"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)

Friday, May 13, 2005


In case you missed it, here is a (regretably over-long) portion of White House spokesweasel Scott McClellan's press briefing yesterday:
Q: Scott, yesterday the White House was on red alert, was evacuated. The first lady and Nancy Reagan were taken to a secure location. The Vice President was evacuated from the grounds. The Capitol building was evacuated. The continuity of government plan was initiated. And yet the president wasn't told of yesterday's events until after he finished his bike ride, about 36 minutes after the all-clear had been sent. Is he satisfied with the fact that he wasn't notified about this?

McCLELLAN: Yes. I think you just brought up a very good point -- the protocols that were in place after Sept. 11 were followed. The president was never considered to be in danger because he was at an off-site location. The president has a tremendous amount of trust in his Secret Service detail. ...

Q: The fact that the president wasn't in danger is one aspect of this. But he's also the commander in chief. There was a military operation underway. Other people were in contact with the White House. Shouldn't the commander in chief have been notified of what was going on?

McCLELLAN: John, the protocols that we put in place after Sept. 11 were being followed. They did not require presidential authority for this situation. I think you have to look at each situation and the circumstances surrounding the situation. And that's what officials here at the White House were doing. ...

Q: Even on a personal level, did nobody here at the White House think that calling the president to say, by the way, your wife has been evacuated from the White House, we just want to let you know everything is OK?

McCLELLAN: Actually, all the protocols were followed and people were -- officials that you point out were taken to secure locations or evacuated, in some cases. I think, again, you have to look at the circumstances surrounding the situation, and it depends on the situation and the circumstance. ...

Q: Nobody thought to say, by the way, this is going on, but it's all under control?

McCLELLAN: And I think it depends on each situation and the circumstances surrounding the situation when you're making those decisions.

Q: Isn't there a bit of an appearance problem, notwithstanding the president's safety was not in question, protocols were followed, that today, looking at it, he was enjoying a bike ride, and that recreation time was not considered expendable to inform him of this.

McCLELLAN: Well, I mean, John mentioned 36 minutes after the all-clear. Remember, this was a matter of minutes when all this was happening. ...

Q: But has the President even indicated that even if everything was followed that he would prefer to be notified, that if the choice is: tell the commander in chief or let him continue to exercise, that he would prefer to be informed?

MR. McCLELLAN: Again, it depends on the situation and the circumstances. And you have to take all that into account, and I think that's what people were doing here at the White House, as well as those people that were with the president.

Q: I think there's a disconnect here because, I mean, yesterday you had more than 30,000 people who were evacuated, you had millions of people who were watching this on television, and there was a sense at some point -- it was a short window, a 15-minute window, but there was a sense of confusion among some on the streets. There was a sense of fear. And people are wondering was this not a moment for the president to exercise some leadership, some guidance during that period of time?

MR. McCLELLAN: The president did lead, and the president did that after September the 11th when we put the protocols in place to make sure that situations like this were addressed before it was too late. And that was the case -- that was the case in this situation....

Q: Might there be something wrong with protocols that render the president unnecessary when the alarm is going off at his house?

McCLELLAN: That's not at all what occurred, Ken. And I would disagree strongly with the way you characterize it for the reasons I started earlier, and that I talked about. This was a situation where the president was in an off-site location. He was not in danger, a situation where protocols have been put in place to address the situation. The protocols were followed. ...

Q: And those protocols are OK with the president despite the fact that his wife was in a situation where she might have been endangered?

McCLELLAN: She was taken to a secure location, as were some other officials.

Q: And wouldn't he want to know about that as it was happening?

McCLELLAN: He was briefed about the situation.

Q: After it happened.

McCLELLAN: He was briefed about the situation, Ken. And I think that he wants to make sure that the protocols that are in place are followed. The protocols that were in place were followed.

Q: Scott, to follow on the same line of questioning, if there is a possibility that a plane may have to be shot down over Washington, doesn't the President want to be involved in that type of decision?

