Restraining Presidential Urges
Quite a number of years ago, I heard the following tale from a Senior Administration Official on condition of anonymity:
One day President Eisenhower was putting on the White House putting green when a rather large squirrel ran across the green and scooped up the presidential golf ball and ran off with it toward the nearest tree. The President, who was furious, rattled off some pretty earthy language and said to no one in particular that he wished that every blankety-blank squirrel would be done away with.
A few days later when back on the green he noticed that there were traps everywhere and asked a Secret Service man who was responsible for their being there. Surprised, the agent responded that the President himself had ordered the squirrels done away with.
“When did I ever say that?” demanded the President.
“Sir, don’t you remember last time when a squirrel took your ball off the green?”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, you don’t have to take everything so literally! I was just ticked off!”
The traps were promptly removed from the Rose Garden.
It may come as news to many that every president has people around him with the unspoken job of interpreting whether or not things said in haste or frustration are to be taken literally.
Earlier this week an item appeared in the Op-Ed section of the New York Times from a senior Administration official claiming that there are people in the Administration who are engaged in “resisting” the President’s more ominous impulses. If you are a Trump hater, you will no doubt say that this proves that he is “unhinged” and “dangerous”. If you are a Trump fan, you might retort that it’s all lies. Yet since I am neither of those, I’ll let others engage in yet another pointless argument. Instead, I have a couple of observations about the piece itself.
The first point of observation is that the source is anonymous. If this is really true, and the President is full of such dark impulses, then why hide behind anonymity? If what is being said is true and significant, shouldn’t you give it some credibility by standing behind it? The honorable and ethical course of action is to resign in protest and tell your story openly, and yet this source has apparently declined to act ethically and honorably, so why should we believe him or her at all?
Second, it wasn’t a senior White House official, but an Administration official− is this source someone who is in a position to know at all, or is it a senior clerk in the Kansas City office of Health and Human Services?
I have no idea.
My third observation is this: The fact that this piece was published by the New York Times shows just how far the standards of journalism have fallen, for this is not a news item in the form in which it was published; it is tittle-tattle: Gossip. It is the sort of thing we might expect to find in the National Enquirer, not in the New York Times. You see, what the Times seems to be lacking is a corroborating on the record source.
In short, they printed a lead, not a story, not even an Opinion piece.
It may be that the Times will redeem itself in an upcoming article, or maybe someone with a higher degree of integrity will take this lead and investigate it and produce a credible report in the near future, but I wouldn’t bet on it, not now, not in this climate.