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Does Jay Carney get questions in advance? Anatomy of an uproar

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March 10, 2014: White House Press Secretary Jay Carney answers questions during his daily news briefing at the White House. (AP)

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General Skates in Sexual Misconduct Case

Does Jay Carney Get Questions in Advance? Anatomy of an Uproar

What a delicious scenario: Jay Carney admitting that before he takes the podium, the assembled group of White House correspondents have already given him their questions in advance. 

The briefings are just a sham! Collusion at 1600 Pennsylvania! The lapdog press corps, finally exposed! 

But even as this tale caught fire across the web, the only thing it proved is that a local CBS reporter mangled the facts —and has finally retracted her charge.

Here's how it played out: President Obama gave an interview to Catherine Anaya, an anchor at KPHO in Phoenix. She went on the air to provide some color, and talked about a private chat with the president's press secretary: 

"This was off the record, so we were able to ask him all about some of the preparation he does on a regular basis for talking to the press." 

Ding! Ding! Ding! Does Anaya know that "off the record" means you're not allowed to quote the person -- indeed, that you're not supposed to use the information unless you can confirm it elsewhere? Apparently not. Memo to Anaya: Journalists have gone to jail for refusing to betray sources who gave them information off the record. 

Anaya told viewers that Carney, in describing his daily preparation, "also mentioned that a lot of times, unless it's something breaking, the questions that the reporters actually ask -- the correspondents -- they are provided to him in advance. So then he knows what he's going to be answering and sometimes those correspondents and reporters also have those answers printed in front of them, because of course it helps when they're producing their reports for later on. So that was very interesting." 

Interesting? It would indeed be a bombshell -- if true. 

(The video of Anaya, above, was pulled from YouTube late Thursday supposedly for "copyright" reasons.) 

Carney brushed it off in an email to me: "Briefings would be a lot easier if this were true! Rest assured, it is not." 

The Weekly Standard, among other websites, picked it up without a trace of skepticism. Drudge gave it a screaming headline: "REPORTERS REHEARSE QUESTIONS WITH WHITE HOUSE PRESS SEC." 

And Twitter exploded, with some people declaring things like "journalism is dead." 

CNN's Jake Tapper addressed the flap, tweeting: "Not from me, this rings false. this sounds like a misunderstanding." And: "So you think I submitted questions to Jay Carney ahead of time? And then he gave those answers memorably captured on YouTube?" 

Perhaps, I thought, Carney had said that from talking to reporters all day he can anticipate the questions asked at the briefing, which is of course his job. On some occasions, reporters might send word that they want to ask detailed questions about a subject so the press secretary can't duck by saying he hasn't looked into the subject. But that is hardly routine. 

KPHO posted a rather convoluted statement on Thursday from Anaya. She said she didn’t use any off-the-record information from Carney. In fact, he never told her anything about getting journalists’ questions in advance.

 “I regret giving anyone the impression that it was from conversation I had with Mr. Carney.” But Anaya also said she reached her conclusion because she had been asked for her question in advance before attending the briefing.

When I asked a White House spokesman if that was true, he noted that the station had abruptly pulled her statement off its website. Talk about amateur hour.

The new statement from Anaya, which surfaced Thursday evening, contains an abject apology.

“I took a conversation about the preparation for a press briefing and muddied it with my own experience of wanting to provide a question for the press briefing. I incorrectly applied the process to everyone. That was wrong and it was bad reporting. But it was not intentional and I would never purposely report inaccurate information. 

“The White House never asked for my questions in advance and never instructed me what to ask. I chose to provide one of my questions in advance of the press briefing because I wanted to make sure it would have broad appeal. I did not attribute or report factually last night and for that I deeply apologize.” 

She’s right: Bad reporting. Muddied. Incorrectly applied. And the apology took too long.

Bottom line: No self-respecting White House reporter wants to tip his hand in advance, even if the questions are predictable. And if Carney had the info beforehand, his answers would probably be better—or at least funnier.  

General Skates in Sexual Misconduct Case

Another day, another headline about sexual misconduct in the military being punished by a slap on the wrist.

Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair was reprimanded for mistreating an Army captain who was his mistress, among other things, but he was not sentenced to jail, gets to stay in the armed forces and keep his pension. He only has to give up $5,000 for four months.

It was  back in 2012 that another top general, David Petraeus, paid no penalty for having an affair with his biographer Paula Broadwell. Although she was not a subordinate, this was against the military code of conduct—but it was left unclear whether the affair took place in Afghanistan, where he was overseeing the war, or after he’d returned to the States. And by then, Petraeus was CIA director — the job he had to quit in the ensuing uproar -- and no longer subject to military charges. 

Jill Kelley, a friend of Petraeus who received harassing anonymous emails from Broadwell, is suing the Obama administration for allegedly leaking her name and defaming her character. 

In Sinclair’s case, he also pleaded guilty to adultery, soliciting explicit pictures from female officers, disobeying a commander, possessing pornography in a combat zone and misusing his government credit card.

Jamie Barnett, a lawyer for the captain, condemned the sentence as “a travesty” and likened it to “getting sent to the principal’s office for a stern talking to,” according to the New York Times.

The media have devoted considerable space to the debate over how the Pentagon prosecutes sexual misconduct by the brass. But stories like this seem to come and go in a couple of days.

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Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.