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Why McClellan Should Steer Clear of Media Criticism


The Newsweek Koran-in-a-john controversy--a sad tale--has been seized upon by the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department, which are exploiting this situation for their own advantage. That's politics. For instance, earlier today--before Newsweek editor Mark Whitaker issued a one-sentence retraction of the 10-sentence item--Scott McClellan, White House press secretary, declared:

"It's puzzling that while Newsweek now acknowledges that they got the facts wrong, they refused to retract the story. I think there's a certain journalistic standard that should be met and in this instance it was not."

Yes, we all know how much McClellan and the White House are addicted to truth and honesty--especially when it comes to the war on terrorism. Seems to me that with a few slight amendments McClellan's remark might also apply to another institution that got an even bigger story wrong:

"It's puzzling that while Bush and the White House now acknowledge that they got the facts wrong, they refused to retract the war. I think there's a certain presidential standard that should be met and in this instance it was not."

No, Bush has never acknowledged that he justified the Iraq war with false information. And he didn't bother to call for an investigation of the prewar intelligence on WMDs until politics dictated that he had to. Nor did he hold anyone accountable for the screw-up. In fact, he awarded CIA director George Tenet the presidential medal of freedom. (Is Whitaker nominating the writers of the Koran item for any awards?) And--no surprise--Bush has said nothing to encourage Senator Pat Roberts, the Republican chairman of the intelligence committee, to complete an inquiry into the Bush administration's use (or, more accurately, abuse) of the prewar intelligence. (This is a matter that the commission Bush appointed to study the prewar intelligence failure did not--for some reason--take up.) Last summer Roberts promised to pursue this investigation after the election. But since the election, he has dragged his feet.

Now let's consider another statement made today:

"We regret that we got any part of our story wrong, and extend our sympathies to victims of the violence and to the U.S. soldiers caught in its midst."

Those words came from Whitaker. They could have also been said by McClellan. But don't wait up. This White House will never accept the same degree of responsibility it has demanded of a magazine.