The Administration Punts Again: Why Does the Press Play Along?

One of the small satisfactions of the Libby trial has been getting certain things that we all already knew confirmed by various former White House officials.

Last week it was former Cheney aide Cathie Martin confirming what HuffPost RussertWatch already knew all too well -- that Meet the Press was the administration's top choice for push back as its lies about Iraq were unraveling. Top choice? Meet the Press, of course, because they considered it their "best format" and could "control" the message.

It was Ari Fleischer, the "pig in a poke" to whom Patrick Fitzgerald "reluctantly" granted immunity, confirming what we already knew about the famous "16 words" about the Niger yellow cake in Bush's State of the Union speech in 2003.

"I had been told to be careful not to stand by the 16 words, that the ground might be shifting on that," Fleischer said. "You can't say yes. You can't say no. At that briefing, I basically punted. I said yes and no."

Of course he did! And of course we knew that's what he was doing at the time. And just to remind you, here is the transcript of what Fleischer said:

Q The President's statement was accurate?

MR. FLEISCHER: We see nothing that would dissuade us from the President's broader statement.

Q Ari, that means that, indeed, you all believe that Saddam Hussein was trying to obtain uranium from an African nation; is that correct?

MR. FLEISCHER: What the President said in his statement was that according to a British report they were trying to obtain uranium. When I answered the question it was, again, specifically about the Niger piece involving yellow cake.

Q So you believe the British report that he was trying to obtain uranium from an African nation is true?

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry?

Q If you're hanging on the British report, you believe that that British report was true, you have no reason to believe --

MR. FLEISCHER: I'm sorry, I see what David is asking. Let me back up on that and explain the President's statement again, or the answer to it.

The President's statement was based on the predicate of the yellow cake from Niger. The President made a broad statement. So given the fact that the report on the yellow cake did not turn out to be accurate, that is reflective of the President's broader statement, David. So, yes, the President' broader statement was based and predicated on the yellow cake from Niger.

Q So it was wrong?

MR. FLEISCHER: That's what we've acknowledged with the information on --

Q The President's statement at the State of the Union was incorrect?

MR. FLEISCHER: Because it was based on the yellow cake from Niger.

The reason hearing all this is only a small satisfaction is because the real satisfaction would be if the media stopped accepting these punts -- if, in fact, they stopped playing this game altogether.

Does anyone in the press corps -- not to mention the planet -- not know that Tony Snow is still up there "punting," day in and day out? Why, then, do they still play the game? Why don't they call the punting what we all know it is: deliberate deception -- even...gasp...lying?

The media's willingness to take punt after punt, and allow the administration to "control" its "message," is part of what got us into this historically disastrous debacle, and what's still allowing Bush to punt this entire war down to the next president.

It would be a lot harder for the administration to play games with the lives of other people's children if the press refused to play along.