Bush press jabs raise ‘08 race queries

The White House hurled two salvos at media outlets this week in an attempt, officials say, to highlight inaccurate reporting, but the action comes at a time when the presidential campaign is shifting into high gear and Republicans are searching for some positive momentum.

White House press secretary Dana Perino yesterday said a story by the Jerusalem Post, suggesting that the Bush administration plans to attack Iran before Mr. Bush leaves office, is “not worth the paper it’s printed on,” citing its use of one unnamed source quoting another unnamed source.

On Monday, Edward W. Gillespie, counselor to the president, publicly released a memo to NBC News in which he accused the network of “deceptively” editing Mr. Bush’s comments in an interview taped Sunday.

It was “coincidence” that the NBC memo and Iran story rebuke happened back to back, said Mr. Gillespie, adding it did not represent any new communications strategy.

But some of the administration’s critics were suspicious.

“To me it sounded like the start of political season,” said Faiz Shakir, research director at the Center for American Progress, a think-tank headed by a former chief of staff to President Clinton.

Mr. Shakir said it is possible the Bush administration is working “in concert” with the campaign of Arizona Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

A senior McCain official said that while campaign officials are meeting regularly with top White House aides, they have not discussed a joint strategy.

“I’m glad they’re defending themselves, but it’s not coordinated,” the McCain official said, on the condition that he not be identified.

Ari Fleischer, Mr. Bush’s press secretary from 2001 to 2003, said attacking the media reaps political benefits, but that White House officials might also have a legitimate complaint, with NBC in particular.

“The conservatives always believe the press is against them,” Mr. Fleischer said. “There’s been a growing sense of frustration at the White House with NBC, and it finally burst out.”

After the interview with NBC’s Richard Engel aired, Mr. Gillespie said NBC manipulated the president’s words to make it seem that Mr. Bush agreed with the premise of Mr. Engel’s question about the president’s speech last week in Israel.

Mr. Engel had asked whether Mr. Bush’s comments about appeasing Iran were a slap at Sen. Barack Obama, the likely Democratic nominee for president.

In the memo, Mr. Gillespie said NBC’s “deceitful editing to further a media-manufactured story line is utterly misleading and irresponsible,” and asked them to air the president’s full answer.

NBC has stood by its editing and said the full interview is available online.

Mr. Gillespie told the Washington Times yesterday that he was “rejecting the notion that when the president reiterates a long-standing policy it can be characterized as a political attack on someone just because they disagree with the policy.”

Jennifer Harper contributed to this report.

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