Powell in the Oval Office
Things Are Not So Great

A Hard Walnut to Crack: Why Do Reporters Still Go to Scott McClellan's Briefings?

Today in "Dan Froomkin's 'Cooking with Walnuts'" we learn that walnuts are a perfectly effective substitute for pine nuts in making pesto sauce... No, that's not it, today Dan Froomkin tries to figure out why any reporter who is not a nutcase would sit quietly through Scott McClellan briefings, rather than spend his time doing something else that he might learn something from. The question is a very hard nut to crack. I do know that those times I have sat quietly in the corner of the Starbucks across the street from the White House compound with my ears open listening to the low-level staffers talk while they wait in the latte line--well, that you can learn more there in half an hour than in two whole days spent in the White House Briefing Room.

Briefing Room Follies: Mark Leibovich opens his Style section profile of Scott McClellan with this absolutely priceless anecdote: "President Bush bounded... into the Roosevelt Room.... 'Is Scotty here? Where's Scotty?' Bush asked, half-grinning.... 'I want to especially thank Scotty,' the president said, looking at his aide. 'I want to thank Scotty for saying' -- and he paused for effect..." 'Nothing.'"

Leibovich's story... suggests that [McClellan's] penchant for robotic repetition of meaningless stock phrases is just a matter of following orders. "'We've come to understand that no matter how we slice and dice something, Scott's going to stick to the recipe,' says Ken Herman, White House correspondent for Cox News Service. 'I can't think of any topic where on the sixth or seventh iteration of a question we get something different from the original answer. By somebody's measure, that's the definition of doing the job well. Certainly not ours.'..."

It has diminished the daily briefing to a playacting spectacle in which he recites lines while reporters play the part of exasperated inquisitors.... Yesterday's briefing provides an illustration. At mid-day, the Senate an the White House still appeared on a collision course on the Patriot Act....

Q: Scott, would the President veto a three-month extension of the Patriot Act? Is that something you can accept?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, I think we need to talk about what's going on here. What's going on here is pure obstructionist politics. A minority in the Senate, led by Senate Democrats, are putting politics above our nation's security. This bill has been thoroughly debated. It enjoys majority support. They need to give it an up or down vote and quit playing politics with our nation's security.
Q: So would the President veto a three-month extension?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, the President has already made his views known on that -- I expressed his views last week -- and nothing has changed in terms of our views. That's why it's important for them to go ahead and get this passed now.
Q: So you would veto a three-month extension?
MR. McCLELLAN: I expressed our view last week; nothing has changed.
Q: Can you tell me what that was again?
MR. McCLELLAN: You can see what I expressed last week. You know very well what it was....
Q: Will you use the word 'veto'? Why are you not using the word 'veto'?
MR. McCLELLAN: I expressed our views on that last week -- Q: But if you still stand by them, why won't you reiterate it?
MR. McCLELLAN: Well, again, what I said last week still stands.
Q: Which is what?

It's like giving a direct answer would cause him pain or something....