White House Alters Transcript of McClellan Briefing

It’s kind of a minor issue in the larger scheme of things, but I think this story is significant in terms of the larger pattern it helps to illustrate. From Think Progress: That’s not accurate: White House alters transcript of press briefing.

At issue is a response Scott McClellan made to reporter David Gregory concerning Rove and Libby during an October 31 press conference. Here’s Gregory’s question:

Q Whether there’s a question of legality, we know for a fact that there was involvement. We know that Karl Rove, based on what he and his lawyer have said, did have a conversation about somebody who Patrick Fitzgerald said was a covert officer of the Central Intelligence Agency. We know that Scooter Libby also had conversations.

If you watch the White House-supplied video, it’s clear that McClellan responds by saying, “that’s accurate.” Later, when the White House transcript appeared, McClellan’s response was given as “I don’t think that’s accurate.”

The White House has reportedly pressured Congressional Quarterly and Federal News Service, which provide their own, independent transcripts, and which give the McClellan response as “that’s accurate,” to change their transcripts to conform with the White House version; so far the news organizations have refused. From Wonkette: The White House’s war on transcripts. And from Editor & Publisher: White House stands by ‘not accurate’ quote in dispute.

Now, no one’s really going to make a lot of stew from this one oyster of McClellan supposedly confirming the fact that Rove and Libby had conversations with reporters about the Plame matter. I’m perfectly willing to stipulate that McClellan misspoke. I’m sure, given his recent history of statements on Rove and Libby, that McClellan would not have wanted to respond to that question with anything, neither “that’s accurate” nor “I don’t think that’s accurate.” It pretty obviously was just a brain fart on his part, and one that’s completely understandable, given the context of his having to find several hundred different ways to say, “we’re not going to comment on an ongoing investigation” while sounding (at least a little bit) like he’s actually responding to reporters’ questions.

But a transcript is supposed to be a transcript. It’s a record of what was actually said, not what participants wish, in hindsight, they’d said. If the White House wanted to amend the transcript with a footnote saying McClellan misspoke, that would be fine.

But that’s not what they’re doing. They’ve seized on what might very well be a more or less innocent mis-transcription by the White House stenographer (who knows as well as anyone that McClellan would never have wanted to respond to that question with “that’s accurate”), and have asked two independent news organizations to go along with their magical thinking.

They really, really want for McClellan to have responded differently, so they just squeeze their eyes shut and wish very, very hard. If only all the little girls and boys in the audience will clap their hands and chant along with them, “I do believe in fairies. I do! I do!” then little Scottie McTinkerbell will come back to life.

From the Editor & Publisher article linked to above:

White House press office spokeswoman Dana Perino confirmed that her office had requested a review of the transcripts, noting, “it was simply to point out that the official transcript by the White House stenographer had it as it was released and that is all it was,” she said, saying the White House transcript was never altered.

When asked about the fact that the White House version contradicts video accounts of the briefing, Perino added, “the White House stenographer was in the room and I was in the room” and they heard McClellan say “I don’t think that’s accurate’.”

I don’t dispute that they heard it. But McClellan clearly didn’t actually say it. And as an example of the kind of magical thinking that pervades the Bush administration, and which ends up having more significant consequences when applied to other questions (like whether or not to go to war), it’s pretty scary.

One Response to “White House Alters Transcript of McClellan Briefing”

  1. MnMnM Says:

    Grand Jury testimony of Karl Rove, the White House Deputy Chief of Staff of the United States (COSTUS), leaked by Rove-ing reporter (humor). How much will COSTUS cost us?

    It is posted at: rovesayswholeakedfirst.blogspot.com

    Number one hit on MSN Search when searching for “Rove and Fitzgerald”
    Number two hit on Google blog search using “Rove or Karl Rove”
    Please keep my identity a secret. Double super Secret.
    Middle-aged, Middle-of-the-road, Mid-Westerner

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