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White House: Bush frustrated with media coverage of war

Officials fault reporters' expectations

From John King
CNN Washington Bureau

President Bush, right, appeared frustrated Thursday with a reporter's question about the progress of the war.
President Bush, right, appeared frustrated Thursday with a reporter's question about the progress of the war.

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President Bush and Tony Blair speak about the war in Iraq in a joint news conference.
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British Prime Minister Tony Blair, U.S. President Bush

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush has "some level of frustration with the press corps" for accounts questioning the U.S. and coalition war plan in Iraq, and he finds it "silly" that such skepticism and questions were being raised just days into a conflict he says is going quite well, according to a senior administration official.

The senior official said Friday that Bush believes the "war is going well" and that Bush had no doubts about the battle plan or frustration with developments on the ground in Iraq.

But the questions and comments are not coming just from reporters. Various news accounts have quoted military leaders and retired military leaders who have raised some questions on how the war is unfolding.

This official declined to comment on remarks from the war's Army ground commander -- Lt. Gen. William Wallace -- who told The Washington Post in Friday's paper: "The enemy we're fighting is different from the one we'd war-gamed against."

But the official said the president and other senior officials at the White House have "some level of frustration with the press corps" for the skeptical and sometimes critical view of the battle plan.

Bush appeared somewhat exasperated Thursday when -- appearing with British Prime Minister Tony Blair at a news conference at Camp David, Maryland -- a reporter asked whether the war would take months, as opposed to weeks.

"However long it takes," Bush said, repeating that line as the reporter pressed him on the matter. "That's the answer to your question, and that's what you got to know. This isn't a matter of timetable, it's a matter of victory. "

At a briefing Friday, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer was peppered with questions about the president's apparent frustration and the progress of the war.

"I think from the president's point of view, any questions about how long it will last are, of course, are entirely legitimate questions ... The president understands people want to know, but it's also an unknowable issue. But I do think there is a difference between asking that question and the suggestion that, "Why isn't it over already?" Fleischer said.

Asked how the president has expressed his frustration, Fleischer replied, in part, "I don't share every private conversation that I have with the president."

Bush -- who has held a series of events this week highlighting the war effort -- is to deliver a speech Friday afternoon to members of veterans organizations, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion.

In that speech, administration official said, Bush plans to encourage Americans to support troops deployed overseas and also to find ways to support their families here at home, many of whom face hardships during lengthy deployments.

Bush then heads to Camp David for the weekend, where he will monitor war developments. Bush's high-profile week was part of a White House strategy to have the president take the lead in trying to frame expectations for the war.

His remarks Friday will continue that effort by talking about a war of undetermined duration, with significant and dangerous battles to come, and harsh words about the tactics of Iraqi forces in their war conduct and treatment of captured coalition forces.

A senior administration official involved in national security matters spoke Thursday night of a "little sense of deja vu," comparing the skepticism in media accounts and from retired military officers to questions raised early in the military campaigns in Afghanistan and the Serbian region of Kosovo.

At Thursday's session with reporters, Bush and Blair were planning to take six questions at a brief session with reporters -- three each from U.S. and British reporters. Minutes before the event, it was cut back to two questions for each side, and Bush appeared exasperated with questions about the timetable for the war.

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