Post Politics Hour

Peter Baker
Washington Post White House Reporter
Wednesday, April 12, 2006; 11:00 AM

Don't want to miss out on the latest buzz in politics? Start each day at wonk central: The Post Politics Hour. Join in each weekday morning at 11 a.m. as a member of The Washington Post's team of White House and Congressional reporters answers questions about the latest in buzz in Washington and The Post's coverage of political news.

Washington Post White House reporter Peter Baker was online Wednesday, April 12, at 11 a.m. ET to discuss the latest news in politics.

The transcript follows.


Peter Baker: Good morning, everyone. The Nats have opened badly, the vice president got booed, Iran says it's closer to the bomb, protesters are in the streets and Congress is off on spring break. Too much to chat about, not enough time, so let's get started.


Richmond, Va.: According to The Associated Press, by Wednesday, at least 33 American troops have died in Iraq so far this month. I didn't see mention of that on The Washington Post online site -- is that just ho-hum news now?

Peter Baker: Certainly the war in Iraq and casualties there are anything but ho-hum. We run stories all the time on U.S. casualties, particularly those from the Washington area, and every day the paper lists the names of the latest fatalities along with a running chart of war deaths. Today's is on page A12 and says we're up to 2,360 fatalities.


Rolla, Mo.: With today's revelation in The Post regarding the report on the supposed mobile biological weapons lab trailers, will someone either in the MSM or some senior Democratic leader actually say the President is caught in a lie? No more "misleading" or "misinterpreted," this was a lie, the President knew this report was false two days before he made his announcement that "we have found those WMDs."

Peter Baker: It's a good question. In news accounts like the one you cite, we try to avoid loaded words like "lie." Instead of characterizing, it's better for us to provide the facts as best we can determine them -- this is what the president said, this is what his administration was told two days before that contradicted that and so on. We think our readers are smart enough to make their own judgments about whether that constitutes a lie or a misunderstanding or something else. And we have plenty of columnists and editorial writers who can weigh in on their judgments of those facts.


Evanston, Ill.: Is The Post going to issue a retraction to the outrageous editorial "A Good Leak"?

Some claimed that bloggers "highjacked" the comments section here. I disagree. Just because large numbers of people found this editorial outrageous and wanted to comment on it does not mean that the space was "highjacked." Howard Kurtz just explained it as a difference of opinion. Yet this editorial was based on "facts" that were distorted or just downright lied about. (i.e. Joe Wilson claimed that Cheney's office sent him to Iraq.)

So, I'd like to know what responsibility (if any) The Post feels to stick to the truth in its editorials, AND if they are going to issue a correction or an apology for that egregious editorial.

Peter Baker: You'll have to ask the editorial section. I work in the news section and we have a very strict separation of operations.


Atlanta, Ga.: I've heard about Mark McKinnon working for Senator McCain, Ed Gillepsie going to George Allen. Rove has said he doesn't plan to be involved in the 2008 race, but what about Karen Hughes?

Peter Baker: Good question. Haven't heard if she plans to get involved in any of the campaigns or not. Right now, of course, she's an undersecretary of state so she couldn't sign up with any campaign until she leaves the government payroll.


San Francisco, Calif.: Why would Nakamura report that the crowd booed because Cheney's pitch went into the dirt. There were thousands of witnesses and video cameras recording loud booing the moment Cheney went on the field and it didn't let up?

Peter Baker: Lots of questions on the booing today. In fact, David's story said Cheney was booed as he walked out to the mount and then got even more after his throw.


Fountain Valley, Calif.: Dick Cheney was loudly booed at the Nationals' home opener yesterday and this was reported everywhere. I've been a fan for 42 of my 47 years of life and I've never seen this happen. Politicians that are unpopular don't subject themselves to booing like this. This is bigger deal than some would think because "middle America", the baseball fans, are sick and tired of the deceit of this administration. Your thoughts?

Peter Baker: Here's another post on the Cheney booing.

_______________________ Cheney's Pitch is Low at Nationals Game, (Post, April 11)


Boston, Mass.: Peter,

What's the general reaction when a politician throws out the first ball? Was the reaction to Cheney unusual?

Peter Baker: And one more. I've seen politicians booed at sporting events before, certainly. It goes with the territory. Aides to politicians, particularly those who aren't doing well in the polls, spend a lot of time worrying about that. This goes back to the beginning of the sport. Herbert Hoover, for instance, was booed on Opening Day, not because of the Depression, actually, but because he supported prohibition. The crowd chanted, "We want beer!" Cheney, at least, was smart enough not to oh-pine on that one, as the president might put it.


