First, thanks to LAOBSERVED for the tip to Jack Shafer's media column over at SLATE where he uses the phrase 'walks the cow around the barn' in a column about the mainstream media disingenuously engaging in character assassination:
Having dumped the compost, planted the seed, and fertilized and watered the earth, the Journal leaves it to nobody's imagination what species the flowering Thomson-Bartiromo friendship, relationship, and contact is without actually coming out and writing anything that 1) they can't prove and 2) invites a libel suit. This is the sort of copy a clever lawyer directs reporters to write when they "know" something but can't prove it. Leave it to the reader to assemble the meaning of the facts in their minds, the wise libel attorney tells his clients. The Jan. 26 New York Times also walks the cow around the barn by noting that both Thomson and Bartiromo are married.
Now like any other self-respecting cowboy I have herded cows; I have roped cows; I have bulldogged and steer wrestled them; and I have even ridden the odd bull. Plus, on occasion, I have milked one or two dairy cows.
But one thing I have never done is... walk a a cow around the barn. Nor have I ever heard that phrase used before.
Then when I checked out the phrase on GOOGLE - it turned out there is not a single other use of that phrase - or any phrase even like it - anywhere on the world wide web. In fact, the only usage of any phrase even using the same words, but in a totally different way, is in describing barns in which cows are not confined in stalls but where cows are 'allowed to walk around the barn' themselves as opposed to someone else walking them around the barn.
So... Jack... where did you get that phrase? Or were you just ... walking the cow around the barn... when you used it?