The real dam­age done by Scara­mucci’s foul rant

Not only is it de­grad­ing. It clouds what­ever good news comes out of the White House

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - RAMESH PON­NURU

Leak­i­ness on the scale this White House ex­pe­ri­ences is a se­ri­ous prob­lem. But no White House can work well if it goes to war over small items of gos­sip.

“Colour­ful lan­guage.” That’s how the new White House com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor, An­thony Scara­mucci, char­ac­ter­ized his re­marks that Ryan Lizza quoted in The New Yorker on Thurs­day.

“De­grad­ing” seems to me a bet­ter ad­jec­tive. To speak that way in pri­vate is a flaw. To speak that way in the ca­pac­ity of a pub­lic of­fi­cial — a com­mu­ni­ca­tions of­fi­cial at that — is to fur­ther coarsen our cul­ture.

But ob­scene lan­guage wasn’t the worst thing about the in­ter­view. It wasn’t even one of the worst four things about it. In no par­tic­u­lar or­der: He showed a bizarre ob­ses­sion with triv­ial leaks. Part of the job de­scrip­tion of the White House com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor is to op­pose leaks that could cause trou­ble for the ad­min­is­tra­tion. But an­other part is to dis­crim­i­nate based on the se­ri­ous­ness of the leak — with the most se­ri­ous ones be­ing those that threaten na­tional se­cu­rity.

In this case, the leak was that the pres­i­dent was hav­ing din­ner with the first lady, Scara­mucci, Sean Han­nity and a for­mer Fox News ex­ec­u­tive. Scara­mucci told Lizza it was his pa­tri­otic duty to tell him who shared this in­for­ma­tion.

The in­for­ma­tion Scara­mucci gave him, if it’s true, was far more sig­nif­i­cant: He told Lizza that White House chief of staff Reince Priebus is about to be canned. (Priebus was later ousted.) If Scara­mucci didn’t want to be quoted, or quoted by name, he was leak­ing that in­for­ma­tion. (He has sug­gested that Lizza some­how broke his trust.)

It’s true that leak­i­ness on the scale this White House ex­pe­ri­ences is a se­ri­ous prob­lem for its func­tion­ing. It’s also true that no White House can work well if it goes to war over small items of gos­sip.

He didn’t make even a cur­sory at­tempt to make sure what he said was true. Scara­mucci ac­cused Priebus of hav­ing il­le­gally leaked a story about his fi­nances.

But the re­porter be­hind the story noted that the in­for­ma­tion was avail­able to the pub­lic, and not sourced to Priebus. A com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor should want to be cred­i­ble with re­porters. Ac­cus­ing a col­league of a felony, and quickly hav­ing that ac­cu­sa­tion proved false, does not build that rep­u­ta­tion.

He un­der­mined his col­leagues. One rea­son this White House is right to be con­cerned about all the leaks is that so many of them are part of a toxic cul­ture of back­bit­ing. The tone is set from the top: We have a pres­i­dent who won’t fire At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions, but will com­plain bit­terly about him in tweets and in­ter­views.

I don’t feel sorry for Ses­sions. Plenty of ev­i­dence about Trump’s char­ac­ter — his im­pul­sive­ness, his pet­ti­ness and his lack of loy­alty — was avail­able to Ses­sions when he chose to play a ma­jor role in help­ing make him pres­i­dent.

Priebus, too, had both eyes open when he took his cur­rent job. As did Stephen Ban­non, an­other tar­get of Scara­mucci.

But when the pres­i­dent treats his sub­or­di­nates this way, and al­lows other aides to treat them this way, he makes it harder to at­tract qual­i­fied peo­ple to work for him.

There was also an op­por­tu­nity cost to Scara­mucci’s re­marks.

Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials some­times com­plain that all the good news about their work, from de­cent eco­nomic num­bers to leg­is­la­tion to re­form of vet­er­ans’ health care, is get­ting lost.

Those sto­ries aren’t go­ing to get more at­ten­tion when the com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor chooses to dish about his co-work­ers rather than dis­cuss them.

Some of the prob­lems this in­ter­view il­lus­trated should worry all Amer­i­cans. It’s use­ful to all of us to have a White House that can at­tract tal­ent.

But it’s those Amer­i­cans who are most sym­pa­thetic to Trump and his agenda who should have the deep­est wor­ries.

Ramesh Pon­nuru is a Bloomberg View colum­nist. He is a se­nior ed­i­tor of Na­tional Re­view and the au­thor of “The Party of Death: The Democrats, the Me­dia, the Courts, and the Dis­re­gard for Hu­man Life.” Read­ers may email him at rpon­nuru@bloomberg.net.

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