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Monday | March 03, 2003

Networks and WH in pissing match

In the runup to election 2004, the last thing Bush and his cronies need to do is piss off the networks. Yet that is exactly what happened last week, as acrimonious charges were hurled by both the networks and Ari Fleischer.

At question were two major issues. The first -- the networks cut in to Bush's speech at the American Enterprise Institute after Fleischer promised them the speech would "make news". Of course, the speech was a dud, and the networks weren't happy about it.

ABC, CBS and NBC broke into regular programming to carry President Bush's speech on the Middle East Wednesday evening after White House spokesman Ari Fleischer made off-the-record calls to their Washington bureau chiefs. But when Bush's address to the American Enterprise Institute, also aired by the cable news networks, dealt only generally with the future of a post-Saddam Middle East, some network bigwigs felt they'd been had.

The White House had been "lobbying" for live coverage of Bush's remarks, ABC's Ted Koppel said on "Nightline," but "in one form or another, he has said all of these things before."

The other issue was the Administration's rather bizarre tantrum over CBS' Hussein interview.
In a second backstage battle, Fleischer failed to persuade CBS to allow him or another administration official to appear on "60 Minutes II" to "counter the propaganda," as he puts it, of the Hussein interview.

A White House official recalls "60 Minutes II" executive producer Jeff Fager responding: "Anyone other than the president is not going to do us any good." CBS executives dispute that account, saying Fager merely made an offhand comment that he'd be happy to have Bush. CBS News President Andrew Heyward discussed the contretemps with Fleischer, and the network later sent word that it would take Vice President Cheney or Secretary of State Colin Powell. Privately, administration officials disparaged Rather's questioning of Hussein as too soft.

"This was not the Iraqi State of the Union," says CBS spokeswoman Sandy Genelius. "This was a sit-down interview with a key world figure conducted by one of the most experienced journalists in the world. The White House's position on key issues was included. The White House presents their views to the American public every day."

The spokesman makes the key point -- Bush and his people get unrebutted access to the media multiple times every day. For them to complain about balance in the one chance Hussein had to make his case is ridiculous.

The administration would've been better served had they simply ignored the Hussein interview, deigning it beneath contempt. But it goes to show how simple-mindedly obsessed they are with Hussein, where a 1-hour interview amidst years of daily war talk by the administration raised their hackles.

Posted March 03, 2003 08:07 AM | Comments (18)


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