The Washington Prowler's anonymous sources: A retrospective

Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

The American Spectator's Washington Prowler blog was at the center of a controversy this week as its anonymous quote of a "HHS source" provided the impetus for a right-wing freakout over the Obama administration's alleged cover-up of an unfavorable analysis of the health care reform bill performed by Medicare's chief actuary. As it turned out, not only did the alleged cover-up never happen, but the rigors of legislative analysis and the unforgiving timeframe meant that it was all but impossible that a cover-up ever could have happened. Despite the weight of evidence against them, the Prowler is sticking by their sources.

All this, of course, leads us to one question: Who, exactly, was this Health and Human Services official who was so woefully misinformed about his/her bosses' sinister plan to suppress vital information from the voting public? The identity of the Prowler's anonymous source will likely never be known, but we do know what this source represents -- just the most recent manifestation of the Prowler's preternatural talent for tracking down always-unnamed Washington insiders and Democratic officials who are willing to dish bombshell quotes maligning the Democrats to an anonymous blogger working for a super-conservative magazine.

Now, please don't think I'm questioning the Prowler's credibility or suggesting that these quotes are the stuff of pure fiction, deliberately manufactured in order to smear Democrats and provoke reactions in the conservative media. I'm not going to do that. But I will note that other people have done exactly that, such as conservative blogger Allahpundit: "[The Prowler] has an amazing knack ... for squeezing hypercynical, Snidely Whiplash-ish comments out of unnamed Democrats revealing their sinister political motives. ... Believe what you like."

So with that in mind, let's take a look at some of the Washington Prowler's greatest moments in anonymous quoting.

Green ACORNs

In the same April 26 post that spawned the health care cover-up row, the Prowler went, um, prowling around the halls of the White House looking for someone to dish dirt on the Obama administration's ridiculously left-wing secret environmental policies. And -- wouldn't you know it -- they found more unsourced gold:

The irony of President Barack Obama visiting Beckley, West Virginia, Sunday to read a eulogy at the memorial service for those who died in the Upper Big Branch Mine accident, has not been lost on some White House aides. "If we had our way we'd be mourning the mining industry, not miners," says a White House aide. "As an environmental issue, we want the majority of these mining related industries just to go away."

But that's not even the worst bit. The Prowler also stumbled upon the administration's devious scheme to start an environmentalist ACORN nightmare:

Now the Obama Administration is looking for ways to reward those groups they coordinated with. According to sources inside the EPA, the agency is attempting to find ways to get funding to several organizations it worked with on the mountaintop mining and other efforts, including Appalachian Voices and Coal River Mountain Watch. Meanwhile, the administration is attempting to identify ways to fund a much more influential "pass through" organization, the Appalachian Community Fund, an organization run out of Knoxville, Tennessee.

"Appalachian Community Fund is like the ACORN of West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee," says a Commerce Department political employee. "If we can get it just a few hundred thousand dollars, it can organize for us down there in ways to help us politically, and it's done great things for us with the EPA and other entities."

The "scandal schedule"

After the Mark Foley scandal broke and shed an unflattering light on Congressional Republicans who were already struggling with myriad ethics issues, the Prowler went searching for the real story. That story came in the form of a "DNC operative" who, after ticking off a list of reasons why the Democrats were (in October 2006) on the precipice of electoral disaster, revealed why it was that the Foley scandal had suddenly come to light, insulting his own party and the American people in the process:

So how to remedy? "You pull out the bright shiny things that distract the average American voter away from the issues we all know they care about -- national security, anti-terrorism -- and focus on the ugly: Foley and Iraq."

"Republicans had to have known we'd be looking to change the national debate," says a House Democrat leadership aide. "You had our leadership looking at cratering polling numbers. A majority within grasp wasn't drifting away, it was being yanked back by Republicans. I wouldn't be surprised if Foley had to be bumped up on the scandal schedule. That makes a lot of sense given where we were two weeks ago, and where we are now."

Touching all the bases

This Prowler entry from September 23, 2008, contains an anonymous quote from a Democratic Senate aide that pretty well encapsulates the right-wing caricature of Democrats as grossly cynical opportunists who will jeopardize America's financial security for political gain, are hostile towards the markets, and don't take the threat of terrorism seriously:

Democrats in the Senate and House believe that if they can string out negotiations on the federal financial markets bailout through Tuesday, "we can get everything we want and more, including solidifying the Obama campaign," says a Senate Banking Committee staffer working for the majority.

"Let's see what the White House has to say when the market is cratering again."

The aide said that that opinion, while shocking, reflected a belief among many Democrats that Wall Street "isn't our friend, and we really don't gain much from bailing them all out."

On the other hand, senior Democrats, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, believe they can still gain all concessions on the bill, plus gain long-term political points this election cycle by "stringing this thing out to Thursday, or just letting the whole deal collapse."

"This is a Bush and McCain problem, not an Obama problem no matter how much they try to pin it on him and us," says a House Democrat leadership aide.

