McClellan Sticks to Message Till the End

After nearly three years in the job, press secretary Scott McClellan holds his last official briefing at the White House yesterday.
After nearly three years in the job, press secretary Scott McClellan holds his last official briefing at the White House yesterday. (By Chip Somodevilla -- Getty Images)
By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 6, 2006

White House press secretary Scott McClellan's final turn at the lectern yesterday proved to be something like a greatest hits album. For 45 minutes, he trotted out all the old standbys, then gave a jaunty wave and bid farewell.

"This country is on a solid track under this president because of his leadership."

"We're more interested in looking at the results, not the polls."

"We are winning in Iraq."

After two years and nine months of faithfully representing President Bush and deflecting skeptical questions with a relentless fidelity to official talking points, McClellan called it a wrap. The last hammering by the press corps touched on many of the issues that have dominated his briefings since 2003 -- the flawed intelligence on Iraq weapons, the hunt for Osama bin Laden, Medicare and the president's plunging public support.

"Scott, 73 percent of Americans in a new poll say that the country is headed in the wrong direction," Terence Hunt of the Associated Press said as he opened the questioning.

In something of a parting gift, though, it proved a somewhat gentler grilling than usual, and the packed room of reporters applauded in respect as he exited. "Did you even notice that the outside world does not criticize you as much as probably you deserve?" a Russian journalist asked McClellan to much laughter in the briefing room.

Democrats tried to make up for any deficiency of criticism afterward, issuing a "Final Fact Check" taking issue with McClellan's standard version of what happened with Iraq intelligence. "Scott McClellan filled his last White House briefing with the same administration obfuscation that cost him his credibility and left him unable to do his job," said the statement produced by the office of Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.).

But McClellan, a Bush aide since their Texas days who is stepping down as part of a broader White House shake-up intended to revive the president's political fortunes, seemed unruffled at the end of a difficult tenure. He smiled through the tough questions as he almost always did, and he even poked fun with some of his chief tormenters.

"This is it for you, pal," he chuckled at NBC's David Gregory after too many jousting rounds to count.

"It's your last two-part for me," he told radio host Les Kinsolving, famous for sneaking in multiple, often offbeat, questions.

McClellan thanked everyone from his wife to the president but offered no broad assessments of the nature of White House media relations these days. He will travel with Bush to Florida next week in a swan song trip, as his successor, Fox News host Tony Snow, prepares for his first briefing May 15. McClellan had this for Snow: "My advice to Tony is: Have fun and enjoy this. It is a great job."

As for the reporters, McClellan added, "I will miss you all in this room, too. Individually, at least."

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