Sometimes All It Takes Is a Phone Call

No White House has ever come out and bluntly said that an event on the President’s schedule was a public relations ploy orchestrated for the incumbent’s re-election campaign.

No one expects them to, either.

But, we do expect the press to report relevant facts that stand in contradiction to official statements made by the White House.

This is exactly what William Douglas of Knight Ridder Newspapers and Maura Reynolds of the Los Angeles Times did while reporting on President Bush’s visit to Fort Polk, La.

Both reporters challenged White House press secretary Scott McClellan’s cookie-cutter statement — “This event has been in the works for several weeks” — by simply picking up the phone and calling a few military officials at Fort Polk.

Douglas’ account: “But one officer at the base said Fort Polk received orders last week to begin preparing for the president’s visit.”

Reynolds reported: “White House officials said recent scrutiny of the president’s National Guard service had not influenced his decision to visit the base and meet with National Guard troops. However, two base officials said they had learned of the visit only within the last week. ‘There’s no relation to recent events,’ McClellan said afterward. He added that White House officials had been talking to Pentagon officials about the trip for several weeks, but he could not comment on when base officials had been notified.”

The Washington Post, The New York Times, and the Associated Press did the story on the Fort Polk visit too, of course, but they excluded the relevant information to be had simply by interviewing base officials.

We don’t necessarily expect the whole story from McClellan, or from any official flack. That’s why we have reporters like Douglas and Reynolds.

Thomas Lang

Note, 2:37 p.m., 2/19: The New York Times story referenced above included an additional sentence in the print version: “Several officials at Fort Polk said they first learned last week of Mr. Bush’s plan to visit.”

However, the sentence in question was not (and still is not) included in the final online version, which we referenced yesterday.

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Thomas Lang was a writer at CJR Daily.