WASHINGTON: The State Department press office acted quickly to discredit a story that appeared on the front page of The Washington Post last Monday. The article reported that Secretary of State Colin Powell and his deputy Richard Armitage would step down in January 2005 should George W. Bush win a bid for reelection.
According to the Post, however, the State Department's press office may have been able to stop the story from appearing in the first place had its spokesmen said on Sunday what they were saying on Tuesday.
"Baseless," "goofy," and "gossip" were just some of the words spokesman Phillip Reeker used repeatedly Monday morning to describe the Post's assertion that Armitage had a conversation with National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice about he and Powell resigning.
"There was no discussion about any kind of stepping down." Reeker told reporters. "There is simply no basis for the story."
But in a Post follow-up article on Tuesday, reporter Mike Allen hinted that the communications team botched a chance to quash the story, "Before publishing the report, the Post asked spokesmen for Armitage and Rice about the conversation and whether they would confirm or deny it took place. Both declined to answer."
Asked about the Post's account, Reeker said, "What I can tell you is [that the reporter] claimed he talked to [State Department spokesman Richard] Boucher, and he's on vacation, so I have no idea."
"The whole thing is moot," he added, "because the secretary's answer is always exactly the same: 'I serve at the pleasure of the President and will continue to do so.' It's been that way since he was sworn in."
Reeker told PRWeek that even if a spokesman had failed to deny the story, the Post should have gone directly to the source. "Don't use spokesman stuff, use what the secretary says," he offered.