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Caveat lector

LET’S PLAY SOFTBALL! They got their shot at Bush-on-Iraq. Was this the best they could manage?


TWO OUT OF THREE IS REAL BAD: Omigod! During yesterday’s Rose Garden session, Campbell Brown asked the first question about Iraq intel—and her question was quite precise. She even cited a specific finding from last October’s National Intelligence Estimate:

BROWN: Saddam Hussein’s alleged ties to Al Qaida were a key part of your justification for war, yet your own intelligence report, the NIE, defined it as, quote, “low confidence that Saddam would give weapons to Al Qaeda.” Were those links exaggerated to justify war or can you finally offer us some definitive evidence that Saddam was working with Al Qaida?
Now that resembled an actual question—and no, the president couldn’t “offer us some definitive evidence that Saddam was working with Al Qaeda.” “It’s going to take time for us to gather the evidence and analyze the mounds of evidence,” he said. Almost surely, this was one of the answers the New York Times has in mind when this morning’s editorial criticizes Bush’s “vague and sometimes nearly incoherent answers” and his “rambling non-answers.” For the record, Bush did find time to work in a few jokes about whether Brown looks frustrated.

Yes, the New York Times finds fault this morning with Bush’s “non-answers.” Unmentioned were the hapless questions which Brown’s worthless colleagues put forward. Two other journalists questioned Bush about Iraq intelligence matters. And each of the questions was so vague and inept that—well, Condi Rice could hardly have been less concerned about citing specifics.

CBS’ sunburned John Roberts came next after Brown. How’s this for a vague, worthless question?

ROBERTS: Building, sort of, on that idea, it’s impossible to deny that the world is a better place and the region certainly a better place without Saddam Hussein. But there’s a sense here in this country and a feeling around the world that the U.S. has lost credibility by building the case for Iraq upon sometimes flimsy or, some people have complained, nonexistent evidence. And I’m just wondering, sir, why did you choose to take the world to war in that way?
Even Bush must have marveled at the high arching softball. Roberts began with a stirring speech in praise of Saddam’s removal. But then he asked a question so vague that it begged for the rambling reply it received. Roberts alleged no specific misstatements; he merely described “a feeling” and “a sense” that the case for war was “sometimes flimsy.” Offered a license to discuss what he wished, Bush waxed about the Articles of Confederation. And when Roberts tried to pose a follow-up, he was batted away like a fly:
BUSH: Hold on for a second. You’re through.
By asking so worthless a question, of course, Roberts was through from the start.

The final attempt to question intelligence came from ABC’s Kate Snow. In the modern world, White House reporters must be good-looking. Too bad they ask questions like this:

SNOW: Mr. President, you often speak about the need for accountability in many areas. I wonder then why is Dr. Condoleezza Rice not being held accountable for the statement that your own White House has acknowledged was a mistake in your State of the Union address regarding Iraq’s attempts to purchase uranium. And also, do you take personal responsibility for that inaccuracy?
Snore! After three weeks of thrashing uranium-from-Africa, is that the best question the corps could ask? Here’s what a journalist could have asked. But Snow is too timid, too courteous:
SNOW’S REPLACEMENT: Mr. President, we have been told that Dr. Condoleezza Rice did not read last October’s National Intelligence Estimate and therefore did not know that the State Department doubted the claim that Iraq sought uranium in Africa. We’re also told that she didn’t read CIA memos on this subject. Are you concerned when your National Security Adviser is so poorly informed on such a subject? And do you now believe what you said in your State of the Union—that Saddam Hussein “recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa?”
The press has obsessed on this topic for weeks. This question might have forced Bush to say what he actually thinks about his statement. And it might have elicited a response about Rice which went beyond the one Snow received. “Dr. Condoleezza Rice is an honest, fabulous person, and America is lucky to have her service,” Bush said. But are we “lucky to have her” when she fails to read key reports? When she’s clueless about the most basic issues? American citizens might want to know. But the press corps is too scared to ask.

We hid the children and averted our eyes the last time the press tried conducting a conference (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/11/03). This morning, the Times is upset by Bush’s non-answers. The problem starts closer to home.

GIVE THEM A DOUGHNUT: Snow and Brown both engaged in smiling banter with Bush. According to widespread reporting, this clowning began on the Bush campaign plane back in the spring of 2000 (for example, see THE DAILY HOWLER, 5/3/00 and 2/14/03). Brown at least managed to ask a real question. Any chance that the others could wipe the grins off their faces and try to behave like real journalists?