AP's Matt Lee Shows Some Spine Challenging WH on Syria

September 6th, 2013 11:20 AM

Associated Press reporter Matt Lee has been on the State Department beat for almost four years. At times, he has been one of a very few establishment press reporters who will challenge Obama administration officials when their assertions become too brazen to tolerate.

One of those times (HT Business Insider via Hot Air) occurred yesterday, when hapless State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki attempted to defend as "courageous" John Kerry's statement that the administration's non-mandatory request for a Congressional vote on U.S. military involvement in Syria:

LEE: And so what I don’t understand, though, is how he is comfortable with the president’s decision. I understand the president’s commander in chief and that everyone is going to get on board with whatever he decides, but I don’t understand why he is so full-throatedly in favor of this. He over the weekend said the president was acting courageously by taking this to Congress, and I don’t understand what is courageous about asking permission for something that you say you don’t need and to do what you believe to be the right thing not just morally but in general.

PSAKI: Well –

LEE: Can you explain why this is a courageous move and — or why the secretary would call it a courageous move?


PSAKI: Well, certainly let me first say, of course, the secretary does feel how he did on Friday, how he did on Sunday, that targeted intervention is absolutely the right step, and he does support the president’s decision to bring this to Congress. And –

LEE: Was there some kind of, like, group spine-removal op procedure at the White House over the weekend? I don’t — I don’t understand. How is this — how is this courageous?

PSAKI: Well, Matt, obviously the president has the authority to act without the cooperation of Congress. But the president and the secretary strongly agreed that when the administration and the people’s representatives stand together, that that strengthens our case and makes our case even stronger internationally.

First rule of courage: If you have to tell people you're being courageous, you're not being courageous.

In November 2012, as the situation in Gaza heated up temporarily, Lee went after State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland over the administration's secretive attempts to handle the situation:

MATTHEW LEE, AP: You say that it would not be helpful for you to discuss any of your conversations, that quiet diplomacy is the way to deescalate that problem. You've been doing your quiet diplomacy for almost a week. How's that going so far?

VICTORIA NULAND: Uh, we are working hard with the parties--

LEE: Hasn't it occurred to anybody that being less quiet would get more results. The squeaky wheel gets grease. That kind of thing?

NULAND: I'll let the--

LEE: You're being silent while people are dying, left and right.

NULAND: Matt, we are being far from silent. The president--

LEE: You're not telling us anything about... When the turks come out, when the leaders of Turkey come out and say that Israel is engaged in acts of terrorism, and you refuse to say you don't agree with that -- or, maybe, yo do agree with it -- that's being silent.

LEE: [Y]ou won't stick up for your ally Israel when the Turks, another one of your allies, say that they're engaged in terrorism in Gaza.

NULAND: We have been extremely clear about our concern for Israel's security, about the fact that Israel has a right to self-defense, but I am not going to go further than that today.

LEE: Why can't you say that you don't agree with the Turks.

NULAND: Because I'm not going to get into a public spitting match with allies on either side. We're just not going to do that.

LEE: And you think that's worse? A public spitting match is worse than hundreds of people dying every day?

NULAND: I don't understand the question here. There's not a question here. You're just looking for a fight.

To be clear, Lee went out of bounds in asserting that "hundreds" were "dying every day," as that was never the case, and Nuland was probably correct in seizing the opportunity to the discussion.

But dozens of establishment press reporters sharply questioned Bush 43 administration officials on a daily basis. We hardly ever see challenging questions directed at Obama or his spokespersons. In some of these rare instances, those who have done so have been on the receiving end of grief from their journalistic colleagues. Given the lousy economy, the sketchy implementation of Obamacare thus far, the administration's deadly and disastrous misadventure in Benghazi, its hypocritical lack of transparency, its long list of scandals, and its constitutionally questionable overuse and unconstitutional abuse of executive authority, the lack of press corps assertiveness is infuriating.

That Matt Lee is at least occasionally an exception to the rest of the press's lapdog mentality is to his credit.

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.