During a heated interview over the Iraq war on Thursday’s "The Situation Room" with substitute host Suzanne Malveaux, White House press secretary Tony Snow went on the offensive against the mainstream media. In response to a question from Malveaux about how President Bush could "regain credibility" with the American people about the success of the troop surge in Iraq, Snow replied, "Well, you know what Suzanne, your credibility rating -- journalists’ credibility ratings are lower than the President’s."
The most heated exchange came in the last three minutes of the 5pm EDT hour interview. Malveaux brought up the results of a recent New York Times/CBS News poll that found that 71% of those polled disapproved of the way President Bush is handling the situation with Iraq.
Snow appeared as part of the lead-up to President Bush’s address from the Oval Office on Iraq. The seven-and-a-half minute interview started on a confrontation note. Malveaux asked Snow about the recent assassination of a Sunni tribal leader in the Anbar province of Iraq. "If the U.S. could not protect this key figure, how do you expect that they’re going to protect the other Iraqis who might want to join in the effort?" Snow reminded the response from the other tribal leaders was to reaffirm their commitment to the fight against al Qaeda, who is the primary suspect in the assassination.
A transcript of the heated exchange over poll numbers and whether Bush or the media have less public respect:
MALVEAUX: Let's talk about his [President Bush's] speech a little bit. For better or for worse, no matter what President Bush says today, the latest polls, and I want you to take a listen to this CBS News/New York Times poll, really showing that the problem the President faces here is whether or not anybody is going to believe him or listen to him. It says, in terms of whether or not they approve or disapprove of the way he's handling the situation in Iraq, 71% disapprove of the execution of the war and what he is doing here. So, why should the American people listen to him in the first place tonight?
SNOW: Well, first, Suzanne, you might want to read the poll a little more fully, because it also says that most Americans think the surge is working. They're going to believe him.
MALVEAUX: It says 26% approve of the way he's handling it, 71% disapprove, and 3% unsure.
SNOW: I know. I know. But you know what, they also have even higher disapproval rates for Congress. People here are tired of the atmosphere in Washington.
MALVEAUX: Let's talk about the president.
SNOW: Ok, but Suzanne, I'm talking to you about the facts on the ground. The President's going to talk about the surge, and I've told you, what you've done is you've selected a popularity number. What I've done is taken something a lot more precise, which is, is the surge working?
MALVEAUX: How does the President regain the credibility that he needs to convince the American people that that's true, Tony?
SNOW: Well, you know what Suzanne, your credibility rating – journalists’ credibility ratings are lower than the President’s...
MALVEAUX: We're not talking about journalists. We're talking about the President here. How does he turn it around in his 16 months?
SNOW: First thing you do is you get journalists to read their own polls. Because the issue here is, is the surge working? Americans believe that it is working. The President is going to say the surge is working. We need to pursue success. You know what? Americans hate the war. The President understands that. And the President wishes we didn't have to have a war. Well, what's going on right now is on the key issue, does the issue of the day, the surge, your own poll indicates that Americans do have faith that it's working. And therefore, what the President is going to lay out is a way to have continued success so we can bring Americans home. But we can bring Americans home under conditions where we celebrate their achievements, where we say, 'These people did the right thing. They adjusted in tough times. They succeeded on the battlefield, but more importantly, they succeeded in the battle of hearts and minds.'
It should be clarified that the specific poll question (question number 65) in the CBS News/NY Times poll asked, "Would you say this troop increase is making the situation in Iraq better, making it worse, or is it having no impact on the situation in Iraq so far?" 35% of those polled thought the situation is better, 12% say it’s worse, 45% say no impact, and 7% either don’t know or didn’t give an answer.
Malveaux concluded her interview with a bit of a snarky statement: "Tomorrow’s your last day, you know, perhaps fighting and spinning to the very end. We will really appreciate you being on ‘The Situation Room.’"