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White House Communications Director, Ed Gillespie, on NBC’s creative but very misleading and irresponsible use of editing

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

HH: From one end of Washington, D.C., up on Capitol Hill with Senator Joe Lieberman, down to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, and to the communications director of the White House, assistant to the President, Ed Gillespie. Ed Gillespie, welcome to the program. I’m sure that you and the President share what Senator Lieberman and everyone else is saying, prayers for Ted Kennedy. Partisanship stops at the hospital door, I’ve often liked to say.

EG: You’re exactly right, Hugh, and you know, we’ve never been ones here, while we enjoy a vigorous policy debate, we respect folks in the arena, and no one’s been in the arena more vigorously than Ted Kennedy. And we’ve been against him most of the time, but we’ve been with him some, and so we are holding him and his family in our prayers.

HH: Ed, let’s talk a little bit, if we can, about the contretemps you’ve had with NBC. It’s one of the more interesting media stories. Can you lay out what happened, and what the beef is with the network?

EG: I can. You know, when the President gave his speech on the floor of the Knesset in Jerusalem, it was incredibly well-received, as well it should have been. He laid out a very clear statement of American policy in support of Israel as our friend and ally, and a staunch democracy in the heart of the Middle East. He said again that it would not be in the interest of the world for Iran to be able to develop a nuclear weapon, and we needed to rally international support to stop that. And he said that we shouldn’t negotiate with terrorists like Hamas and Hezbollah and al Qaeda, and that we needed to take the words of people seriously when they say they want to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth. And the media played it, and the Obama campaign played it, somehow, as an attack on Senator Obama, which it was not. It was a reiteration of policy the President has had for a long time. And so we reject the notion that when he says here’s my policy, which is longstanding, that now, just because we’re in a new season, that somehow that can be characterized in the media as an attack. NBC in an interview asked the President about that, and the President responded. He said that you know, my policies haven’t changed, but evidently the political calendar has. People need to read the speech. You didn’t get it exactly right, either. What I said was that we need to take the words of people seriously. Well, they cut those three sentences out, and they went right from, in response to the question, were you referring to Senator Barack Obama, you know, my policies haven’t changed, but evidently the political calendar has, and when you know, a leader of Iran says they want to destroy Israel, you’ve got to take those words seriously. And it sounded, it made it sound like the President was accepting the premise of the question, when he had explicitly rejected it. And the editing was very misleading. You couldn’t see that they had spliced together these two lines, because they cut to the interviewer to mask that. And we asked them to run the interview and the response, the President’s response in its entirety, and they refused. They said you can go get it off their website if you want to see it all in its entirety.

HH: Now Ed Gillespie, that’s amazing on a number of fronts, but I’ve got to begin, you know, if the President did radio, we’d be happy to run the entire interview. So you can pass that pack to him.

EG: I will do that.

HH: But generally speaking, and he doesn’t do radio, and that’s a different quarrel, but generally speaking, don’t…when you get an exclusive interview with the President, don’t you run the whole thing?

EG: Generally speaking, you do, and they said that in this case, that time constraints required that they cut it back. And look, we understand that editing is part of the journalistic process, but not editing in a way that entirely changes and alters the response. And the President’s response was, like I say, it rejected the premise of the question, and they made it sound like he was accepting and embracing it.

HH: And so given the obvious editorial hit that they put on the President’s remarks there, in a way that I think most viewers would find deeply disingenuous, have they rethunk, have they reshown the edited thing on the network yet? I mean the unedited…

EG: They felt that because it had aired…the edited piece that was very misleading and irresponsible, in my estimation, was aired on the evening news on Sunday night, the Nightly News, and on Monday morning on the Today show. They said that because they had aired it in full without the edits on the Sunday Today show, which of course, you know, has only a fraction of the numbers that the Monday Today show has, and that they posted on the website, that they had fulfilled their obligation to the public to show the response in its entirety.

HH: And Ed, did you have this conversation with Steve Capus, the president of NBC, Brian Williams, their anchor? Who did you have this conversation with?

EG: I had an e-mail exchange with Steve Capus. And in addition to expressing my concerns about this selective editing, Hugh, I also raised a number of long-standing concerns we’ve had with NBC’s coverage relative to the economy and their seeming to discount official government economic data that showed that we’ve had growth in the last quarter, albeit lower than we’d like. It was six tenths of a percent, but it was positive growth nonetheless. And they seem to be discounting that, and they acknowledged today that they do accept official government economic data, and they don’t have any reason not to believe it. But the third thing that I raised was a request to know if they still consider Iraq to be in a civil while, which in a very grandiose display of hand-wringing and introspection and deliberation, as they put it back in November of 2006, they declared on air as part of their NBC policy that Iraq is in a sectarian civil war. Well, we’ve seen the unity government there of moderate Shia and Sunni rooting out extremist Shia and Sunnis across Iraq. And it’s unfair to say that they’re in a civil war, and I wanted to know, they stopped saying it, by the way, in September of 2007. They quietly stopped characterizing it that way after the success of the surge started to become evident. And I asked him if it was still their policy view that Iraq is in a civil war, and if not, would they acknowledge to the public that they had determined that Iraq is out of a civil war, or that they were wrong to declare one in the first place. And we’re still waiting on that.

HH: Ed Gillespie, I don’t know who drew the short straw in your shop, and this may very well, I hope, earns us another worst person in the world nominee, but someone’s got to watch Keith Olbermann, and someone has to watch Chris Matthews, because you’re the White House, and you’ve got to know what they’re saying, even if it is a marginal network watched by hard left extremists.

EG: Yeah, it’s somebody below me, Hugh (laughing).

HH: But I mean, hasn’t the impression spread that this is really about ratings? They don’t believe this stuff. They just do what they have to do to get ratings. And if that means going hard left and perverting the news, they’ll pervert the news. And Olbermann’s a sports guy. He doesn’t understand it anyway. What do you guys do about that? I mean, I wouldn’t even bother sending them e-mails. They’re obviously beyond the pale.

EG: Well look, we don’t. I mean, Christopher Matthews and Keith Olbermann, you know, they’re advocates for a worldview that obviously, we don’t agree with here at the White House. And that’s fine. You know, they’re identified as such on MSNBC. What is disconcerting to me, though, is that there are times when they, you know, they pretend to take off their advocate hat, and they become objective newsmen and journalists, and you have Brian Williams and Tim Russert sitting down with them like they’re sitting down with Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews like it’s Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite or something.

HH: Did you ever read Bizarro Superman comic books when you were young, Ed?

EG: I did, yeah.

HH: That’s the Bizarro world of journalism over there.

EG: Right.

HH: And everything’s upside down.

EG: Look, I did raise the question. I said it is, it does concern us here at the White House that, you know, the MSNBC attitude could be seeping into the NBC broadcast network’s coverage.

HH: Clearly, it is. Ed Gillespie from the White House, thank you.

End of interview.

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