NBC's Curry Tries to Discredit Suskind Book With White House Lines of Attack

Update: Video added after the jump.

Working hard to run defense for the Obama administration on Tuesday's NBC Today, co-host Ann Curry interrogated journalist Ron Suskind on his new book critical of the White House and announced she wanted to go through unflattering parts of the book "one by one," while using Obama Press Secretary Jay Carney-approved talking points to discredit it. [Audio available here]

Curry began the interview with Suskind, author of "Confidence Men," by touting White House claims that the Pulitzer Prize winner plagiarized some background information in the book from Wikipedia: "Did you or did you not lift that passage from Wikipedia?...How do you account it for being so similar?"

In her final question to Suskind, Curry was equally petty, citing a handful of minor typographical errors as evidence of the entire book not being credible:

...you make some mistakes – CNBC reporter Erin Burnett, you called her Erin Burkett, you say the unemployment in June 2009 was 8%, in fact it was 9.5%. You say that the Dow dropped 378 on February 10th, 2009, in fact it dropped 382 points on that date. So do you agree – Jay Carney makes this point – do you agree with him? That if you cannot get these details right, then the broader analysis that you subscribe to, that you put forth in this book, has got to be judged in accordance with that, has got to be questioned. There are inaccuracies in your book.

Of course, Curry has had her own trouble with accurate details.

Throughout the segment, Curry tried to cast doubt on direct quotes from administration officials:

>...you report that the Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner actually ignored the President's order to create a plan to do something about Citigroup....Geithner said that these reports in your book, quote, "bear no resemblance to the reality." Did Geithner ignore the President or didn't he?

>White House communications director Dan Feiber told us at NBC News that these comments that I just attributed to talked about with Timothy Geithner are absolutely 100% not true. So they are saying that they're not true.

>In response to your portrayal in your book, Larry Summers has said, "The hearsay attributed to me is a combination of fiction, distortion, and words taken out of context"....Did Summers believe that the President was in over his head or didn't he?

>...you quote Christina Roehmer, the former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, as saying, "I felt like a piece of meat," when she was excluded from a meeting. And also you quote former White House communications director Anita Dunn, quoting her calling the White House, quote, "a genuinely hostile workplace to women." Now both of these women have subsequently denied making these comments. How do you – how do you respond to that?

Every single question Curry directed at Suskind was a refutation of his book. At no time did she accept any of part of it as factual or legitimate criticism of the Obama White House.


Here is a full transcript of the September 20 interview:

7:06AM ET

ANN CURRY: Well, Ron Suskind is now joining us to talk about his new book, it's called "Confidence Men: Wall Street, Washington, And the Education of a President." Mr. Suskind, good morning. Let's begin right there, did you or did you not lift that passage from Wikipedia?

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: "Confidence Men"; Suskind Defends Book's Claims About President]

RON SUSKIND: Of course not, of course not. If you're talking-

CURRY: How do you account it for being so similar?

SUSKIND: Well, if you're going to talk about Fannie Mae in 1968, you've got to use a combination of a certain number of words, they're not even the same in the two sentences, it's absurd. I mean, the White House should be doing something better than wiki searches on a 500-page book. After a week, that's all they came up with.

CURRY: Well, they've actually come up with more. So let me – let's get to it one by one because we do have some time here, not a lot of time.

SUSKIND: Right, sure, not a problem.

CURRY: You write that the President tried to navigate the economic crisis, as he was trying to do this, you write that, quote, "His authority was systematically undermined or hedged by his seasoned advisers." For example, you report that the Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner actually ignored the President's order to create a plan to do something about Citigroup. And so, what I'm wondering is, just yesterday, Geithner said that these reports in your book, quote, "bear no resemblance to the reality." Did Geithner ignore the President or didn't he?

SUSKIND: Geithner clearly, clearly slow-walked the President, meaning that he did not move as the President hoped he would, some would say he ignored the President. This is not just reflected in Tim Geithner's conversation with me because he responded to that, it's all in the book, the response, but also memos, internal memos in the White House from Pete Rouse, which talk about how Treasury slow-walked the President. They didn't like what the President was deciding, they simply ignored it, they buried it bureaucratically.

And the President responds to that in our interview. He doesn't disagree with that, he says it was hard, these were difficult decisions, and yes, the bureaucracy didn't do what I wanted them to do. The fact is, Ann, almost everything in the book is responded to in the book. Toward the end, everybody was asked about these comments and they respond in the book.

CURRY: Well, let's talk some more about the comments. But you know, the White House communications director Dan Feiber told us at NBC News that these comments that I just attributed to talked about with Timothy Geithner are absolutely 100% not true. So they are saying that they're not true.

SUSKIND: He is disagreeing with Tim Geithner's rendering in "Confidence Men." We talked about 35 minutes through this whole issue of Citi. Everyone was essentially quoted and sourced on the Citibank issue.

I think the real issue is whether the White House will respond to whether the President is still getting gamed by his advisers or not. The evidence is that he's not. And in our interview, me and the President, he said, "Look, I've grown into this office." It took a while, he was a new president with very little experience. He came in, in a crisis, but I think the whole point of the book is the evolution of Barack Obama to now and the President is quite forceful. In a way saying, 'I'm the president, people hoped I would be,' and that is – that's part of what the book says.

