Unethical Quote of the Week: Presidential Spokesman Josh Earnest


“I didn’t bring my Webster’s dictionary with me up here.”

—-White House Spokesman Josh Earnest, in response to a reporter’s question regarding the President’s definition of “victory” in the conflict with ISIS.

The statement itself is only slightly less outrageous than the fact that it has been largely ignored by the mainstream media. I’m using Politico for the link, a slightly left-leaning political news website. The primary links on the web go to Fox (of course), RealClearPolitics, The Weekly Standard, PJ Media, the Washington Times, and The Blaze. No ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC, or Daily Beast. There is no excuse for this. It is blatantly irresponsible, and terrible, biased, negligent journalism. Not only does the public have a right to know what the objectives are in Iraq, the public has a right to know how arrogant and incompetent its leadership is. I think Earnest’s performance provides a definitive answer: Very.

The President of the United States gave a nationally televised speech regarding the deteriorating situation in Iraq and Syria. This isn’t trivia; presumably the President doesn’t give speeches on trivia. Many human beings’ lives are at stake; Americans have had their heads carved off on YouTube by this organization in bloody defiance of U.S. power. As Obama stands poised to weaken the nation’s ability to control its own boarders even further by unilaterally eliminating penalties for breaking our immigration laws, there are credible reports of ISIS terrorists entering the United States. Citizens have been recruited to its cause.

So this is important, agreed? When the United States employs its military abroad, the President is obligated to be clear regarding an operation’s objectives, and to be candid and honest with the public. What has been the approach to ISIS? First we were told that ISIS was “the junior varsity.” Then the President openly admitted, fresh off a golfing spree that he briefly interrupted to express regret at a U.S. citizen’s beheading, that he had no strategy yet to deal with the crisis. In his speech, he spoke about the now serious threat posed by ISIS (after earlier in the month contradicting others in his administration by appearing to minimize its potential for mayhem) and announced that the United States was assembling a global coalition to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the  Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. He described the effort as “eradicating a cancer, ” going on to declare, “We will hunt down terrorists who threaten our country, wherever they are. That means I will not hesitate to take action against ISIL in Syria, as well as Iraq. This is a core principle of my presidency: If you threaten America, you will find no safe haven.”

But, the President emphasized, consistent with his atrocious practice of limiting our means of achieving international objectives in advance of knowing what the circumstances will demand,  that troops will not be sent to fight on the ground. This means, of course, that if troops are necessary to defeat ISIS (as many military experts insist), either ISIS won’t be defeated, Obama will say “Oops!”, as he did following his ACA lie that it would not force anyone out of their existing health care plan, or, in keeping with this administration’s habit of using double-talk to avoid accountability and the intrusion of reality into its pre-imagined constructs, troops will be called something other than troops.

Too harsh? Let me know what option I’m leaving out.

There is, then, reason for confusion among Americans regarding all of this, especially since President Obama’s Secretary of State insists that bombing isn’t an act of war. I think it’s fair to conclude that what we have here is a failure to communicate,  and some added clarity is essential. In that context, this exchange is a disgrace:

REPORTER:What does victory look like here? You’ve talked about destroying ISIL, I honestly don’t know what that means. What does that mean?

JOSH EARNEST: I didn’t bring my Webster’s dictionary with me up here. We’ll, you know. It’s only —

REPORTER: Talking about that — I understood it when you said —

JOSH EARNEST: I think that’s a pretty illustrative phrase to describe the situation that we envision. We’ve talked about the threat that ISIL poses in the context of foreign fighters.

First, a smug deflection is not a professional or appropriate answer to a legitimate, reasonable and pressing question created entirely by the mixed signals, posturing, backtracking and fecklessness, not to mention the prior track record, of this President and his team.

Second, the answer demonstrates incompetence. Earnest is supposed to be prepared for these questions. That is his job. “What will victory mean in this case?” is a mandatory question given the history of other U.S. military efforts in Iraq, not to mention Vietnam and Afghanistan. Earnest was obligated to have something better than a wisecrack–and one that was neither wise nor funny—prepared as a response.

Third, the comment shows arrogance and contempt for the press and the American people. Following six years of shocking ineptitude and failure on almost every level in every aspect of governing, the Obama administration has forfeited the right to be contemptuous of anyone or anything.

Finally, the answer proved that the Obama administration, as the reporter no doubt suspected, doesn’t know what it means by “victory”—-despite the Vice President’s promise to sent ISIS to the “gates of Hell.”

With any other administration, this would be shocking. With this one, sadly, it is business as usual.


