Monday, February 13, 2006

NBC's David Gregory Takes On Scottie At The Morning Gaggle

Poor Scottie.

It's becoming harder and harder for the White House press secretary to say his lines with a straight face, what with the vice preznit criticizing people in the government for leaking classified information, on the one hand, while the vice preznit himself authorized Scooter Libby (and perhaps others) to leak classified information in the campaign to smear Ambassador Joseph Wilson over the Iraq-Niger uranium story on the other. The NSA domestic spying program (which the administration insists is neither a "domestic" program, since somebody on one end of the call is overseas, nor "spying") is also becoming a more difficult thing to defend, what with the Republicans in both the House and the Senate now starting to call for official investigative hearings into the matter.

But now to make matters worse for the hapless press secretary, poor Scott was forced to defend the vice preznit's failure to tell anybody over the weekend that he shot a man in a "hunting accident" and refused to be interviewed by a sheriff after the incident occured.

Let us just say, it was not pretty in the White House briefing room today for the White House press secretary and when it was all finally over, there was blood on the carpet, courtesy of NBC's David Gregory. Here's the story, courtesy of the Washington Post:

While Vice President Cheney peppered a quail hunting companion with birdshot at a Texas ranch Saturday, it was the White House that got peppered today -- by the news media, specifically about why it took a day and a half for the administration to confirm that the vice president had accidentally shot his fellow hunter, 78-year-old Harry Whittington.

Whittington, an Austin attorney, remains in stable condition at a Texas hospital. He was moved out of the intensive care unit today.

As he often does, White House spokesman Scott McClellan took the brunt of the media blitz, which was more heated than usual today. In an off-camera briefing this morning and his televised news conference shortly after noon, McClellan was asked repeatedly about the incident -- when it took place, when the president was notified.


McClellan referred about a dozen questions to the vice president's office.

The most heated moment occurred during McClellan's off-camera gaggle, featuring NBC's David Gregory, one of McClellan's most persistent inquisitors during the past year. As Gregory raised his voice while asking a question about the incident, McClellan told him to "hold on" and pointed out that "the cameras aren't on right now. You can do this later."

"Don't accuse me of trying to pose to the cameras," Gregory replied, his voice rising. "Don't be a jerk to me personally when I'm asking you a serious question."

"You don't have to yell," McClellan said.

"I will yell," said Gregory, jabbing his finger in McClellan's direction. "If you want to use that podium to try to take shots at me personally, which I don't appreciate, then I will raise my voice, because that's wrong."

"Calm down, Dave, calm down," said McClellan, evenly.

The two men spoke privately after the gaggle, Gregory said later in an interview.

"I think the transcript speaks for itself," Gregory said, describing the exchange as a "heat of the moment type thing."

No apologies were exchanged in the follow-up chat. "I said what I said and I meant what I said," Gregory said, referring to the morning briefing.

McClellan's midday briefing was standing room only, a rare occurrence. McClellan later observed that it seemed like every news outlet had three reporters present.

He led off with a brief scheduling item, then spoke about the economy, saying "the economy is strong and growing stronger."

He then took questions, none of which were about the economy.

Nearly the entire briefing was given over to Cheney's hunting accident.

"Scott, do you think that the shooting accident involving the vice president on Saturday should have been disclosed to the public on Saturday?"

McClellan replied -- as he did to many questions -- that the first priority was to ensure that Whittington was receiving appropriate medical care.

McClellan said that Cheney's office was in charge of disseminating the information about the accident, which occurred on Saturday afternoon.

"The vice president spoke with Mrs. Katharine Armstrong," McClellan said, referring to one of the owners of the ranch on which Cheney and Whittington were hunting.

"And they agreed that she should make that information public. She was an eyewitness. She saw what occurred. And she called her local paper to provide those facts to the local paper."

Later, McClellan was asked, "As press secretary, are you satisfied with the way this was handled?"

"Well," McClellan replied, "I think you can always look back at these issues and look at how to do a better job."

After an indecipherable chorus of shouted questions that lasted a few seconds, Gregory's voice rose over those of his competitors.

"Let's just be clear here," Gregory said. "The vice president of the United States accidentally shoots a man and he feels that it's appropriate for a ranch owner who witnessed this to tell the local Corpus Christi newspaper and not the White House Press corps at large or notify the public in a national way?"

"Well, I think we all know that once it is made public, then it's going to be news and all of you are going to be seeking that information," McClellan replied.

In the course of a 38-minute briefing, reporters made seven references to Cheney having "shot" someone, with four to a "shooting."

McClellan referred to Cheney's mishap as an "accident."

I have to say that the more I see of David Gregory, the more I like him.

He takes no shit from the White House spinmeisters, he isn't interested in a horseshit "bipartisan storyline" like so many of the other wankers on TV today (chiefly Ed Henry of CNN), and can cut through the crap the boys and girls in the administration tell him to find "truth".

Whether it was during the Jeff Gannon story, the CIA leak case, the Katrina aftermath or Quailgate, David Gregory is pretty damn good at getting to the crux of the story.

Just as he did today with this winner:

"Let's just be clear here," Gregory said. "The vice president of the United States accidentally shoots a man and he feels that it's appropriate for a ranch owner who witnessed this to tell the local Corpus Christi newspaper and not the White House Press corps at large or notify the public in a national way?"
BTW, David Shuster at MSNBC is also a terrific reporter. I wish there were more Shusters and Gregorys and less stenographers to the stars like Norah O'Donnell and Andrea "Mrs. Alan Greenspan" Mitchell.

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