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Slime the Messenger

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By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, October 2, 2007; 12:58 PM

White House Press Secretary Dana Perino yesterday cast aspersions on investigative reporter Seymour M. Hersh and his anonymous sources -- but refused to respond to any of the specific claims Hersh made in this week's New Yorker about White House support for a new path to war with Iran.

All Perino would say was that President Bush is seeking a diplomatic solution -- precisely what the White House claimed as it set the Iraq war in motion in late 2002 and early 2003.

Hersh, who has a history of well-sourced, groundbreaking reporting (he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1970 for his uncovering of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam), writes that Bush is seriously considering limited strikes against Iran, ostensibly in defense of American troops in Iraq. The real attraction of such an approach, Hersh writes, is that Bush and Cheney believe it could be readily sold to the American people.

Plans for broad bombing targeting Iran's suspected nuclear facilities are being replaced with plans for a more limited attack, Hersh writes, after Bush and his aides "concluded that their campaign to convince the American public that Iran poses an imminent nuclear threat has failed (unlike a similar campaign before the Iraq war), and that as a result there is not enough popular support for a major bombing campaign."

At yesterday's press briefing, Perino was dismissive of questions about Hersh's piece from CNN's Ed Henry and CBS's Bill Plante:

Perino: "Look, you know, I'm glad you brought it up. Every two months or so, Sy Hersh writes an article in The New Yorker magazine, and CNN provides him a forum in which to talk about his article and all the anonymous sources that are quoted in it."

Henry: "So the President --"

Perino: "The President has said that he believes that there is a diplomatic solution that we can use to solve the Iranian problem. And that's why we're working with our allies to get there."

Plante: "That's what he said before we went to Iraq, too."

Henry: "But what's the -- can you answer actually on the substance of whether or not the White House asked -- I mean, if it's not true, then you can say Sy Hersh is wrong and CNN was wrong to air it. You could say that, but --"

Perino: "We don't discuss such things, Ed."

Henry: " -- what about the substance of whether we --"


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