The Undernews and the Uselessness of White House Briefing Rooms

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Jan. 31 2013 3:52 PM

The Undernews and the Uselessness of White House Briefing Rooms

I haven't really looked into any of the stories surrounding Sen. Bob Menendez, because 1) the Daily Caller and Breitbart.com have a lead of many weeks on them, and 2) the sourcing for these stories is strange. A mysterious, possibly pseudononymous source has spent months telling CREW, the FBI, and media outlets that he has proof Menendez engaged in relations with sex workers in the Dominican Republic. Across these months, the source hasn't actually backed up the story or met with reporters. Then, this last week, a website appeared with a trove of emails between that source and an alleged FBI contact—about how maybe eventually they could meet and back up the story.

For the moment, this story is best described as what my predecessor Mickey Kaus called "the undernews." Most people who cover politics are aware that this story is out there. Some have tried to cover it and turned up nothing; some are just grimly curious about it. The worm turned this week when the FBI raided the office of the donor who would fly Menendez to the DR, and Mendendez has responded by cutting a check to erase the in-kind donation—an ethics problem, albeit an unsexy one. It would be far more interesting if a senator were brought down over sex crimes.

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That brings us to the awkward attempt to take the undernews and make it news. At today's White House briefing, NBC's Peter Alexander asked a question about Menendez. Sort of.

"There have been reports regarding Sen. Bob Menendez," says Alexander. "I'm curious if the president has full faith and confidence in the senator."

Ohhhh no he didn't! But wait, what did he actually do? There are "reports" that Menendez got to know DR girls in a biblical sense, and reports that they were below the age of consent. There are also better-sourced reports that Menendez has a donor problem. "I've seen those reports," says Jay Carney. "I don't have anything for you on it." On what? Because high-level political reporting is fundamentally absurd, the non-question has become a question about whatever you think it is. That's probably why the clip above is coming from the RNC's rapid response team, which is now playing footsie with the undernews.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.