Cheat-Seeking Missles

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

White House Takes On The Obama Network

The general rule of thumb of not picking fights with guys who buy their ink (or electrons) by the barrel doesn't really hold if you're counselor to the most powerful man in the world, so Ed Gillespie has taken on NBC.

In his letter attacking NBC's editing of a presidential interview, Gillespie's request is straightforward:
This e-mail is to formally request that NBC Nightly News and The Today Show air for their viewers President Bush's actual answer to correspondent Richard Engel's question about Iran policy and "appeasement," rather than the deceptively edited version of the President's answer that was aired last night on the Nightly News and this morning on The Today Show.
Should NBC fold? Let's look at the evidence, the two questions and answers Gillespie said were unfair. I'll present the edited interview in italics followed by the actual transcript:

RICHARD ENGEL: You said that negotiating with Iran is pointless and then you went further. You're saying, you said that it was appeasement. Were you referring to Senator Barack Obama? He certainly thought you were.

GEORGE W. BUSH: You know, my policies haven't changed, but evidently, the political calendar has. And when a leader of Iran says they want to destroy Israel, you've to take those words seriously.

Full transcript: "You know, my policies haven't changed, but evidently the political calendar has. People need to read the speech. You didn't get it exactly right, either. What I said was is that we need to take the words of people seriously. And when, you know, a leader of Iran says that they want to destroy Israel, you've got to take those words seriously. And if you don't take them seriously, then it harkens back to a day when we didn't take other words seriously. It was fitting that I talked about not taking the words of Adolf Hitler seriously on the floor of the Knesset. But I also talked about the need to defend Israel, the need to not negotiate with the likes of al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas. And the need to make sure Iran doesn't get a nuclear weapon. But I also talked about what's possible in the Middle East."

NBC, in a manner typical of the media, cut out the part of the quote that challenges the media's veracity. The mighty MSM has a glass jaw. The subsequent snipping resulted in considerable detail being left out, including remarks that made it clear Bush set no new policy in his Knesset speech, and gave context to his Hitler comments. But did it mischaracterize Bush? I'll get back to that.

Gillespie then points out that the question immediately following illuminated the subject more, but was not included in the aired version of the interview. Here is that passage:

ENGEL: Repeatedly you've talked about Iran and that you don't want to see Iran develop a nuclear weapon. How far away do you think Iran is from developing a nuclear capability?

BUSH: "You know, Richard, I don't want to speculate – and there's a lot of speculation. But one thing is for certain – we need to prevent them from learning how to enrich uranium. And I have made it clear to the Iranians that there is a seat at the table for them if they would verifiably suspend their enrichment. And if not, we'll continue to rally the world to isolate them."
Says Gillespie:
This response reiterates another long-standing policy, which is that if Iran verifiably suspends its uranium enrichment program the U.S. government would engage in talks with the Iranian government.

NBC's selective editing of the President's response is clearly intended to give viewers the impression that he agreed with Engel's characterization of his remarks when he explicitly challenged it. Furthermore, omitted the references to al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas and ignored the clarifying point in the President's follow-up response that U.S. policy is to require Iran to suspend its nuclear enrichment program before coming to the table, not that "negotiating with Iran is pointless" and amounts to "appeasement."
It's true, this passage does define why Bush is not talking to Iran and what conditions he requires before he would talk to them. As such, it defines why he thinks talking to them without these conditions amounts to appeasement. NBC would have had time to air this bit if it hadn't introduced the piece with the same moral equivalency we saw on AP's story on the same subject.

Much is being made of this letter today -- just check out the links to the two stories posted on memeorandum (here, here). My thoughts?

Gillespie picked the wrong target, for three reasons.

First, the editing is not that egregious. I don't think Gillespie is right when he claims that the editing gave the impression Bush agreed with Engel's characterization of his remarks, and I don't think the follow-up question moved the ball very far down the field. If you're going to take on a network, you should have a better case than the one Gillespie chose to argue, and Lord knows, there are plenty of better cases out there.

A White House edit of the interview would have been very different ... but it would have been editing nonetheless. Egregious editing is defined as putting words into someone's mouth that weren't stated, not leaving out further illumination on points you've put into the interview. I would have preferred to not hear the chiding of Bush in the intro -- the Arabs he was speaking to in Egypt deserved a lecture on democracy, and who cares if the minions of despots were cool to it? -- but NBC's editorial position is clearly anti-Bush, and within that context, the editing was more typical than outrageous.

Second, coverage of the Knesset remarks was going extremely well for the White House and the GOP. Obama was coming off as weak and naive; Bush, the GOP and McCain were coming off as more seasoned and more protective of America. There was no reason to give the opposition the opportunity to position Bush as a crybaby. As one leftyblogger responded to the matter:
Now it's clear that the White House is so invested in this phony war, so convinced of its usefulness, that Ed Gillespie is desperately trying to keep it going far past its expiration date with this message to NBC.
When the opposition is rallying, it's wise not to give them rallying points.

Finally, and most obviously, the nasty little NBC piece was weak and not terribly damaging to US policy, the war or the president, and it had already slipped off to the dustbin of history. Gillespie's letter awoke the dog -- not just the sleeping dog, but the very dead dog.

In the furor that is ensuing, those of us who are convinced the MSM has staked out a position damaging to the war effort and America will too easily jump on Gillespie's bandwagon, not seeing that the whole exercise was a mistake. And those on the left will happily attack Gillespie and Bush and praise NBC for standing up to the administration's arrogance and warmongering.

Gillespie did Bush, the GOP and McCain no favors. This was yet another mistake in the gargantuan chronicles of Bush administration media mistakes.

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