Memory lapse: Politico asks, “What if Bush had done” things he actually did

In support of his dubious argument that the press is treating President Obama more favorably than President Bush, Politico's Josh Gerstein falsely suggested that unlike David Axelrod, Karl Rove was never involved in national security meetings. In addition, Gerstein advanced the falsehood that the Bush administration did not attack MSNBC and other news outlets.

Politico falsely suggested Rove, unlike Axelrod, never participated in high-level national security meetings

Bush aide Feaver: "Oh, the howling and screaming that would have happened if" Rove was part of high-level security meetings. Politico reported that "[t]hroughout the Bush administration, liberal critics warned that the hand of Bush political adviser Karl Rove was spreading politics into all corners of government" and that consequently “some Bush aides went nearly apoplectic earlier this month when they spotted [White House press secretary Robert] Gibbs and Obama's political guru, David Axelrod, in photos of a Situation Room meeting on Afghanistan policy.” Furthering its suggestion that Rove did not participate in high-level national security meetings, Politico quoted former Bush White House aide Peter Feaver asserting: “Oh, the howling and screaming that would have happened if Karl Rove was sitting in on even a deputies-level meeting where strategy was being hammered out. People would have just gone ballistic.” [Politico, 10/27/09]

But Rove and other political advisers reportedly were involved in national security meetings. According to The Washington Post, “regular participants” in the White House Iraq Group -- which “met weekly in the Situation Room” during the run-up to the war and whose purpose was “to set strategy for each stage of the confrontation with Baghdad” -- included Rove and communications strategists Karen Hughes, Mary Matalin, and James R. Wilkinson. [The Washington Post, 8/10/03]

Politico parroted Rove's criticism of Axelrod. Politico's characterization of Axelrod as "[p]oliticizing the White House" parroted Rove's reported criticism of him. According to The New York Times, “in his new role as commentator, Mr. Rove has criticized Mr. Axelrod as politicizing the White House.” [The New York Times, 3/8/09]

Politico quoted Bush ice men in claiming Obama "[f]reezing out" Fox News

Politico suggested Bush administration never attacked MSNBC. Politico quoted former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer claiming in response to the Obama administration's charge that Fox News is not a “legitimate news organization” that: “Had I said about MSNBC what the Obama White House said about Fox, the media uproar would still be going on.” Fleischer went on to say: “I instinctively would have known ... the media would have leapt to their feet to defend them. I'm shocked it's not happening now.” Additionally, Politico quoted “press veteran” Phil Bronstein, editor-at-large of the San Francisco Chronicle, asserting: " 'If George Bush had taken on MSNBC, what would have happened?' "

Gillespie: "The watchdogs are curled up around [Obama's] feet, sleeping soundly." After listing several episodes conservatives are complaining Obama has gotten away with but Bush would not have, including that the Obama White House is "[f]reezing out a TV network," i.e. Fox News, Politico quoted former Bush counselor Ed Gillespie: " 'We have a joke about it. We're going to start a website:" Gillespie added, “The watchdogs are curled up around his feet, sleeping soundly. ... There are countless examples: some silly, some serious.' ”

But the Bush White House -- Gillespie in particular -- did attack MSNBC. In his capacity as Bush White House counselor, Gillespie sent a letter in 2008 to NBC News president Steve Capus publicly accusing the network of engaging in “deceitful editing” of an interview reporter Richard Engel conducted with Bush, and alleging a “blurring of ... lines” between "'news' as reported on NBC and the 'opinion' as reported on MSNBC." He concluded: “I welcome your response to this letter, and hope it is one that reassures your broadcast network's viewers that blatantly partisan talk show hosts like Christopher Matthews and Keith Olbermann at MSNBC don't hold editorial sway over the NBC network news division.” NBC responded that the segment in question accurately reflected the interview with Bush, and criticized Gillespie's letter.

Politico ignored Fleischer's statement to press that Americans “need to watch what they say.” In quoting Fleischer's charge that “the media uproar would still be going on” if he had “said about MSNBC what the Obama White House said about Fox,” Politico ignored Fleisher's prior comments as press secretary. Indeed, at a White House press briefing, in response to the question, “As commander-in-chief what was the president's reaction to television's Bill Maher and his announcement that members of our armed forces who deal with missiles are cowards while the armed terrorists who killed 6,000 unarmed are not cowards,” Fleischer said that "[t]here are reminders to all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do, and this is not a time for remarks like that; there never is." [White House press briefing, 9/26/01]

Bush White House and GOP have a history of attacking the media. As Media Matters for America has extensively documented, the Bush administration and the GOP more broadly have conducted numerous organized attacks against media outlets based on groundless complaints of bias. Those attacks have included boycotts or threatened boycotts of media outlets, efforts to revoke journalists' credentials or ban them from press planes, and even calls to have journalists prosecuted.