I've said it before but I just can't learn my own lesson: You have to work in the news to understand how stupid the news is.
Yesterday I reported on Secretary of Energy Steven Chu's not having commented publicly about the Solyndra bankruptcy. I noted, in a roundup of coverage, that Politico was running a story featuring no comments from Chu but bearing the strong headline "On Solyndra, the buck stops with Chu."
This morning I see that the Washington Post has a story up with the headline "Chu takes responsibility for a loan deal that put more taxpayer money at risk in Solyndra." Ouch! The secretary of energy came out and took responsibility? How did I miss his comments?
So I spend much of the day on the phone and at doe.gov, trying to find the statement from Chu's office that the WashPost referred to.
And it turns out the Post story (which has a double byline) was just a piggyback on the Politico story. They're both working off a comment from Chu spokesman Damien LaVera – a none-too shocking confirmation that the secretary of energy approves commitments, loan guarantees and restructurings performed by the Department of Energy.
On the plus side, LaVera provided me with a statement which I'm happy to cite in full:
"When the career loan program staff recommends a transaction for a conditional commitment, closing or restructuring, the Secretary must give final approval – but only after extensive and rigorous analysis by teams of career federal employees and outside experts of the risks and benefits. These transactions get months, and in some cases years, of exhaustive review, but there will always be an element of risk when America seeks to win an intense global competition for the innovative, job creating technologies of the future. The roughly 40 companies supported by the loan program are on the cutting edge of America's effort to win jobs and build new industries, and we shouldn't cede the entire competition to China in the face of a single setback."
The hubbub about Chu's responsibility is what A.J. Liebling described as media chasing "no news." Whatever you think of Liebling, I recommend his essay on the death of Stalin "Death On the One Hand," which features a narrative of how no news takes up more space than actual news.
In our own thought-tormented age, the confirmation that Steven Chu is in fact the secretary of energy has begun to generate its own subgenre of news analysis. At the American Thinker, Thomas Lifson draws on the Post piece to conclude that Chu is being set up to take a fall for the president:
Chu makes an excellent fall guy because he is a Nobel-certified brilliant scientist, a member of a minority group, and because he was the front man in the operation to shovel tax dollars into friendly hands. His fingerprints are prominwent [sic] on the corpse.
Fox News agrees, with a story boldly headlined "Chu the Fall Guy for Solyndra?"
But it turns out that story is just the original Politico piece with a new headline.
Even White House spokesman Jay Carney has gotten into the act, responding to the Post's scoop by saying the president has "full confidence" in Chu.
So the actual news here boils down to: Steven Chu still has not said anything about Solyndra.
The head of a cabinet-level department is too high-ranking to be a "fall guy" anyway. He may get in trouble for decisions he makes, and his boss the president may get in trouble too, but he is not a fall guy; he is the person in charge of the department. Nothing about Chu's responsibility for the Solyndra loan has changed in the last 48 hours – but you'd have a better understanding of that fact if you had not been looking at the news than if you had. So maybe it's a good thing that most Americans are paying no attention to Solyndra coverage.
In the meantime, never forget that the gunsel is the fall guy, as explained in this pre-Bogart movie version of The Maltese Falcon:
Also: David Boaz rounds up a month's worth of Solyndra headlines.