Wednesday, May 18, 2005
On this day:

Journalists and White House Spokesman Joust

Press Briefing by Scott McClellan
Q With respect, who made you the editor of Newsweek? Do you think it's appropriate for you, at that podium, speaking with the authority of the President of the United States, to tell an American magazine what they should print? MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not telling them. I'm saying that we would encourage them to help -- Q You're pressuring them. MR. SCOTT McCLELLAN: No, I'm saying that we would encourage them -- Q It's not pressure? MR. McCLELLAN: Look, this report caused serious damage to the image of the United States abroad. And Newsweek has said that they got it wrong. I think Newsweek recognizes the responsibility they have. We appreciate the step that they took by retracting the story. Now we would encourage them to move forward and do all that they can to help repair the damage that has been done by this report. And that's all I'm saying. But, no, you're absolutely right, it's not my position to get into telling people what they can and cannot report.
James Taranto of Opinion Journal:
This is a fascinating exchange. The questioner begins by accusing McClellan of exceeding his authority ("Who made you the editor of Newsweek?"), then switches to whining about an assault on press freedom ("You're pressuring them"). In truth, all McClellan has done is exercise his own constitutional rights by criticizing Newsweek. The questioner is failing to distinguish the press's freedom, which is in no way jeopardized by the Newsweek scandal and the concomitant criticism, from its power, which assuredly is. The press's power--its ability to influence events--is inherent in the practice of journalism; were it not, dictators would have no need to restrict press freedom. But the press's power, especially in a free society, rests on its credibility--that is, on the reader's trust that the press is telling the truth. When the press falls short of that trust, as Newsweek has done here, it diminishes its own power.