Reader Lawrie McFarlane pointed out that the questions asked of Scott McClellan at today’s press conference verged, at times, on the surreal. Consider this sequence, on the judicial nomination issue:
Q. Scott, the Senate has managed to function — or not function, as the case may be — for more than 200 years without a ban on judicial filibusters. Is the President concerned about the historic nature of what’s being talked about up on the Hill?
Q. Well, let me ask two questions about what you just said. Where in the Constitution are judicial nominees guaranteed an up or down vote? And what about the impact of this whole so-called “nuclear option” on this idea of equal representation in the Senate?
Q What about this equal representation idea?
MR. McCLELLAN: I’m sorry?
Q What about the impact of this nuclear option on the equal representation idea? [Ed.: McClellan had no idea what the reporter was talking about, but I think the questioner was echoing the absurd Democratic talking point about how many people are represented by Democratic Senators as opposed to Republican Senators.]
Q. Let me just go back to the constitutional idea here. You said it again today, and you’ve said it many times in the past, that the Senate has a constitutional obligation to give these nominees an up or down vote. Can we agree that the constitutional requirement of the Senate is for advice and consent, but nowhere in the Constitution does it —
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the Constitution —
Q — but nowhere in the Constitution does it say that nominees are guaranteed an up or down vote.
Q. Right, and he’s made that clear. You made clear just a moment ago that he opposes judicial activists. And, yet, if you take a look, as I’m sure you have, at the records of Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown, both records reveal, according to conservatives — not me, but according to some conservatives — judicial activism, number one; and, number two, a judicial temperament which is, at times, very sharp, very acerbic in their opinions, and not consistent with what some people consider the kind of judicial temperament that would be appropriate for the kind of circuit court positions that they’re being nominated to. Is there — is the President sort of violating, in these nominees, his own principle for what he wants to see —
MR. McCLELLAN: Let me point out a couple of things about these two nominees you bring up. Both these nominees are individuals that are highly respected and have enjoyed strong support in their respective states. Judge Priscilla Owen has served on the bench of the Texas Supreme Court for some time now and has enjoyed strong support from the people of the state of Texas. Judge Brown is someone who was recently retained with 76 percent of the vote in California. They are —
Q This isn’t a popularity contest, these are —
It didn’t seem to occur to any of the reporters that they were exhibiting the same kind of anti-administration partisanship that got Newsweek into trouble.
Speaking of Newsweek, here were the questions on that subject. One might have thought that journalists would be a bit chastened in asking questions about this debacle. But no:
Q. Scott, you said that the retraction by Newsweek magazine of its story is a good first step. What else does the President want this American magazine to do?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, it’s what I talked about yesterday. This report, which Newsweek has now retracted and said was wrong, has had serious consequences. People did lose their lives. The image of the United States abroad has been damaged; there is lasting damage to our image because of this report. And we would encourage Newsweek to do all that they can to help repair the damage that has been done, particularly in the region.
And I think Newsweek can do that by talking about the way they got this wrong, and pointing out what the policies and practices of the United States military are when it comes to the handling of the Holy Koran. The military put in place policies and procedures to make sure that the Koran was handled — or is handled with the utmost care and respect. And I think it would help to point that out, because some have taken this report — those that are opposed to the United States — some have taken this report and exploited it and used it to incite violence.
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.
Q. Back on Newsweek. Richard Myers, last Thursday — I’m going to read you a quote from him. He said, “It’s a judgment of our commander in Afghanistan, General Eichenberry, that in fact the violence that we saw in Jalalabad was not necessarily the result of the allegations about disrespect for the Koran.” He said it was “more tied up in the political process and reconciliation that President Karzai and his cabinet were conducting.” And he said that that was from an after-action report he got that day.
So what has changed between last Thursday and today, five days later, to make you now think that those — that that violence was a result of Newsweek?
Q. Q Let me follow up on that. What — you said that — what specifically are you asking Newsweek to do? I mean, to follow up on Terry’s question, are you saying they should write a story? Are you going that far? How else can Newsweek, you know, satisfy you here?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, as I said, we would encourage them to continue working diligently to help repair the damage that has been done because of this —
Q. Are you asking them to write a story?
MR. McCLELLAN: — because of this report. I think Newsweek is going to be in the best position to determine how to achieve that. And there are ways that I pointed out that they can help repair the damage. One way is to point out what the policies and practices of our United States military are. Our United States military personnel go out of their way to make sure that the Holy Koran is treated with care —
Q. Are you asking them to write a story about how great the American military is; is that what you’re saying here?
MR. McCLELLAN: Elisabeth, let me finish my sentence. Our military —
Q. You’ve already said what you’re — I know what — how it ends.
Q. As far as the Newsweek article is concerned, first, how and where the story came from? And do you think somebody can investigate if it really happened at the base, and who told Newsweek? Because somebody wrote a story.
MR. McCLELLAN: I think Newsweek has talked about it. They took it —
Q. And second thing is that it’s not only Newsweek story. In the past, well-known people who can make and break a society, they make statements against other religions, like Mr. Pat Robertson against Hinduism in the past. How can we prepare for the future all these stories, it doesn’t happen again in the future? Do you think the President can come out and make sure, because that’s what the Muslims are calling on the President to come out —
This is just unbelievable. Newsweek publishes a false report libelling the U.S. military, which contributes to riots and fatalities abroad, and, in the eyes of American journalists, who are the villains? The Bush administration, the military, and–how bizarre is this?–Pat Robertson. I guess he’s a villain for all occasions.
At some point, if I were running the administration, I would re-think whether it makes any sense to continue being polite and cooperative toward reporters.
SCOTT adds: See also Roger Kimball’s “Whose side are they on?”