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"Setting The Record Straight"

(AP / CBS)
As the mid-term election season heats up, White House correspondent Bill Plante explains a relatively new strategy out of the White House Communications Office – offering rebuttals to news coverage that it views as false or misleading.

The White House may be on the defensive three weeks before the mid-term elections, but the Bush administration's Communications Office has mounted its own sustained offensive.

Since Labor Day, the White House communications operation has been in the kind of rapid response mode usually seen in campaigns, publishing eight pieces on its Web site to rebut news coverage it regards as inaccurate or misleading under the title, "Setting the Record Straight." One such release criticized a CBS "Evening News" segment on Medicare Part D as "misleading."

White House Communications Director Kevin Sullivan says his group picks its targets every morning in an attempt to correct something it regards as misleading "before it becomes conventional wisdom."

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"Sometimes it's not inaccurate," said Sullivan, "but more a matter of context. But it's never personal."

On Saturday, October 14, "Setting the Record Straight" took on an Associated Press story which made the point that President Bush has repeatedly revised his explanation for the U.S. presence in Iraq. The administration's rebuttal quoted from the President's speeches as far back as 2003 to assert that he has been consistent in explaining the purpose of the war as liberation from Saddam Hussein and the spread of Democracy in the Middle East.

Author Bob Woodward's new book, "State of Denial," brought forth three separate responses, including one titled, "Five Key Myths in Bob Woodward's Book."

The staff was delighted when the Reuters news service picked up that response - and even more pleased when it appeared in a box in the middle of the Washington Post excerpts from Woodward's book.

"Setting the Record Straight" first appeared in March, 2004 to give the White House answer to former Counterterrorism adviser Richard Clarke's book "Against All Enemies."

It reappeared once in November of 2004 and once in early 2005, then returned for good in November of 2005, taking on Democrats on the war and The Washington Post and The New York Times on pre-war intelligence.

The White House Communications operation also publishes other counter-arguments under titles like "The Rest Of The Story," "In Case You Missed It," and "Straight To The Point."

The Bush Administration sees these advocacy pieces as effective, because once they're out there, they become a part of the discussion and debate. The arguments are readily available to the Administration's friends - and reporters have no excuse for not picking up the phone to get the White House point of view.

For their part, some reporters are pushing back. Jim Axelrod responded here on Public Eye when his report on Medicare was greeted with a "Setting The Record Straight" rebuttal.

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