But he disputed that the leadership was trying to tank markets for political gain. "I don't believe it. But I will say this, the Republicans are more than willing to scare the American people about Osama and use the terrorism card against us. So why should we hold off and not use a more immediate national threat to our advantage?"

They know not what they do

On March 29, the Prowler tracked down a Democratic House Energy and Commerce Committee staffer who was more than willing to promote the right-wing talking point that committee member Bart Stupak (D-MI) and committee chair Henry Waxman (D-CA) voted on the health care bill without understanding what was in it:

Neither Waxman or Stupak -- who betrayed the pro-life community by negotiating for more than a week with the White House to ensure his vote on the health care bill -- had anything more than a cursory understanding of how the many sections of the bill would impact business or even individual citizens before they voted on the bill, says House Energy Democrat staff. "We had memos on these issues, but none of our people, we think, looked at them," says a staffer. "When they saw the stories last week about the charges some of the companies were taking, they were genuinely surprised and assumed that the companies were just doing this to embarrass them. They really believed this bill would immediately lower costs. They just didn't understand what they were voting on."

Investigating Limbaugh, in the name of Fairness

In 2007, the Prowler caused quite a stir when they reported that Henry Waxman had tasked an investigative team to dig up dirt on Rush Limbaugh and other conservative radio hosts so that he might achieve his dream of reinstituting the Fairness Doctrine:

Others on the Democrat side are pushing ahead with other plans. Rep. Henry Waxman has asked his investigative staff to begin compiling reports on Limbaugh, and fellow radio hosts Sean Hannity and Mark Levin based on transcripts from their shows, and to call in Federal Communications Commission chairman Kevin Martin to discuss the so-called "Fairness Doctrine."

"Limbaugh isn't the only one who needs to be made uncomfortable about what he says on the radio," says a House leadership source. "We don't have as big a megaphone as these guys, but this all political, and we'll do what we can to gain the advantage. If we can take them off their game for a while, it will help our folks out there on the campaign trail."

It was this quote that, as noted above, prompted conservative blogger Allahpundit to caution his readers that the Prowler might not be entirely on-the-level when it comes to sourcing. Other conservatives weren't so discerning. Sean Hannity proclaimed: "I mean, this is -- this is chilling for the First Amendment right now." [Hannity & Colmes, 10/8/07] Limbaugh himself declared that Waxman "wants to use his position -- he wants to use the Democrat Party and the power of government -- to control speech content."

Sure enough, Waxman denied any such plan was in the works, calling the Prowler's claim "completely false" and demanding that the Spectator "immediately retract the item and apologize for the confusion its fictitious report has caused."

Forget national security, there's politics to be played!

Another favorite conservative attack on the Obama White House is that they do not take national security seriously -- at least, not as seriously as the president's image. Consistent with that talking point, the Prowler found a White House staffer saying that the administration's response to the attempted Christmas Day Northwest Airlines bombing was driven by politics, to the point that they would threaten national security by declassifying intelligence:

"The idea was that we'd show that the Bush Administration had had far worse missteps than we ever could," says a staffer in the counsel's office. "We were told that classified material involving anything related to al Qaeda operating in Yemen or Nigeria was fair game and that we'd declassify it if necessary."


"This White House doesn't view the Northwest [Airlines] failure as one of national security, it's a political issue," says the White House source. "That's why Axelrod and Emanuel are driving the issue."

The Fairness-Neutrality-Stimulus conspiracy

What's more shocking than the Democrats' secret plan to use the stimulus to reinstitute the Fairness Doctrine and regulate voices on the internet? The fact that a Democratic House Energy and Commerce Committee member spilled the beans about it to the Prowler:

"This isn't just about Limbaugh or a local radio host most of us haven't heard about," says Democrat committee member. "The FCC and state and local governments also have oversight over the Internet lines and the cable and telecom companies that operate them. We want to get alternative views on radio and TV, but we also want to makes sure those alternative views are read, heard and seen online, which is becoming increasingly video and audio driven. Thanks to the stimulus package, we've established that broadband networks -- the Internet -- are critical, national infrastructure. We think that gives us an opening to look at what runs over that critical infrastructure."

Those self-censoring, racist Democrats

And finally, one of my all-time favorite Prowler quotes came from this September 2006 entry, less than a month after former Sen. George Allen's (R-VA) famous "macaca" slur, in which the Prowler discovered Congressional Democrats having an existential crisis over their own party's awful, awful racism:

With Democrat hopes to retake the House and Senate seemingly crumbling by the day, both Senate minority leader Harry Reid and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi have grown increasingly alarmed about the growing anti-Semitic and racist tone of their party's base, say House and Senate Democrat leadership staff.

"They have been monitoring the [Ben] Cardin and [James] Webb races and they are extremely concerned," says a Senate Democrat leadership aide. "On both campaigns' staffs and on the Internet we are hearing and reading an ugliness that we haven't seen in probably decades. It's embarrassing, but we're chalking it up to a small segment of young people who are frustrated at constantly losing and are lashing out. To think otherwise raises too many uncomfortable questions about our party."

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