Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Monday, January 29, 2007

  The White House is talking behind your back

A few weeks ago I wrote about an interview of Dick Cheney on Fox News Sunday. Trotted out to make the case for Bush's ill-starred escalation in Iraq, Cheney made an even greater hash of things than might have been predicted. It was hard to decide whether the VP was now more confrontational than delusional.

Since then, he's given further disastrous interviews, especially one at CNN's Situation Room. The news media at long last began to report upon Cheney's preposterous assertions. We might speculate about why journalists suddenly have begun studying his remarks in broadcast interviews, given that the VP has been making similarly bizarre pronouncements for years. Anyhow, the fact that these interviews were also available almost immediately on the cable news networks' websites made it much more likely that reporters and pundits would check up on Cheney's comments.

With that in mind, take note of this un-reported fact: In the last year, especially the last 6 months, the White House has been making it much harder to track down the broadcast interviews given by administration officials.

Here is the White House Radio page. It links to another page with all of Bush's Saturday radio addresses. The White House clearly wants to make these scripted speeches readily available to the public.

More importantly for our purposes, however, it links to monthly compilations of radio interviews given by administration officials. Here, for example, is the compilation for June 2005 with 10 interviews, including 3 by Cheney. Most such interviews are with local radio programs.

Without explanation, the monthly compilations end in August 2006 -- as if administration officials had given no further radio interviews since then! Upon closer examination, it becomes clear that these compilations were including fewer and fewer interviews in the months leading up to the abrupt suspension of the list. For the period March to August 2006, there are a total of 12 interviews linked in these compilations. For the same period in 2005, by contrast, there were 33 interviews.

It's not as if administration officials have stopped giving interviews with local broadcasters. On October 24, 2006, in fact, the White House held a "Radio Day" in which scores of right wing radio personalities were invited to multiple interviews with administration officials. You may recall that that was the occasion when a nutty radio host from Fargo, Scott Hennen, egged Dick Cheney on to publicly endorse water-boarding (a story that I broke here). In any case, given the large number of radio interviews recorded at the White House alone on that one day, it is quite striking that not a single one of them has been added to its "Radio Page".

Nor is it the case that the White House has just forgotten all about providing links, as if in a fit of absent-mindedness. Cheney's website Speeches and News Releases continues to include transcripts to broadcast interviews alongside his print interviews and speeches. From late October to mid January, in the wake of his embarrassment over the waterboarding fiasco, there are no interviews of Cheney. But that could be due to a desire to avoid awkward questions; I've found no evidence that Cheney's staff is suppressing information about interviews that he's given.

For George Bush, however, on the main pages of the White House website, I look in vain for links to interviews that he has given recently. It's not just the suspension of the compilations on his "Radio Page". It's also the case that Bush's Current News page now seems to exclude transcripts of recent interviews by Bush.

For example, Bush gave four interviews to local stations eleven days ago. I commented here about one such interview, with a Dallas station on January 18 during which Bush remarked that "most members of Congress support" the troops. (Others, apparently, do not; who knew?)

Oddly enough, none of those interviews is linked on the President's Current News page for January. In fact, interviews with the President don't appear to have been linked at the White House site since last summer. There are transcripts for several dozen interviews with George Bush at whitehouse.gov from the start of his presidency up until late last spring. From that point onward, however, there appears to be no further transcripts for Bush interviews.

~~~~

So what happened and why?

As I remarked last summer, when I exposed some scripted radio interviews that Donald Rumsfeld had given, the Bush administration believed (with some justification) that it can communicate directly with its hard-core base via local conservative talk-radio programs. For a long time, almost no journalists or bloggers paid careful attention to what these officials were saying in local interviews.

It could be, however, that people around Bush began to realize last summer that that was beginning to change. I got the impression last July that reporters from at least one news organization, McClatchy's Washington Bureau, were looking into some of the administration interviews (at least out of the Pentagon, if not the White House).

It's also possible that the White House decided, in advance of the November election, to make it harder for reporters to check up on its lies, evasions, and half-truths.

I don't claim to understand why the administration is shutting down access to basic information about who is saying what to whom. I do think it's remarkable that they are doing so, however.

Furthermore, I'm not entirely sure that Dick Cheney is on board with the new policy of caution. Nowadays his interviews, and only Cheney's interviews, are being linked anywhere on White House web pages. There's also the fact that he's been behaving, even more so than normally, like a bull in a china shop.

4 Comments:

  • I'm open to other theories, but I will add this: After reading, for months on end, most of the transcripts of interviews by Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Bush, I've nearly reached the end of my tether.

    That is all I have to say about that.

    By Blogger : smintheus ::, at 10:42 PM  

  • The problem now is that there are voices telling Americans that an invasion of Iran is pre-determined...yet no one seems to care.

    By Anonymous Wil Robinson, at 7:59 PM  

  • I'm very skeptical that Bush Co. will dare to attack Iran. I see all the signs, but now (as opposed to last winter/spring) it looks to me like sabre rattling. Maybe I'm just guilty of believing what I want to believe, as many Americans were before the invasion of Iraq. But I will say that by winter/spring 2002 I was pretty convinced that Bush intended to invade Iraq and never took the sabre-rattling interpretations seriously.

    So I'm hopeful that I'm not just being overly hopeful this time.

    By Blogger : smintheus ::, at 7:29 PM  

  • This article from 2003 by Dana Milbank is interesting. White House Web Scrubbing. It documents how the Bush administration has scrubbed links at government web-sites to interviews that turned out to be embarrassing, or 'updated' links to re-write history.

    By Blogger : smintheus ::, at 10:09 PM  

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