McClellan Backs Away from Claims that ‘Newsweek’ Story Cost Afghan Lives

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By: E&P Staff

At a White House press briefing Monday, Press Secretary Scott McClellan, pressed by reporters and with Afghan President Karzai in disagreement, retreated on claims that Newsweek’s retracted story on Koran abuse cost lives in Afghanistan.

He also claimed that he had never said it did, even though a check of transcripts disputes that. On May 16, for example, he said, “people have lost their lives.” On May 17, he said, “People did lose their lives,” and, “People lost their lives” due to the Newsweek report.

Here is the transcript from the latest White House press briefing:

Q: One other question. Karzai was quite definite in saying that he didn’t believe that the violence in Afghanistan was directly tied to the Newsweek article about Koran desecration. Yet, from this podium, you have made that link. So —

McCLELLAN: Actually, I don’t think you’re actually characterizing what was said accurately.

Q: By whom?

McCLELLAN: As I said last week, and as President Karzai said today, and as General Myers had said previously, the protest may well have been pre-staged. The discredited report was damaging. It was used to incite violence. But those who espouse an ideology of hatred and oppression and murder don’t need an excuse to incite violence. But the reports from the region showed how this story was used to incite violence.

Q: But Karzai seemed to think that that wasn’t what led to the violence, that it was —

McCLELLAN: That’s right, he actually — he talked about — President Karzai spoke about how the demonstrations were aimed at undercutting the progress being made toward democracy in Afghanistan, and the progress on elections. They have elections coming up soon. And I spoke about that, as well, last week.

Q: So could it be said that the Newsweek article played a role, but was not —

McCLELLAN: John, I think we’ve made our views known when it comes to the discredited report. There are some that want to continue to defend what is a discredited report that has been disavowed by Newsweek, and that’s their business. We’re perfectly willing to trust the American people to make their own judgment about it.

Q: Who’s doing that, exactly?

McCLELLAN: I’m sorry?

Q: Who wants to defend it?

McCLELLAN: Well, you can see in the media coverage, there are some that want to continue to do that.

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