Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Saturday, February 24, 2007

  White House website is scrubbing embarrassing interviews

On March 16, 2003 Dick Cheney went on Meet the Press. His absurd claims in that interview have since become politically embarrassing to the White House. For example, he declared...

I think things have gotten so bad inside Iraq, from the standpoint of the Iraqi people, my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.


You won't any longer find a link to this transcript on the White House website—nor, indeed, are there links to most of Cheney's interviews from before 2006. Don't believe me? Just do a search for that infamous sentence at www.whitehouse.gov.

The WH website evidently has been busy scrubbing links to interviews and perhaps other public appearances by top officials. The operation has proceeded somewhat unevenly, though aggressively. Pretty clearly the WH wants to make it much harder to research the administration's past pronouncements, especially unscripted ones, and especially those pertaining to Iraq.

How embarrassing now for the White House to get caught in the act of scrubbing its website!

It's difficult to tell how extensive the operation has been, of course, but clearly it has wide dimensions. The most obvious losses from the White House website have been the transcripts of interviews. A little searching for prominent interviews by the Vice President quickly turned up some striking absences.

For example, on May 30, 2005 Cheney told several whoppers to Larry King on CNN, in particular this one:

I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency.


You'll look in vain for any transcript of that interview at the White House website, however. There are several transcripts of subsequent White House briefings in which reporters asked one or another official to comment upon the validity of Cheney's "last throes" statement. But the transcript of the interview in question? AWOL.

Again, on Meet the Press on September 14, 2003 Cheney rejected the calls for an investigation of the pre-war intelligence on so-called WMD, denied that there had been any administration failure in that regard, and predicted that the WH would be vindicated.

I think in the final analysis, we will find that the Iraqis did have a robust program.


The White House website nowhere links to a transcript of that interview, either.

When did this scrubbing operation occur and what did it involve? It's a difficult question to answer. So far I've located no evidence that the foregoing interviews were ever linked at the WH website. However it's certain that the WH site was scrubbed in some fashion fairly recently.

Take for example the White House Radio Page. Traditionally it has two groups of links: (a) to all the President's scripted weekly radio addresses; (b) to radio interviews given by top administration officials. The scripted addresses are all archived in good order; nothing unusual there. But you'll notice two peculiar things about section (b) of the page, as it appears now.

(i) First, there are no archived interviews since August 2006. I commented on this curious fact in a post dated January 29, 2007: The White House is talking behind your back. I argued that it looked like the WH had decided sometime about a year ago that it was counterproductive to be offering transcripts to interviews that could in the future be used as ammunition against them. So they gradually cut back on the number of linked interview-transcripts, until finally suspending the practice entirely in summer 2006. The interviews with administration officials continued, of course. In fact, in October 2006 the WH had a "Radio Day" in which dozens of right-wing radio talk-show hosts descended on 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. to hold a marathon of interviews with WH officials. But none of those was linked on the WH "Radio Page".

The only person whose interviews were still (more or less) regularly being linked to at the WH website, I discovered, was Dick Cheney...not on the "Radio Page", but on his own Speeches and News Releases page.

Oddly enough, on Jan. 30, 2007—the very day after I posted (and widely crossposted) that assessment of the WH bunker mentality regarding interview-transcripts—a new (if fairly trivial) radio interview was linked at the WH "Radio Page". This was the first link to be posted in half a year! It's equally remarkable that not one interview-link has been added since then. Make of that what you will.

"When you're at this as long as I've been, you stop believing in coincidence."


(ii) The second strange thing about the WH "Radio Page" is this: No longer are there any radio interviews archived from before March 2004. The entire first three years of transcripts was scrubbed from the site. And I can state with certainty that this occurred sometime after Jan. 29 when I wrote that last analysis of strange doings at the WH "Radio Page". While researching that post, I went through the full range of archives of radio interviews going back to 2001.

So there's no doubt that an extensive scrubbing of the WH website has been carried out in the last few weeks. Whether the rest of what I'm pointing out here also dates to the same operation is not clear.

If we turn our attention now to Dick Cheney's Speeches and News Releases Page, we find another revealing pattern. As I remarked in my foregoing post, it's remarkable that Cheney, alone at the White House, has continued linking to his own interviews throughout last year.

But it's equally remarkable that that pattern of openness holds only for the period from mid December 2005 to the present. For the earlier part of 2005, there are links to only 3 interviews. For 2004, there's a grand total of 5 linked interviews (3 from the same day). And from that point back to late March 2002, there is not a single interview linked on Cheney's website. Thus for more than three and a half years, from March 25, 2002 to December 17, 2005, you'll find links to exactly 8 interviews on Cheney's "Speeches and News Releases Page".

This is of course the most controversial period for the Bush administration. It is a period in which Cheney made frequent appearances to talk up the grounds for attacking Iraq. After the invasion, Cheney continued to be the most vociferous defender of the invasion. His claims about alleged WMD became an object of derision for many Americans. His strident attacks upon administration critics became unusually repellent. His high profile in the outing of a CIA agent, utterly loathsome.

