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Thomas Wants White House Press Corps to be More Hostile

By Stephen Spruiell
National Review Online

03/09/06 04:25 PM

Helen Thomas displays an utter detachment from reality in this column for the Nation, titled "Lap Dogs of the Press." She begins:

Of all the unhappy trends I have witnessed — conservative swings on television networks, dwindling newspaper circulation, the jailing of reporters and "spin" — nothing is more troubling to me than the obsequious press during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. They lapped up everything the Pentagon and White House could dish out — no questions asked.

No questions, huh? Well I found a few in the transcript from this press conference Bush gave in March of 2003, just prior to the invasion of Iraq:

Q Mr. President, you have, and your top advisors — notably, Secretary of State Powell — have repeatedly said that we have shared with our allies all the current, up-to-date intelligence information that proves the imminence of the threat we face from Saddam Hussein, and that they have been sharing their intelligence with us, as well. If all these nations, all of them our normal allies, have access to the same intelligence information, why is it that they are reluctant to think that the threat is so real, so imminent that we need to move to the brink of war now?

And in relation to that, today, the British Foreign Minister, Jack Straw, suggested at the U.N. that it might be time to look at amending the resolution, perhaps with an eye towards a timetable like that proposed by the Canadians some two weeks ago, that would set a firm deadline to give Saddam Hussein a little bit of time to come clean. And also, obviously, that would give you a little bit of a chance to build more support within the members of the Security Council. Is that something that the governments should be pursuing at the U.N. right now? [...]

Q Thank you, Mr. President. How would — sir, how would you answer your critics who say that they think this is somehow personal? As Senator Kennedy put it tonight, he said your fixation with Saddam Hussein is making the world a more dangerous place. And as you prepare the American people for the possibility of military conflict, could you share with us any of the scenarios your advisors have shared with you about worse-case scenarios, in terms of the potential cost of American lives, the potential cost to the American economy, and the potential risks of retaliatory terrorist strikes here at home? [...]

Q Thank you, sir. May I follow up on Jim Angle's question? In the past several weeks, your policy on Iraq has generated opposition from the governments of France, Russia, China, Germany, Turkey, the Arab League and many other countries, opened a rift at NATO and at the U.N., and drawn millions of ordinary citizens around the world into the streets in anti-war protests. May I ask, what went wrong that so many governments and people around the world now not only disagree with you very strongly, but see the U.S. under your leadership as an arrogant power? [...]

Q Mr. President, to a lot of people, it seems that war is probably inevitable, because many people doubt — most people, I would guess — that Saddam Hussein will ever do what we are demanding that he do, which is disarm. And if war is inevitable, there are a lot of people in this country — as much as half, by polling standards — who agree that he should be disarmed, who listen to you say that you have the evidence, but who feel they haven't seen it, and who still wonder why blood has to be shed if he hasn't attacked us. [...]

Q Thank you, Mr. President. As you know, not everyone shares your optimistic vision of how this might play out. Do you ever worry, maybe in the wee, small hours, that you might be wrong and they might be right in thinking that this could lead to more terrorism, more anti-American sentiment, more instability in the Middle East?

It goes on. Yes, the press reported that Saddam had weapons (because our intelligence agencies and our allies' intelligence agencies believed it also). But far from being passive conduits for administration spin, the press questioned the president on the very issues that have come to the forefront of the national debate today. The idea that the press "lapped up everything the Pentagon and White House could dish out" is nonsense. One found plenty of arguments in 2003 against invading Iraq from the usual suspects — such as Helen Thomas.

Thomas goes on to argue that the White House Press Corps needs to be more hostile:

It is past time for reporters to forget the party line, ask the tough questions and let the chips fall where they may.

How could someone who sits in the White House briefing room everyday be completely unaware of the fact that the briefings routinely degenerate into shouting matches because the current level of hostility is so high? Whatever curative is needed to repair the relationship between the White House and the press, it is certainly not more hostility.

We don't have a failure to ask "tough questions" — we have an administration that has decided to deal with the adversarial press by tuning it out. The result has been a White House that is often unable to effectively communicate its message. The Washington Post reported two weeks ago that one reason the adminstration bungled its response to the Dubai ports deal is that its communications office was still dealing with the media's ludicrous caterwauling over Dick Cheney's hunting accident. As a result, we've suffered a real consequence: a victory for isolationism in an age when global economic integration holds so much promise both for national security and prosperity.

Thomas says we just need to turn up the heat on this cauldron. I say Helen Thomas is part of the problem.

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