McCLELLAN: Well, Keith, I think again, it depends on the circumstances in the situation. You have to look at each individual situation and the circumstances surrounding that situation. There are protocols --

Q: Doesn't the President want to be involved in what could be a decision to shoot down a plane over Washington?

McCLELLAN: To answer your question, I was just getting ready to address exactly what you're bringing up. The protocols that were put in place after Sept. 11 include protocols for that, as well. And there are protocols there. They're classified. But they do not require presidential authority. ...

Q: They don't require presidential authority, but they don't obviate the need for presidential authority, do they? They don't say the president cannot be involved --

McCLELLAN: Like I said, that depends on --

Q: -- wouldn't he want to be involved --

McCLELLAN: It depends on the circumstances and it depends on the situation.

...and so on, in the same vein. So, to review: The President was terribly busy riding his bicycle, and so no one wants to disturb him with the news that Blackhawk helicopters and F-16's have been scrambled, over 30,000 people have been evacuated, and his own dear wife Pickles has been hurried off to a secure location. That, evidently, is simply what the protocols provide.

(By the by, today we learn that the protocols are being reviewed, but that everyone seems content to know that Little Donny Rumsfeld was on hand, just in case someone had to order that the offending aircraft be blown out of the air.)

Anyway, what hasn't been widely reported - until now! - is that Our Scotty was also questioned about the President's involvement with some other developing crises:
Q: On a different topic, Scott, I was wondering if you could tell us how the President responded to the reports that six marines from a single squad from Ohio died today in fighting near the Iraqi city of Qaim?

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm glad you asked that. As you know, there are protocols in place to assure that the President will not be distracted when he's busy watching Dexter's Laboratory. The protocols are presently being followed, and the President will receive a full report, probably some time after today's episode of Ed, Edd n Eddie concludes. I will be happy to follow up with more information at that time....

Q: You mentioned that the President is watching the situation in Afghanistan quite closely. I wonder if you could give us his thoughts about the anti-American rioting going on there now over reports that interrogators at Guantanamo Bay flushed copies of the Koran down the toilet?

McCLELLAN: Well, first, I would disagree strongly with your characterization of my previous comments. I don't believe I ever said that the President is following events in Afghanistan "closely;" I think I said, and I would urge you to review your transcripts, that the President has heard of Afghanistan and once came very close to finding it on a map. That's a very different thing, I'm sure you agree. Anyway, there are protocols in place to cover this sort of situation, and the President will be apprised of the events in Afghanistan as soon as he has finished reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Besides, the President is currently nowhere near Afghanistan, so he is in no danger. Like I said before, it depends on the situation and the circumstances....

Q. Scott, I wanted to ask you about the developments in Uzbekistan, where anti-government protesters have been shot and killed by Uzbek troops and where there are reports that police have been kidnapped and are being held hostage. Given the President's stated position that Uzbekistan is an important ally in the war on terror in spite of the well-documented repressiveness of the Karimov regime there, I wonder if the President has any thoughts about the violence there?

McCLELLAN: Well, first, let me say that if the President ever said anything about Uzbekistan, that may indicate that the appropriate protocols were not observed. I would refer you to Vice President Cheney's office for more information on that topic.

Q: ...but Scott, he said...

McCLELLAN: If you would just let me finish. As I was saying, the President will receive a full briefing about the situation in Uzbekistan right after his nap, assuming that it doesn't run into his scheduled midafternoon snack, or into circle time. As you know, the President is especially fond of circle time. Then, and I would just say add that there are well-established protocols in place covering just this situation, the President will be happy to have Secretary Rice relay his thoughts on the topic on his behalf.

So, as you can see, the protocols are all in place, and there is no need for anyone to do any actual presidenting - depending, of course, on the situation and the circumstances.

Incidentally, if anyone would like to see a parody of Scotty's press briefing (as opposed to the reality-based reporting here), I would urge them to visit Norbizness and see his take on the subject.




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