CURRY: Well the book also quotes this comment by Pete Orszag, we just heard about it in Chuck Todd's report, saying that Larry Summers, the former director of the National Economic Council, often relitigated the President's decisions and said at one point, "We're home alone, there's no adult in charge. Clinton would never have made these mistakes." In response to your portrayal in your book, Larry Summers has said, "The hearsay attributed to me is a combination of fiction, distortion, and words taken out of context. I have always believed that the President has led this country with determined, steady and practical leadership in the economic area." Did Summers believe that the President was in over his head or didn't he?

SUSKIND: It seems that he did. And it seems from the comments from Orszag and others, certainly at the start in the first year in 2009 into early 2010, these sorts of things were part of the prevailing conversation in the White House. When I asked Larry Summers, certainly he was one of the sources for the book, about that quote, I said, 'Look, what did you mean when you said that?' He offers a comment in "Confidence Men" which was, I think, more seasoned and less political than that, and he says, "We were overwhelmed, we had five times as many problems, we didn't have five times as many people."

CURRY: Are you saying he acknowledged that he made this comment to Pete Orszag? Are you saying-

SUSKIND: In the-

CURRY: To you afterwards, as you spoke to him about it?

SUSKIND: He said to me, after we talked, I said, 'What did you say? what did you mean?' He said, "Look I will say this, we had too many things going on and we didn't have enough people and we were overwhelmed."

CURRY: Yeah, but that's not what you're saying here. In this quote, he's questioning if, in fact he said this, he's questioning whether the President was in over his head. Did he step back from that or did he say that's exactly what he was feeling at the time?

SUSKIND: In the book, he first said, "I never said it." And then I said, 'Look, a lot of people heard you say it.' He said, "Okay, here's what I meant. When I said such a thing, this is what I meant." And that's in the book. I think it's important to note, Ann, that there was enormous cooperation from the White House and they knew virtually everything in this book before it came out and had a chance to respond.

CURRY: They say that they cooperated with you because they were concerned about the direction you were taking and they wanted to make sure that you got it right. But let's talk about this one issue, because I want to make sure we get to it. This issue that is perhaps as sensitive as all the things we've said before, is this idea that the White House was a boy's club. And in one story you quote Christina Roehmer, the former chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, as saying, "I felt like a piece of meat," when she was excluded from a meeting. And also you quote former White House communications director Anita Dunn, quoting her calling the White House, quote, "a genuinely hostile workplace to women." Now both of these women have subsequently denied making these comments. How do you – how do you respond to that?

SUSKIND: Everyone is under a great deal of pressure, it's a political season. The fact of the matter is, all of them said everything, we have extensive notes and tapes for this book. An the fact is, with Anita Dunn, as with most of the other subjects, they were told what would be said next to them, what they said in the book. With Anita, The Washington Post this morning confirms the quote. I had to do something that I've never done before but I said it's a special occasion, which is I let The Washington Post listen to the tape. They're like, 'There it is, clear as a bell.'

CURRY: Well, let me just get to that on what's on tape. Because I understand what's on tape is the fact that she said "If it weren't for the President, this place would be in court for a hostile workplace." That's not quite the same as saying that it's a hostile work environment. She saying if it wasn't for the President it would be a hostile work environment. Did you take liberties with that quote?

SUSKIND: Oh, absolutely not. In fact, what I did, as I did with many subjects, I called Anita back at the end and said, 'Look, here is what's going next to your name in the book.' She said, 'Well, you know, can we say looking back rather than in present tense?' We talked about that and ultimately the quote is broken down in terms of the core of the quote that she agreed with.

And interestingly, you know, the comments about the President is throughout the book. It's shown that people felt good about the President. Part of why the White House actually pushed me to write about this women's issue in the workplace is they felt the President solved this issue and in large measure the book says the President stepped up here. A key core issue of the book is the President's growth as a boss, as a manager. He had very little experience, he sat all of the sudden atop the most complex managerial organism on the planet. And that's the key to his evolution, he learned how to be the president, how to be the boss. This is a stumbling block along the way.

CURRY: I've got to ask you one final question. You know, we did some looking through your book and you do call in your book – you make some mistakes – CNBC reporter Erin Burnett, you called her Erin Burkett, you say the unemployment in June 2009 was 8%, in fact it was 9.5%. You say that the Dow dropped 378 on February 10th, 2009, in fact it dropped 382 points on that date. So do you agree – Jay Carney makes this point – do you agree with him? That if you cannot get these details right, then the broader analysis that you subscribe to, that you put forth in this book, has got to be judged in accordance with that, has got to be questioned. There are inaccuracies in your book.

SUSKIND: This is a 500-page book. The fact of the matter is, everything in this book is solid as a brick and we have gone through every little thing that they have found, much of it was changed early, the book was pushed through with great effort, and the fact is, is that this book, like all the books I've written, is densely sourced and the analysis is picture perfect. Everyone in the White House was confronted with this early, they responded in the book, and this is really a portrait, a first portrait of this White House and this president. When this happens, when the curtain is pulled back, they often respond vigorously, they are, and I think that's testimony to the fact that this is really – this is really who they are.

CURRY: Well it's touched a nerve, it's not the last we're going to hear about it. Ron Suskind, thank you so much. The book is "The Confidence Men." 

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC