I was out of the country last week and expected to return to find an end to the media frenzy about Education Secretary Rod Paige being (a) unhappy with his job, (b) "out of the policy loop" and (c) on the verge of quitting. Alas, this foolishness seemed, if anything, to have intensified.
Having lived in Washington forever, I know this sort of thing occurs from time to time. Think of it as a form of political fiction writing or rumor mongering. The usual formula is to allege a rift or conflict between a senior official and the White House (or sometimes between White House aides), then make much ado about its significance and implications, using this occasion to cast the incumbent administration in a bad light.
These stories have three possible sources. The likeliest is journalists with little better to do, a yen to make trouble, keen awareness that gossipy stories about people draw more readers than dense articles about policy, and, usually, some anonymous source willing to abet this plan by saying something provocative off the record. Second, opponents of the administration (who may, of course, include the journalists and/or their sources) may deploy this tactic for their own purposes of policy or politics. Third, it's possible that someone within the administration-conceivably the person alleged to be unhappy-is using this public mechanism as a way to "send a message" into the Oval Office.
Whence came the Paige rumors? We'll never know for sure, but possibility three is not to...