I'd venture that if I were to set about scrubbing the WH website of politically embarrassing interviews, I'd begin with the Vice President's and I'd concentrate on exactly the period for which we now see the fewest interview-links on Cheney's page. In fact I would be particularly thorough in scrubbing any and all interviews by the Great Man during 2002 and 2003—the period in which there are no links whatever now.

And what about the occasional links that remain in the vast wilderness of 2004 and 2005, standing like lone trees here and there after a forest fire? I've read the transcripts of those interviews. None of them touches on politically embarrassing material. Mostly they steer clear of Iraq altogether. Unless and until topics like CAFTA become hot political issues, I would anticipate that the transcripts of those interviews can safely remain available to the public on the Vice President's page.

For what it is worth, I've also noticed that not a single radio interview dating before March 2004 is linked on Cheney's "Speeches etc." page; all (surviving) links to earlier Cheney appearances are instead for televised interviews. Thus if Cheney's page has been scrubbed of interviews as described above, then the operation also involved bringing it into line with the President's "Radio Page", which (as noted) has erased its links to all radio interviews that pre-date March 2004.

Pretty striking: Two peculiar patterns of the absence of linked radio interviews, patterns which happen to coincide perfectly with each other. As I've remarked many times before, the most egregious comments from Bush administration officials can often be found in interviews with nutty radio hosts, where the conservative base gets its red-meat. So scrubbing entire years of transcripts to radio interviews makes a good deal of sense politically for a White House that is increasingly under siege.

What about the equivalent page for George Bush, "Presidential News and Speeches"—has that been scrubbed? The answer is less than clear.

The current February 2007 page links to a few of Cheney's interviews from Australia. I immediately noticed, however, that it has no link to the most embarrassing of those interviews, the one I wrote about yesterday in which the VP was (for the first time) pressed by a journalist (Jonathan Karl) to reconcile his 1991 statement that invading Iraq would inevitably lead to a quagmire, with his support for invading Iraq in 2003. Cheney's own page, by contrast, does provide a link to that (second) interview with Jonathan Karl as well as to the other interviews that Bush's page links to. At a minimum, then, I would infer that the White House is being careful to exclude links on the "Presidential News" page to interviews that have the most potential to haunt them.

A little tour of the archives for the "Presidential News and Speeches" page, in any case, turned up surprisingly few links to interviews by administration officials, especially for the period before March 2004. Obviously, none of the three television interviews of Cheney that I began this post with make an appearance. But neither do many other interviews that you might have expected to find linked.

Let's take for example the interviews of Condoleeza Rice, an official who unlike Cheney can be counted on to stay on the reservation and to dance around awkward questions. Under normal circumstances, you would suppose that the White House would be perfectly content to let transcripts of her interviews remain available at the WH website. So I've done a search for transcripts of her interviews at CNN, and checked whether the "Presidential News" page provides a link. The results are pretty striking for the first two pages of interviews that Google pulls up. There is (at the moment) not a single link on the "Presidential News" page for any of the interviews given by Rice in this group: Sept. 24, 2001; May 19, 2002; Nov. 15, 2002; Sept. 7, 2003; Oct. 8, 2003; or Sept. 2, 2005. Google thinks these are the most prominent of her interviews on CNN, but the WH website doesn't care to link to any of them. It tends to confirm my sense that Bush's own "Presidential News" page has thinned out the number of archived interviews.

A more decisive test, perhaps, would be how the WH website treats the interviews given by somebody who is a little more embarrassing than Rice...such as Harriet Miers. How many interviews with Harriet Miers are now linked at the White House website? Not one, as it turns out.

I think there's a good deal of evidence that the White House has decided to throw obstacles in the path of any journalist or meddlesome citizen who might wish to investigate the administration's past pronouncements. Bush & Co. has never been eager to let the public scrutinize its words and deeds, so the absence of links to interviews, even major interviews, does not by itself prove that the links were posted and then removed.

Yet as I've shown, there is definite evidence for some kind of scrubbing operation in recent weeks, and on a massive scale. It's hard to imagine an innocent explanation for the removal of all radio interviews pre-dating March 2004. Therefore it's legitimate to look for further evidence that might fit into a pattern of concealment. And in fact this administration has an established record of scrubbing politically embarrassing information on line, if not necessarily at the White House website.

A final note: While looking to see whether any of the President's more embarrassing speeches had been scrubbed as well, I noticed that the original link to his May 1, 2003 "Mission Accomplished" speech had gone dead recently. We'd archived that link at the Timeline on the run-up to the Iraq invasion at DowningStreetMemo.com in September 2005, and had double-checked to make sure that it worked properly.

As it happens, the speech is still linked at the WH website, but under a new address. The difference between the old and new addresses for the speech was simply the string "/iraq/". This led me to check out the search function at the "Presidential News" page. I discovered that it was no longer possible to search for WhiteHouse.gov links on the topic "Iraq". Indeed, none of the search functions on that page work any longer...at all. It's as if the topical search function was just turned off.

Now why would the White House want to do that?

Crossposted from Unbossed.

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