Smackdown at the White House: Snow Challenges NBC's David Gregory

David Gregory in a White House news conferenceWhite
House press
secretary Tony Snow has changed the rules of the
daily briefing. No longer will the president's media representative hem
and haw while being attacked by leftist reporters. Not every reporter
likes this, though, as you can see from the Dec. 6th news conference
where NBC's petulant White House correspondent David Gregory got upset
when Snow dared to challenge him by accusing the NBC reporter of
framing the Iraq Study Group's report "in a partisan way."

It all started with Gregory asking whether Snow could see the
report as "anything other
than a rejection of this President's handling of the war?" The White
House has a video of the entire conference which is available in a
streaming Real Video here (fast forward to 3:50 into the clip for the relevant part). The NBCer asked this question after reading aloud three out-of-context setences from the report.

question and the little back and forth (see past the jump for the
transcript) is yet another example of how news conferences have become
less a question of providing useful information to the public and more
about the media asking captious, leading questions that no public
spokesperson is ever going to answer. This is not to say that reporters
cannot ask a tough question, but to put on a show as Gregory very
clearly tries to do at each and every conference insults the
intelligence of everyone involved, be they reporter, government
representative or a person at home sighing in exasperation.

Unidentified Reporter: Tony, about the evaluation, can I just start on the point of --

TONY SNOW: I think David is out-shouting you --

Reporter: Well, that's not fair at all --

SNOW: We'll go to David. David, yes.

DAVID GREGORY: On the evaluation in the report it says the following -- the
co-chairs say the following: "'Stay the course' is no longer viable.
current approach is not working. The situation is grave and
deteriorating." Chairman Hamilton says he is not sure whether the
situation can be turned around. Can this report be seen as anything
than a rejection of this President's handling of the war?

SNOW: Absolutely. And I think you need to read the report

GREGORY: I have.

SNOW: You've read the whole report?

GREGORY: No, I've gone through a lot of the recommendations.

SNOW: Okay, well, I read the whole report, and I will tell
you, also
based on the conversations --

GREGORY: But this is from the Chairman.

SNOW: Well, if you listen to the Chairman you will have
noted that
he's not trying to --

GREGORY: They were all quotes, Tony.

SNOW: David, please. You get mad --

GREGORY: -- report, I'm just saying those were all quotes.

SNOW: I know. I know they're all quotes. I'm now going to
try to
proceed to try to place them in context. Number one, they are not
to score partisan points or to look back. The one thing this is, is
they're not doing look-back. The second thing is that they understand
difficulties. They have adopted the goals that the administration has

Why don't you go back and read through some of these and I'll
go ahead and
deal with them. Go back on your notes there and give me the comments
at a time.

GREGORY: "'Stay the course' is no longer viable."

SNOW: Okay, stop -- no, no, stop.


SNOW: No, no, I just want to address them in their order,
and I'm
going to forget, so I'd rather just let you do it one at a time.

GREGORY: It's kind of a totality question, though. How you can hear
things and not conclude that it's rejection of the President's policy?

SNOW: Well, number one, "stay the course" is not the
policy. And you
know the President has been saying that for months. And if you take a
look, what they're talking is moving from so-called "stay the course,"
is what? It is this, it is working on a process where the United States
works as aggressively as possible to hand over governing
to the Iraqis, which is precisely what's going on.

If you listen to what Chuck Robb said, he's the one who gave
context to it,
which is that you work on training up the Iraqis so they can what?
Sustain, govern and defend themselves. Which is, we agree. And so "stay
the course" is not an option.

And in a situation where you have -- to go on to the other
point, where
you've got a deteriorating security situation in areas of Baghdad --
the President talked about before the election in the press conference,
saying that that is a situation that was not acceptable and we needed
address -- that, in fact, you look at this as somebody trying to make a
constructive difference in a situation, the realities of which we have
discussed and taking a look at policies, many of which we find very
interesting and certainly we're going to be talking in more detail

But you need to understand that trying to frame it in a
partisan way is
actually at odds with what the Group, itself, says it wanted to do. And
you may try to do whatever you want in terms of rejection, that's not
way they view it.

GREGORY: I just want to be clear. Are you suggesting that I'm trying
to frame
this in a partisan way?

SNOW: Yes.

GREGORY: You are? Based on the fact that --

SNOW: Because --

GREGORY: Wait a minute, wait a second. Based on quoting the report
and the
Chairman, and I'm asking you a straight question, which you're not
answering straight, you're actually --

SNOW: No, I am --

GREGORY: -- you're trying to answer it by --

SNOW: No, here's the --

GREGORY: -- nitpicking it.


GREGORY: You're suggesting that by quoting the report, I'm trying to
make a
partisan argument?

SNOW: Let me put it this way. Where in the report -- what
you have
said is, can you read this as anything other than a repudiation of
policy. And the answer is, I can. And what I was trying to do was to
explain to
you, for instance, when you suggested that "stay the course" was a
repudiation of policy -- not true. It's not administration policy. When
you talk about the fact that there's a deteriorating situation, is
that a repudiation of policy. No, it's something that we have

So what you have asked is a series of bullet points, each of
which we have
been discussing and addressing, and then you're asking if that is a
repudiation of policy. No, it's an acknowledgment of reality, David.

GREGORY: Okay, just one follow-up here. I just want to be clear on
what your
argument is, because it's not entirely clear to me. But it is that --

SNOW: You're trying to frame this as an argument. We're
reading it. We're taking this in.

GREGORY: I know, you're clear in suggesting that I'm trying to frame
this in a
partisan way, I've got you on that. You're suggesting that the
representations of this report are in sync with the way the President
described the reality in Iraq and his policy toward Iraq. Is that what
you're saying?

SNOW: Again, go through -- rather than -- because you'll
accuse me of
nitpicking -- read it. I mean, I'm serious. This is not -- I'm not
to be snide. If you go through and you take a look at the metrics at
beginning, we've acknowledged that you've got a deteriorating situation
Baghdad. We have talked about the al Qaeda problems in Anbar. We have
discussed the importance of trying to come up with a transition where
Iraqis stand up and take greater responsibility. We've talked about the
importance of having Iraqis assume primary combat control. Last week
had -- or maybe even earlier this week -- you had Major General
Caldwell in
Baghdad talking about a timetable that's a lot like the one that's in

And so what you have here I think is a basis for both
political parties,
actually, to be working together. We look at this as a very positive
document, and rather than -- again, I don't want to get into the
of trying to render judgment on individual recommendations, but I will
you it was very striking to all of us in the room -- when you listen to
Hamilton, or you listen to Vernon Jordan or you listen on the other
side to
Ed Meese or Sandra Day O'Connor -- these are people who have said that
they've never been in a commission like this before, because this town
awash in bipartisan commissions, you know that. This is not someone
somebody put on the ceremonial bipartisan hat and just went through the
motions. These people worked very hard.

And the one thing that they thought was absolutely important
is to rebuild
a sense of national unity on that. And that is their overriding
objective. And you can talk to Leon Panetta, who made a point of that
in the briefing
that many of you attended on Capitol Hill; or you can talk to the
individually. But that will strike -- and it was something that we saw
positive and constructive. And one of the things they said is, we're
coming here, Mr. President, to criticize you.

What they said is that this is an -- they see an opportunity
to come with a
new way forward. Well, yes, and we like that. We like the formulation;
it's what the President has been talking about; it is why he's
relevant institutions throughout this government to take a fresh look
what's going on.

The transcript of the entire session is available at the White House web site.

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Matthew Sheffield's picture