White House Says NBC Distorted Bush Response

By Dan Eggen and Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The White House launched an unusual attack on a national news network yesterday for its editing of an interview with President Bush, whose controversial speech comparing negotiations with Iran to the appeasement of Nazis has prompted debate in Washington and on the presidential campaign trail.

In a letter to NBC News President Steve Capus, presidential counselor Ed Gillespie complained that a report on the "Today" show distorted Bush's remarks last week to the Israeli Knesset and did not include the president's objections to questions from reporter Richard Engel.

"This deceitful editing to further a media-manufactured storyline is utterly misleading and irresponsible," Gillespie wrote, adding that NBC should air Bush's responses "in full."

NBC News said in a statement that the story "accurately reflects the interview" and questioned the White House's criticisms. "NBC News, as part of a free press in a free society, makes its own editorial decisions," the statement read.

The dispute illustrates the reverberations from Bush's speech on Thursday, in which he compared those who seek talks with Iran and radical Islamic groups to those who gave in to the Nazis before World War II. "We have an obligation to call this what it is -- the false comfort of appeasement," Bush said.

Although Bush did not mention Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.), the remarks were widely seen as an attack on the Democratic presidential front-runner, who has said he would be willing to talk with Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad without preconditions during his first year in office. The presumptive GOP nominee, Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), said yesterday that Obama's willingness to talk with Iran reveals "inexperience and reckless judgment."

"It is likely such a meeting would . . . fail to persuade him to abandon Iran's nuclear ambition, its support of terrorists and commitment to Israel's extinction," McCain said.

Obama fired back that McCain was mimicking the policies of the Bush administration in which "anything but their failed cowboy diplomacy is called appeasement."

"For all their tough talk, one thing you have to ask yourself is 'What are McCain and Bush afraid of?' " Obama said in Billings, Mont. "I'm not afraid we'll lose some propaganda fight with a dictator. It's time to win those battles, because we've watched George Bush lose them year after year after year."

The sparring provided a likely preview of a general-election fight to come between McCain and Obama, even as Obama's Democratic rival, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), continued to prepare for primaries today in Kentucky and Oregon.

"We're going to keep fighting for the nomination," Clinton said in Prestonsburg, Ky.

The Obama campaign, which won the endorsement of five superdelegates yesterday, including Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), sees the calculus differently. With the pledged delegates Obama is likely to win today, he will have won a majority with only three contests left. He must win more superdelegates to officially claim the nomination.

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