DiRita’s Dance

In a press conference yesterday, a reporter asked Pentagon spokesman Larry DiRita if the military is flying surveillance drones over Iran:

Q: Just to clean something up, can you definitively say from the podium that the U.S. military is not operating reconnaissance missions over Iran with unmanned Predator drones? MR. DI RITA: I can. I mean, I don’t know you if you’ve got anything you want to add to that — (laughter) — but it’s not happening.

Seems like case closed. But this particular reporter was smart enough to follow up. The next time, DiRita wasn’t nearly as definitive:

Q: Just to clarify, is the U.S. government flying any aircraft over Iran for any reason? MR. DI RITA: Not to my knowledge. And let me just be very careful — and I’m not trying to be clever here. I don’t speak for the U.S. government, I speak for the Department of Defense, and the Department of Defense is not. And I would welcome you asking that same question for other agencies of the government that do those kinds of activities, and I think that they would give you the same answer. But it’s not for me to speak for other agencies.

We saw White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan use this same tactic during a press conference when the Armstrong Williams scandal broke:

Q Just to follow up, will you check as far as you can to see if you’re paying any other journalists?

MR. McCLELLAN: I don’t know of any. Obviously, decisions are made by individual agencies. I’m not aware of any other arrangements of that nature.

It turned out, of course, there were at least two other journalists being paid off by the administration.