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December 09, 2005

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (White House Briefing Room Edition)

Dan Froomkin on press inquiries about Bush's "plan" to bomb Al-Jazeera's headquarters in Qatar:

The al-Jazeera Dodge: For some reason, the White House refuses to provide a straight answer to this question: Did President Bush raise the idea of bombing the headquarters of the al-Jazeera television network in an April 2004 conversation with British Prime Minister Tony Blair -- and if so, was he serious or was he joking?

Reporters who have asked press secretary Scott McClellan to respond to the claim first published in the British Daily Mirror almost two weeks ago have gotten two crude non-denial denials. The first one.... "We are not interested in dignifying something so outlandish and inconceivable with a response."... The next day, I predicted in my column that "nothing arouses White House reporters more these days than a non-denial denial." But I apparently overestimated the mainstream press corps' baloney detectors.

Since then, McClellan has been publicly asked about the al-Jazeera story precisely once... he played dumb.... "MR. McCLELLAN: Can I assure them what?"... "MR. McCLELLAN: Make what comments?"... "MR. McCLELLAN: Any such notion that we would engage in that kind of activity is just absurd."... "MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know what comments you're referring to. I haven't seen any comments quoted."... "MR. McCLELLAN: Let me just repeat for you, Connie. Any such notion that America would do something like that is absurd."... "MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry? Whose offices? The terrorist offices."... "MR. McCLELLAN: And the military talked about that. What are you suggesting? I hope you're not suggesting that they're targeting civilians, because that's just flat-out wrong."... [W]here were the follow-up questions? Nobody in the briefing room pursued the issue any further, and nobody even said one word about al-Jazeera at yesterday's briefing .

By contrast, the corps was downright dogged yesterday when it came to rooting out the details of Bush's summons to jury duty in Crawford. Now there's a big story.

Posted by DeLong at December 9, 2005 10:29 AM