The non-denial denial is pretty standard fare in Washington
press briefings. The approved press response is the carefully practiced raising
of an eyebrow as the questioner turns slightly towards camera – letting us, the
viewers, know that they haven’t been taken in – and then a stiffening of the
reporter’s upper lip that stretches into a knowing smirk when the next question
is asked – letting the briefer know that the reporter is in on the joke and
willing to play along for continued access.
But what is the press corps to make of the latest wrinkle on
this story trick – Robert Novak’s non-smear smear?
In his weekend column Novak wrote:
“Agents of Sen. Hillary Clinton are spreading the
word in Democratic circles that she has scandalous information about her
principal opponent for the party’s presidential nomination, Sen. Barack Obama,
but has decided not to use it. The nature of the alleged scandal was not disclosed.”
Very well played, sir. Since nothing scandalous was actually
mentioned there is no way Obama can disprove the non-existent charges, and
since the charges were never actually made, there is no way Clinton can retract
them or deny having not made them.
Obama falls for it and angrily demands that Clinton release
the damning material or deny that it exists, and Clinton’s people claim she has
no idea what Obama is talking about – managing just the right lilt in their
voice to indicate that if Barack is that upset maybe he knows something
they don’t – and then shoot back that anyone who believes a word Novak says is
clearly far too naïve to be President.
As the fur begins to fly Novak sits staring heavy-lidded
into the center camera at Fox News licking his lips and enjoying another brief moment in whatever dark sun
he worships. Antagonists just don’t come any better than this.