Don’t take thin articles at face value

DON’T TAKE THIN ARTICLES AT FACE VALUE…. I’m a little surprised at the extent to which folks are overreacting to the Wall Street Journal article on the White House and the debt ceiling. The article is incredibly thin, cites no sources at all, and comes from a Murdoch-owned paper that doesn’t exactly deserve the benefit of the doubt.

Obviously, given the larger context, there are widespread fears the White House, which called again yesterday for Congress to pass a clean bill on the debt limit, will start making preemptive concessions. And the headline on the WSJ piece is intended to immediately be provocative: “President Open to Deal on Debt Cap.”

But here’s the lede:

White House officials have opened the door to a deal with Republicans that would allow the U.S. to increase its ability to borrow, potentially easing worries in financial markets that the country might default on its debt.

Softening the administration’s earlier insistence that Congress raise the so-called debt ceiling without conditions, officials now say they won’t rule out linking an increase of the borrowing cap with cuts aimed at reducing the deficit — even though they’d prefer to keep the issues separate.

Through the rest of the piece, the reader gets no additional information of any use. There are no quotes or even blind paraphrases from anyone at any level in the administration. The entire piece seems to be based on some vague comment David Plouffe made on “Meet the Press” — a detail that isn’t shared until the 11th paragraph.

Some of my very favorite writers are jumping on this story this morning, taking the article at face value. I think that’s a mistake. Time will tell what kind of strategy the White House will employ, but we’ll need better, more thorough, and more credible reporting before the freak-out should commence.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.