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Obama’s Abusive Staff

There’s been a lot of attention to the battle between the White House and Bob Woodward, but this article by National Journal’s Ron Fournier, on the toxic relationship he has with some high-ranking White House sources, is also worth reading.

Last week Fournier sent out a tweet that angered the White House. Here’s what happened next:

The official angered by my Woodward tweet sent me an indignant e-mail. “What’s next, a Nazi analogy?” the official wrote, chastising me for spreading “bull**** like that” I was not offended by the note, mild in comparison to past exchanges with this official. But it was the last straw in a relationship that had deteriorated.

As editor-in-chief of National Journal, I received several e-mails and telephone calls from this White House official filled with vulgarity, abusive language, and virtually the same phrase that Politico characterized as a veiled threat. “You will regret staking out that claim,” The Washington Post reporter was told.

Once I moved back to daily reporting this year, the badgering intensified. I wrote Saturday night, asking the official to stop e-mailing me. The official wrote, challenging Woodward and my tweet. “Get off your high horse and assess the facts, Ron,” the official wrote.

I wrote back:

“I asked you to stop e-mailing me. All future e-mails from you will be on the record — publishable at my discretion and directly attributed to you. My cell-phone number is … . If you should decide you have anything constructive to share, you can try to reach me by phone. All of our conversations will also be on the record, publishable at my discretion and directly attributed to you.”

I haven’t heard back from the official.

This seems to be, in fact, a fairly standard operating procedure in Mr. Hope and Change’s White House. 

Having worked in the White House for seven years, I recognize things can get heated between the press and the president and his staff. But this goes far beyond anything I ever witnessed and certainly anything I ever personally experienced. (I tended to have civil and cordial relations with members of the press during my tenure in the White House.)

Mr. Fournier’s experience is, I think, a good barometer of the cast of mind of the Obamacons. They are a rather thuggish, thin-skinned group who tend to view criticisms as a declaration of war. Many of them seem to view their opponents as enemies. As Fournier’s account shows, they routinely upbraid and insult reporters. Which is why I found his conclusion to be a bit puzzling. “This can’t be what Obama wants,” Fournier writes. “He must not know how thin-skinned and close-minded his staff can be to criticism.”

I actually believe this conduct can be what Mr. Obama wants. He is himself quite thin-skinned and closed-minded, so it makes perfect sense for his staff to be as well. And while the press coverage they get often ranges from favorable to fawning, it is never good enough for them. The job of intimidation is a full-time one, after all, and it clearly works with some journalists.

One of the extraordinary talents the president has is projecting an image of decency and civility while giving home to staffers who are known for being abusive and threatening.

It’s perfectly appropriate to judge a president by his White House staff. And Ron Fournier has done us the favor of lifting the curtain, just a bit, on this one.

It isn’t a pretty sight.


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