Posted by andreas from dtm2-t0-1.mcbone.net (22.214.171.124) on Sunday, January 12, 2003 at 4:53PM :
Look, Punch, how refreshing ...
Transcript of White House Press Briefing - 6 January 2003 - 12:35
George War Bush's Press Secretary ARI FLEISCHER: And with that, I'm
more than happy to take your questions. Helen.
American Journalist HELEN THOMAS: At the earlier briefing, Ari, you
said that the President [George W. Bush] deplored the taking of
innocent lives. Does that apply to all innocent lives in the world?
And I have a follow-up.
ARI FLEISCHER: I refer specifically to a horrible terrorist attack on
Tel Aviv that killed scores and wounded hundreds. And the President,
as he said in his statement yesterday, deplores in the strongest
terms the taking of those lives and the wounding of those people,
innocents in Israel.
HELEN THOMAS: My follow-up is, why does he [President Bush] want to
drop bombs on innocent Iraqis?
ARI FLEISCHER: Helen, the question is how to protect Americans, and
our allies and friends --
HELEN THOMAS: They're not attacking you.
ARI FLEISCHER: -- from a country --
HELEN THOMAS: Have they laid the glove on you or on the United
States, the Iraqis, in 11 years?
ARI FLEISCHER: I guess you have forgotten about the Americans who
were killed in the first Gulf War as a result of Saddam Hussein's
HELEN THOMAS: Is this revenge, 11 years of revenge?
ARI FLEISCHER: Helen, I think you know very well that the President's
position is that he wants to avert war, and that the President has
asked the United Nations to go into Iraq to help with the purpose of
HELEN THOMAS: Would the President attack innocent Iraqi lives?
ARI FLEISCHER: The President wants to make certain that he can defend
our country, defend our interests, defend the region, and make
certain that American lives are not lost.
HELEN THOMAS: And he thinks they [Iraqi civilians] are a threat to
ARI FLEISCHER: There is no question that the President thinks that
Iraq is a threat to the United States.
HELEN THOMAS: The Iraqi people?
ARI FLEISCHER: The Iraqi people are represented by their government.
If there was regime change, the Iraqi --
HELEN THOMAS: So they [Iraqi citizens] will be vulnerable?
ARI FLEISCHER: Actually, the President has made it very clear that he
has not dispute with the people of Iraq. That's why the American
policy remains a policy of regime change. There is no question the
people of Iraq --
HELEN THOMAS: That's a [regime change] decision for them [Iraqi
people] to make, isn't it? It's their country.
ARI FLEISCHER: Helen, if you think that the people of Iraq are in a
position to dictate who their dictator is, I don't think that has
been what history has shown.
HELEN THOMAS: I think many countries don't have -- people don't have
the decision [to change a regime] -- including us.
NOT ALL WHITE HOUSE REPORTERS ARE PUSHOVERS
COMMENTARY - Thursday, 9 January 2003
by NORMAN SOLOMON
At 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., reporters usually shuffle along to a
snoozy beat. But anyone who denigrates the mainstream media in
general, or the White House press corps in particular, should
acknowledge that exceptional journalists do strive to ask deeper
questions while most colleagues go through the motions.
The latest in a long line of presidential spinners, Ari Fleischer,
began a news conference on Jan. 6 with a nice greeting: "Good
afternoon and happy New Year to everybody." But his bonhomie didn't
last more than a minute.
"At the earlier briefing, Ari, you said that the president deplored
the taking of innocent lives," Helen Thomas began. "Does that apply
to all innocent lives in the world?"
It was a simple question -- and, unfortunately, an extraordinary one.
Few journalists at the White House move beyond the subtle but
powerful ties that bind reporters and top officials in Washington.
Routinely, shared assumptions are the unspoken name of the game.
In this case, Thomas wasn't playing -- and Fleischer's new year
wasn't exactly off to a great start. His tongue moved, but he
declined to answer the question. Instead, he parried: "I refer
specifically to a horrible terrorist attack on Tel Aviv that killed
scores and wounded hundreds."
Of course that attack was reprehensible. But Thomas had asked whether
President Bush deplored the taking of "all innocent lives in the
world." And Fleischer didn't want to go there.
But Helen Thomas, an 82-year-old journalist who has been covering the
White House for several decades, was not to be deterred by the
flack's sleight-of-tongue maneuver. "My follow-up is," she
persisted, "why does he want to drop bombs on innocent Iraqis?"
On a dime, Fleischer spun paternal and nationalistic. "Helen, the
question is how to protect Americans, and our allies and friends --"
What Fleischer had just called "the question" was actually his
question. He had no use for hers.
Thomas responded: "They're not attacking you. Have they [the Iraqis]
laid the glove on you or on the United States ... in 11 years?"
Fleischer laced his retort with sarcasm. "I guess you have forgotten
about the Americans who were killed in the first Gulf War as a result
of Saddam Hussein's aggression then."
"Is this revenge," Thomas replied, "11 years of revenge?"
The man in charge of White House spin revved up the RPMs. "Helen, I
think you know very well that the president's position is that he
wants to avert war ... "
But the journalist refused to jettison her original, still-unanswered
question. She asked: "Would the president attack innocent Iraqi
"The president wants to make certain that he can defend our
country ... "
Thomas would not back off. She demanded to know whether Bush thinks
the Iraqi people "are a threat to us."
At that point, Fleischer went off message with a weird
statement. "The Iraqi people are represented by their government,"
said the man speaking for the president of the United States. A
journalist's persistence had led him to put foot in polished mouth.
Some people like to play "Hail to the Chief." I would prefer to
say "Hail to the dean of the Washington press corps -- Helen Thomas."
She knows that asking truly tough questions involves a lot more than
echoing partisan ping-pong.
After 57 years as a reporter for United Press International, she quit
UPI in 2000 when it was bought by News World Communications, a firm
affiliated with the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's right-wing Unification
Church. (Among its holdings is The Washington Times.) Since then,
Thomas has been writing an incisive syndicated column for Hearst
In a speech at MIT a couple of months ago, Helen Thomas told the
audience: "I censored myself for 50 years when I was a reporter."
Media professionals are frequently unwilling to say in public what
they know in private. When a mainstream journalist breaks out of self-
censorship, the public benefits.
Day in and day out, Helen Thomas is conspicuous for her fortitude at
White House press conferences. And let's also give credit to an
intrepid newcomer at such press follies. The other day, Russell
Mokhiber of the Corporate Crime Reporter was asking a simple question
that went unanswered: "Ari, other than Elliott Abrams, how many
convicted criminals are on the White House staff?"
You can find transcripts of Mokhiber's many exchanges with Fleischer
posted at www.commondreams.org -- under the heading "Ari and I" --
examples of unflinching questions and slimy evasions at the White
Thank you, Helen Thomas. Thank you, Russell Mokhiber. It sure is
refreshing to see journalists doing their jobs instead of going along
to get along.
[Norman Solomon's latest book is "The Habits of Highly Deceptive
*** Note to readers of "Media Beat": If you'd like to see Norman
Solomon's syndicated column appear in a local daily newspaper, you
can help by contacting the opinion-page editors of newspapers in your
area and urging that they give the column a try. Editors can make
arrangements to print the column by phoning Creators Syndicate in Los
Angeles or by sending an e-mail note to firstname.lastname@example.org ]
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