White House: NBC 'Misleading, Irresponsible' in Editing Bush Interview

By Fred Lucas | July 7, 2008 | 8:24 PM EDT


(CNSNews.com) - NBC News engaged in "deceitful editing" of an interview with President George W. Bush, a chief White House aide has charged.

White House Counsel Ed Gillespie wrote a letter to the president of NBC News on Monday asking the network to correct the record on an interview between reporter Richard Engel and Bush. Gillespie also described the editing of the interview -- shown on both the "NBC Nightly News" and NBC's "Today" -- as "utterly misleading and irresponsible."

NBC News meanwhile is standing by its editing decisions, and has welcomed anyone who wants to see the full interview to watch it on the MSNBC Web site.

The key issue was whether Bush was referring to presumed Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama when the president, while in Israel, said that some leaders support "the false comfort of appeasement."

Engel said, "You said that negotiating with Iran is pointless, and then you went further. You said it was appeasement. Were you referring to Sen. Barack Obama?"

Viewers of the interview saw Bush respond, "You know, my policies haven't changed, but evidently the political calendar has. ... And when, you know, a leader of Iran says that they want to destroy Israel, you've got to take those words seriously."

Between those two sentences, Gillespie said, was an important message. In the full transcript of the interview provided by the White House Bush said:

"You know, my policies haven't changed, but evidently the political calendar has. [EDITED OUT: People need to read the speech. You didn't get it exactly right, either. What I said was is that we need to take the words of people seriously. ] And when, you know, a leader of Iran says that they want to destroy Israel, you've got to take those words seriously. [EDITED OUT: And if you don't take them seriously, then it harkens back to a day when we didn't take other words seriously. It was fitting that I talked about not taking the words of Adolph Hitler seriously on the floor of the Knesset. But I also talked about the need to defend Israel, the need to not negotiate with the likes of al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas. And the need to make sure Iran doesn't get a nuclear weapon."]

The interview, as shown, makes it appear as if Bush agreed with the premise of the question, Gillespie complained.

"NBC's selective editing of the president's response is clearly intended to give viewers the impression that he agreed with Engel's characterization of his remarks when he explicitly challenged it," Gillespie said in the letter to NBC News.

"Furthermore, it omitted the references to al-Qa'ida, Hizballah and Hamas and ignored the clarifying point in the president's follow-up response that U.S. policy is to require Iran to suspend its nuclear enriched program before coming to the table, that that 'negotiating with Iran is pointless' and amounts to 'appeasement,'" the letter continued.

An NBC News spokesperson could not be reached for comment Tuesday by Cybercast News Service . But in a statement posted on MSNBC's Web site, NBC News President Steve Capus dismissed Gillespie's charge.

"Let me assure you, there was no effort to be 'deceptive,' as you suggest," Capus said in the letter. "Furthermore, the notion this was, 'deceitful editing to further a media-manufactured storyline,' is a gross misrepresentation of the facts."

Capus also noted that the entire interview was posted Sunday on the MSNBC Web site.

However, Gillespie said offering the full interview on the Web site is not enough.

"While we appreciate that viewers can visit the MSNBC Web site to see how NBC News edited the interview to completely alter the nature of the president's answer, we know that most will not," Gillespie said. "It's simply absurd for people to have to log onto the Internet and stream video to get accurate information from NBC News."

Gillespie's initial letter also cited the network's negative reporting on the economy, while criticizing the network for using the term "civil war" when describing Iraq, despite recent gains on both the military and political front.

But NBC News chose not to address those issues, with Capus saying, "I think it wise to discuss those matters in a more appropriate forum."

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