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Jay Carney's Hidden Wild Side

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JAY CARNEY

The New York Times has a quasi-profile of new White House Press Secretary Jay Carney out, and the big takeaway is basically ... I don't know, exactly! Jay Carney is kind of dull, maybe? Or he wasn't all that forthcoming with reporter Jeremy Peters? There's a hint of a wild side, if you pan for it, but the most interesting thing about the piece is that you have to wait 16 paragraphs to learn that the Times interviewed Carney at all, and didn't get a quote worth putting at the top of the piece.

"I come at this from having never been a partisan temperamentally," Mr. Carney said in a recent interview. His office still bore signs that the occupant had yet to fully move in. Empty picture frame hooks poked out from the walls. The bookshelves were virtually empty.

"How you engage, the tone and the style may be different from press secretary to press secretary," he said. "But I'm going to absolutely make clear why we think what the president is doing is right. And when challenging people, I want to be civil, but I'm not going to back down."

Lord, even Miracle Whip has gotten less mild, of late.

The good news here is that known nice guys, like Slate's John Dickerson, really like him. "Close friend" Eli Attie says that Carney is "able to put people at ease," thus separating him from his close friends who wear down his nerves.

In the 21st paragraph, finally, comes a flash of his character:

Not that Mr. Carney is always so placid. Dana Milbank, a Washington Post columnist, recalled an e-mail he received from Mr. Carney while he was working for Mr. Biden. The subject line was "You are a hack." The e-mail continued, "Fabrication is a legitimate tool -- for fiction. You should try it; it suits you."

There's actually been a lot written about that incident, none of which gets into the specifics of what prompted Carney to hit Milbank like that. But the world first learned about that dust-up in a Milbank piece from Feb. 2 of this year:

The e-mail, coming from the Executive Office of the President and addressed to me, had a catchy subject line: "You are a hack."

This was tough - but accurate. I read on.

The body of the message began with the phrase "shamelessly misrepresented," continued on to refer to "your hackneyed storyline" and concluded: "Fabrication is a legitimate tool - for fiction. You should try it; it suits you."

The sender was one James F. Carney, then a spokesman for Vice President Biden, now the incoming White House press secretary. I mentioned the e-mail to colleagues and was surprised to learn that some of them, too, had received the occasional nastygram from Carney, sometimes graced with a barnyard epithet. Happily, these official White House correspondences will be stored for eternity in the National Archives, along with the Declaration of Independence.

Joel Meares at the Columbia Journalism Review wrote of the incident: "I can't help but partly admire the moxie of this man who pens such critical and blunt 'nastygrams.' And I'd encourage any and all who have been on their receiving ends to come forward, bravely as Milbank has, and show us your own mean-spirited missives."

"If it turns out he's a decent enough media critic," Meares added, "he might just be great for the job he's lucked into." (Contrast with Milbank: "There's a suspicion among some of Carney's former colleagues that he's almost been set up to fail - much like Bill Clinton's first press secretary, Dee Dee Myers, who had the title of press secretary but none of the necessary clout.")

Actually, the most interesting thing about Carney is what you learn in the Times story's last paragraph: Carney is the lead singer of a band -- "a hobby and a passion second only to his devotion to the cult band "Guided by Voices." And if you know anything about Guided By Voices frontman Robert Pollard's legendary drinking habits, this could mean that Carney could secretly be a wild man indeed. (But don't expect the White House Press Corps to be smothered in hugs.)

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