Alex Blaze

Speaking out against power is an easy way to get dismissed

Filed By Alex Blaze | October 12, 2009 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Media
Tags: Barack Obama, bisexual, john harwood, lesbian, LGBT, media, National Equality March, transgender, White House

Everyone's talking about this quotation from an anonymous White House source, breathlessly reported by John Harwood on NBC:

"If you look at the polling, Barack Obama is doing well with 90% or more of Democrats. So the White House views this opposition as really part of the internet left fringe, Lester.

And for a sign of how seriously the White House does or doesn't take this opposition, one adviser told me today, 'those bloggers need to take off the pajamas, get dressed and realize that governing a closely-divided country is complicated and difficult.'"

I thought real journalists didn't grant anonymity just to let people fling insults without consequence? Oh, wait....

Personally, I'm not going to make too much of this. I've seen it a thousand times before here in the blogosphere: someone in a position of power loves it when blogs support their cause or advance their agenda, but if they speak out against that same person, suddenly we're all losers without jobs who aren't doing anything to help the movement/country.

People should learn that blogs aren't a club, but a medium of communication. If they don't like what's being said, grow up and explain why the speaker is wrong, but don't attack the entire form of communication. It'd be like saying that everyone on TV is a vapid idiot just because John Harwood is kinda creepy. Bloggers come from all ideological perspectives - saying "The bloggers say X" mostly just shows a lack of familiarity with the medium.

I thought along the same lines as Adam Serwer when I first read the quotation: it's hard to tell how much of that sentiment comes from the anonymous White House official and how much comes from Harwood himself. Establishment media hold blogs in even further disdain as we're generally critical of the work they do (and of John Harwood himself), so I'd suspect some of this sentiment is coming from his own issues with the fact that people aren't silently accepting the news and his sub-par analysis from him anymore.

The rancorous response is about parsing what the White House really thinks about LGBT people, even though the quotation from the anonymous White House official doesn't really mention LGBT people at all. Are we supposed to believe that Obama can't tell the difference between a blogger and a lesbian? Do they think that only LGBT bloggers were at the NEM this weekend?

Again, this is why I think the quotation says more about Harwood than it does about the White House. While I doubt he's lying about what the anonymous official said, he seems to be implying that the anonymous official wasn't talking about the NEM but just about criticism from the left generally.

The White House is disavowing the statement, of course. They know blogs are part of the media landscape and don't want to needlessly piss off anyone in the media. We've gotten statements from the White House around here, we talk to them every now and then, and their LGBT liaison is usually helpful. That one statement from someone who we don't know doesn't really affect anything other than to confirm what we already know - the White House isn't going to put any weight on getting this legislation through Congress.

Insults (like this quotation) or compliments (like Obama's speech on Saturday) won't ultimately change anything. They're words, and maybe we could take a step back and realize that Obama isn't our daddy (thank you, Yasmin). He's a pol, and, like all pols, he doesn't like it when the rabble criticize him. The fact that he roused the rabble, spoke the emotional truth of America's frustration with Republican rule, and made his campaign seem (superficially) like a grassroots movement instead of the political campaign it was doesn't change any of that - he's still in a position of power and we're not, and he must be pushed. (Speaking of which, go check out Jillian's latest post on what you can do to help ENDA get through Congress.)

Funny, though, that the White House official would go anonymous. Usually they do that so that they aren't held accountable for their words, but, instead, the entire White House is going to be held accountable for it. But it's unlikely they're going to do something about it.

But whether Obama likes us or not isn't important - action and legislation are. And Obama's actions speak for themselves.

Update: As I suspected, Harwood is saying that the comment wasn't LGBT-specific:

In an email to the Huffington Post on Monday, Harwood clarified that the quote was not meant to convey any displeasure on the part of the administration for the gay community's public advocacy.

"My comments quoting an Obama adviser about liberal bloggers/pajamas weren't about the LGBT community or the marchers," he wrote. "They referred more broadly to those grumbling on the left about an array of issues in addition to gay rights, including the war in Afghanistan and health care and Guantanamo -- and whether all that added up to trouble with Obama's liberal base..."

And digby says Harwood could have made it up, since it's pretty much Harwood's shtick at this point to make fun of the left. Meh, maybe. But, like I said above, there's really no way to tell how much of the comment is him and how much of it is this anonymous staffer. Considering how he said it, I wouldn't be surprised if he embellished.

It's not like we'll ever find out, though.


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Alex, I just posted a comment about the Harwood remark on a previous thread, including some links to PHB and other commentary-on-the-comment.

Sorry, I should have posted here, but my comment and your post literally crossed in the ether.

Power is such a relative term--there is big power and there is littler power.

Speaking truth to power, as everyone who has ever done so knows, comes with great dangers, including banning from email lists and websites.

It is a question of ideology, who agrees, who doesn't, and who controls access to media and other resources. And it recreates itself at all levels and in all issue areas.

Glen Greenwald takes issues with Adam Serwer's comments here:

http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2009/10/12/fringe/index.html Update III

Greenwald says the specific comment may be rogue, but it is part of a larger pattern not only of statements, but of actions.

I believe this is a good measure of any institution or individual, what is their pattern of statements and actions.

What is that phrase?

By your truth you shall be known

With even greater irony, there is a Bible verse where Jesus says, "Ye shall know them by their fruits."

Jesus, even.