Ask a Simple Question, Get a Stupid Answer

| January 17, 2003 Issue

On January 6, moments after spreading some White House New Year’s cheer, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleisher attempted to proceed with the daily press briefing. He listed what W had done that morning, then swiftly ran through the administration’s hopes for 2003 – including “making America a more compassionate country.” This particular afternoon, thanks to veteran reporter and grill master Helen Thomas, would not fall sullenly into the pit of forgettable press briefings, tripping over the same old motions between an unwitting press corps and Fleisher’s spinning.

“Ari, you said that the president deplored the taking of innocent lives. [referring to a statement made about a recent attack in Tel Aviv where Israeli citizens were killed.] Does that apply to all innocent lives in the world?,” Thomas asked. “And I have a follow-up.” (And a follow-up, and a follow-up.)  Normon Solomon, author of “Media Beat,” a nationally syndicated column on media and politics that appears on, wrote of Thomas’ aggressively skilled question and Fleisher’s choreographed responses. “Thomas would not back off. She demanded to know whether Bush thinks the Iraqi people “are a threat to us.’”

“My follow-up is," she persisted, “why does he want to drop bombs on innocent Iraqis?" She then proceeded to gracefully hand the press secretary a bucket, a brush, and pointed him to the nearest corner – as he fished for answers. Solomon gladly breaks down the exchange for readers and praises Thomas for her “conspicuous fortitude at White House Press conferences.” 

-Jessica Misslin

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