Monday, December 18, 2006

" . . . . (NOT) a good and honorable person"

I'm kicking off a new category, something of a personal pet peeve.

It's for documenting those times when some media talking head says of someone in the news something to the effect of ". . . He/She is a good and honorable person" - effectively vouching for that person's character. As if the viewing public should "Take my word for it," and adopt the opinion of the talking head because the talking head is, 1) a good and honorable person him- or herself, and 2) a good judge of character.

Today's entry comes from MSNBC's SCARBOROUGH:
SCARBOROUGH: Well, the White House apologizes to NBC. The White House press secretary, Tony Snow, says he‘s story about the heated exchange with David Gregory of NBC last week, when Tony accused Gregory of being, quote, “partisan,” causing many on the right, like Bill O‘Reilly, to attack NBC and Gregory.

Well, here, we‘ll report, and you decide.


DAVID GREGORY, NBC WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Can this report be seen as anything other than a rejection of this president‘s handling of the war?

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Absolutely. You need to understand that trying to frame it in a partisan way is actually at odds with what the group itself says it wanted to do. And so you may try to do whatever you want in terms of rejection, that‘s not the way they view it.

GREGORY: OK, I just want to be clear. Are you suggesting that I‘m trying to frame this in a partisan way?

SNOW: Yes.


SCARBOROUGH: And today, Tony Snow surprised Gregory and the rest of the White House press corps by setting the record straight and saying he was wrong.


SNOW: You and I had a conversation last week that got a whole lot of play in a lot of places, where I used the term “partisan” in describing one of your questions, and I‘ve thought a lot about that. And I was wrong. So I want to apologize and tell you I‘m sorry for it.

And the reason I do that is, not only because it‘s the right thing to do, because I want people in this room and also people who watch these to understand that the relations in this room are professional and collegial. And if I expect you to do right by us, you have every right to expect that I‘ll do right by you. So, in any event, I just want to say I‘m sorry for that.


SCARBOROUGH: You know, that was the right thing to do. Tony Snow is such a good man, such a good human being, I just wish more people were like him in Washington, D.C.

But, you know, does that, though, leave Tony Snow‘s defender on the right with egg on their face, and will they follow Tony‘s lead? I think, again, he did the right thing.

With us now, Bob Kohn, he‘s the author of the book “Journalistic Fraud.” And Matthew Felling, he‘s the media director for the Center for Media and Public Affairs. And still with us, MSNBC analyst and former Reagan communication director Pat Buchanan.

Matthew Felling, I just want to say, again, I mean, I don‘t know Tony Snow exceptionally well, but he just seems to be such a decent, upright guy. He‘s got a tough job right now, because the White House is going under and he‘s got to be a positive spokesman for them, but I think he did the right thing.

But, of course, you remember last week, Bill O‘Reilly jumped all over David Gregory after Snow called him partisan. I want to play you what O‘Reilly had to say.


BILL O‘REILLY, FOX NEWS HOST: Mr. Gregory is a partisan. He has come to the conclusion that Iraq is a loser and bases his questioning upon that belief. While Gregory may be correct, using loaded questions to bolster his point of view is not what straight news reporting is about.


SCARBOROUGH: So, Matthew, should we now expect Bill O‘Reilly to apologize?

MATTHEW FELLING, THE CENTER FOR MEDIA AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS: Oh, of course not, man. This is love story, baby. Being Bill O‘Reilly means never having to say you‘re sorry.

I think what I saw last week was actually something that we should be concerned about, especially here in this building, in this network, where there is—a concerted effort has begun on the part of the White House and on the part of conservatives, where they‘re kind of starting to chip away at NBC.

They‘ve started by talking about the guy who leads into this program, Olbermann. Then they moved into the decision to call this a civil war, and now they‘re taking on Gregory. It seems to be a little drip, drip, drip battle that they‘re starting to engage in.

SCARBOROUGH: Let me ask you, Bob Kohn. Were you surprised by the apology today? Do you think he did the right thing?

