Live from the Orange-Haired Baboon Cage: Moral fault attaches to anybody who pays money to the New York Times for any purpose as long as it publishes things like this:
Kate Kelly: Trump’s Economic Cabinet Is Mostly Bare. This Man Fills the Void: "Gary Cohn... briefed Mr. Trump... argued that the bold infrastructure projects that Mr. Trump envisioned...
...would need private-industry partners, those people said, in order to avoid weighing down the government with costs. That got Mr. Trump’s attention. The president-elect turned to the other people in the room—his son-in-law, Jared Kushner; his chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon; his chief of staff, Reince Priebus; and Steven T. Mnuchin, his campaign’s chief fund-raiser and Mr. Trump’s nominee to be Treasury secretary—surprised that his infrastructure ideas had such a potential downside. “Is this true?” Mr. Trump asked the group, according to those people. Heads nodded. “Why did I have to wait to have this guy tell me?” he demanded.
This is what my late coauthor Susan Rasky called a "beat sweetener".
In one paragraph, Kate Kelly has claimed that:
- Gary Cohn is brave.
- Gary Cohn is willing to tell the president important truths that nobody else--not even his son-in-law and the future Treasury Secretary--will tell him.
- President Trump trusts Gary Cohn.
- President Trump believes Gary Cohn.
Such beat sweeteners appear when their subject inside the White House:
- wants to demonstrate that he was won the struggle for the President's ear and trust that is at the heart of power within the imperial court's inner circle.
- wants to claim that he has won the the struggle as a move in the struggle for influence and authority with those outside the imperial court's inner circle--and to aid him in his struggle.
- wants to have journalists claim that he was a powerful member of his inner circle to aid his post-administration career.
- (more rarely) a journalist thinks the courtier will be pleased by this message getting out.
This requires a complaisant journalist (or a journalist who thinks they are being complaisant by getting this message out).
But is any of it true?
Put it this way: I have never had anybody else who was present at a meeting portrayed this way in a beat sweetener do anything other than snort and laugh at how they--and the President--are depicted here.
You are much better off taking stories like this as social rituals than as anything like the products of any disinterested information intermediary. IIRC, there had been a bunch of discussion about the form that Trump's now-stillborn infrastructure push would take--including much discussion of private-public partnerships--before Gary Cohn showed up on the scene...