Sources: Politico, RealClearPolitics, NYT

22 thoughts on “Unethical Quote of the Week: Presidential Spokesman Josh Earnest

  1. That last sentence pretty well says it all. If anyone was under any illusion that Josh Earnest would raise the bar of integrity and competence in any manner from that set by his predecessor, this session alone should have dispelled it.

    BTW, Jack: You have this tendency to talk about America’s “boarders”. They’re the ones who illegally sneak across our BORDERS. The Spelling Nazi hisses!

  2. I think that when Obama said that they’d chase ISIL to the gates of hell, he figured that ISIL would advance to the Whitehouse door, and he’d just shoo them back to the stoop.

    Seriously though… I used to think that Obama was Bush lite, because a lot of the things that Obama promised he’d change from Bush’s presidency, he either continued or expanded. Now…. I’m just waiting for the “mission accomplished” banner.

  3. This is how the conversation should have gone;

    REPORTER:What does victory look like here? You’ve talked about destroying ISIL, I honestly don’t know what that means. What does that mean?

    JOSH EARNEST: I didn’t bring my Webster’s dictionary with me up here. We’ll, you know. It’s only –

    At which point the reporter should have cut him off and dominated with one of the two following acceptable responses:

    REPORTER: excuse me sir, we’re facing a severe crisis involving an enemy that doesn’t equivocate and is playing for keeps. They don’t dither and hem and haw but you’re telling me that in the face of that enemy you can’t explain the vision our commander in chief has put forward for Victory? Or are you saying our commander in chief doesn’t have a vision for Victory?”

    or option 2

    REPORTER: you’re an asshole. You know that?

    Or a combination of the 2.

  4. I’m still pondering why on earth Obama – and the administrations he runs – insist on calling it ISIL, instead of the Islamic State (which is what they call themselves, although yes, it reeks of propaganda) or ISIS, which EVERYONE ELSE CALLS IT?

    • I have several theories, one of which is:

      He used to call it ISIS. Back when it was a JV team. Once flak was sent up about the JV comment he started calling it ISIL. Perhaps a quiet attempt to pretend like they are different entities?

      Another theory:
      Back when I heard it being referred to as a handful of different titles as no one would settle on what to call it, he latched onto ISIL as that was becoming the trend of the moment before most people settled on ISIS.

      Which is harmless but he ought to get on board for clarity sake.

      • ISIL refers to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant; “Levant” replacing “Syria”. That expands the range of the Islamic State’s proclaimed dominion to Lebanon, Jordan… and Israel! Some commentators have noted Obama’s preference for the latter term and wondered about the significance.

  5. Unfortunately first we’ve developed a sitcom culture where a snappy comeback is supposed to mean you won, and smug deflections or laughing questions or criticism off have become par for the course, so we shouldn’t be surprised that culture has bled to the highest levels of a government that’s tried to be an extension of popular culture.

    Second, I think Earnest thought he was prepared for the questions as far as he was going to deflect or give a non-answer to a question that pressed for a substantive answer as to what this campaign would entail. He himself probably doesn’t know what victory means here because no one from higher up shared that with him, they just sent him out there to give glib non-answers, hoping the president’s fading star power would still carry the day. By virtue of the minimal play this has gotten, it has, which says as much for even fading star power as it says little for the journalistic establishment.

    Third, this is absolutely true, but, unfortunately the Obama administration still has two more years to go and nothing will change that. Not only that but it has nothing to lose at the polls, so there is no political reason to be other than glib. Ethically there are a whole host of reasons to try to do this job and do it right, not the least of which is that this nation could be in danger if it’s done wrong, but I think it is safe to say that ethics is not a welcome guest at this White House, or any Democratic White House since Clinton.

    I would go so far as to say that not even a smackdown at the polls and the likely loss of the Senate are likely to change much, other than to give the president further fodder for justifying executive actions to do what Congress won’t.

    In fact I will go a step farther, and say that the President isn’t likely to admit being wrong even after he leaves office. Five years down the road someone will catch up to him between $500,000.00 a pop speaking engagements and fundraisers and ask him if he has any regrets or anything he would have done differently. His answer will probably only vary depending on who has succeeded him. If a Democrat has followed him into office, then most likely he will say that his only regrets are that he could not get in there sooner in 2008 to do what he needed to do and that Congress never saw sense after 2010. If, as I submit is a better than even chance and getting better all the time as the populace takes a second look at Hilary and doesn’t like what it sees, a Republican succeeds him, he will say that his only regret is that the public did not allow the work he began to be completed before launching into a list all the things that still need to get done that this new guy has put in the bottom drawer.

    Finally, see above, there is nothing to add.

  6. Jack,
    “there are credible reports of ISIS terrorists entering the United States.” From whom? I’m not disagreeing, I just haven’t read anything on the issue that wasn’t speculative.


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