In a sequence of events that’s become as routine as the press briefing itself, yesterday Helen Thomas lobbed an accusation at the White House, to which Tony Snow shot back with a sarcastic reply (video, transcript). But there’s a dispute over who had the facts right:
Q The United States is not that helpless. It could have stopped the bombardment of Lebanon. We have that much control with the Israelis.
MR. SNOW: I don’t think so, Helen.
Q We have gone for collective punishment against all of Lebanon and Palestine.
MR. SNOW: What’s interesting, Helen —
Q And this is what’s happening, and that’s the perception of the United States.
MR. SNOW: Well, thank you for the Hezbollah view, but I would encourage you —
Q Nobody is accepting your explanation. What is restraint, a call for restraint?
MR. SNOW: Well, I’ll tell you, what’s interesting, Helen, is people have. The G8 was completely united on this. And as you know, when it comes to issues of —
Q And we stopped a cease-fire — why?
MR. SNOW: We didn’t stop a cease-fire. I’ll tell you what —
Q We vetoed —
MR. SNOW: We didn’t even veto. Please get your facts right. What happened was that the G8 countries made a pretty clear determination that the guilty party here was Hezbollah. You cannot have a cease-fire when you’ve got the leader of Hezbollah going on his television saying that he perceives total war — he’s declaring total war. When they are firing rockets indiscriminately —
Q We had the United Nations —
MR. SNOW: Please let me finish. I know this is great entertainment, but I want to finish the answer. The point here is they’re firing rockets indiscriminately into civilian areas. The Israelis are responding as they see fit. You will note the countries that disagree with the —
Q — bombardment of a whole country —
MR. SNOW: — that disagree with the government of Israel in terms of its general approach on Palestine, many of our European allies agree that Israel has the right to defend itself, that the government of Lebanon has the right to control all its territory, that Hezbollah is responsible and that those who support it also bear responsibility. There is no daylight between the United States and all the allies on this. They all agreed on it. This was not difficult —
Q At that point, why did we veto a cease-fire?
MR. SNOW: We didn’t veto a cease-fire.
Q Yes, we did.
MR. SNOW: No, we didn’t. There was — there was no cease-fire. I’m sorry —
Q Wasn’t there a resolution?
MR. SNOW: No.
Q At the U.N.?
MR. SNOW: No — no. You know what you’ve — I see what you — what happened was that there was conversation about “a cease-fire” that was picked up by some of the microphones when some colorful language made its way into the airwaves yesterday. And the President was continuing a conversation he’d had earlier with Prime Minister Tony Blair about staging. Would we like a cease-fire? You bet, absolutely. We would love to see a cease-fire. But the way you stage is that you make sure that the people who started this fight — Hezbollah — take their responsibility —
Q There was no veto at the U.N.?
MR. SNOW: No, there hasn’t been a resolution at the VN — U.N., whatever it is. (Laughter.) There hasn’t been — I was in Germany too long. There’s been no resolution at the U.N.
The United States blocked an Arab-backed resolution Thursday that would have demanded Israel halt its military offensive in the Gaza Strip, the first U.N. Security Council veto in nearly two years.
But get this: When a commenter on Think Progress pointed out that the U.N. resolution applied to the Gaza Strip — not Lebanon, as Thomas clearly implied — Shakir wrote, “It’s unclear from the transcript whether Thomas was referring to that vote or not.”
That’s funny. When he first wrote the post, Shakir was convinced that Thomas was referring to that vote — so convinced that he wrote that Snow needed to “check his facts” and cited an AP article about it. But when a commenter alerted him that the vote pertained to Gaza and not Lebanon, all of a sudden it’s unclear what Thomas was talking about!
He goes from crystal-clear understanding to utter bewilderment when it’s pointed out that Thomas, not Snow, had the wrong facts. Does he really expect us to believe that?
UPDATE: In a cordial e-mail exchange, Faiz wrote that he got the facts wrong on that U.N. resolution and didn’t intend to duck responsibility for that. He explained that his intention in writing the post was to highlight Snow’s confusion, because Snow didn’t make the connection between what Thomas was saying and the resolution the U.S. vetoed last Thursday. We can agree that Snow should have known what resolution Thomas was talking about. However, I think she phrased the question in such a way that his confusion was understandable.
Look back at the transcript: After Snow explains that the U.S. and its European allies agree that Hezbollah is responsible for the violence in Lebanon, Thomas asks, “At that point, why did we veto a cease-fire?” Snow’s mind must have been reeling as he tried to figure out what Thomas was talking about. We’ve never vetoed a cease-fire between Israel and Lebanon. He seized upon the first familiar thing he could think of, which was the “cease-fire” chatter overheard at the G8.
I wish Snow had made the connection, because it would have given him a great opportunity to restate the compelling case for vetoing the resolution that John Bolton presented at the time. But intentionally or not, Thomas asked a misleading question.