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The Nuclear Briefing

Howard Kurtz writes in The Washington Post: "The debate over a retracted Newsweek report broadened yesterday into an argument about media and government ethics, with the White House urging the magazine to help undo the harm to American interests and critics accusing the administration of trying to deflect attention from its own deceptions. . . .

"McClellan rejected such criticism in an interview, saying: 'We've taken steps to make sure we improve our intelligence gathering. This should not be used as a distraction from what occurred here. It gave an impression of our military that is wrong.'

Elisabeth Bumiller writes in the New York Times: "Republicans close to the White House said that although President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were genuinely angered by the Newsweek article, West Wing officials were also exploiting it in an effort to put a check on the press.

" 'There's no expectation that they're going to bring down Newsweek, but there is a feeling that there is no check on what you guys do,' said one outside Bush adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to be identified as talking about possible motives of the White House.

" 'In the course of any administration,' he continued, 'you have three or four opportunities, at most, with a high-profile press mistake. And if you're going to make a point - and no White House is ever going to love the way it's covered - you have to highlight those places where there is a screw-up.' "

Ron Hutcheson writes for Knight Ridder Newspapers that "the fallout from the magazine's mistake highlighted another issue - the struggle for credibility between journalists and the White House. . . .

"By pummeling Newsweek, administration officials got a chance to limit the damage to America's image abroad while also undermining the media's credibility at home. The furor over Newsweek's error comes at time when the media and the White House are on the defensive over credibility issues. . . .

"Bush administration officials, whose case and planning for war with Iraq and treatment of prisoners have been questioned by the news media, seized on Newsweek's foul-up as another example of the media's failings, the better to impugn the credibility of all its critics."

Wyatt Andrews reported last night on the CBS Evening News: "The White House suggestion to Newsweek was highly unusual and very specific: To atone for Newsweek's now-retracted report . . . White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the magazine should now report how the military values the Koran."

To which anchor Bob Schieffer expressed amazement: "I must say, I can never recall a White House telling a news organization to go report x, y or z. Can you ever remember anything like that?"

Wyatt: "I've thought about that, Bob. I cannot remember any circumstance like this from the White House podium. . . . I've never seen it."

Bill Straub writes for Scripps Howard News Service: "The White House is holding Newsweek magazine responsible for at least 17 deaths linked to rioting in Afghanistan over a report alleging American desecration of the Koran, even though a high military official has dismissed any such connection."

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