NBC’s Gregory: White House Communications Director a ‘Minister of Propaganda’
When you have the following meeting of the minds in a public forum - NBC News White House Correspondent David Gregory, former "CBS Evening News" anchor Dan Rather, New York Times White House correspondent David Sanger, and former White House bureau chief and correspondent for United Press International Helen Thomas - there's a near certainty something outrageous will be said.
And that was the case on November 26 at The National Press Club when this roundtable discussion occurred for the taping of "The Kalb Report," a public affairs program broadcasted on various television stations throughout the country.
[Click here for audio]
Gregory Considers White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett a ‘Minister of Propaganda'
During the discussion, Dan Rather reinvented himself as moderator instead of participant and asked David Gregory if he thought Dan Bartlett played the role of a "minister of propaganda."
"Oh yeah, at times - absolutely," Gregory replied. "And again, I mean, a lot of times your interactions behind the scenes are not a whole lot different than they are at times with cameras or publicly and that's what we deal with. Sometimes you have to get through that with a lot of time and circumstance from being there. You know you might be on a foreign trip and you might be at a two, three-hour dinner and you may pick up some things from those same people. So, sometimes being around and having those relationships can count for something. At the end of an administration, that may not be a lot, but it's something because so much of your interaction is based on spin and this massive PR machine."
Thomas: Bush White House Operates Under ‘Sinister Secrecy'
Helen Thomas, who has had no problem with criticizing President George W. Bush in the past, dropped her first of many bombs on the evening by longing for the days of President John F. Kennedy and condemning the Bush Administration. (Click here for audio.)
"You walked down the street with Kennedy," Thomas said. "[Kennedy White House Spokesman] Perry [Pierre] Salinger had total entrée to the Oval Office and though he wasn't always able to tell you exactly, he could lift an eyebrow or give you some direction. You had some sense of access and some sense of what was going on. He was warm, witty, he held great news conferences. Didn't tell you much but you didn't have this sense of sinister secrecy you have now."
However, Thomas thought Kennedy deserved a free pass on his rumored reputation for being a womanizer.
"It was a different era," Thomas said. "There was a code, a gentleman's code ... basically you didn't write about anything concerning a public official, unless it impacted, unless what he did impacted on his public duties and responsibilities. The ‘60s changed all that - the sexual revolution, everything. So now it's no holds barred ..."
Gregory Describes W.H. Press Briefing as the ‘Barroom Scene from ‘Star Wars''
Have the televised White House briefings seemed a little chaotic, for example when NBC's David Gregory had an exchange with former White House Press Secretary Tony Snow?
Gregory claimed that is intentionally done to undermine the press. (Click her for audio.)
"[T]his president decided early on that the press was something of a monolith to be kept at bay," Gregory said. "And therefore, the press secretary would have reduced influence and access. And that's why they want to sort of create the press briefing as the barroom scene from ‘Star Wars.' You know, sort of something of a freak show to be looked at - not to be taken very seriously."
But of course, Gregory reminded the audience how important it was to play nice with the White House Press Corp.
"But then when an administration gets into trouble, then they recognize, ‘Oh wait a minute, we've got to engage a little bit to try to work that narrative,' and they don't have the relationship with the press and frankly, they don't have the practice," Gregory said. "So, it's the level of engagement and your press secretary can be somebody who really manages that for you - who gives you a 6 o'clock call. So I think in this administration, we haven't seen as much of that as previous administrations have had."
Thomas vs. Gregory: Press Didn't Ask Enough Questions Leading Up to War
When David Gregory is the one left defending the role of the press to not advocate a certain position when reporting on the White House - you know the ship has totally strayed off course. (Click here for audio.)
Gregory defended the White House Press Corp for not being more vocal in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq, while some voices and pundits now questioned if the media were aggressive enough.
"I think it's wrong. I think that there is a tendency in this country now to look at results in Iraq and work backwards and say, ‘Why didn't someone stop this? Where was the press and why didn't the press stop this?'" Gregory said.
He questioned the validity of what some interpreted the role of the media to be.
"[I]t's somehow our job to stand up as there is a policy-gathering forum and say, ‘Hey America, this may not be right for you?'"
However, Helen Thomas interrupted Gregory and the two had a brief exchange.
"Why not?" asked Thomas. Gregory insisted it wasn't the media's responsibility to render those judgments and Thomas referred to the media as a "lapdog" for two years in the run up to the war.
The two had another exchange about the same subject later in the program. (Click here for audio.)
Thomas: ‘Bush Wanted to Go to War the Moment He Stepped Into the White House'
It's a shame Helen Thomas went into journalism instead of picking stocks or playing poker in the casinos of Las Vegas because she might be a very wealthy woman.
Thomas told the audience she knew what the future held for President George W. Bush upon his inauguration on January 20, 2001. (Click here for audio.)
"I know he wanted to go to war from the moment he stepped into the White House," Thomas.
Thomas continued to express her frustration for the Iraq war and told the audience the case for the war was built on falsehoods.