White House wants retraction-plus from Newsweek

Despite the magazine's prompt retraction, the White House continues to demand more.

Published May 18, 2005 11:12AM (EDT)

Not content with Newsweek's decision to retract its story about a Quran being flushed down the toilet at Gitmo Bay, White House spokesman Scott McClellan thinks the weekly mag should go one step further and "help repair the damage" done by writing some puff pieces about the U.S. military and how it's dedicated to treating Islam with care.

"One way is to point out what the policies and practices of our United States military are," said McClellan. "Our United States military personnel go out of their way to make sure that the Holy Quran is treated with care."

Of course what's really going on is the White House, despite Newsweek's prompt action, is simply trying to get more mileage out of the controversy, while at the same time pushing back on the press corps yet again. The New York Times helps pull the curtain back a bit with this revealing passage:

"Republicans close to the White House said that although President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney were genuinely angered by the Newsweek article, West Wing officials were also exploiting it in an effort to put a check on the press.

"There's no expectation that they're going to bring down Newsweek, but there is a feeling that there is no check on what you guys do," said one outside Bush advisor, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to be identified as talking about possible motives of the White House.

"In the course of any administration," he continued, "you have three or four opportunities, at most, with a high-profile press mistake. And if you're going to make a point -- and no White House is ever going to love the way it's covered -- you have to highlight those places where there is a screw-up."

Meanwhile, McClellan's heavy-handed attempt at playing Newsweek editor, by busily assigning stories to repair the damage, didn't go over real well in the White House briefing room yesterday. As E&P notes, scribes also didn't appreciate the administration lecturing Newsweek about using a single anonymous source when the White House itself often sets up mundane background briefings for reporters using ground rules that they not name the administration source.

Quipped one reporter, "With all due respect,  it sounds like you're saying your single anonymous sources are OK and everyone else's aren't."

By Eric Boehlert

Eric Boehlert, a former senior writer for Salon, is the author of "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush."

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