Philadelphia: Regarding "lie": why was the Post story headlined with the one analysis that contradicted the President instead of the TWO analyses that supported him AND which the CIA believed were correct? Oh, right, because that wouldn't support the Post's purposes of hurting the President.

Yes, "lie" is the appropriate word. But it doesn't pertain to the President - it pertains to you people in the media.

Peter Baker: Here's a good example of why we stay away from loaded terms like that. One reader's "lie" is viewed differently by another. Again, we try to present the facts as we determine them and leave it to the readers to judge. In this case, you were told about all these facts about the different analyses and you've made your judgment about the president's statement. Fair enough. The subhead on this story said the administration advanced its theory on the trailers "despite evidence to the contrary." That's the news here, something we didn't know before, that before the president went out to make that statement, there were experts who were contradicting it. If the administration had presented that information at the time, along with the information that supported its contention, we would have been able to evaluate his statements in a fuller context. But it didn't. That information was withheld from the public. But it turned out to be right.


Washington, D.C.: Mr. Baker,

Why doesn't the WP online chat folks insert a waiver at the top of these chats that reads "all political chart participants are part of the news divisions and cannot answer questions about editorial decisions/content." I mean, I understand why people get so upset but why is there such persistence in asking the news reporters when it's been said over and over.

Peter Baker: Not a bad idea, thanks. I'll forward it to the right folks. We consider editorials and news so different, with completely separate staffs and management, but it's not surprising that to many readers it's a fuzzy line. Just because an editorial expresses an opinion doesn't mean it has anything to do with the news side. I guess we need to do a better job explaining that.


Des Moines, Iowa: Regarding the earlier question about Karen Hughes getting involved in 2008, I think she will get on board the Condi Rice 2008 campaign as soon as Madam Secretary decides to toss her hat into the ring. Both of them in the State Department can make the case that foreign policy and national security are key issues in the next presidential election. Would you agree Karen Hughes would shake up the political world along with Condi?

Peter Baker: Condi Rice would be a fascinating candidate, no question, and I could see Karen getting involved in that if the secretary were to run. Until now, it certainly looked very unlikely that Rice might run for president for a few reasons -- 1) she's never run for any office before and this is a heckuva first one, 2) she's said pretty flatly that she isn't running and 3) she's described herself as "mildly pro-choice," which makes her unlikely to win conservative votes in a conservative-dominated Republican primary process. But there have been a few moments lately that sure make it look like she may be thinking about running -- specifically allowing a television reporter to tape her workout routine and then again on Sunday allowing the New York Times to photograph her playing the piano in private concerts. These are the sort of stories that candidates usually encourage. Maybe she's setting up for something, vice president it nothing else.


Washington, D.C.: Given how popular this war has become (NOT), how can anyone seriously be promoting Condi Rice as a candidate for anything other than a professorship at Stanford? She is at the heart of the justification and planning of this war...why hasn't the incompetent label stuck to her -- especially with the MSM?

Peter Baker: And here's another factor that Rice would have to deal with. It is interesting that even though she was at the heart of the first-term decisions she is generally not blamed the way President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld are by those who disagree with those decisions.


Washington, D.C.: You stated:

"In fact, David's story said Cheney was booed as he walked out to the mount and then got even more after his throw."

The story on the web linked above by your webmaster has this lead....

"The first pitch of the Washington Nationals' second season at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium was low and away, bouncing in the dirt before being scooped up by catcher Brian Schneider.

For that, Vice President Cheney received a round of boos from the home crowd this afternoon. But the catcalls didn't last long before the fans cheered for the Nationals, who took the field in their white uniforms with red trim against the New York Mets."

Can you provide a link to the story which says Cheney was booed before he threw the first pitch? Is the paper version different from the web?

If not, can you tell us why your version doesn't appear, even though it is more accurate?

Peter Baker: Ah, they seem to have posted a web version of the story from yesterday afternoon. I didn't see that. Old-fashioned that I am, I actually read the real paper, the paper-and-ink kind, and the story I read by David on page B1 describes Cheney being booed as he came out to the mound and then more after his throw. I've asked our guys to link to that story.

