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THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release May 19, 2008
Setting The Record Straight:
The following is a letter from Counselor to the President Ed Gillespie to NBC News President Steve Capus:
President, NBC News
30 Rockefeller Plaza
New York, N.Y. 10112
This e-mail is to formally request that NBC Nightly News and The Today Show air for their viewers President Bush’s actual answer to correspondent Richard Engel’s question about Iran policy and “appeasement,” rather than the deceptively edited version of the President’s answer that was aired last night on the Nightly News and this morning on The Today Show.
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 Adolf 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.”
This answer makes clear: (1). The President’s remarks before the Knesset were not different from past policy statements, but are now being looked at through a political prism, (2). Corrects the inaccurate premise of Engel’s question by putting the “appeasement” line in the proper context of taking the words of leaders seriously, not “negotiating with Iran,” (3). 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.
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.”
This response reiterates another long-standing policy, which is that if Iran verifiably suspends its uranium enrichment program the U.S. government would engage in talks with the Iranian government.
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. Furthermore, it omitted the references to al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas and ignored the clarifying point in the President’s follow-up response 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.”
This deceitful editing to further a media-manufactured storyline is utterly misleading and irresponsible and I hereby request in the interest of fairness and accuracy that the network air the President’s responses to both initial questions in full on the two programs that used the excerpts.
As long as I am making this formal request, please allow me to take this opportunity to ask if your network has reconsidered its position that Iraq is in the midst of a civil war, especially in light of the fact that the unity government in Baghdad recently rooted out illegal, extremist groups in Basra and reclaimed the port there for the people of Iraq, among other significant signs of progress.
On November 27, 2006, NBC News made a decision to no longer just cover the news in Iraq, but to make an analytical and editorial judgment that Iraq was in a civil war. As you know, both the United States government and the Government of Iraq disputed your account at that time. As Matt Lauer said that morning on The Today Show: “We should mention, we didn’t just wake up on a Monday morning and say, ‘Let’s call this a civil war.’ This took careful deliberation.'”
I noticed that around September of 2007, your network quietly stopped referring to conditions in Iraq as a “civil war.” Is it still NBC News’s carefully deliberated opinion that Iraq is in the midst of a civil war? If not, will the network publicly declare that the civil war has ended, or that it was wrong to declare it in the first place?
Lastly, when the Commerce Department on April 30 released the GDP numbers for the first quarter of 2007, Brian Williams reported it this way: “If you go by the government number, the figure that came out today stops just short of the official declaration of a recession.”
The GDP estimate was a positive 0.6% for the first quarter. Slow growth, but growth nonetheless. This followed a slow but growing fourth quarter in 2007. Consequently, even if the first quarter GDP estimate had been negative, it still would not have signaled a recession – neither by the unofficial rule-of-thumb of two consecutive quarters of negative growth, nor the more robust definition by the National Bureau of Economic Research (the group that officially marks the beginnings and ends of business cycles).
Furthermore, never in our nation’s history have we characterized economic conditions as a “recession” with unemployment so low – in fact, when this rate of unemployment was eventually reached in the 1990s, it was hailed as the sign of a strong economy. This rate of unemployment is lower than the average of the past three decades.
Are there numbers besides the “government number” to go by? Is there reason to believe “the government number” is suspect? How does the release of positive economic growth for two consecutive quarters, albeit limited, stop “just short of the official declaration of a recession”?
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.
Counselor to the President