Couric: Nefarious Talking Point Coordination from McClellan Critics

The ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts, naturally, all led Wednesday night with Scott McClellan's attacks on the Bush White House, but CBS anchor Katie Couric inaccurately reported McClellan was “forced out” of his Press Secretary position “last year” (he left in early 2006) and, interviewing McClellan's predecessor Ari Fleischer, she tried to discredit White House defenders by demanding to know if they were reading from coordinated talking points. As if that's somehow improper.

Couric told Fleischer: “A lot of people seem to be saying, in response to this book, that 'this doesn't sound like' the Scott McClellan they knew. Let's take a listen.” Viewers then saw clips of Karl Rove (“This doesn't sound like Scott”), Dan Bartlett (“He's like a fundamentally different person than all of us knew”) and Trent Duffy (“The voice that comes out of this book is certainly not Scott McClellan's”). Couric insisted “it sounds as if you all are operating from the same play book,” before asking: “Did you get together and discuss how to respond to this?” Fleischer denied Couric's assumption: “No, I think that it's just that we all worked shoulder-to-shoulder with Scott for so long and we never heard Scott talk about manipulation, talk about propaganda.”

Leading her newscast, Couric had asserted: “Scott McClellan was President Bush's chief spokesman from 2003 until he was forced out last year.” In fact, he left in 2006. Fill-in CBS Evening News anchor Russ Mitchell teased the Wednesday, April 19, 2006 newscast: "More big changes at the White House. Political guru Karl Rove loses one of his key roles, and Scott McClellan is out as the President's chief spokesman."

The MRC's Brad Wilmouth corrected the closed-captioning against the vide to provide this transcript of the questions Couric posed to Fleischer in the interview aired on the Wednesday, May 28 CBS Evening News:
KATIE COURIC: Ari, what do you think of this book and the charges made in it?

[ARI FLEISCHER]

Well, does that mean he didn't necessarily have these feelings and perhaps was too timid to express them?

[FLEISCHER]

A lot of people seem to be saying, in response to this book, that this doesn't sound like the Scott McClellan they knew. Let's take a listen.
KARL ROVE: This doesn't sound like Scott. It really doesn't. Not the Scott McClellan I've known for a long time.
DAN BARTLETT: He's like a fundamentally different person than all of us knew.

TRENT DUFFY: The voice that comes out of this book is certainly not Scott McClellan's.
COURIC: With all due respect, Ari, it sounds as if you all are operating from the same play book. Did you get together and discuss how to respond to this?

FLEISCHER: No, I think that it's just that we all worked shoulder-to-shoulder with Scott for so long and we never heard Scott talk about manipulation, talk about propaganda....

COURIC: Members of the administration always said there were definitely weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Not that there were reports of weapons, not that people believed there were weapons. Looking back on it, wasn't that a mistake?

[FLEISCHER]

As you well know, the President has very low approval ratings at this juncture. How do you think this will affect the way he is viewed by the American people?

[FLEISCHER]
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center