_______________________ Fans' Rally Cry: New Nats Owner! (Post, April 12)


Atlanta, Ga.: "Just because an editorial expresses an opinion doesn't mean it has anything to do with the news side."

If they are completely separate, why can't you provide your opinion on the issues raised?

Is there a rule that states the news side can't discuss opinion pieces, but the editorial side can discuss news pieces?

Or, do you believe the news side does not provide opinions in these chats?

Peter Baker: It's a good question. What we're trying to do with these chats isn't to provide opinion, but insights or analysis based on our reporting. You don't see us saying, for instance, that we support Bush or oppose Bush or things of that nature. The editorial writers can, if they like. What we try to do here is analyze what Bush does and why, discuss what implications his actions might have and so forth. But we're still bound by the same journalistic standards of trying to stay fair and neutral, not taking sides. Do we succeed? Probably not all the time. But that's the goal.


Arlington, Va.: Good morning,

Read the labs story this morning. Ok, assuming most countries use weather balloons, do most of them make hydrogen from mobile labs for that purpose? Doesn't make sense to me.

"The survey group's final report in September 2004 -- 15 months after the technical report was written -- said the trailers were "impractical" for biological weapons production and were "almost certainly intended" for manufacturing hydrogen for weather balloons."

And the follow-up question is - when the administration says it's classified "we can't reveal the source of our info because it would be a breach of National Security" we can't trust them; but when the Post says "we can't reveal the sources of our story because they fear retribution" (names, actual reports - not what you say they said) we're supposed to trust The Post? The Post thinks the administration is biased, I think The Post has a bias.


Peter Baker: Obviously stories like this are very hard, both for reporters and readers. Reporters are constrained because we would prefer to have everything on the record and all classified documents handed to us. That's not the real world, unfortunately. So smart reporters like Joby Warrick -- and he's the best in the business -- can spend weeks and months sorting through these issues and making the most sense of them that he can. Is there a degree of trust me on this? Yes, unfortunately so. If the administration were to release this information, it wouldn't have to be so. But it's our job to be watchdogs and root out information the government -- any government, Republican or Democrat -- doesn't want the people to have.


Washington, D.C.: Peter, enjoy the chats. No matter how one-sided they seem to be (in general I mean). Anyway, does the Wash plan on substituting a new blogger for "Red State." Unfortunate, as it was, the circumstances that led to resignation of the the first, it would be a shame for the to give into the "angry" liberals who overwhelmingly frequent the Wash Post site, and get rid of it all together. It's very productive to have different points of views acknowledged.

Peter Baker: Thanks for the note. I keep hoping to get a broader diversity of opinions on these chats as well, but it's up to readers to participate and send in their thoughts. As for a conservative blogger, the dot-com folks have said they're planning to hire someone else. Again, that's not my department, just to be clear. But from my point of view, the more points of views we can exhibit on the site, the better.


"What we're trying to do with these chats isn't to provide opinion, but insights or analysis based on our reporting.": If only all hosts shared this point of view. Sometimes these chats turn into a Howard Dean/Michael Moore campaign rally.

Peter Baker: Well, I would hope not, at least not by our political reporters on these 11 a.m. chats. It's true that more of the questions and posts submitted by readers seem to come from the left than the right, but the answers shouldn't. I would invite those who disagree with the thrust of the questions and posts to submit their own. Let's get a good debate going.


Boston, Mass.: Is this an accurate description of Scott McLellan: "What you can't see is the genius behind-the-scenes ball twisting he engages in which has cowed them into submission. Revoking press passes, carting them into rooms, deciding who gets to be on which airplane, etc., the man has many tools, and he uses them to spectacular effect. The guy is a genius."

Peter Baker: No, not at all. Where is it from? I'm not aware of anyone whose press pass has been revoked, who's been carted into rooms (for what? waterboarding?) or who has been tossed off a plane. Whatever you want to say about Scott, he doesn't play that way, at least not with us here at the Post or the correspondents I know.


Austin, Tex.: Re, irrational editorials:

Okay, if you want me to buy the idea that the editorial and news departments are completely separate, then why hasn't the news department run a story on the oddity of an editorial that runs counter to accepted fact? Or does the news department have a policy of not finding its own paper's editorials newsworthy?

Peter Baker: If you ask me, we do enough navel-gazing coverage of media in our news pages. We don't need to start covering our editorials in news stories as well. The proper response to an editorial you disagree with -- and to be honest I haven't even read the one everyone's worked up about today -- is to write a letter to the editor. Tell them why you disagree with it.


