Friday still a popular day to 'dump' White House 'trash'
Friday is still a popular day to 'dump' White House 'trash' as evidenced by the Obama Administration's continuance of an age-old tradition referred to as: White House 'trash day'.
Typically carried out on Friday of each week to 'dump' potentially unfavorable (yet major) news to minimize impact, White House 'trash day' usually occurs at the tail end of, or outside of, normal business hours, and 5 p.m. is said to be the 'witching hour', according to this USA TODAY report.
President Obama entered the White House promising a new era of openness in government, but when it comes to bad news, his administration often uses one of the oldest tricks in the public relations playbook: putting it out when the fewest people are likely to notice.
Former White House environmental adviser Van Jones' resignation over controversial comments hit the trifecta of below-the-radar timing: The White House announced the departure overnight on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, when few journalists were on duty and few Americans awake, much less paying attention to the news.
As with past administrations, Friday looks like a popular day to "take out the trash," as presidential aides on the TV drama The West Wing matter-of-factly called it. Along with weekends, holidays and the dark of night, the final stretch of the work week, when many news consumers tune out, is a common time for the government to release news unlikely to benefit the president.
Among recent examples: On Friday, Nov. 13, the Obama administration announced it would put the professed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on trial in civilian court in New York. It also disclosed the resignation of the top White House lawyer, who had taken blame for some of the problems surrounding the administration's planned closing of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
If Friday is still a popular day to 'dump' the White House 'trash', then 5 p.m. is said to be the 'witching hour'.
The day before Halloween, the Obama administration slipped out news on several ongoing issues, much of it in late afternoon or evening. It included developments on warrantless wiretapping, terror interrogations, the CIA leak case, the reliability of the government's stimulus job creation figures, lobbyists and other visitors to the White House, and the Securities and Exchange Commission's failure to detect disgraced financier Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme for years.
"The president has taken and will continue to take wide-ranging and unprecedented steps to fulfill his campaign promise to give Americans firsthand access to information about their government at whitehouse.gov," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, when asked whether dropping important news late on Fridays, when few news consumers are paying attention, squares with the president's promise of transparency. "The First Amendment to the Constitution ensures that the media is independently responsible for how and when that information is covered."
Earnest noted that Obama is the first president to routinely release visitor logs, and that while the White House did decide to put them out on Fridays, it moved up the disclosure to Wednesday last week rather than do it the day after Thanksgiving. Of the Madoff example, he said the SEC is an independent agency and makes its own decisions about when to release information.
Does intentionally dumping potentially unfavorable news always work?
Though the tactic of intentionally dumping some news at off-times persists, it doesn't always work, said Myers and Lanny Davis, a crisis management attorney in Washington and former special counsel to Clinton.
"If it's a really bad story it will have its own legs and you're probably not accomplishing all that much," Davis said. "Sometimes all you're accomplishing is irritating reporters."
Nevertheless, according to Dee Dee Myers, press secretary during Clinton's first two years in office and a consultant for the West Wing 'trash day' episode, President Obama is still making the documents available.
In Obama's case, releasing voluminous sets of documents and data late on Fridays, such as White House visitor records and stimulus job figures, isn't "anti-transparency" because they're still making the documents available, she said.
"But yes, do you try to manage the flow of information to some degree at the White House? Of course. You'd be a fool not to," Myers said.
Richard Nixon's 'trash day' at the White House failed to minimize impact, and President Obama is not the only president to 'dump' White House 'trash' at the tail end of business hours. George H.W. Bush and Ronald Regan also utilized the White House 'trash day' tactic.