Amidst Questions About Detainee Abuse Photos, Gibbs Assails the British Press

Jun 1, 2009 8:22am

Last week, the White House was asked about a report in the British press that Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba (Ret.), the lead investigator into the abuse at Abu Ghraib, said he'd seen the detainee abuse photographs that President Obama is fighting to keep from being released. Thursday's Daily Telegraph reported that Taguba said that the "pictures show torture, abuse, rape and every indecency."

Taguba told Salon's Mark Benjamin that the newspaper applied his quote to the wrong photographs. The ones he'd seen showing abuse and rape were not the same ones in the ACLU lawsuit that President Obama is fighting to keep from being released. He had been referring to other ones he'd seen.

"The photographs in that lawsuit, I have not seen," Taguba said.

But before Taguba clarified why there was confusion, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs took the opportunity to go after the entire British press.

Saying the Telegraph story wasn't true, Gibbs said he "will speak generally about some reports I've witnessed over the past few years in the British media, and in some ways I'm surprised it filtered down.  Let's just say if I wanted to look up — if I wanted to read a write-up today of how Manchester United fared last night in the Champion's League Cup, I might open up a British newspaper. If I was looking for something that bordered on truthful news, I'm not entirely sure it would be the first stack of clips I picked up."

He added that "none of the photographs in question depict the images described in the article.  Again, I think if you do an even moderate Google search, you're not going to find many of these newspapers and truth within, say, 25 words of each other."

Gasps from across the pond.

"I cannot recall an instance like this where the president's official spokesman has blasted the press of a key ally — in this case America's closest friend, Great Britain," wrote the Telegraph's Nile Gardiner. "This kind of attack would normally be made against the likes of the North Korean or Iranian state media, but in the current climate of 'engagement' with America's enemies the White House is far more likely to attack its own allies."

Gardiner writes that "Robert Gibbs' completely unwarranted rant against the British press is an absolute disgrace, and the president should disown his views. An unreserved apology by Gibbs is also in order. … Congratulations Gibbs — you've just made an enemy out of the entire British media, quite an achievement for the man in charge of selling the president's message."

The Telegraph's James Delingpole also took issue, congratulating Gibbs on the Obama White House's ability "to secure the most supine, slobbering, spineless, unquestioning media coverage since Enver Hoxha's Albania."

As for going after the British media, Delingpole wrote, "We know we're not angels. We know we can go over the top sometimes. But unfortunately that's a much bigger problem for you than it is for us. You see, while a lot of your mainstream media will hold fire on stories which they think may reflect poorly on your wondrous Obamamessiah — what his half-brother has been up to, say — we have fewer qualms about telling it like it is. So far, you've had a pretty easy ride. The Obama Kool Aid has proved almost as popular beverage in Britain as it is in the US. But just you wait till we start showing our teeth."

Mr. Gardiner said the British press, particularly the Telegraph were "singled out because they frequently publish articles critical of the Obama administration and are not afraid to take on the status quo in Washington. Increasingly, millions of Americans are turning to online UK news websites for cutting edge reports on American politics and U.S. foreign policy that the mainstream media refuses to cover in the States, especially if it is unflattering to the Obama White House."

– jpt

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