White House turns up spin on CBS, Kelley allegations

NEW YORK The Bush camp was working overtime on spin control last week following the release of Kitty Kelley‘s tell-all and a “60 Minutes” report on George W. Bush‘s alleged preferential treatment while in the National Guard.

But they didn’t have to go it alone: The Bushies quickly enlisted the media to tear into both sets of allegations.

Leading up to the book’s Sept. 14 pub date, the White House put great pressure on TV news nets to turn down interviews with Kelley. NBC News got at least two calls from Bush’s people prior to carrying a three-part Kelley interview last week on the ayem “Today” show.

White House communications director Dan Bartlett and press secretary Scott McClellan both logged calls to NBC News prexy Neal Shapiro.

“They didn’t say, ‘Please don’t air this,’ ” one Peacock news exec says. “They said something like, ‘We’re really surprised you would lend credence to this book. You have to know the president feels personally strongly about this,’ ” the exec says.

(John Kerry‘s campaign has likewise called NBC to ask that the net stop giving certain stories –think Swift Boat — such prominent play.)

NBC didn’t succumb to pressure and scrub Kelley’s interview, but “Today” co-anchor Matt Lauer was certainly tough in his questioning.

CBS News also felt the might of the Bush machine when the controversy erupted over a “60 Minutes” report suggesting that Bush avoided his National Guard commitments. It turned out that one key piece of evidence — four memos written by Bush’s former commander — could be forgeries.

While the Eye clearly botched its response to the crisis, there was little doubt that Republicans in Washington were burning up the phone lines to the press, which tried and convicted CBS in a slew of stories.

At first, the White House didn’t say much publicly about the scrap over the “60 Minutes” flap. But by Wednesday, the GOP engine was in full force.

At a White House briefing, McClellan accused Kerry’s campaign of being behind the CBS News memos. (Kerry’s camp denied the charge).

Republicans on Capitol Hill shot a nasty letter off to CBS demanding that the Eye retract the story. And on Fox News Channel, Republican politico Robert Dole said Rather always hated the Bushes.

Judging from some of the press on Kelley’s book, “The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty,” which details the not-so-nice aspects of the Bush family, the author writes trash and relies on the most suspect of sources.

Newsweek’s Howard Fineman told radio host Don Imus the mag wouldn’t publish excerpts of the book because of questions about Kelley’s reporting. Time also declined to run an advance story, saying it had similar concerns. MSNBC’s Chris Matthews was merciless on the subject of unnamed sources.

Doubleday, Kelley’s publisher, says the author’s sources are good and that she’s never had to retract anything from her books.

Luckily for Kelley, the White House doesn’t own the hearts and minds of the reading public.

Despite the best efforts of the White House, estimates are that Kelley’s book sold 50,000 copies in its first two days. Those are bestseller numbers by any measure, and the book looks certain to ascend quickly to No. 1.

Doubleday ordered a first print run of 600,000 copies, then quickly ordered another 150,000. Pub house expects to have 1 million books in circulation before long.

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