NBC’s Senior White House Correspondant David Gregory appeared on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” Friday, where he commented on such things as President Bush’s political prowess, the tough questions asked in the press corps and the Iran crisis.
Maher: You have been covering George Bush since the 2000 election. You’ve seem him up close and personal an awful lot. Please tell me there is something more to this guy than we are seeing.
Gregory: You know, he is a very, uh. It’s kind of fashionable to dismiss him as a, as a dumb guy. It’s not true. I think people who don’t like him comfort themselves with that. It’s not the case. He’s certainly a very shrewd guy, and he’s a very adept politician.
Full transcript when you click below…
Real Time with Bill Maher, HBO, originally aired 9/8/2006
Bill Maher: He is the Chief White House Correspondent for NBC News, and I’m a big fan of him because he does ask the tough questions. David Gregory. … And uh…you’re the one that Bush calls “Stretch,” right?
David Gregory: Yeah. Well, he used to call me “Stretch.” And then he went out to Crawford and came back just after the Christmas holidays, and he actually made a point of saying in the cabinet meeting with Cheney and Rumsfeld there, he said “Gregory, I’ve decided to call you ‘Little Stretch.'” Because there was a guy that was taller than me. So he put a lot of thought into that, apparently. (Editors note: The “guy” taller than Gregory is reportedly the Examiner’s Bill Sammon, who apparently now goes by the nickname “Super Stretch.”)
Maher: That’s the wit I would expect. You have been covering George Bush since the 2000 election. You’ve seem him up close and personal an awful lot. Please tell me there is something more to this guy than we are seeing.
Gregory: You know, he is a very, uh. It’s kind of fashionable to dismiss him as a, as a dumb guy. It’s not true. I think people who don’t like him comfort themselves with that. It’s not the case. He’s certainly a very shrewd guy, and he’s a very adept politician. Um, people make their judgments on his policies. But, there’s no question he’s a much different style, and a much different kind of politician than Bill Clinton. (After long pause with Maher shaking his head with a look of disgust on his face) I do see how a lot of people would say that goes without saying.
Maher: We’re just going to let you keep digging your own hole here. I don’t know what, umâ€¦
Gregory: No, but you know, it’s interesting to meâ€¦isn’t it interesting to you that Clinton and Bush have struck up such a great relationship? And they have.
Maher: The elder Bush.
Gregory: No, I mean, I think, I think Bill Clinton has had a lot of respect for George W. Bush as a politician.
Maher: He has respect because he’s an able politician, and I would be the first one to agree: George Bush is a very good politician. That doesn’t mean he’s smart. (audience applause.) But, let me ask you something else.
Gregory: I’m not going to render judgment on that.
Maher: Okay. But, the press has gotten a lot of criticism because in the run-up to the Iraq war, it has been said that they did not ask the tough questions. That they sort of let the administration sell their war without being, without having their feet held to the fire. And, now it seems like we are seeing the same script go down for Iran. It’s the same things they said about Iraq. You know: “Oh my God, they’ve got weapons of mass destruction. Oh my God, we can’t allow them to have weapons of mass destruction.” Uh, before we actually start fighting this war, do you think the press would ask those questions we wish they asked the first time around? (audience applause)
Gregory: Well, you know, let me say a couple of things. First of all, I, you know, I try not to be defensive about this cause I really take this very seriously and have been introspective not just for myself. I think I’ve consistently asked tough questions, but for the White House press corps overall. And, I think they are important questions. You know, I do believe that important questions were asked. I think sometimes people view us through their own political prism, and think if we’re not standing up and saying, you know, “You liar, Mr. President, why are you trying to sell us this bogus war” that we’re not doing our job. I don’t think that’s always our place. Uh, but I do think that difficult questions were asked, and that assumptions were challenged. Um, and now we’re certainly pressing them on the fact that promises that they made or assumptions that they articulated have not come to pass. I also think that the run-up to whatever kind of conflict that is going to go on with Iran is far, far different. And, I actually, in as much as the president is saying, “We can’t let Iran get a nuclear bomb,” uh, he has even acknowledged publicly that “A” the US doesn’t have the leverage against Iran, and, frankly, that our intelligenceâ€¦there was enough mistakes with our intelligence that they can’t say that they know with any degree of certainty, uh, what Iran has, and what it doesn’t have.
Maher: Okay, let me ask you about the story that was in the news this week when I think it was Wednesday that Bush came out with a press conference, and he said that we are bringing 14 of the worst terrorists from their black sites as they call them, the torture prisons that we were runningâ€¦we weren’t, that other countries were running overseas â€“ bring them to Guantanamo Bay. And he said that we don’t torture, but we use alternative interrogation techniquesâ€¦which sounds like Janeane Garofalo is going to come out and read her notebook, and then we’ll see who cracks. But, um, but this seems like something that should be challenged. Do you think it will be?
Gregory: Just, just what the techniques were?
Maher: Well, just the idea that we’re not torturing, which I think John McCain and many others would disagree with because they wrote a bill trying to tell the president you can’t do what you’re doing anymoreâ€¦which he of course ignored. Um, and, just the idea “alternative interrogation techniques” does sound a little like bullsâ€”t, my friend.
Gregory: I think it’s, it’s kind of like, uh, “Tell me the truth or I’ll ask you again” you know, but this time really sternly. Uh, I, I think these are being challenged. I think that even the reporting of this story was put into the political context, which I think it should be put into. The timing of it, uh, and the fact that they’re transferring these prisoners now. Look, I, I for one have asked repeatedly what the president considers to be appropriate interrogation techniques and what would be torture. I think those questions have been asked, and you’re right, they should be continue to be asked. And, there is going to be a debate. And, it’s just not the institution of the press, but it’s also Congress as an institution that has to ask these questions in a meaningful way. And, now the debate is going right in front of the Congress, (audience applause) because the president has defended, he defends these alternative interrogation techniques. And, now he actually wants to codify them. He wants them qualified so that intelligence officers and members of the military can carry them out without any confusion.
Maher: Well, if they’re so kosher, maybe you can use them on him. Thank you David Gregory for being with us.