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New Year, Same Old Dodge, Duck, Dip, Dive And Spin From McClellan

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“Just remember the five Ds of Dodgeball. Dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge.” – Patches O’Houlihan, in the film “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story”

You have to wonder, is Scott McClellan the modern-day Patches O’Houlihan?

Because McClellan, the White House Press Secretary, certainly knows how to dodge, duck, dip, dive and spin questions from White House reporters.

For example, at Tuesday’s press briefing, McClellan “answered” some very pointed questions from reporters about President Bush’s warrantless domestic surveillance program. Bush admitted to personally authorizing the surveillance during his Dec. 17 radio address. The program circumvented rules that say the NSA must obtain a warrant before proceeding.

Follow along as McClellan exemplifies the best of dodgeball:


Q: Scott, I’d like to begin on the ongoing debate over the surveillance. James Comey, who was then Acting Attorney General, reportedly opposed the continuation of the eavesdropping program in 2004, because he felt that it needed a kind of audit after it had been in place for a couple of years. And one of the criticisms leveled at the President is that whatever powers he deemed necessary to employ after 9/11, that after a couple of years since the attacks, he never felt it was appropriate to reexamine some of these issues, bring Congress into the debate at all. Do you think that’s a fair criticism, that whatever presidential powers he may believe existed after 9/11, that it’s appropriate as time moves on to reexamine the tactics employed by the administration?

McCLELLAN: They are. They are carefully reviewed on a regular basis by the highest officials within the Department of Justice, by the White House Counsel’s Office, by the National Security Agency. And Congress has been briefed on the intelligence activities that we’re engaged in under this authorization. This is a vital tool in our efforts to save lives and prevent attacks from happening. It is very limited in nature. We are a nation that is at war. The President is the Commander-in-Chief, and after the attacks of September 11th, he made a very firm commitment to the American people that he was going to do everything within his power to prevent attacks from happening and save lives. And that’s exactly what we have been doing.

Q: First of all, all of those checks that you mentioned are not checks; it’s all within the executive branch. There’s no check from another part of the government.

McCLELLAN: No, that’s in the legislative branch, as well.

Q: Well, but you say you briefed members of Congress. What you did is you pulled them into a room and said, this is what’s happening, now thanks and don’t tell anybody. I mean, that’s not —

McCLELLAN: More than a dozen times on the activities conducted under this authorization.

Q: But wait a minute. Even if they said it’s a bad idea, what were you going to do, say, okay, well, we’ll take that under advisement.

McCLELLAN: I think that, clearly, the American people strongly support the efforts that we’re undertaking to save their lives. …

McClellan, the expert dodgeball player, knows that both Democrats and Republicans have indicated that the administration told Congress what it was doing, rather than seeking Congressional approval.

It does not constitute a check and a balance,” Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) said last month. And that’s why McClellan quickly changed the subject.


McCLELLAN: Well, I think there actually was a poll last week that showed more than the 60 percent of the American people support —

Q: Oh, now you embrace polls. Okay, I’ll tell — I’ll note that for the record. (Laughter.)

McCLELLAN: — more than 60 percent of the American people support —

Q: You may be right, but —

McCLELLAN: Let me just finish, and then I’ll come to you — support the actions that the President is taking to prevent attacks from happening in the first place. …

McClellan may have been referring to an ABC News/Washington Post poll from Dec. 15-18, which asked:

“Do you approve or disapprove of the way Bush is handling the U.S. campaign against terrorism?”

Of 1,003 respondents, 56% approved and 44% disapproved. Not quite “more than 60%.”

But since McClellan cited this poll’s results, he must have recognized that the figure was on the high end of the most recent six months of polls. The average of those polls: 52% approve, 47% disapprove. At the same time, CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll showed most recently 52% approval, 46% disapproval, and over the same six-month period, an average response of 53% approve, 45% disapprove, with the same margin of error. A Time magazine poll showed 49% approval, 48% disapproval, and a six-month average of 49% approval, 46% disapproval.

Factoring in the 3% margin of error on each poll, one could easily argue that the nation is essentially split on the question.

(The laughter, by the way, was because of McClellan’s frequent recitation of variations of “we don’t believe/rely on/get caught up in polls.” Apparently, they only believe in spinning the poll results.)


Q: A number of members of Congress do not agree that the President has the authority to do what he did in that case.

McCLELLAN: Well, previous administrations have cited similar authority. …

Similar authority, perhaps — if similar means previous presidents followed the rules and the current one doesn’t. But more likely, McClellan was suggesting that previous administrations had cited the same authority as Bush. And while this bit of spin has been repeated often by the conservative media, it’s not true.

It follows on a Dec. 21 press release from the Republican National Comittee that falsely alleged that Presidents Carter and Clinton had also spied on U.S. citizens or anyone in the United States. To make the claim, the RNC used sentence fragments to take presidential executive orders out of context.


Q: Will you cooperate with a congressional hearing?

McCLELLAN: — the Attorney General has been talking to additional members of Congress about this authorization, so that they do understand why this tool is so vital in our efforts to prevail in the global war on terrorism.

Q: But will you cooperate with a hearing?

McCLELLAN: Well, I’m not going to get into talking about ruling things in or out from this podium. We’ll talk with members of Congress and make sure that they’re briefed and kept informed, as we have been. …

In other words, we’re going to keep on doing it our way. And with a Republican-led Congress, we’ll take our chances.

Happy New Year. Now stop paying attention. …

This item first appeared at Journalists Against Bush’s B.S.

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About David R. Mark

  • gonzo marx

    nice Article David…but here i had thought you would be all over the breaking Abramoff scandal…

    but always fun to watch ANY press secretary dance on the hot skillet of “interesting times”

    the Dodgeball metaphor was a bit of Fun as well


  • Lono

    To be fair to Scott (and I am NOT a friend of the GOP)… Scott is doing his job. Poor guy has to go out every single day and lie his ass off for this administration. It sucks for him, but don’t blame the messenger. He is unfortunately representing pathological liars.

    That being said, I am quite fond of watching him work. He is no Ari Fleischer (the master), but he can stonewall like a mofo. I can’t wait until his tell all biography comes out one day.

    In fact, I did a piece on McClelland a couple of months ago on my site. Sorry it isn’t embedded, I am still learning HTML [I made the link active for you. Comments Editor]

  • Matthew T. Sussman

    Lono, that’s not only my similar thought, but it’s exactly what Clinton’s former press secretary Mike McCurry blogged on HuffPo a while back:

    I am familiar with the answer “we may not comment on that matter because it is the subject of an ongoing investigation.” It happens to be the right answer when people face legal jeopardy and might go to jail.

    And while I understand it’s his job, the best caricature I saw of him was on SNL:

    Chris Matthews: Alright. Anything you care to not comment on?

    Scott McClellan: [ wiping his brow ] Well, I’d rather not comment at this time, as time, as a very concept, is ongoing.


  • Matthew T. Sussman

    And this is how you HTML a link:

    [a href=”link url”]link text[/a]

    [TO MAKE THE LINKS ACTIVE, simply replace the square brackets with the “more than” or “less than” arrowheads as appropriate.

    It would also be helpful if everyone could avoid using the “more than” symbols when quoting, as it can cause code confusion. Thank you.
    Matt, apologies for altering your comment for clarity. Comments Editor]