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The Importance of Being Earnest

9:05 AM, Feb 19, 2013 • By JERYL BIER
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Josh Earnest, a White House deputy press secretary, answering a reporter's question aboard Air Force One on Friday, inadvertently painted with a broader brush than he intended. The reporter asked why Republican senators were linking Chuck Hagel's nomination for defense secretary with a bid to extract more details on the Benghazi fiasco from the Obama administration. In an effort to cast doubt on the senators' motives, Earnest said the following in his reply:

But one thing I would add is Senator McCain gave an interview on Fox News yesterday explaining why he was delaying  -- why he supported the delay in this confirmation vote.  And I just want to read the exact quote from what he said, because I think it's pretty enlightening.  He begins saying, "To be honest with you, Neil" -- I didn’t go to journalism school, but I think if I were a journalism professor I would encourage journalists' ears to perk up when an interview -- when a person answering a question says, "to be honest with you."   

In retrospect, Earnest might regret his momentary impersonation of a journalism professor. McCain is not the only politician to have employed the euphemism in question. Just two days earlier, Earnest's own boss was speaking at a manufacturing plant in Asheville, North Carolina. In the course of his speech, President Obama said the following:

So we're seeing this trend of what we call insourcing, not just outsourcing.  And the reason is because America has got outstanding workers.  We're starting to produce more homegrown energy, which is driving down our energy costs.  And, obviously, we've still got the biggest market in the world.  And if we try to improve our infrastructure a little bit more, then we're going to be even that much more competitive. 

Now, I want to be honest with you...

As it turns out, the phrase is heard coming from the White House more than the deputy press secretary might like to admit.  A Google search of the White House website returns at least 729 results. Doubtless some of these are duplicates, but from the look of things, First Lady Michelle Obama rarely gets through a speech without using the phrase, in one case even stringing two together.  The president and other members of his staff likewise make liberal use of it.  And then there's this individual:

I got to be honest with you, I don't know if he's seen any of the television coverage.

To be honest with you, Dave, I have not had a chance to talk to him about that at all. 

To be honest with you, I don't know whether or not he caught any of the opening ceremonies. 

— I don't know if they've -- to be honest with you, I don't know if they've seen those excerpts or not. 

To be honest with you, I have not talked to the President about his reaction to the hearing. 

—   I guess I hadn't really thought about it, to be honest with you

That's right. Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest, in one instance as recently as October.  It seems likely that in the future, journalists' ears should indeed "perk up" when they hear this phrase.  And if the past is any guide, the source of the alleged verbal misdirection may very well be the president, his wife, or none other than Josh Earnest himself.

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