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White House complains about Bush interview

The White House on Monday called on NBC News to set the record straight on "deceitful" editing of an interview with President Bush, in which correspondent Richard Engel asks whether comments about the president of Iran were directed at Barack Obama.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The White House on Monday called on NBC News to set the record straight on "deceitful" editing of an interview with President Bush, in which correspondent Richard Engel asks whether comments about the president of Iran were directed at Barack Obama.

Bush aides were angered by how the president's answer was portrayed when Engel questioned him about his condemnation of "the false comfort of appeasement" in an address last week to the Israeli Knesset. NBC stood by its treatment of the interview Monday.

Bush had mentioned the president of Iran in his speech and said: "Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along."

Obama's campaign considered that statement an attack on him, which the White House has denied.

Engel asked Bush if he was referring to Obama in his speech.

As it appeared on "Nightly News" Sunday and the "Today" show Monday, Bush's response was: "You know, my policies haven't changed, but evidently the political calendar has ... And when, you know, a leader of Iran says that they want to destroy Israel, you've got to take those words seriously."

But the White House said NBC edited out these words that Bush said between those two sentences: "People need to read the speech. You didn't get it exactly right, either. What I said was that we need to take the words of people seriously."

NBC stands by its editing
Bush counsel Ed Gillespie, in a letter to NBC News President Steve Capus, said that "this deceitful editing to further a media-manufactured storyline is utterly misleading and irresponsible." He asked that the network air Bush's response in full on the two programs.

NBC countered by saying the unedited interview has been available since Sunday on the network's Web site, and that the reporting accurately reflects the interview. The extra sentences by Bush were included during a report on Sunday's "Today" show.

Capus replied that there was no effort to be deceptive and called Gillespie's criticism a gross misrepresentation of the facts.

"Just as the White House does not participate in the editorial process at the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal or USA Today, NBC News, as part of a free press in a free society, makes its own editorial decisions," NBC said in a statement.

In NBC's nightly newscast on Monday, anchor Brian Williams noted that the White House objected to how it presented the Bush interview. Williams reiterated that the entire interview was available on and that viewers could post comments on the broadcast's blog if they wanted.

That didn't satisfy Gillespie, who issued another statement moments later. "It's simply absurd for people to have to log onto the Internet and stream video to get accurate information from NBC News," he said.

The White House routinely pushes back against news stories it does not agree with by issuing "Setting The Record Straight" press releases. But the one against NBC News stands out for its angry tone and its accusation that the news division deceptively and deceitfully edited the president's words.

It also came personally from Gillespie, one of the top figures in the White House and a veteran politico as former head of the Republican Party.

Gillespie brought up some other grievances, too, including NBC News coverage of the Iraq war and the nation's economic woes. The White House was not happy when NBC News decided to call the situation in Iraq a civil war and called attention to its decision.

Gillespie said that NBC News has quietly stopped referring to a civil war in Iraq. "Will the network publicly declare that the civil war has ended, or that it was wrong to declare it in the first place?" he asked.

Capus said it was better to discuss the other issues "in a more appropriate forum."

Complaint sent to all
The White House didn't just send its letter of complaint to NBC. It sent it out to every reporter who receives White House press releases and posted it prominently on the White House Web site.

"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," Gillespie said.

NBC News has angered Democrats this year, too. The Clinton campaign has been unhappy with Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann, along with NBC Washington bureau chief Tim Russert's declaration after last week's primaries that Obama was the Democratic nominee.

Clinton is running a campaign ad in Oregon, where there is a primary on Tuesday, in which the announcer says, "In Washington, they talk about who's up and who's down. In Oregon, we care about what's right and what's wrong." Pictures are shown of Russert, Matthews and Olbermann, with the only non-NBC personality depicted being George Stephanopoulos of ABC News.