Not that Rather’s bitter, but he had a few questions for Scott McClellan last night when the two men met to discuss the latter’s book at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan:
RATHER: Any other times you recall, as you mention in the book, [Bush’s] tendancy for what you call “self-deception?” [unintelligible muttering]*
McCLELLAN: Well, I think early on, I think this was back in February of ’04, during the re-election campaign, when the National Guard information came up… I think he wasn’t recalling certain things […]
RATHER: In the book What Happened, you say the press were “complicit enablers” who “neglected their watchdog role” [and were] “probably too deferential to the White House in the debate over whether or not to go to war.” And you say what you call the “liberal media” — quote-unquote — didn’t live up to its reputation and, quote, “If it had, the country would have been better served.” Give me some examples of why you think that?
McCLELLAN: Well… if you go back and look at that time period, and certainly I think people like Dan Rather were the exception to that rule, I say in the book there were exceptions […]
RATHER: A lot of journalists thought that — let’s set aside present company — that it was pretty well known that if you did tough questioning… that you would expect the campaign to try to injure — if not destroy — your credibility as a journalist. Did you take part in those kinds of conversations? Did you hear those kinds of things?
McCLELLAN: I didn’t directly, I didn’t hear anything like that. [Upper East Side liberals emit sarcastic guffaws.] No seriously, I don’t think I… my focus was on domestic policy moreso than on the, on the broader issues… if that happened, it happened at a higher level than I was at that time, if people were directed to do things […]
RATHER: Is there a special operation in the White House or in the Executive Office Building next door to it that seeks to orchestrate, perhaps even run some of what’s on the Internet?
McCLELLAN: Certainly there’s a large operation, part of the communications operation is the office of strategic iniatives, working to make sure that… the blogosphere has a tremendous amount of influence, and they just want to make sure that we’re helping to shape some of that narrative…
RATHER: To your knowledge, are there bloggers who are paid by the White House political operation? Some campaigns have –
McCLELLAN: — not to my knowledge, but that was not an area I focused on.
For the record, here’s some of what McClellan had to say about the National-Guard documents fiasco at the time:
Q Scott, can you talk a little bit about last night’s remarks by Dan Rather? He seemed to almost personally challenge the President to answer the questions. And he also urged the media to sort of set aside concerns about whether the documents were forgeries and focus on the President’s — on questions about the President’s service. Did he watch it? Did you watch it? What’s your reaction?
MR. McCLELLAN: No, he didn’t watch it. I did see it. I did see it. Well, CBS has now acknowledged that the crux of their story may have been based on forged documents. And they have determined that they will follow other news organizations and look into the serious questions that have been raised. There continue to be a number of questions raised about these documents. And you’ve heard what I’ve said repeatedly, that these are serious questions and they ought to be looked into fully. And a number of media organizations have been doing that. And now CBS has decided to do so, as well.
Q As for the — Dan Rather’s, you know, direct challenge, which we saw in The New York Observer yesterday, the interview in The New York Observer, he said: Answer the questions; with respect, answer the questions.
Was that appropriate for Rather to say and –
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think it’s always best for journalists to stick to reporting the facts and not trying to dispense campaign advice. Did you have another question about last night or –
Q No. The only other thing was, you know, he spent a lot of time interviewing this 86-year-old former secretary and seemed to — while acknowledging the possibility that the documents were forged, he seemed to cling to the essence of the accusations in the documents, even if they were phony. What did you think of that?
MR. McCLELLAN: So now some are looking at feelings and not the facts. You know, we don’t have to rely on the feelings of a nice woman who has firmly stated her opposition to the President. We can look to the facts. And the facts are that the commanding officer at the time has categorically stated that what had been asserted simply was not the case.
* Apologies if the transcript is a little rough. The Y doesn’t allow recording.