At her press briefing today, Dana Perino was asked a question about the Pentagon's controversial media outreach strategy, as depicted in the New York Times earlier this month. She had tried to skip over the questioner, but according to the transcript, Helen Thomas essentially yielded the floor to him. Perino offered this unconvincing defense:
Look, I didn't know--look, I think that you guys should take a step back and look at this--look, DOD has made a decision, they've decided to stop this program. But I would say that one of the things that we try to do in the administration is get information out to a variety of people so that everybody else can call them and ask their opinion about something.
And I don't think that that should be against the law. And I think that it's absolutely appropriate to provide information to people who are seeking it and are going to be providing their opinions on it. It doesn't necessarily mean that all of those military analysts ever agreed with the administration. I think you can go back and look and think that a lot of their analysis was pretty tough on the administration. That doesn't mean that we shouldn't talk to people.
First, it's a little curious how quickly Perino resorts to the defense of "it shouldn't be against the law." Well, fine--no one's seriously arguing it should be. That the program was technically legal doesn't mean it wasn't troubling and deceptive. Any administration is entitled to a spin operation. But the problem is when it comes to a war zone, in many respects the administration has a monopoly on information. It's often difficult to independently verify the claims the president's surrogates make. As J. William Fulbright put it once it became clear that the Tonkin Gulf incident was likely manufactured, Congress doesn't man ships at sea--it has no real way of knowing whether the president is telling the truth. So in the context of a war, there's a reasonable presumption that the administration will (a) make a good-faith effort to depict the totality of the situation, not just the part of the truth favorable to its preexisting policy inclination, and (b) be up front about who's an independent observer and who's spouting talking points. In this case, President Bush failed both those tests.