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Bush aides furious at interview

DON LAVERY and JEROME REILLY THE White House has strongly criticised the RTE interview with President Bush, claiming that journalist Carole Coleman constantly interrupted him, preventing him from getting his point of view across.

The interview, broadcast from the White House on Thursday, 24 hours before the President's visit to Ireland, so displeased President Bush and his advisers that it led to the cancellation of another RTE exclusive yesterday, an interview with the President's wife Laura.

The interview with President Bush, where he was asked questions about the Iraq war and the Middle East among other issues, was the first with an American president by RTE in about 20 years.

During the increasingly tense interview Ms Coleman asked what she termed "tough" follow-up questions to Mr Bush on issues such as weapons of mass destruction.

Five times during the brief interview Mr Bush asked Ms Coleman to allow him to finish answering his original question.

At one stage he pleaded: "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."

A spokeswoman for the White House told the Sunday Independent yesterday: "It is true that the reporter interrupted him a number of times and prevented him from making the points he was trying to make."

She said there had been concerns in the White House and the Irish Embassy in Washington that the reporter had "overstepped the bounds of politeness" in her questioning.

"The issue was not the questions but the fact that she was not letting the President answer them," she said.

The spokesperson added that the President was used to aggressive questioning. The questions were not impolite but t the reporter was not allowing the President to answer them, she reiterated.

She said that given the type of interview conducted by Ms Coleman it was "appropriate" that Mrs Bush's office had cancelled the interview planned with her.

The interview led to a White House complaint to the Irish Embassy. Aides to the president afterwards told Ms Coleman that she interrupted the president unnecessarily and was disrespectful.

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RTE, however, said it "totally stands over the conduct of the interview and Carole's journalism."

They were also very pleased with the national and international public response to the interview with several radio and TV stations asking to rebroadcast it.

An RTE spokeswoman said their Washington office had been told that the interview with Mrs Bush was not now going to happen. It had been arranged for 11am yesterday.

Ms Coleman was not making any official comment on the row but sources close to the broadcaster said she had been "shook up" by the incident. She had also argued that no formal agreement had been reached on the Laura Bush interview so the issue of it being cancelled did not arise.

On the way into the summit luncheon at Dromoland Castle, President Bush is understood to have raised the "snippy" interview in a light-hearted fashion.

An Irish Government spokesman said that "within Government there was an acknowledgement that the interview lacked respect."

Meanwhile, the interview was raised on the Larry King show on CNN, CBS, the New York Times where it was described as "contentious", and in other media.

RTE said it had received a good response from the public with 200,000 tuning in to watch the Prime Time interview which clashed with the England Euro 2004 game while another 300,000 watched it later that night on News 2.

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