BOB KOHN, AUTHOR: Well, I think he did the right thing. I mean, you and I have talked on this program about the left-wing bias in the media that‘s existed for many, many years. That includes NBC.

And, you know, I do think that David Gregory may have deserved what he got, because he did ask a question that wasn‘t out of the particular report. He just tried to frame it in a way that said, “Is this a rejection of your policy?”


SCARBOROUGH: But, Bob, you know what, though, Bob? Hold on, Bob, let‘s talk. I mean, let‘s talk about this, because I know David Gregory. I work with him. I work with a lot of people around here. I don‘t know whether David is a conservative or a liberal. I would guess, though, in most broadcast news operations, outside of FOX News, Democrats would probably win 90 percent of the time.

But the guys I know and the women I know that work here are tough on both sides. That‘s why Media Research Center called David Gregory the fairest reporter a few years back.

KOHN: I‘m not so sure—I think that‘s a broad statement. I don‘t think that‘s something that you‘ve agreed with in the past or I would agree with today. But I think Tony Snow did the right thing. Even if David Gregory did deserve it, in Tony Snow‘s mind, he did the right thing, because he‘s got to live with these people.

SCARBOROUGH: Do you think Bill O‘Reilly will apologize? Should he apologize?

KOHN: No, I think Tony Snow did the right thing, in the sense that, you know, he‘s taking the high road here. I think that Bill O‘Reilly is probably not going to apologize. You know, I would apologize. I would apologize tonight to David Gregory, because I think a lot of us came down pretty hard on him for this thing, because, you know, the press has been trying to get the administration to admit things in a partisan way.

I mean, asking a question, “Does this reject your policy?” What would that possibly add to the public discussion of this, if the administration said, “Yes, this rejects our policy,” or, “No, it doesn‘t reject our policy.” So I don‘t think he was trying to seek news there.

And I think I would agree with Tony Snow‘s general reaction. I think he should continue to question the premise of the questions. But at the end of the day, he took the high road. I think it was all taken out of proportion.

SCARBOROUGH: And let me just say, you took the high road, too. And, you know, I screw up all the time. And when I do, I come on and I apologize for that, even if I get kicked around by some people afterwards.

But, Pat Buchanan, I just said I think Tony Snow is a good guy. I think he made the right choice. I hope Bill O‘Reilly follows and apologizes, also, to David Gregory. You and I both know, though, that‘s probably not going to happen.

But let‘s just talk historically. Put this in historical context. I mean, White House spokesmen, when they screw up, they usually zip it up and keep going, because they know they‘ll get beaten up if they‘re truthful. Were you surprised that Tony Snow took the high road and apologized? Again, he said partisan last week. He just didn‘t mean it; it just came out.

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST: No, I‘m not surprised, because I think Tony Snow‘s a class act, and I think he reflected on it.

Look, David‘s a very tough reporter. He‘s a tough, aggressive questioner. He hits hard. That‘s a contentious relationship. It‘s a professional relationship. And Tony should not have gone and directed, attacked his motives. Now, look, once you get on talk TV and things like that, I think you really cut loose back and forth. That‘s a brawling situation. It‘s perfectly legitimate. And Tony Snow is the president‘s spokesman.


SCARBOROUGH: And, again, we‘ve all made those mistakes before, haven‘t we, Pat?

BUCHANAN: Sure, sure.

SCARBOROUGH: You say something and you want to pull it back.

BUCHANAN: He‘s the president‘s spokesman. Wait a minute. He‘s the president‘s spokesman. And as that, he wants to say, look, I want to respond and toughly respond and answer and knock it down, but I shouldn‘t have gone at your motives and said you‘re hauling water for the Democrats. I apologize for that.

Now, in this business, Joe, you and I, we can let anybody have a back and forth and take it. Tony Snow did the professional thing and the right thing.

