Spinonymous sources: Time, Newsweek granted anonymity to White House sources defending Bush's handling of the port deal


The March 20 issues of Time and Newsweek magazines both granted anonymity to sources making statements in defense of President Bush.

The March 20 issues of Time and Newsweek magazines both granted anonymity to sources making statements in defense of President Bush. Specifically, the two weekly news magazines quoted White House officials claiming that Bush was well aware of the conflagration in Congress over the deal that would allow Dubai Ports World to assume control of operations at six major U.S. ports.

Mike Allen wrote in Time: "White House officials contend that Bush quickly realized the ports affair was a fiasco. 'I know a prairie fire when I see one,' the Texas rancher told an aide."

The article in Newsweek by senior White House correspondent Richard Wolffe and White House correspondent Holly Bailey was explicit in noting that White House officials were repeating the "prairie fire" quote to refute suggestions that Bush was unaware of the likely demise of the deal:

Two days later, the deal was dead and the last trace of trust had vanished between the GOP-led Congress and the president on the ports deal. George W. Bush's allies marvel that the White House could have misread them for so long. And they still disagree about the basic facts, including what happened last week when GOP leaders trooped into the White House to tell Bush they couldn't (or wouldn't) stop their own members from blocking the takeover. "It's not going to work," House Speaker Dennis Hastert [R-IL] told Bush, according to one GOP aide. That's not the way the White House saw the meeting. "News flash: it wasn't like that at all," scoffed one senior Bush adviser (who, like the GOP aide, declined to be named while talking about a private session). "The president knows a prairie fire when he sees one."

As Media Matters for America previously noted when an article in the December 19, 2005, edition of Newsweek by Wolffe and Newsweek assistant managing editor Evan Thomas featured various anonymous quotes and statements from White House aides praising and defending the president, Newsweek's guidelines for anonymous sourcing stipulate that "the burden of proof should lie with the reporters and their editors to show why a promise of anonymity serves the reader," and that Newsweek must "help the reader understand the nature of a confidential source's access to information and his or her reasons for demanding anonymity." Wolffe and Bailey merely repeated the Bush aide's reason for demanding anonymity. They failed to explain why the aide, in defending Bush, deserved anonymity or how that anonymity served the reader.

Time's Allen did not even give a reason for granting his source anonymity. His use of the words "Texas rancher" to describe Bush is presumably a reference to Bush's property in Crawford, Texas, where he vacations. The property was once a working cattle ranch, but there is debate over whether the property can now actually be called a "ranch." As the Los Angeles Times reported on August 29, 2005, "The Secret Service agents now outnumber the cows." The Times went on to note: "Bush prefers bicycles to horses and never claimed to be a cattleman. He has described himself as a 'windshield rancher' who likes to escort such visitors as Russian President Vladimir Putin around his property in a pickup."

Newsweek, Time Magazine
Attacks on Media Matters, Propaganda/Noise Machine
We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.