Fleischer skirts query on Falwell comment

By Les Kinsolving

Editor’s note: Each week, WorldNetDaily White House correspondent Les Kinsolving asks the tough questions no one else will ask. And each week, WorldNetDaily brings you the transcripts of those dialogues with the president and his spokesman. If you’d like to suggest a question for the White House, submit it to WorldNetDaily’s exclusive interactive forum MR. PRESIDENT!

At today’s daily White House news briefing, WND asked presidential press secretary Ari Fleischer about the president’s reaction to recently publicized criticism of Islam by American religious leaders.

WND: Ari, a Washington Post editorial on Sunday strongly criticized the president for what they termed “averting his gaze from the defaming of Islam and the gross distortions” which they attributed to the Rev. Franklin Graham, the Rev. Jerry Falwell and to Pat Robertson. And my question is, does the president agree with the Washington Post’s claim that these three are “defaming with great distortions,” so that the Washington Post editors are better informed on comparative religion than these three church leaders?

FLEISCHER: Les, I’m not familiar with the specific quotes you cited, so –

WND: You didn’t read the Washington Post on Sunday?

FLEISCHER: I was, as you know, not in Washington on Sunday. I was traveling with the president. So forgive me if I missed an editorial.

WND: You’ll take it. All right. (Laughter.) Falwell called Muhammad a terrorist, the prophet Muhammad.

FLEISCHER: Assuming, of course, that that’s an accurate quote – I haven’t read it, myself – the president’s views on Islam are well-known. The president has said many times in his visits to mosques and his visits with Muslim leaders and his invitations for Muslim leaders to come here, as an important signal of America’s openness and welcoming of Muslims, that Islam is a religion of peace.

WND: And so he will disagree publicly with these three church leaders?

FLEISCHER: You know the president’s position; it is exactly as I stated –

WND: Why can’t you say whether he repudiates their remarks or not?

FLEISCHER: Simply because I’m not aware of specifically what they’ve said. But there should be no –

WND: The remarks have been out there for some time and are pretty well documented.

FLEISCHER: Again, I don’t – I have a long pattern, as you know, if I haven’t seen the remarks, I always want to make certain that everything I’m hearing is accurate. But there should be no misunderstanding. You’ve all seen it with your own eyes; you’ve traveled on the trips the president has taken to these mosques and to these visits. It’s a very important part of America’s openness and tradition of tolerance.

WND then asked Fleischer about the decision of the major TV networks not to broadcast President Bush’s speech on Iraq Monday night.

WND: Congressman McDermott has announced in Seattle that the president “is trying to bring himself all the power to become an emperor.” Louis Farrakhan has announced in Detroit: “Our President is a threat to world peace.” And singer Harry Belafonte has announced in San Diego that Secretary Colin Powell is “a racial sellout.” And my question is, does the president believe that these announcements were as much a mistake as ABC, CBS and NBC refusing to telecast his address to the nation – (laughter) – like Fox and CNN did? And shouldn’t Fox and CNN now be given front-row seats in this room and at presidential news conferences, since they’re obviously more interested in the presidency than those networks. (Laughter.) I don’t blame these correspondents. It wasn’t their fault, but those networks are less interested than Fox and CNN; isn’t that true, Ari?

FLEISCHER: How did you get your second-row seat, Les?

WND: It was vacant.

FLEISCHER: OK, let’s see. So you’ve gone from, let’s see, this is the second question now, into a bank shot, into a speech. Let me – I’m not sure where you ended, so I don’t know where to begin.

WND: Well, you can give a little of both, on McDermott and the rest, and then on these networks that don’t cover the president. But CNN and Fox did. Don’t they deserve –

WND: Congress Daily also covered this. (Laughter.)

FLEISCHER: These are judgments that news organizations make. They exercise their own discretion as they see fit. And I think it’s entirely appropriate that the final decision about what is news is made by the people who write the news for a living.

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