Oh if only hed

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Oh if only he’d remembered his own sage advice …

Back at the last debate, after John Kerry rattled off some press praise about one of his programs, President Bush quipped (at Kerry’s and Bob Schiefer’s expense), “In all due respect, I’m not so sure it’s credible to quote leading news organizations.”

I bet the folks at the White House are now wishing they’d followed the headman’s advice before they based their entire push back on the al Qaqaa fiasco on a short blurb on NBC Nightly News that fell apart about as quickly as it took to get all their surrogates to start talking about it.

As we’ve noted in a series of posts over the course of the day, the NBC story started falling apart when MSNBC interviewed one of the members of the news crew in question, who said that there hadn’t been any search at all. A short time later Jim Miklaszewski came on to explain that indeed there had been no search and that what the NBC News crew saw didn’t tell us much of anything about whether explosives were still there at the time the news crew arrived with the 101st Airborne on April 10th. By early evening, Tom Brokaw told Nightly News viewers in polite but no uncertain terms that they hadn’t said what the White House was claiming they did.

In fairness to NBC, they never ran that hard with their ‘scoop’. And they carefully unpacked it over the course of the day. That fell to CNN, which got goaded into running with the story by Drudge. But by late in the afternoon, even CNN was bailing out.

There’s certainly plenty of schadenfreude to go around. But it’s worth drawing back and seeing this turnabout in the context of the broader story.

Given all that’s happened in Iraq, the potency of the al Qaqaa story was never that it was the worst thing that has happened in Iraq. It’s that it brings together in one package almost everything that’s gone wrong: incompetence, abetted by denial, covered up by dishonesty, and all in one fatal brew.

And what do we have over the last forty-eight hours? The White House faces a press storm over a new revelation and their reaction is to go to battle with the news organizations involved with an argument they pretty clearly hadn’t thought over for more than a few minutes.

Now the White House has first, denied they knew anything about the problem before October 15th; second, said they’ve known about it all along and that it wasn’t their fault because it happened before we got there; and third, well … I guess we’ll find that out tomorrow.

Special thanks to TPM reader TB for reminding me of that moment from the first debate.

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