“Lester, the president emphatically rejects your constant line of questioning,” declared the press secretary of the president of the United States.
Stunned, I asked: “He did?” This took place at the Oct. 16 White House news briefing. When it was over, I was confronted by a man identifying himself as representing Al-Jazeera – the Arab TV network that has been Osama bin Laden’s mouthpiece.
“Why do you ask such a question?” he said. Intrigued at such an incredible query coming from this TV network, I explained that I ask questions in hope of answers – such as how many Muslim countries have freedom of religion other than Turkey?
“I am from Egypt and we have freedom of religion,” he replied.
“Not according to the Coptic Christians of Egypt you don’t,” which brought a conclusion to our discussion.
My question that he challenged was sent to me by one of WorldNetDaily’s nearly 3 million readers:
“If it is true as your administration claims, that Islam is a religion of peace, how can such a claim continue to be made in light of the Quran’s promotion of violence and killing in Surat 4, 5 and 9? And in light of their historic subjecting of defeated unbelievers to paying tribute to Islam?”
Mr. Fleischer was obviously angry as he declared:
“The president believes and knows that Islam is a religion of peace. And I don’t think anybody anywhere in the world should blame the innocents, should blame a religion for the acts of a depraved few.”
I then asked a second question sent to WND by Dennis Durband of Gilbert, Ariz.:
“If thousands of illegal aliens walked across the Crawford ranch property every month, trashing the land, smuggling drugs and threatening to rape and injure and kill the residents, would the president do something about it? This, of course, is happening on our borders, as you know.”
A still bristling Ari went into evasion mode by asking: “Is there a question here … of a serious nature?”
“People in near-border communities like Gilbert, Ariz., believe this is enormously serious.”
Finally, Mr. Fleischer cited: “various agencies of the federal government” with “a series of protections”… even though in some places it “can be porous” – although: “We have gotten better controls of our border, but it remains an important and vexing issue about how to be open and enforce our law.”
So, I asked: “President Fox [of Mexico] thinks it should be an open border. The president doesn’t agree with President Fox …”
Mr. Fleischer interrupted: “You only get two [questions], Les.”
When this White House question and answer session made page 1 of WND on Wednesday afternoon, and Thursday, there were hundreds of e-mailed responses nationwide, and one from Mexico.
One-third of these e-mails were critical of me, which in fairness I should mention first. But the other two-thirds were strongly supportive – including some roasting Ari Fleischer, who I like, even if he was berating me.
For example: Nancy Schroeder wrote: “I do not know why you consider your ‘rude’ questions to the press secretary Ari Fleischer, to be just hard-edged journalism. You can hear the smirks throughout the press room (from liberals, moderates and conservative alike) and in living rooms across America as well!”
(Dear Nancy: Very shortly after I began covering the White House in the last year of the Nixon presidency, I learned that unless you want to join – and be dominated by – the pack, you must not give one hoot in hell what the other correspondents think of what you ask, or whatever discourtesies they display. Some of the White House Press Corps are very nice, and I try to treat all with courtesy, but never with subservience. Neither did Sam Donaldson.)
I am grateful, at least, for these people’s interest. On the positive side: