The Corner

The Knives Are Already Out . . .

. . . for my former Time colleague Jay Carney, recently named White House press secretary. Here’s Dana Milbank of the Washington Post greeting the new kid:

The e-mail, coming from the Executive Office of the President and addressed to me, had a catchy subject line: “You are a hack.”

This was tough – but accurate. I read on.

The body of the message began with the phrase “shamelessly misrepresented,” continued on to refer to “your hackneyed storyline” and concluded: “Fabrication is a legitimate tool – for fiction. You should try it; it suits you.”

The sender was one James F. Carney, then a spokesman for Vice President Biden, now the incoming White House press secretary. I mentioned the e-mail to colleagues and was surprised to learn that some of them, too, had received the occasional nastygram from Carney, sometimes graced with a barnyard epithet. Happily, these official White House correspondences will be stored for eternity in the National Archives, along with the Declaration of Independence.

The rest of Milbank’s piece is friendlier, although Milbank thinks that appointing a new flack from the White House correspondents’ ranks won’t necessarily improve relations with the press after the poisonous Gibbs years (now he tells us). Still, I can’t help but feel that there’s a certain amount of professional jealousy at work here; reporters absolutely hate it when one of their own gets out of the racket — why him? why not me? — and will cross the street to carve him or her up should the occasion arise. If Obama thinks there’s an Era of Good Feeling ahead in the press room, he’s got another think coming.

For what it’s worth, I met Jay when he was working for Time in the Moscow bureau, and always found him to be unfailingly collegial; he certainly was a great help to me as I learned the ropes in the Rodina.

And speaking of new kids, thanks, Jonah, for that warm welcome aboard. I thought it was clear from my contextual examples that I was talking about the depressingly similar paths “democratic revolutions” take in the wake of dictatorships and autocracies: a few months or years of messy freedom, and then it’s meet the new boss, same as the old boss. America, of course, is a shining exception.

What makes Egypt especially resonant is that a possible Muslim Brotherhood takeover of the government in Cairo would be the culmination of an Islamist dream that goes back at least to the Mahdi. General “Chinese” Gordon was sent to Khartoum to evacuate the Turco-Egyptian troops (viewed as infidels by Muhammad Ahmad), but decided instead to stay, fight, and, in the end, die. 

Talk about a movie that would never get made today . . .

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