Silver Spring, Md.: Your response to the "Good Leak" question was diplomatic, but I think the wrong question was asked. Do you believe that the "Good Leak" editorial was intellectually honest? Your opinion on that question should not be affected by the news/editorial wall.

Peter Baker: Just to be clear, as I mentioned on the last post, I haven't read it.


Vienna, Va.: Along the lines of Condi in '08... There was an article a few weeks ago in the London Times about Condi being booed and protested in England when she was visiting. Never saw a word about it in the Post. It probably just isn't really that big of news here, but a worldwide negative opinion will certainly be news if she decides to run. Being booed by our allies isn't exactly going to help her.

Peter Baker: Maybe you missed it. Glenn Kessler wrote about it on both Saturday, April 1, and Sunday, April 2. Maybe our dot-com folks can post the pieces. Here's how Glenn described it in the second of those two stories:

"Rice on Saturday spent a second day touring the town made famous in the Beatles' 'A Day in the Life' for its '4,000 holes,' dogged, as she was Friday, by people protesting the war in Iraq. As she met with a small group of Muslim leaders in Blackburn's town hall, the raucous shouts of the 300 demonstrators outside could be heard through the windows. The leaders said they gave her an earful on U.S. policy in the Middle East."

_______________________ 'Tactical Errors' Made In Iraq, Rice Concedes (Post, April 1)


Burke, Va.: Would it be possible for the Bush administration to order the armed forces to attack Iran without authorization from Congress? Please answer this -- I've been asking this question on chats the whole week and no one will answer this.

Peter Baker: Yes. Presidents have been ordering military actions without congressional approval for a half-century now, from Ronald Reagan bombing Libya and invading Grenada to Bill Clinton bombing Serbia. But presidents often have sought some sort of resolution of support from Congress for political reasons, not because they believed they couldn't do it legally otherwise. The first President Bush did this before the Gulf War and this President Bush did it before Afghanistan and Iraq.


Milwaukee, Wisc.: Peter Baker, GREAT JOB. You are taking tough, real, questions and answering them very, very well. Thank you.

I had the same question about your initial response about the crowd booing Cheney. Thanks very much for clarifying between the print edition and the electronic.

Peter Baker: Thank you for the kind message.


Washington, D.C.: Hi and thanks for taking our questions. I think most folks understand the separation between the editorial and the news sides of the paper but the idea of specifying that for chats is a good one. This is just my personal observation but for me the frustrating thing about Post editorials that ignore the news reporting is that it gives the appearance that the editorial side believes that the straight news reporting is untrue. This makes no sense for a major international news organization. (I read the Post from abroad). I understand the separation in the business but how on earth can the paper keep its reputation when editorials are based on something other than factual info provided to readers by its own reporters?!I am asking respectfully, by the way. Thank you

Peter Baker: I appreciate that, and respect the question. The editorial side is paid to make its own judgments. Obviously I think they credit the reliability of our news accounts but they're certainly able to seek out other information.


State of Fear, USA: Peter,

Thanks for doing this chat and taking my question.

Sy Hersh has an article in the New Yorker on planning for war with Iran. The Post ran a couple of pieces on this but left out one MAJOR piece. The tactical nuclear bunker busting bombs are in the plan that is with the White House. This was a major item on Hersh's Sunday morning interview. Hersh reports that Pentagon (anonymous) insiders of high rank are worried that the use of nuclear weapons against Iran has not been repudiated ("walked back" are the words I believe Hersh uses).

This is even more scary than planning for an "unwinnable" war with Iran.

Why has the tactical nukes issue been missing from the WaPo print edition?

Peter Baker: Hi there. Thanks for the question. Actually we mentioned the issue of whether nuclear bunker-busters would be needed in our weekend story as well, though not as prominently as Sy Hersh did. We quoted Kenneth Pollack saying that targeteers trying to game a possible attack kept coming back to the conclusion that conventional bombs might not be enough to penetrate shielded underground facilities.

_______________________ U.S. Is Studying Military Strike Options on Iran (Post, April 9)


Charlottesville, Va.: Hi Peter -- Love the chats.

Just a clarification -- you haven't read the editorial "The Good Leak"? It has been all over the chats and you seem to be aware of the controversy surrounding it. Aren't you at least curious? This just seems odd!

