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.



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