Government ‘did not censure RTÉ’

THE Government last night rejected claims it had sided with the White House in a complaint over an RTÉ interview with President George Bush.

A Sunday newspaper claimed the Government had “sensationally backed” White House criticism of the Carole Coleman interview, suggesting it was “disrespectful” to Mr Bush.

A Government spokesman said last night: “We can confirm the Irish Embassy in Washington received an official complaint about the interview but the Government has made no further statement on it.”

Ms Coleman, who is RTÉ’s Washington correspondent, was told the President was very incensed at the way in which she had conducted the interview. Mr Bush believed he had done her and RTÉ a huge favour in agreeing to do the exclusive interview, according to an RTÉ insider.

White House fury with Ms Coleman led to the cancellation of an interview she was to conduct with First Lady Laura Bush.

The interview was scheduled for 11.30am on Saturday and RTÉ had put forward Ms Coleman's name to conduct it.

Before Ms Coleman's interview with Mr Bush on Thursday, she was given to understand the interview with the First Lady would also be on.

However, after the interview, in which Ms Coleman pressed President Bush on the war in Iraq, the treatment of prisoners there and in Guantanamo Bay, and the subject of weapons of mass destruction, she was admonished by White House aides for the “discourteous” tone she took.

Ms Coleman interrupted Mr Bush on five occasions in an attempt to get an evasive President to give direct answers to her questions.

Mr Bush, clearly annoyed, asked the RTÉ reporter: “Please, please, please, for a minute, okay. It'll be better if you let me finish my answers and then you can follow up, if you don't mind”.

While Ms Coleman would not comment directly yesterday, she did not deny media reports of the incident.

RTÉ insisted last night they were fully supportive of their Washington correspondent. “We are very happy with the conduct of the interview by Carole Coleman and with her journalism and happy with the public’s response to it.”

Meanwhile, the RTÉ exclusive was getting widespread coverage on the main US TV networks, where interviews are stage-managed and such rigorous questioning of the President is virtually unknown. Many journalists, including top anchor man Larry King, were very complimentary of Ms Coleman’s line of questioning.

The Washington Post newspaper described it as “more combative than any with American journalists.”

It added that Mr Bush got “downright snippy” with the Irish TV reporter when she tried to move him beyond his stock answers.”

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