To set the record straight, the White House on Monday sent a scornful letter to NBC News President Steve Capus, accusing the network of “deceptive” editing of President Bush’s interview with correspondent Richard Engel on the issue of appeasement and Iran.
At issue were remarks Bush made in a speech he delivered to members of Israel's parliament last week.
In the interview conducted on Sunday, Engel asked the president if his comments on negotiating with terrorists were directed at Barack Obama, whose camp considered the statement an attack on him.
In the speech, Bush 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."
When asked by Engel if Bush was referring to Obama, 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."
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."
Ed Gillespie, counselor to the president, said the editing of those words “is clearly intended to give viewers the impression that [Bush] agreed with [Engel's] characterization of his remarks when he explicitly challenged it.”
In the harsh letter sent to the network, and to all members of the media that receive White House press releases, Gillespie wrote: “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 [‘NBC Nightly News’ and ‘Today’] that used the excerpts.”
On Monday’s “NBC Nightly News,” anchor Brian Williams mentioned the “strongly worded letter” from the White House and noted that viewers could watch the unedited interview in its entirety on MSNBC.com, and post comments to its blog.
In a statement, Capus responded by saying the reporting accurately reflects the interview.
“Editing is a part of journalism,” the statement said. “We take the collective body of information surrounding a story, distill it, and produce a report. We strive in all cases to be fair and accurate. In some instances, where appropriate, we offer interviews in their entirety — in live broadcasts, or posted on our Web site."
Gillespie wrote, "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."
Gillespie also used the opportunity in the letter to inquire whether NBC News still labels the infighting in the country as a “civil war,” which it began doing back in November of 2006.
“I noticed that around September of 2007, your network quietly stopped referring to conditions in Iraq as a civil war,” he wrote. “Is it still NBC News’ 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?”
Though letters to networks issued from White House press officials are rare, they do often address unfair or inaccurate media coverage during daily press briefings, and then distribute statements to ensure widespread coverage of their complaints.
Some critics have cited MSNBC and other media outlets for what they say is left-leaning, partisan political coverage and commentary.
“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 wrote.
“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.”
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