How to write a NYT article on an Obama controversy

The New York Times finally got around to reporting that the White House fired Inspector General Gerald Walpin, a week after it happened, when the Associated Press — to which the Times belongs — first put in on the wires.  They managed to include the Obama administration’s accusation of mental illness, and even threw in the part about Senators Claire McCaskill and Charles Grassley objecting to the firing.  But what did Neil Lewis and the Times forget to include in the story (via The Right Scoop)?

The White House said Wednesday that President Obama had dismissed a government agency’s internal watchdog because he was incompetent and had behaved bizarrely, disputing accusations that he was fired because he had uncovered embarrassing problems in the AmeriCorps program.

Last week, Mr. Obama abruptly fired the watchdog, Gerald Walpin, the inspector general of the Corporation for National and Community Service, who was a holdover from the Bush administration, saying little except that he had lost confidence in Mr. Walpin.

But the president quickly encountered resistance from the Senate, including from a fellow Democrat, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, who said Mr. Obama had not provided sufficient reason for the dismissal, as required under a recent law intended to protect the independence of the corps of inspectors general.

Lewis and the Times forgot to include in this entire article two very salient facts about Walpin’s termination:

  • The law governing the IGs require the White House to not just provide reasonable cause, but also a 30-day notice to Congress before taking any action.
  • Lewis neglects to mention anywhere in this article that the White House called Walpin first in an attempt to intimidate him into resigning.

Both of these points are key to understanding the abuse of power attempted by the White House with Walpin.  The White House wanted Walpin out, as well as discredited, as quickly as possible so that he could not interfere with a sweetheart deal to let a political ally off the hook for fraud.  This became especially important when Walpin began communicating to Congress about his opposition to the deal with Kevin Johnson in Sacramento.  They needed him out, and fast.

Instead of using the process that Barack Obama sponsored himself in the Senate, the White House tried to bully Walpin into quitting.  When that didn’t work, they publicly painted him as senile, a problem that would have been more appropriate to air in close consultation with Congress rather than in publicly-released letters after the attempt to bully Walpin.  After all, if Walpin is cognitively impaired, why go to him first?

The Times’ failure to include both of these facts — widely reported by actual news organizations for the last few days — puts this in the category of White House spin, and the Times as a mouthpiece for Barack Obama.