Who's Dining Out on Jim Messina?

Ben Smith writes:

White House officials yesterday afternoon told reporters they did not press Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to demand the resignation of Shirley Sherrod, but that they stood by the hasty decision; last night, they took credit for pressing Vilsack to rehire her when a fuller video revealed that her remarks had been edited to mean the opposite of what she said.

But three Democratic sources said Deputy Chief of Staff Jim Messina singled out the White House's initial response to the incident for praise in the regular 8:30 a.m. staff meeting Tuesday morning. The sources differed on the substance of Messina's praise, but concurred that he had praised the speed of White House communications in response to the flap, which was driven by a misleadingly-edited video posted to Andrew Breitbart's Big Government website.

One source, who is unhappy with the administration's handling of the incident, paraphrased Messina's remarks: "We could have waited all day - we could have had a media circus - but we took decisive action and it's a good example of how to respond in this atmosphere.

One, Smith has great sources. Three people out of the 25 people in the morning meeting talked to him about Messina's comments. No one will talk to me about the flap, so score one to him.

Put yourself in the mindset of White House officials Tuesday morning, operating without the benefit of hindsight. This White House has been stung by criticism that it usually reacts too slowly to things. So it reacted quickly. The "it" here was a directive to Vilsack's chief of staff to fix the problem, and quickly.

Maybe the White House is too sensitive about race. But when the opposition not so subtly accuses the president on a daily basis of catering to minorities, of catering to the have-nots, and when his approval rating among whites has dropped off of a cliff, rapid reaction -- even when it comes to something that Fox News is spreading around -- isn't exactly the wrong move.

In Kremlinological terms, someone at the White House is trying to throw Jim Messina under the bus. It's not pretty.

Presented by

Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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