ISIS: STATE OF TERROR
LINKSBlogs of War
Making Sense of Jihad
Views from the Occident
American Al Qaeda Members
News, documents and analysis on violent extremism
Saturday, June 5, 2004
Who Was The Mystery Source On Reagan's Health?
Editor's Note: A version of this political analysis was written and published several hours before the announcement of President Reagan's death. It was initially posted at 1 p.m. on June 5. Because it was previously published, it has been edited to reflect the news of the former president's death rather than simply being removed.Several hours before news of Ronald Reagan's death became public, the major newswires broke a story on Saturday about his declining health (external link).
The source of the story may have been identified too specifically in early versions of the story. In early reports, CNN and UPI identified the source as a "White House spokesman on Air Force One" and "a spokesman for President Bush aboard Air Force One" respectively.
But these characterizations were edited in later versions of the story. CNN revised the sourcing to read "sources familiar with the situation" within hours of the initial posting.
AP cited a "person familiar with Reagan's health, who did not want to be identified out of sensitivity to the family." Reuters simply said the source was "close to the situation."
"Don't be surprised if ... the time is getting close," CNN quoted the source as saying.
Could the president himself technically be considered a "spokesman for President Bush?" It's unlikely. Such a characterization would be misleading at best, dishonest at worst.
Regardless, the information obviously came from Bush, either directly or through a close spokesman. The "sensitivity of the family" would not likely be an issue otherwise. The deletion of references to a "spokesman for President Bush" and "on Air Force One" seems to indicate that any attribution tying the information to the president was objected to by the source.
The question of "sensitivity to the family" and the initial denials from the Reagans' spokesperson (contradicted, of course, by news of the former president's death) strongly indicate that the family had not wished for the information to become public.
Certainly, the news of Reagan's death will have massive political ramifications for the Republican National Convention in August. It will dramatically change the tenor of that event.
Usually, the early days of the convention feature speeches from some of the more stridently conservative elements of the party on some of the more divisive issues of the day. This accomplishes the dual goals of energizing the party's conservative base while providing a cathartic outlet for divisive partisan anger before the party moves toward the center for the general election.
Reagan's death will shift media coverage from the traditional airing of right-wing grievances to a series of softer-focus tributes to the beloved former president.
The news will also change the tenor of the Democratic Convention in July. It would undercut a similar dynamic for the Democrats by forcing them to temper the anger of the party's left-wing, usually on display in the opening part of the convention.
During the general election, Democrats may also feel pressured to downplay attacks that make comparisons between Bush and Reagan policies, particularly in the area of taxes and deficit spending, an area where Bush may be vulnerable.
A tricky ethical question for reporters covering this story: Can the president of the United States fairly be considered an off-the-record source? There is some precedent for citing the president that way, but it seems problematic, given the magnitude automatically accorded a presidential statement.
Reporters treat such statements as bigger news than they would a statement by a regular source, but the obscuring of the source to a degree such as that seen in the Reagan revisions illustrates the diminishing impact of the story when such a change is made.
One final red flag about the sourcing: When the New York Times published its own story almost five hours later, it cited entirely different sources (including family friends who confirmed that Reagan's health was slipping) and made no reference to the earlier reports, except to quote Reagan's official spokesperson who dismissed "rumors" and denied the former president's health had changed recently. By 4 p.m., the Washington Post still had not published a report on the story at all.
However, the papers of record may have been holding back out of respect for the family, if they knew his death was truly at hand.
Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.
Tweets referencing this post:
"...smart, granular analysis..."ISIS: The State of Terror
"Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger's new book, "ISIS," should be required reading for every politician and policymaker... Their smart, granular analysis is a bracing antidote to both facile dismissals and wild exaggerations... a nuanced and readable account of the ideological and organizational origins of the group." -- Washington Post
More on ISIS: The State of Terror
"...a timely warning..."Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam:
"At a time when some politicians and pundits blur the line between Islam and terrorism, Berger, who knows this subject far better than the demagogues, sharply cautions against vilifying Muslim Americans. ... It is a timely warning from an expert who has not lost his perspective." -- New York Times
More on Jihad Joe
Analysis: Could A Chalabi Scandal Be Behind Tenet'...
CACI Responds to INTELWIRE Story on Sale of White ...
Analysis: Could An Imminent Chalabi Scandal Be Beh...
Justice Department: Padilla and Accomplice Planned...
Justice Department: Padilla Planned To Blow Up U.S...
Cleric's Arrest in U.K. May Have Hidden Implicatio...
Cleric's Arrest in U.K. May Have Implications In B...
Terry Nichols Found Guilty On 161 Counts of Murder
Qaeda-Linked Californian Confesses 'Demonic Heavy ...
Shukrijumah, Siddiqui Again Named In U.S. Terror A...
New York Pipe Bomb Suspect Linked to Revolution Muslim
The Utility of Lone Wolves
Interview with Online Jihadist Abu Suleiman Al Nasser
A Way Forward for CVE: The Five Ds
How Terrorists Use The Internet: Just Like You
PATCON: The FBI's Secret War on the Militia Movement
Interview About Jihad With Controversial Cleric Bilal Philips
Forgeries on the Jihadist Forums
U.S. Gave Millions To Charity Linked To Al Qaeda, Anwar Awlaki
State Department Secretly Met With Followers of Blind Sheikh
State Department Put 'Political Pressure' On FBI To Deport Brother-in-Law Of Osama Bin Laden In 1995
FBI Records Reveal Details Of Nixon-Era Racial Profiling Program Targeting Arabs
Gaza Flotilla Official Was Foreign Fighter in Bosnia War
U.S. Had 'High Confidence' Of UBL Attack In June 2001
Behind the Handshake: The Rumsfeld-Saddam Meeting