Did Bush Team Head Fake Press on Roberts?

Howie Kurtz reports that some reporters are a bit miffed that they were led to believe someone other than John Roberts would be appointed to the Supreme Court.

Spun Silly (WaPo)

Did the Bush team put out misinformation on that crazy Tuesday to steer reporters away from John Roberts? We can’t answer the question definitively because the journalists involved have a Matt Cooper problem — they promised their sources anonymity, regardless of motive. But I can tell you that some of them are ticked and feeling misled.

It all could be very innocent — the typical Beltway gossip game where reporters trade information with supposedly wired sources who don’t really know but like to give the impression that they do. Then the media types blurt what they’ve gleaned on television and online and — d’oh ! — look silly when they’re wrong.

Why would the Bushies have bothered? The deafening buzz that the president had picked Edith Clement for the high court had a bunch of reporters preparing pieces on her instead of researching the legal record of the not-much-buzzed-about John Roberts. Plus, the head fake preserved the element of surprise for Bush’s prime-time announcement.

Consider: The reporters in question relied on outside Republican advisers who work closely with the White House. These advisers, at least one of whom is said to feel used, were saying it was Clement. But the administration had asked Roberts to return from London for a possible announcement the day before , on Monday. Maybe the president was just keeping his options open. But at some point Tuesday Clement got an official call saying her services would not be required — and Bush offered Roberts the job at 12:35 — yet the it’s-Clement-chatter continued until late in the afternoon. All this may have been terribly unfair to her.

An alternate theory is that Bush, for some reason, changed his mind that day, leaving the advisers leaning the wrong way. However you slice it, the administration had a good rollout.

Perhaps the leaker in question was not authorized to make the leak and was not as in-the-know as he portrayed himself?

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Media, , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Brian J. says:


    Karl Rove must be punished!

    What was the question?

  2. Fersboo says:

    Boohoohoo, those poor reporters are ticked and feel misused, boohoohoo.

  3. Toolmaker says:

    The White House Press corps stopped being reporters years ago. They are the conduit for the White House public relations, nothing more.

    Of course Helen Thomas remains true to her calling, but the rest of them are a poor reflection of what a Reporter is.

  4. Atm says:

    Ha, ha. The White House press core most stopped being reporters in 2001 and turned into Dem operatives.

  5. Beldar says:

    I seriously doubt that Judge Clement thinks the “head fake,” if there was one, was unfair to her. There are many, many dozens of U.S. Circuit Judges, plus hundreds of other potential nominees from elsewhere. Being recognized as a close runner-up is quite complimentary — indeed, being known as the runner-up to Justice Souter has substantially burnished the image of Judge Clement’s Fifth Circuit colleague Edith Jones — and is likely to sit pretty well (unless one is truly obsessed with actually becoming a Supreme Court Justice).

  6. Just Me says:

    I wonder if it wasn’t a bit of a needle in your eye set up on the issue of leaks.

    It also may have just been a bad source.

    Who knows and in the end who really cares.

  7. Mikey says:

    Or, if you really want to go all Robert Ludlum, different people were given different names to see who would leak to the press. Devious, but fun to think about. Especially speculating on the fate of the leaker when Darth Rove gets ahold of him.


    N.B. – this is merely speculation on my part.