White House official Ed Gillespie, in a nice bit of synergy with their Fox News patrons, has shot off a lengthy letter to NBC News' Steve Capus, contending that President Bush's interview with Richard Engel was "deceptively edited" from the original in it's rebroadcast. Here's the blow-by-blow as Gillespie see it:
In the interview, Engel asked the President: "You said that negotiating with Iran is pointless, and then you went further. You said that it was appeasement. Were you referring to Senator Barack Obama?"
The President responded: "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 Adolph 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."
Engel's immediate follow-up question was, "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?"
The President replied, "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."
You can compare the full interview with the edited rebroadcast for yourself. According to Gillespie, "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." He also takes issue with omission if Bush's "references to al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Hamas," and a critical "clarifying point in the President's follow-up response," namely 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.'"
Gillespie, however, is taking a long walk out onto a very shaky limb. He archly refers to the whole matter as a "media-manufactured storyline," but let's face it: it's not everyday that the President of the United States launches a political broadside against a partisan rival from the seat of a foreign government. That's the extraordinary, extenuating circumstance that got this particular ball rolling. And the McCain campaign, in swift collaboration with the White House, did nothing to diminish this impression by specifically turning Bush's remarks in the Knesset into a campaign wedge.
In addition, Gillespie continually refers to the meat of Bush's statement as some sort of policy clarification: "The President's remarks before the Knesset were not different from past policy statements, but are now being looked at through a political prism...Restates the U.S.'s long-standing policy positions against negotiating with al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas, and not allowing Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon."
But the statements of the President's that have driven this story cannot accurately be said to be a policy position, unless the Bush administration is renewing their opposition to Hitler's annexation of the Sudetenland:
"Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along...We have heard this foolish delusion before...As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American Senator declared: 'Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.' We have an obligation to call this what it is -- the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history."
Furthermore, the "some" in "Some seem to believe" either refers to specific persons with rival foreign policy proposals or they refer to straw men. Either way, the focus on "policy clarification" is little more than an attempt to walk back a broadside that the administration very pointedly chickened out on pursuing after the Democratic party rained down opprobrium over the President's initial remarks.
Gillespie tosses in a few additional complaints toward the latter third of the letter to Capus, including a hair-splitting argument over what constitutes a "recession" and a semantic debate over whether it is proper to refer to define the ongoing inter-sectarian disputes in Iraq as a "civil war" (a complaint which includes an erroneous contention by Gillespie that the "unity government in Baghdad recently rooted out illegal, extremist groups in Basra," when it was actually the U.S. forces that had to "take the lead" on that mission, which was resolved in favor of the Sadrists).
Then, there is this paragraph, apparently submitted without irony:
Mr. Capus, I'm sure you don't want people to conclude that there is really no distinction between the "news" as reported on NBC and the "opinion" as reported on MSNBC, despite the increasing blurring of those lines. I welcome your response to this letter, and hope it is one that reassures your broadcast network's viewers that blatantly partisan talk show hosts like Christopher Matthews and Keith Olbermann at MSNBC don't hold editorial sway over the NBC network news division.
And that, I believe, brings us back full-circle to Fox News/News Corp. and their well-orchestrated chorale of complaint.