KOHN: Joe, when the tables are turned, when the press makes a mistake you know, we all make mistakes—when the press makes a mistake, look what the “New York Times” did when they had Jayson Blair on. Basically, he was writing stories that were false and embarrassed the administration, particularly the Justice Department and Attorney General Ashcroft. Did the “New York Times” ever apologize to the Bush administration for that? No, they didn‘t.

SCARBOROUGH: Well, you know...


SCARBOROUGH: We‘ve talked about this, also, though. I think the good news is they‘ve got an ombudsman there who‘s now getting more aggressive. And I‘ll tell you what: That is all I ask, Matthew Felling, that people police themselves, that the “New York Times,” NBC News, other news outlets police themselves. I think it‘s worked very well.

But, bottom line, let me ask you, Matthew, why do you think Tony Snow apologized? What was the motivation?

FELLING: Well, I think—well, first of all, I think it was a little bit calculated because he saw that what he did last week was becoming the story. It was the old technique of attacking the messenger. And I think what he‘s also done—and I think it was accidental in this case—is that he actually bought himself some good graces into January, because January is going to be a very tough month for him.

And I agree with what Pat Buchanan said earlier. I remember when Ari Fleischer would say to somebody, who asked a very pointed question, “It‘s your job to ask that; it‘s my job to answer it the way I choose.”

SCARBOROUGH: Yes, no doubt about it. That‘s what they do.

Bob Kohn, Matthew Felling, Pat Buchanan, thanks for being with us. And I want to underline I agree with Pat. I think Tony Snow, whether you‘re a Democrat or a Republican, liberal or a conservative, he‘s a class act. And I am so glad he apologized, not for David Gregory. David Gregory can handle it. But just because what it says about Tony‘s character.

Wikipedia has this to say about Tony Snow:
Snow's method of dealing with reporters has departed from many past press secretaries' emphasis on political spin and bluffing. Snow is known to reply to reporters' queries in a mocking and condescending manner, especially reporters who work for news outlets that have generally been regarded as unfriendly to the George W. Bush administration. (When Saddam Hussein was sentenced to death a few days before the 2006 midterm elections, Maureen Dowd asked if there had been communication between the White House and Iraq to coordinate the timing of Hussein's sentencing to directly precede the midterms. Snow responded by asking Dowd, nicknamed "the Cobra" by the President, if she had been "smoking rope."[1])

He has, however, shown a willingness to admit to reporters when he doesn't know an answer; he even adopted what he termed a "bupkis list" for questions he plans to research and get back to reporters on. Bupkis is a Yiddish word for "beans," usually used to mean "nothing" or "not worth anything." Snow first used the word to ridicule a question from longtime White House reporter Helen Thomas before later applying it to his list. Snow has been known to dismiss other reporters' questions as well, such as when he suggested that the second part of a two-part question that he deemed "preposterous" should "die a crib death."[7]

Ridiculing and demeaning others isn't the hallmark of "a good and honorable person" - It's the hallmark of an asshole. And when you're the chief spokesman for the most powerful officeholder in the world, it's the hallmark of a power-abusing bully.

And when you scratch beneath the surface of Tony Snow's history, it becomes clear that it is the power-abusing bully that George W. Bush hired to represent him in front of the media.

According to Joe Scarborough, Tony Snow apologized to David Gregory, not to his face, not privately, not one-on-one, but when the red light went on on the television camera in the White House press room. Where are the apologies to Helen Thomas, Maureen Dowd and the rest of the reporters he has insulted and treated poorly? History shows us that when Tony Snow apologizes, when he acts out of character, it's to achieve another agenda on behalf of the Bush administration that is intended to deceive the American people, to distract our attention. It's meant to change the subject.

Tony Snow hitting his head on the podium as he fields another question about the Iraq Study Group's report.

Whether it's "tarbabies" (Snow's gaffe on his first day as Bush's press secretary) or being caught in a bald-faced lie regarding Flynt Leverett and White House censorship during the press gaggle today, Snow has a serious problem when it comes to honesty and integrity. SourceWatch has gone the extra mile, examined his entire public career and has documented just how not "a good and honorable person" Tony Snow is.

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