Ganging Up

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 14, 2005; 8:42 AM

The sight of David Gregory, Terry Moran, John Roberts and other White House correspondents badgering Scott McClellan over Karl Rove has triggered some pretty strong reactions.

Many on the left are saying it's about time that journalists found some backbone and got tough on the Bush team.

Others are saying that the White House gang are showing their true anti-Bush colors and are hopping mad because their colleagues are involved (Matt Cooper, who testified yesterday about Rove and other "double super secret background" sources, and Judy Miller, who's now spent a week in an Alexandria jail).

Well, here's the deal. Reporters don't like being misled. That is the hottest of hot buttons. As the White House gang sees it, McClellan came out 21 months ago and said it was ridiculous to suggest that Rove had outed Valerie Plame as a CIA operative and that any staffer found to have done so would no longer being working at 1600 Penn. He said this, by the way, while a criminal investigation was going on. Then Newsweek gets the Cooper e-mail showing that Rove did have a background conversation with him about Plame (or "Wilson's wife," as the note put it), and suddenly Scott can't possibly comment because of the investigation--a position that Bush also took yesterday.

That, to the press, smacks of stonewalling. And if you think such a reaction is unique to the Bush administration, you've forgotten about all these tense briefings in which reporters smacked around McCurry and Lockhart as they dueled over various Clinton scandals. The notion that the Clintonites weren't being straight with the press, I wrote at the time, fueled a lot of the animosity in that briefing room. And now it's flared up again.

Michael Goodwin argues in the New York Daily News that the press is out of control:

"It's a civil war in Washington. The combatants have an eye-for-an-eye mentality. The partisanship is heated and nasty.

"Republicans versus Democrats? Nah. This one pits the media against the White House. It's a war the media can't win, and shouldn't wage.

"The intense grilling that White House reporters inflicted on presidential spokesman Scott McClellan Monday over whether political guru Karl Rove leaked the name of a CIA operative was no ordinary give-and-take. It was a hostile hectoring that revealed much of the mainstream press for what it has become: the opposition party.

"Forget fairness, or even the pretense of it. With one of its own locked up - Judith Miller of The New York Times - much of the Beltway gang has declared war on the White House.

"Reporters apparently have decided Democrats aren't up to the job. Can't blame them. With Dems reduced to Howard Dean's rants and Hillary Clinton's juvenile jab that President Bush looks like Mad magazine's Alfred E. Neuman, somebody has to offer a substantive alternative. The press has volunteered.

"That the mainstream media are basically liberals with press passes has been documented by virtually every study that measures reporters' political identification and issue positions. But bias has now slopped over into blatant opposition, a stance the media will regret. Instead of providing unvarnished facts obtained by aggressive but fair-minded reporting, the media will be reduced to providing comfort food to ideological comrades."

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