It’s not a bug. It’s a feature.
The WaPo on America’s Turd-Filled Pinata, Scottie McClellan:
Last Friday reporters battered McClellan over a New York Times report that the president had authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop without warrants on people in the United States. Over several minutes, McClellan emphasized that:
The president is doing all he can to protect the American people from terrorists (10 times);
The administration is committed to protecting civil liberties and upholding the Constitution (seven times);
Congress has an important oversight role, and the administration is committed to working with it on these difficult matters (five times); and
He would not discuss ongoing intelligence activities (five times).
“I would urge you not to confuse clarity with rigidity,” says Nicolle Wallace, the White House communications director, who works closely with McClellan. “There is great clarity in the way the president wants us to communicate, and Scott embodies that.”
When briefings get tense, McClellan’s voice can become robotic, as if he’s a hostage reading a statement. His body language can betray unease: He starts blinking rapidly and he clenches his shoulders as an interrogator unfurls a question.
“There’s no question the dynamic of the briefing room has changed with live TV,” says senior White House aide Dan Bartlett, who also works closely with McClellan. “When you have live cameras rolling, it makes for an even more stressful working environment. You’re talking about difficult issues, and mistakes get compounded.”
Colleagues (on-message) say McClellan has held up well in these difficult months. Others (off-message) say he’s had a tough time, has lost hair, gained jowls and looks stressed, especially over the Plame case, which made a return to the briefing room Thursday after an absence of a few weeks.
It started when the president told Fox News’s Brit Hume last week that he believed that Rep. Tom DeLay was not guilty of money-laundering charges in Texas. This undercut McClellan’s vow that he would not comment on the Plame matter because it is an “ongoing investigation,” something he has repeated hundreds of times in recent months. We join Thursday’s episode in progress:
Reporter: “Why would that not apply to the same type of prosecution involving Congressman DeLay?”
McClellan: “I just told you we had a policy in place regarding this investigation, and you’ve heard me say before that we’re not going to talk about it further while it’s ongoing.”
In a flurry of follow-ups, McClellan repeated that the White House had a policy on the Plame case (four times) and that the policy was not to comment (three times).
NBC’s David Gregory broke in, declaring the administration to be “inconsistent,” then “hypocritical.”
“You have a policy for some investigations and not others, when it’s a political ally who you need to get work done?” Gregory asked.
McClellan: “Call it presidential prerogative; he responded to that question. But the White House established a policy.” He mentioned that the DeLay case is a “legal proceeding.”
Gregory: “As is the Fitzgerald investigation. . . . As you’ve told us ad nauseam from the podium.”
After more back-and-forth, McClellan said, “You can get all dramatic about it, but you know what our policy is.”
Which ended that exchange