One of Ari's acrimonious relationships among the gaggle (there were many) has been with reporter Russell Mokhiber. The correspondent for Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter has made a sport out of asking questions that few other reporters would dare to, and Fleischer has responded in kind. Mokhiber tells Brooke about the experience of being on Ari's blacklist.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now Russell Mokhiber as we mentioned has made a career of annoying Ari Fleischer. Let's play this clip of him harassing the press secretary about stepping down.
RUSSELL MOKHIBER: I was wondering is there anything President Bush has done as president that made you think even for a moment that you would resign as a matter of conscience.
ARI FLEISCHER: No.
RUSSELL MOKHIBER: Not for a moment.
ARI FLEISCHER: Not for a moment. Why should there be?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Russell Mokhiber is the editor of the Washington, DC based Corporate Crime Reporter and he joins us now. Welcome to the show.
RUSSELL MOKHIBER: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Now, I understand that one thing that you particularly object to is how closely Fleischer enforces the policy regarding the conduct of the media at the daily press briefings. Do you try and just sort of disrupt this protocol because you find it too constraining?
RUSSELL MOKHIBER: No, actually he does. There are 8 rows in the press briefing room. And he says that he doesn't want to go out of order. But often when he doesn't like a question that was asked by a reporter from a previous day or previous week, he'll violate his own rule and just skip over the reporter even though the reporter has his or her hand up and wants to ask a question.
So there's a number of ways that he can get around a reporter asking a question. One is just to skip over them. Another is to leave the reporter waiting at the gate outside, which has happened to me on many occasions. You know, something's wrong with the computer - you're not being cleared in.
And the third way is just to prohibit reporters' access.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This hasn't happened just to you though, has it, this sort of selective exclusion?
RUSSELL MOKHIBER: Ari knows when the press briefing is being broadcast on CNN and on the major cable networks, so I think often that's when it happens. When the cable networks are on and carrying the event live, he will skip over reporters that he knows will give him a hard time.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: It's known that Ari has not shrunk from warning reporters when they've stepped over the line. Have you ever come under that kind of pressure or scrutiny?
RUSSELL MOKHIBER: When I first started covering the White House he called me and he, he said that he felt that my questions portrayed the president as being affiliated with criminals and white collar crooks, and I told him well - I'm the editor of a publication called Corporate Crime Reporter - this is my beat.
That was a way that he was trying to send me a message. Subsequently I went through this whole ordeal where he in fact banned me for a couple months and when I got in - you know -just skipped over me when he didn't want to deal with it.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So now that your adversary is stepping down --are you going to miss him, even a little bit?
RUSSELL MOKHIBER: Well, what we can say about Ari is that he's very good at what he does, which is be the minister of disinformation and make sure that reporters don't get to him. And I think it can be said that reporters never really got to him. So-- I can't [LAUGHS] say that it's a sad day that he's going but on the other hand, his successor's going to have a more difficult time with the White House press, and I think that was shown when Scott McClellan, his perhaps-successor, briefed the press corps when he was gone last Friday, and the press were starting to jump all over him.
My wife, when I told her this, thought that it was like when the substitute teacher takes over and the kids just gang up on the substitute -- that's going to be happening, because-- no one's going to be able to fill his shoes.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well thank you very much.
RUSSELL MOKHIBER: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Russell Mokhiber is the editor of the Washington, DC based Corporate Crime Reporter, and despite his best efforts, he never "got" to Ari Fleischer. [MUSIC]
WNYC 93.9 FM and AM 820 are New York's flagship public radio
stations, broadcasting the finest programs from NPR, PRI and American Public Media, as well as a wide range of award-winning local
programming. WNYC is a division of
New York Public Radio.