A Politico Hit Job on Valerie Jarrett

In her 2008 review for the New York Times of Carol Felsenthal’s book CLINTON IN EXILE: A President Out of the White House, Janet Maslin makes two essential points. First, Ms. Felsenthal uses facts selectively to paint a distorted and unfavorable impression:

Biographical reporting has as much to do with selection and emphasis as it does with the unearthing of raw data. So the way that Carol Felsenthal, in her book about Bill Clinton’s post-presidential life, describes a 2006 newspaper editors’ convention is revealing. This was an event at which the former president spoke pro bono, was warmly received and delighted listeners by ignoring his handlers’ advice that he keep the appearance brief.

But to Ms. Felsenthal none of these details is the point of the anecdote. What she insists on using as a punch line is this: “The one jarring note was the toilet paper stuck to his shoe.”

Second, Ms. Felsenthal relies too heavily on anonymous sources, particularly from estranged or aggrieved anonymous sources:

Ms. Felsenthal often relies on catty, unidentified sources. She also has much better luck eliciting comments from erstwhile Clinton friends who claim to have been dropped (“Who’s Bill Clinton?” one of them asks her sarcastically) than from the wealthy, skirt-chasing, private-plane-lending new cronies with whom, she says, he plutocratically zips around.

Six years later, her methods have not changed or improved, as is readily evident once you delve into her new piece at Politico which calls on President Obama to fire his longtime confidante Valerie Jarrett and turn her into a librarian.

To begin with you know something is dreadfully wrong when Ms. Felsenthal writes that “…even today, nobody knows precisely what Jarrett does in the White House,” but then goes on to explain that she “micromanages guest lists for White House events big and small,” “wields real power on personnel matters,” “is…supposed to be the president’s liaison to business,” and “has used the White House bully pulpit to promote the work of the White House Council on Women and Girls, focusing attention on such issues as equal pay for equal work, family leave and affordable child care. Jarrett’s council also co-sponsors the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, charged with “provid[ing] institutions with additional tools to respond to and address [campus] rape and sexual assault.”

Obviously, a lot of people, including Ms. Felsenthal, are well aware of most of what Valerie Jarrett does in the White House. They are at least as aware of what she does as they were of what David Axelrod, David Plouffe or Dan Pfeiffer did in the White House, but those were white males who had unique access to the president.

If you’re self-loathing and masochistic enough to actually read this Politico hit piece, you will notice that it follows the same pattern as the unauthorized Clinton biography, in that it exclusively relies on “catty” anonymous sources, almost all of whom have been lifted from other people’s works, and which (with the exception of Chuck Todd’s forthcoming book) are quite dated now even if they ever were accurate portrayals of what people said.

She pulls from Glenn Thrush’s e-book, a Daniel Klaidman book, and a New York Times Magazine profile, all published in 2012, refers to Mark Halperin and John Heilemann’s 2013 book Game Change, and makes characterizations about things that Jonathan Alter supposedly told her that year. But she doesn’t have anything fresh or original. There are no sources, quoted or unquoted, calling for Jarrett’s head as a result of the midterm elections.

This is just a hit-piece, and a particularly nasty one as it ends on this note:

There’s a role that perhaps Valerie Jarrett was born to fill: The Obama librarian…

…People in Chicago believe Valerie means to run it, whether it’s in Chicago—probably at the University of Chicago—in New York at Columbia University, one of Obama’s alma maters, or in Hawaii. (I’ve been told, never for attribution, that Valerie favors Columbia because, she has told the Obamas, it will be so much fun for them all to live in New York.) The president could put her in charge, but alas, given her track record of failing upward, that might not help his endangered legacy either.

There’s something about the way Ms. Felsenthal writes, particularly the way she’s written about prior Democratic presidents, that makes me somewhat doubt that she has sources close enough to Valerie Jarrett or the Obamas to have the first idea what they’ve said to each other about the presidential library. Unless she’s cultivated the person who serves dinner in the White House Residence, this lack of “attribution” is a cover for reporting the opinion of someone with no direct knowledge. Either that, or she just made it up.

This is a lengthy piece she’s written for Politico, but that shouldn’t hide the fact that she’s taken it upon herself to call for someone’s job without making much of a case for it at all.

Whether Valerie Jarrett should stay or go is a legitimate question, but it isn’t answered in or by Ms. Felsenthal’s article.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.