By Justin Sink
Complaints from White House press secretary Josh Earnest on Monday about anonymous news sources prompted a testy exchange with reporters who noted that administration officials regularly demand anonymity.
Earnest was asked about a Washington Post report charging that the administration ignored predictions last year from the Department of Homeland Security about the surge of unaccompanied minors who have flooded across the border in recent months.
"In the course of reporting, I think it's important, based on my own personal view, for those kinds of quotes and those kinds of stories to be given greater weight than just anonymous sources," Earnest said. "So, what that means is, if you have anonymous sources at the White House who are telling you something, and you're gonna say to them — that anonymous source — 'Look, I'm willing to give your side of the story a little less weight right now, because you're telling me this anonymously.' "
That prompted complaints from reporters who noted that the White House routinely insists on anonymity when unveiling new efforts.
"Would you guys commit then, when you have situations like today's call, which is people specifically picked by the White House to roll out a policy of the White House, would you commit to have those people speak on the record?" asked Associated Press White House correspondent Julie Pace. "Because there doesn't seem to be a reason to put them on background."
The White House is holding a conference call "on background" later today to discuss an upcoming initiative. While speaking "on background," members of the administration are only cited as officials, rather than by their name and titles.
"What I will commit to is a case-by-case evaluation of the background or the ground rules of each of these kinds of calls and a commitment to an open dialogue with you about the ground rules that will serve your interests and the White House interests the best," Earnest said.
The press secretary also chastised the Post for not sending a reporter to the daily press briefing, saying they opted not "to show up and defend themselves."
Post reporters responded angrily to the comments on social media.
Taken to his logical conclusion, @PressSec would commit to only on-the-record interviews in the future from the White House.— Zachary Goldfarb (@Goldfarb) July 21, 2014
At the briefing: @PressSec falsely claims WaPo story depends on anonymous sources. In the inbox: WH invite for anonymous background briefing— Dan Eggen (@DanEggenWPost) July 21, 2014