Thursday’s New York Times featured a puffball profile by Jeremy Peters of Jay Carney, the recently installed White House press secretary and former reporter for Time magazine undergoing a trial by fire in the wake of international crises. Carney left Time after the election to become communications director for Vice President Biden before getting his White House promotion.
The story headline, “News Events Test a Veteran Reporter in Role as White House Spokesman,” promised scrutiny that doesn’t make it into Peters’s story, which leads with its chin:
Jay Carney has never been much of a partisan.
His former colleagues at Time never knew which politicians he voted for. He complained privately that he felt the magazine’s coverage of the 2008 election -- the one that put his current boss in the White House -- was too lopsided toward Barack Obama.
If you work for the White House, just how "non-partisan" can you be?
My colleague Tim Graham dug into the Media Research Center archives last month and came up with a “dossier of clues” refuting the idea of Carney as a nonpartisan journalist. Here's a sample:
"In towns like Pushkino (pop. 90,000), many Russians view the tumult sweeping Moscow with more anxiety and skepticism than do their big-city compatriots...they wonder if the destruction of Soviet communism will bring them anything more than uncertainty and hardship." -- Time reporter James Carney, September 9, 1991.
"The fear that continues to fester about Bush -- as we read about his periodic foreign-policy gaffes and then hear him blithely assert that what he doesn't know he can learn from his advisers--is that at 53 he has the same cavalier attitude toward knowledge that he had at 21: he could learn what he needs to know, but he doesn't seem to think it's worth his time....There was something else jarring about what Bush said [about Israel]. There is no such thing as an 'inter'-ballistic missile. These mistakes may seem minor, but taken together they suggest that Bush is still under water when grappling with foreign- and defense-policy basics." -- Time reporter James Carney playing up Bush gaffes, November 15, 1999.
"As he unveiled his new-look campaign in South Carolina last week, including Oprah-style sessions with citizens and banners heralding him as A REFORMER WITH RESULTS, Bush tore into McCain like a pit bull let loose in a slaughterhouse." -- Time reporter James Carney describing "My Jog With George," February 21, 2000.
"If it sounds as if George Bush is protesting too much, that's because he's got a credibility problem. It's hard enough being the leader of a party that has made headlines by shutting down the government and refusing to add a few quarters to the minimum wage. The Texas Governor also has his own recent past to overcome, including a bruising primary fight that featured him cozying up to the religious right and running a singularly uncompassionate campaign against his opponent, John McCain." -- Time's James Carney and John F. Dickerson, April 24. 2000.
Peters insisted Carney “lacks the pugnacious demeanor that so many of his predecessors at the White House press secretary’s lectern have worn like a badge.” And he flattered Carney as no son of privilege:
Mr. Carney grew up in Northern Virginia. He attended the Lawrenceville School, an exclusive boarding school near Princeton, N.J., and then Yale. But he did not have the blue-blood, silver-spoon-in-mouth pedigree of many of his peers.
“You’d just assume his father was on the board of Morgan Stanley or was Henry Luce’s best friend in some eating club,” said John Dickerson, who covered Congress and the 2000 presidential campaign with Mr. Carney for Time. “None of that is true.”
Peters concluded with a friendly chuckle:
Mr. Carney is not so silent in another way. He is the lead singer of a band -- a hobby and a passion second only to his devotion to the cult band “Guided by Voices.” As for any tapes of Mr. Carney actually singing, [Carney friend Eli] Attie joked, “The tapes can’t be revealed because Jay is an assistant to the president and they might be used for blackmail.” Anyway, he said, “There are a missing 18 minutes.”