Updates below: WH denies, Rahm calls “BS,” Spillius responds
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A new item in the conservative London Telegraph, published today, has a catchy headline: “Rahm Emanuel expected to quit White House.” The supposed news, that he’ll be out in “six to eight months,” has already made its way onto a number of US news sites and blogs, including the New York Daily News, and I’m sure it’ll be a topic of chatter Monday.
Don’t read much into it.
Firstly, the two sources it relies on are anonymous, neither of them White House or even purported to know Emanuel. Second, it’s not even clear which of the “Washington insiders” it quotes — “a leading Democratic consultant” and “[a]n official from the Bill Clinton era” — who made the 6-8 months claim and beyond that, nothing that can be verified and that couldn’t just be made up.
In fact, they don’t even make any assertions, just guesses. “I would bet he will go after the midterms,” is the money quote from an unknown DC consultant who may or may not know anything about Emanuel’s plans.
Secondly, the Telegraph is a right-wing paper that has published allegedly unsubstantiated stories about the Obama administration in the past. Take for example this one, written in March by Alex Spillius — the same author of today’s Rahm story — which boldly announced, “Barack Obama threatens to withdraw support from wavering Democrats.”
That one didn’t even purport to have sources — named or anonymous — it simply made the assertion, out of nowhere, that Obama was blackmailing Democrats and threatening to strip his support for them in the November elections to get their votes on the health care bill.
A White House spokesman told me at the time the story was bogus, and Robert Gibbs said as much in a briefing later.
Point is, read this new article with some skepticism, especially since it’s common knowledge that Rahm won’t be chief of staff for the whole Obama presidency (does anybody keep that high-pressure job throughout?), and since the article features little more than anonymous sources speculating on the topic (again, the only detail isn’t even attributed anonymously and the reporter makes no claim that any of the sources are even familiar with Rahm’s plans).
Update: Sure enough, the White House tells Fox News Monday morning that the story is “ludicrous” and “not worth looking into.” Chalk it up to an agenda-setting attempt by a conservative paper that has long disliked the Obama administration.
Update II: “This is B.S.,” says Rahm in a statement. “And if you need it for translation, it is baseless.” Not only that, Lynn Sweet (a trustworthy reporter) adds that Rahm might be staying longer than expected. In other words, the Telegraph didn’t just get the story wrong, it got it entirely backwards. I’ve e-mailed Alex Spillius for a response, and told him I’ll print it in full.
Update III: Spillius responds to my e-mail with this:
There’s no ‘right-wing agenda’ here, as you so confidently surmise. That’s absurd. The story just reflects the perennial interest in Washington movers and shakers. If you had read comment pieces I’ve written you’d see I’ve no interest in pushing any side’s agenda.
I’m absolutely confident in the sources, and there were more than those I quoted.
Everyone I spoke to said they expected Emanuel to go after the mid-terms. Sally Quinn was writing something similar a few months ago.
I’d also point you to a sentence in your piece:
‘…it’s common knowledge that Rahm won’t be chief of staff for the whole Obama presidency (does anybody keep that job throughout?)’ In this case there is much more at issue than burnout. And Andrew Card did five years, by the way.
One main reason I reached out to Spillius was because I was curious if he actually talked to someone familiar with Rahm’s plans. He didn’t claim to in the article or in this e-mail, which makes his story seem — to me, at least — like a resuscitation of old conventional wisdom presented as a scoop on something imminent. You can decide for yourself what’s going on here.