Peter Baker: Not really. There are too many important news stories I still need to get to and never enough time. I feel like I'm always behind just keeping up with what's going on. I'm more than happy to leave it to others to write and read opinion pieces.


Kettering, Ohio: You indicated that your journalistic goal is to be fair and neutral and that it doesn't happen all the time. At what percentage do you think is met at the Post, generally?

Peter Baker: Ha! Good question. Afraid I don't have a number for you. I'm sure folks out there would have their own thoughts on this.


Duxbury, Mass.: Iran has announced their ability to enrich uranium enough so that it can be used for producing energy from a nuclear reactor. White House claims it's for a bomb. Is the White House policy such that Middle Eastern countries (or all third world countries for that matter)can only generate electricity using fossil fuels. Won't that drive oil prices up and perhaps generate windfall profits for oils companies?

Peter Baker: The administration has acknowledged that Iran has a right under treaty to develop civilian power but it doesn't think the activities that have been discovered are completely consistent with that. The administration has supported a proposal by Russia to have uranium enrichment for Iran done on Russian soil -- that way Iran would be able to have civilian nuclear power but wouldn't have enrichment capability that could be turned to producing fuel for weapons. But Iran has rejected that idea.


Washington, D.C.: Why do you only post left-wing questions?

Peter Baker: Send me a right-wing question and I'll post that one.


Manington, W.Va.: Is there any pressure on congressman Mollohan to resign from the ethics committee coming from within the Democratic party?

Peter Baker: I haven't reported on this story so I don't know, but I would imagine it's a situation that could grow and develop as more information becomes available. It certainly doesn't look good for Democrats to have their top person on the ethics committee facing these sorts of stories. And it could undermine their hopes of making corruption a big campaign issue in the fall.


Chantilly, Va.: Perhaps Rolla should read the Post's story a little closer. The Pentagon sent three teams to look at the trailers, two of which said the trailers were biolabs and one of which disagreed. Two out of three is enough of a positive judgment to say this is what we've got, which is what the Pentagon and the President did. If Rolla wants to see a movie because two out of three reviewers liked it, but Rolla ends up thinking it stinks, does he that mean those two reviewers were liars?

Peter Baker: For the sake of the discussion, here's another viewpoint.


California: While watching the news on Iran, I'm struck by the fact that Iran has not attacked a neighbor for hundreds of years, yet the pundits are speculating on who it will attack. This is surreal, and akin to speculating whether Mexico will attack us in Texas or California. Is this a sign of the M/I complex creating our next war thru propaganda, or what?

Peter Baker: Interesting point. But keep in mind, Iran may not have launched a conventional war in a long time, but it has sponsored Hezbollah and other terrorist groups outside of its own country that have done quite a bit of damage, including to Americans.


Louisville, Ky.: Peter,

I understand the news/editorial division, but these politics chats with news writers like yourself are an immediate avenue to air grievances, as it were. Perhaps Fred Hiatt and others on the editorial staff should make themselves available for questions?

Peter Baker: I would encourage Fred or other editorial writers to do chats, if they don't already.


Rockville, Md.: "Iran says it's closer to the bomb ..."

I thought Iran said it was a member of the power producing club. Did they actually say they want a bomb?

Peter Baker: Fair point. You're right. I should've said "Iran says it's mastered certain engineering that would make it closer to the bomb." But it doesn't say it wants the bomb. Thanks for the correction.


Atlanta, Ga.: Do we seriously have to worry about our military starting a war with Iran now? Seriously? Does anyone outside the administration think this is a good idea? Can anyone outside the administration stop it?

Sure, it was fun when it began (Afghanistan) but I the "Hell, let's blow it up!" foreign policy has really lost it's charm of late.

Peter Baker: In fact, many people inside the administration, and particularly senior officers at the Pentagon, think it would be a terrible idea. There are a lot of potential drawbacks. At the same time, some in the administration see the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran as so dire that they believe ultimately down the road it may have to come to using force. But even many of them are leery of the idea because it seems problematic.


Peter Baker: Okay, I see I've gone over my time again. Sorry, I wish I could get to more questions. Thanks for participating and invite your friends to join us next time as well -- all left-wingers, right-wingers, middle-wingers and buffalo-wingers are welcome. And as long as we're into shameless pitches, don't forget to tune into Washington Post radio at 107.7 FM, 1500 AM or by hitting the link on the web site home page. Have a great day.


Editor's Note: moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company