Thomas to Perino: Your regret 'doesn't bring back a life'
During Friday's White House press conference, veteran reporter Helen Thomas got into a testy exchange with press secretary Dana Perino over the ongoing war in Iraq.
The Washington Times noted that "Thomas often asks questions attacking the Iraq war during on-camera briefings," and "White House press secretary Dana Perino usually deflects the question and moves on, but today, Mrs. Perino took exception."
"Does the president want no troops out from Iraq on his watch," Thomas asked. "I'm talking about all troops."
Perino countered, "Well, 5,700 troops will be home by the end of the year, so that is some troops coming home. The President said that troop levels are going to be made by commanders on the ground, and that we're going to have to talk about --"
"Why should it be?" Thomas interrupted. "Why can't the American people have a say?"
Perino pointed to the 2004 election: "The American people have had a say. They elected a President who is their Commander-in-Chief and is making decisions based on what his commanders on the ground are telling him."
"And you think that was the vote of the American people?" Thomas pressed.
Perino reiterated,"They elected a Commander-in-Chief, and the President is bringing home 5,700 troops, based on the recommendations of his commanders on the ground and based on return on success. Hopefully in the future we can bring home more, but it's going to depend on what General Petraeus reports and remember he will come back in March."
"Why should we depend on him?" Thomas asked, meaning the commander of the multi-national forces in Iraq, who was slammed as "General Betray Us" by the liberal activist group Move On.
Perino said, "Because he is the commander on the ground, Helen. He's the one who is making sure that the situation is moving --"
"You mean how many more people we kill?" Thomas interjected.
The White House press secretary then blasted the reporter for using her "bestowed" front row position in the press room to make "absurd and very offensive statements."
"Helen, I find it really unfortunate that you use your front row position, bestowed upon you by your colleagues, to make such statements," Perino said. "This is a -- it is an honor and a privilege to be in the briefing room, and to suggest that we, at the United States, are killing innocent people is just absurd and very offensive."
Thomas asked Perino about civilian casualties in Iraq: "Do you know how many we have since the start of this war?"
"How many -- we are going after the enemy, Helen," Perino said, ducking the question. "To the extent that any innocent Iraqis have been killed, we have expressed regret for it."
The longtime White House correspondent who has gone after presidents from both political parties responded, "Oh, regret. It doesn't bring back a life."
But Perino refused to get sentimental over civilian casualties.
"Helen, we are in a war zone, and our military works extremely hard to make sure that everyone has the opportunity for liberty and freedom and democracy, and that is exactly what they are doing," Perino said. "I'm going to move on."
This video is from The White House, broadcast on November 30, 2007.
WHITE HOUSE TRANSCRIPT AT THIS LINK