The Washington Post

A reporter’s guide to dealing with the White House

White House briefing room (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images) White House briefing room (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

After Politico’s Dylan Byers posted a play-by-play this week illustrating the cat-and-mouse games the White House plays with the press, frustrated reporters took to Twitter recounting their favorite response lines from administration officials with the hashtag:  TweetYourAnonymousFlackQuotes.

This friction is, of course, nothing new. Past White Houses and government agencies have certainly been evasive. But judging from the frequent complaints we hear, the lack of transparency is worse than ever.

Our colleagues have found that a number of truly unhelpful responses have become the standard repertory at many agencies (maybe there’s an administration-wide crib sheet?). Now, as a Loop public service in honor of the end of Sunshine Week, we include some of the most common — and egregious — examples (along with some suggested responses for reporters).

1. “Why is this a story?” (Because I say it is.)

2. “Who told you that?” (A person who sits in your building.)

3. “Where did you get that?” (From the e-mail you sent out to your colleagues this morning.)

4. “That’s not accurate.”  (And what exactly is not accurate?)

5. “You’re way off base?” (Am I?)

6. “I have nothing for you on that.” (So, “No comment?”)

7. “You’ll have to contact. . .” [another agency, which happens to be in the midst of an “all hands" conference in Vegas]. (I did. They told me to call you.)

8. “So, what’s the question?” (Repeat the same question.)

9. “No Comment.” (Thanks, that’s helpful.)

10. “Who are you? Politico?” [In other words, insulting a fine news organization by implying you’re asking a trivial question.]  (Defend Politico and/or ignore and repeat the same question.)

11. Everyone’s favorite: “Off the record, no comment.” [Most people not in the business intend this to mean “Don’t use my name" or “on background," or “don’t use my name or agency," meaning “deep background." The beauty of this one is that you can’t use the “no comment."]  (Ignore this, and just say the agency “declined to comment.”)

12. Their final tactic, when they realize their efforts to stop the story have failed: “We are going to point out that this is wrong.” (Go ahead. Then you’ll be lying to a lot more people than me.)

13. Then: “!@#$%^&*.”  (Hang up.)

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments
The New Hampshire primary is Tuesday. Get caught up on the race.
New Hampshire primary: What to expect
New Hampshire will hold a traditional primary just eight days after the Iowa caucuses. Polling in the Granite state has historically been volatile in the final weeks before the primary. After the Iowa caucuses, many New Hampshire voters cement their opinions.
The Post's Ed O'Keefe says ...
Something has clicked for Bush in New Hampshire in the past few days. What has transpired by no means guarantees him a top-tier finish in Tuesday’s Republican primary here, but the crowds turning out to see him are bigger, his delivery on the stump is crisper and some of his key rivals have stumbled. At the least, the developments have mostly silenced talk of a hasty exit and skittish donors.
The feminist appeal may not be working for Clinton
In New Hampshire, Sen. Bernie Sanders is beating Clinton among women by eight percentage points, according to a new CNN-WMUR survey. This represents a big shift from the results last week in the Iowa caucuses, where Clinton won women by 11 points.
New Hampshire polling averages
Donald Trump holds a commanding lead in the next state to vote, but Marco Rubio has recently seen a jump in his support, according to polls.
New Hampshire polling averages
A victory in New Hampshire revitalized Hillary Clinton's demoralized campaign in 2008. But this time, she's trailing Bernie Sanders, from neighboring Vermont. She left the state Sunday to go to Flint, Mich., where a cost-saving decision led to poisonous levels of lead in the water of the poor, heavily black, rust-belt city. 
55% 40%
Upcoming debates
Feb. 11: Democratic debate

on PBS, in Wisconsin

Feb 13: GOP debate

on CBS News, in South Carolina

Feb. 25: GOP debate

on CNN, in Houston, Texas

Campaign 2016
State of the race

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.