Foggy Bottom, Top

“It may be a distinction without a difference,” said Mr. Pitney, the Huffington Post writer, in an interview. “If Obama and Hillary both believed the position was hers if she wanted it, which was reported by us and CNN and ABC, but she wasn’t made a formal offer, whatever that means, that may in fact be true.”

He added: “I think the gist of those scenarios is pretty similar.”

But doesn’t saying “President-elect Barack Obama offered Sen. Hillary Clinton the position of Secretary of State during their meeting Thursday in Chicago” pretend to offer a little more than the “gist of the scenario”?

“I think it’s clear that both [Obama and Clinton] camps consider this the current deliberation and that they’re very serious,” he said. “Even the outlets that said that no formal offer was made, they said Obama is serious about it and this wasn’t a symbolic gesture. Obama is seriously considering offering her this spot. There’s not a ton of information out there. The only people in the meeting were Obama and Clinton, and people are trying to make do with what they have.”

Sure! But … what if Mr. Pitney is making do with something that happens to be the truth, and everyone else is making do with … something else? Could everyone be as sure as Mr. Stevenson that they knew more than anyone else?

The entire news cycle was now on overdrive with Hillary-mania. Once the Sunday morning shows were done talking about GM and the auto industry, it was on to Hillary!

Why is Mr. Obama seriously considering his former rival? Will Bill Clinton get in the way? What about Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama’s foreign policy differences—the decision to go into Iraq and the talking directly with Iran, for starters? What about Mrs. Clinton’s own foreign policy embarrassments on the trail? (Remember her and Sinbad dodging sniper fire in Bosnia? The peace she brought to Northern Ireland?) And whether Mr. Obama was considering Mrs. Clinton to keep his enemy close and out of the Senate, where she can potentially cause havoc? (Secretary of state doesn’t seem like the sort of place you would stash a nuisance—“Obama should remember the rule that you never hire anybody you can’t fire, especially as secretary of state,” John Bolton told The New York Times.)

And then the whole Hillary’s Choice story line! What does it mean that Hillary would want this job (if she does)? Is she just so power-hungry that she’s eager to get her hands on a high-profile job like secretary of state, even if it means working for Mr. Obama?

Of course by this time, all we knew was that President-elect Obama probably—probably!—was considering Ms. Clinton for the job. Had anyone denied it? Not really! We were told to “respect Mr. Obama’s process.” O.K.! But what are we supposed to think is true? The Huffington Post story? It could be right! Or not. Anyway, if it’s the gist that counts …

“There are a couple things,” said Mr. Stevenson at The Times. “One is that you’re coming off this incredibly amazing story of the campaign, and then you hit the transition where there is a bit of a news vacuum. [Mr. Obama] has been relatively quiet and out of sight and yet you have this media apparatus waiting to scoop anything up and then consider it big news. In any transition, every rumor and every report and every little nugget about a deputy commerce secretary and deputy assistant to the president suddenly takes on an outsized importance. And here you throw into this story line something that is, again, amazing and a little hard to believe in terms of drama and personalities and egos, and it’s like gasoline on a fire.

“So you get everyone getting to run to that side of that boat,” he continued. “You’ve got reporting that probably overshot reality somewhat. And while that thing has always kind of happened, now you have the combination of the nature of the news cycle now and the ubiquity of blogs and the ability and apparent desire of campaigns to feed news nuggets to keep shaping the news cycles and the competitive nature of journalists, and it all combines in this case to create an extraordinary moment. It’s not terribly surprising to me you would have some reporting that probably was a bit beyond what the facts would support.”

The Times and NBC News—our traditional media outlets, the ones that count for less now that we’ve got Mayhill Fowlers in the world—have been the primary outlets to show restraint and produce incremental breaks, however small, that haven’t been disputed throughout this story line.

By Monday, The Times and NBC kicked the ball forward a bit, again. Ms. Cooper and Peter Baker reported, as did Andrea Mitchell on the Today show that morning, that the Obama team was looking into vetting Bill Clinton’s financial and international associations.

Marc Ambinder at The Atlantic—one of the leading political reporters during the campaign, who also showed restraint in his coverage over the past week—went back and gave us a little ticktock from the Obama-Hillary meeting. He wrote that Mr. Obama called Mrs. Clinton on Wednesday and asked that they meet. “According to Democratic sources, Clinton disclosed the information to only three people and swore them to secrecy. Clinton’s team went to extreme lengths to keep the trip a secret. When Clinton arrived at LaGuardia airport in New York for the Delta flight, she was the last person to board the plane. In Chicago, she was the first person to disembark.”

Small news breaks, some clarification. Reporting, and reporting on the reporting.

And by time Monday night rolled around, it looked like the break everyone had finally been waiting for arrived.

The GuardianThe Guardian!—reported, “Hillary Clinton plans to accept the job of secretary of state offered by Barack Obama, who is reaching out to former rivals to build a broad coalition administration, the Guardian has learned.”

The sourcing was curious—“has learned”—but still: news!!! The break we’ve been waiting for.

Within minutes … no one followed up on it. Within hours, Matthew Drudge, accustomed to assigning most of the American media via a giant assignment memo above the flag of his home page, began to demote it. And by morning, even a virulent reader of political news blogs or an obsessed watcher of daytime cable news could be forgiven for never having known the story had finally, kind of, broken.