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Exclusive: White House Held Meeting To Pressure Reporters On ‘Division’ Among War Critics

Last week, Bush administration officials invited senior congressional reporters to the White House and pressured them to increase their coverage of how Iraq war critics are “divided” over legislative strategy, multiple sources have confirmed with ThinkProgress.

The sources say White House officials pointed to examples of national political reporters who have highlighted such “division” and pressed the congressional reporters to follow suit. Specifically, the White House pointed to a recent AP piece on Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL), which reported that Obama believes that “[i]f President Bush vetoes an Iraq war spending bill as promised, Congress quickly will provide the money without the withdrawal timeline the White House objects to.” In a speech this week, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) also drew attention to the AP’s characterization:

When the president vetoes, as he should, the bill that refuses to support General Petraeus’ new plan, I hope Democrats in Congress will heed the advice of one of their leading candidates for president, Senator Obama, and immediately pass a new bill to provide support to our troops in Iraq without substituting their partisan interests for those of our troops and our country.

The effort to highlight this article is notable because it turned out to be baseless. The AP report never directly quoted Obama saying that Congress would give up its fight for a withdrawal timeline, and Obama has said the AP’s characterization is false. Indeed, Obama has been quoted saying the direct opposite — that Congress will continue to force votes on a timeline — both before and after the AP report.

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In fact, congressional opponents of the war are remarkably united on efforts to set a timeline for redeployment, bolstered by consistent public opinion polls showing broad public support for withdrawal. Meanwhile, conservatives are splintering. This week, a “diverse collection of House Republicans has formed an ad hoc group” to encourage the White House “to compromise on negotiations with Syria and Iran and on setting a date for withdrawal from Iraq.”

The White House is in a losing fight and wants the media to help them carry water. We’ll be watching to see if any congressional reporters fall in line and write up the White House spin.