White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Tuesday could not explain the omission of a problematic line from the transcript of a recent briefing that involved a question from Fox News about Iran. Instead, Earnest dismissed the notion that any sleight of hand took place and launched an attack on Republicans, whom he said were “wrong” about the Iran deal. Earnest also steadfastly refused to amend the record to reflect what he clearly said.
Fox News reporter Kevin Corke asked Earnest on May 9 if he could “state categorically that no senior official in this administration has ever lied publicly about any aspect of the Iran nuclear deal.” Earnest answered, “No, Kevin” — quietly, but not inaudibly. There was an awkward silence for a moment and then he launched into some rote talking points in defense of the nuclear agreement. ABC News first reported last Friday that the line “No, Kevin” was left out of the White House transcript with the official explanation being that the words were “inaudible.”
Fox News correspondent James Rosen followed up on this story during Tuesday’s press briefing, vexing Earnest and leading to a testy exchange.
“ABC News, Bloomberg News, [Rep.] Jason Chaffetz, many others, this reporter included, state categorically that the video shows, unmistakably, that you answered, ‘No, Kevin,’” Rosen said to Earnest. “And, in fact, Mr. Corke gave you a second chance during that briefing to answer that question because the answer was so striking he thought you misunderstood him.”
Rosen then challenged Earnest’s claim that the line was omitted because it was inaudible.
“You said yesterday that there was a little crosstalk that made this exchange inaudible,” Rosen began. “The very transcript of yesterday’s briefing is studded with the word ‘inaudible’ where it’s appropriate. Why did the May 9 transcript not contain the word ‘inaudible?’”
If you listen to the exchange, there is no crosstalk that can be heard at the time Earnest says, “No, Kevin.”
“James, I don’t write the transcripts,” Earnest responded before launching into talking points about how the deal prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.
“And the truth is, there are a lot of Republicans who oppose the deal who said a whole bunch of things about the Iran deal that were wrong,” Earnest added. “And I don’t know if they were mistaken; I don’t know if they were naive; I don’t know if they were poorly briefed; I don’t know if they were lying. They were wrong.”
“My question was limited to the matter of the transcript and why you’re asserting there was crosstalk that made something inaudible, the word inaudible didn’t appear in the appropriate place,” Rosen said.
“I don’t know,” Earnest replied.
Rosen kept pushing the press secretary, saying that he is maintaining he did not say “that which is plainly discernible that [he] said.”
“James, I think what I’m saying is that there have now been three followups now to this question, and I’ve answered it quite directly exactly what our position is. So, if you’d like me to do it again, I can do it again,” Earnest said, becoming noticeably irritated.
“I guess the final question is, are you willing to review that video one more time, Josh, with an eye toward possibly amending it as it should be amended?” Rosen asked.
“No,” Earnest said before moving on to another reporter’s questions.
This comes on the heels of the State Department’s admission that a key exchange in a video from a December 2013 press briefing about the Iran nuclear deception was intentionally altered by an unknown entity at the State Department.
The day before ABC News broke the story about the latest omission, Earnest bragged to reporters that the White House press shop would never selectively edit something without his approval.
Ever since Obama chief propagandist Ben Rhodes derisively called the Washington press corps the White House’s “echo chamber” on the Iranian nuke deal, it seems as if more and more reporters are challenging the administration’s talking points on Iran and holding them to account. It’s a step in the right direction, but unfortunately way too late to make a difference as far as the Obama administration’s serial deceptions are concerned.