- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 1, 2003

The White House and Pentagon yesterday criticized news coverage of the Iraq showdown and other military matters in a sign of increasing acrimony between the press and administration.

"You're covering the process as if it was a baseball game," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told reporters.

He accused journalists of missing the big picture on the Iraq story by distorting daily developments. Although criticism mounts against Saddam Hussein, Mr. Fleischer said, the press emphasizes expressions of doubt from wavering allies such as France and Russia.

"You're looking at every step that is taken every hit, every pitch, every strike ignoring the fact that history has shown that during this consultative process, you will be able to write any type of story you want about any of these types of statements," Mr. Fleischer said. "But the focus is on the outcome for President Bush."

Hours later, at the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld scolded reporters for "prematurely" reporting on the outcome of U.S. military talks with the Philippines. He suggested it was symptomatic of widespread misreporting.

"You get told things every day that don't happen," Mr. Rumsfeld said at a news conference. "It doesn't seem to bother people; it gets printed in the press; the world thinks all of these things happen.

"They never happen. Everyone is so eager to get the story before, in fact, the story is there, that the world is constantly being fed things that haven't happened."

Such criticism follows a dispute between the administration and CBS News over Dan Rather's interview with Saddam earlier this week.

"This interview is a good early indication of something that journalists are going to face," Mr. Fleischer said. "Journalists still have to ask themselves these questions about the responsibility to accuracy knowing that the Iraqis are nothing but propagandists and deceivers."

He noted that Iraq has warned it will blow up its own dams if America invades.

"In the event there is a war and journalists are in Iraq and a dam is blown up, I think there's no question you will be offered by Iraqi propagandists to go live on the air in the area of the dam and they will be able to show you a flood," Mr. Fleischer said. "They will have it set up so you can go live on the air from the ability of the Iraqis to put you there.

"And American media are going to have to ask themselves: Do you put these paid liars and propagandists on the air to show this? Or do you withhold going live at a time when, if there is war, the networks are likely to cover it 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and there's going to be a real demand for putting things on the air? These are difficult issues for journalists to decide."

Mr. Fleischer criticized the handicapping of an upcoming vote by the U.N. Security Council on a new resolution against Iraq. He cited headlines from 1990 and 2002 that expressed doubt just before the Security Council voted in support of similar resolutions.

"My point is, you've seen this in 1990 and you knew what the outcome was; you saw it in 2002 and you knew what the outcome was," Mr. Fleischer said. "In 2003, the president has decided to pursue this through a very consultative process. And he remains confident in what the ultimate outcome will be."

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