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Brief Lies

Joe at AmericaBlog says most of what needs to be said about this Eric Lichtblau article, which very gently call BS on White House attempts to discredit a James Risen article from the previous day.

Okay, the height of hypocrisy is anyone in the Bush administrationchallenging anything as "highly misleading." Liars don’t have thestanding to call anyone else a liar. But, that doesn’t prevent the Bushteam from doing it anyway. Because everyone in the Bush administrationknows that the media will dutifully report their lies:

TheWhite House issued a statement that criticized as “highly misleading” afront-page article in The New York Times on Monday that described thelegislation as having “broadly expanded the government’s authority toeavesdrop on the international telephone calls and e-mail messages ofAmerican citizens without warrants.”

The White House took issue not with the article’s account of the newlaw’s provisions, but instead with its characterization of the measureas having “broadly” strengthened the government’s authority.

In a telephone briefing for reporters on Monday, officials said theadministration had set out to resolve a “narrow” technical problem thathad called into question whether intelligence officials needed to get acourt warrant to intercept foreign-to-foreign communications thathappened to pass through American telecommunication switches. But infact the legislation as enacted not only provides that no warrant isneeded in such a situation but also goes further, in giving theadministration discretion to eavesdrop on foreign communications thatmight involve Americans.

The officials who participated in the briefing spoke on condition ofanonymity, saying only that doing so would allow them to talk morefreely.

Onemore time we see just how boldly the Bush administration is willing tolie. Some anonymous officials, probably including Stephen Hadley, hadan a conference call to challenge the NY Times.

Eric Lichtblau, who wrote this article, basically discounts what theanonymous White House official said. When he wrote "But in fact….",Lichtblau was intimating that what he heard wasn’t based on facts. Inother words, the anonymous Bush sources lied and misled. You won’t hearor read those actual words from any reporter — and the Bushies knowthat. Instead, most of the White House press corps will dutifullyreport what they heard, even if they know it’s a lie. That’s what thesereporters always do.

I’ll just add two points. First, this is not just any reporter, defending his colleague. This is Eric Lichtblau defending James Risen, one reporter who broke the story on the illegal wiretapping defending his partner in breaking that story. Presumably, both Lichtblau and Risen have plenty of details they could provide to refute the White House attempt to push back. A pity then, that Lichtblau can’t use stronger language–calling the anonymous briefers "liars" would be just the start of it.

Second, this anonymous lying briefer thing is becoming a bit of a habit. As I pointed out recently, Fred Fielding did an anonymous briefing so he could claim that Bush had no involvement in the USA Purge, in spite of reports that he did. And there have been a number of similar briefings of late.

Which means it would be nice if the entire White House press corps could call them on this. Starting the article with, "In the latest anonymous briefing designed to spread disinformation, the White House said…" Because if you continue to let them get away with couching their lies behind anonymity, what will ever make them stop?

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Marcy Wheeler aka Emptywheel is an American journalist whose reporting specializes in security and civil liberties.