Source greasing 101

Long before Wikipedia, the term “source greaser” (or, for the dainty, “beat sweetener”) referred to a favorable news article about a public official, published in the hope of inducing cooperation in the future. Source greasers appear most often in the first few months of a new administration. However, this is the first time an editor has been assigned to flatter administration officials full time.

“Obama has changed the rules,” he says. “Everyone he appoints is so wonderful that there aren’t enough positive words to describe all of them. My job is to centralize the sucking up and make sure that each subject gets a fair share of the available adjectives.”

As a literary form, the source greaser is bound by strict conventions. The subject always puts in heroically long hours. He or she is uniquely influential and close to the president. Geography often serves as metaphor: A typical subject occupies an air-conditioning closet just “steps” from the Oval Office, having turned down a football-field-size suite in the Executive Office Building across the street. This shows he or she is savvy about the way things work here in Powertown: Size doesn’t matter; proximity does. He or she always is more influential than anyone who has held the post “in recent memory” and is blessed with many anonymous friends who warn that he or she should not be underestimated.

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