Friendly Fire at the White House, Part Two

Chatterbox is perplexed that James McDonough, the White House aide and former Army colonel who blasted his commander-in-chief on yesterday’s Wall Street Journal op-ed page, and who Chatterbox wrote about yesterday, remains missing in action in the New York Times, the Washington Post and the rest of the media. (A NEXIS search today came up empty.) It’s especially weird that McDonough hasn’t been mentioned by the Post, because McDonough first offered his fusillade (which more or less argued Clinton should be impeached) to the Post–as an op-ed or a letter; it’s a little unclear which. But before it could run there, its contents leaked to the Wall Street Journal, which ran a Washington Wire item about it on Sept. 25. According to Post deputy editorial page editor Steven Rosenfeld, the Post had not yet decided whether to run McDonough’s attack; but in any case, “We’re not a reprint house and so we moved on.” At that point, the Journal editorial page grabbed McDonough’s piece.

Why didn’t Rosenfeld alert the Post news desk, preferably before the Journal gossip item ran, that a White House aide was opening fire on his president? This was, after all, news. “It didn’t occur to me for an op-ed piece,” says Rosenfeld. “I don’t even recall that I was aware what his employment was.” (McDonough is director of strategy for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.) Does the Post national staff know about McDonough yet? “I can only speculate with you on whether they read the Wall Street Journal,” Rosenfeld says. Chatterbox (who hasn’t heard back yet from Post national editor Bill Hamilton or assistant managing editor Karen DeYoung) guesses that no, the Post national staff hasn’t heard about McDonough. If Chatterbox finds out otherwise, he’ll let you know….

One person who is aware of McDonough is Mike McCurry, who’s leaving his post as White House press spokesman on Friday. Here’s what the short-timer had to say in yesterday’s White House press briefing:

Q: Does Colonel McDonough have a job here?

MR. MCCURRY: Yes, I believe so. I think he works at ONDCP, but you can check with General McCaffrey.

Q: You read his piece in the Wall Street Journal?

A: MR. MCCURRY: Sure did.

Q: Do you have a response? Does the president have a response?

A: MR. MCCURRY: I don’t know whether the president has seen it or not. I’d say two things about that. One, the president himself has said that his actions are indefensible and he wouldn’t try to defend the indefensible, and would understand when people –

Q: I can’t hear you.

A: MR. MCCURRY: And the second thing I would say

Q: No, let’s hear the first.

A: MR. MCCURRY: – is that I don’t think that that accurately reflects the sentiment of most of the military uniform officers that I’ve talked to.

Conflict-of-interest roundup: Chatterbox has applied for several jobs at the Post (and hopes he hasn’t blown his chances by offering up this tough but fair assessment of a communications breakdown). Chatterbox used to work in the Washington bureau of the Wall Street Journal, and contributed frequently to the Washington Wire column. However, Chatterbox happened onto this story just like any other idiot could have, by reading his Journal yesterday, picking up the phone, and calling McDonough….

Timothy Noah