asked the White House for comment. “When editors saw his profile, it seemed the statement of support for Verrilli was interesting and newsworthy, in the context of the criticism the solicitor general is receiving,” reports Harris. “These editors sent out a breaking news alert detailing the news in Allen’s profile.”

The White House is perturbed. “Politico mischaracterized our statement and incorrectly presented it as if the statement was in response to criticism,” White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer says in a statement. “We have raised our concerns with Politico over their handling of this incident.”

A simple seven-word preface to the alert would have headed off the problem:

In response to an inquiry from Politico, the White House is coming to the defense of Solicitor General Donald Verrilli Jr.

Bold text added to eliminate misleading impression left by breaking-news alert.

Erik Wemple writes the Erik Wemple blog, where he reports and opines on media organizations of all sorts.


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