The press treats Bush tenderly
Seattle P-I

Geneva Overholser

April 12, 2001

Last week, I watched President Bush make a speech before a group of newspaper editors here. Then I saw the press coverage. I'd have to say that the picture you're getting is missing some pieces.

For one thing, you're not seeing how unsure of himself George W. Bush appeared to be -- how guarded, how tense, even programmed. Or how uncertain about important issues.

It's not that his appearance before the annual convention of the American Society of Newspaper Editors in the J. W. Marriott Hotel ballroom was a failure. It had many of the strengths seen recently as Bush and the press have mingled, for example, at the fancy-dress banquets where the media turn out to see and be seen. He has good speechwriters. His delivery isn't bad. He does self-deprecating humor deftly.

"I'm really not here to tell you your business," he told the editors. "It's your job to tell everyone how to run theirs."

The problems come when he goes off-script. It's clear what he's been briefed on : He gave one clipped, rehearsed answer on the day's biggest story -- the crisis with China -- and told a second questioner he had no more to say on that.

Then, asked to share his views on freedom of information issues, Bush froze. His smile grew stiff. He emitted several puffing sounds that showed up on transcripts as "laughter." He stumbled -- then grasped at the familiar. He used to e-mail his dad and daughters, he said, but no longer : "I don't e-mail any more out of a concern for the freedom of information laws, but also concern for my privacy."

News reports showed none of the president's apparent discomfort. "Bush said that since taking over the White House, he has struggled with the question of what's personal and has grown cautious in using e-mail," said The Associated Press in a typical report. Nothing about his evident lack of familiarity with First Amendment issues. Nothing about the nervous dismissiveness.

Some of this gentleness may be press courtesy (which you probably considered an oxymoron). Some of it may be in not knowing just how to convey the atmospherics. But some of it is a reflection of a collective feeling. Despite assertions to the contrary, the press is made up of human beings. What individual journalists think about a politician shapes their reporting and writing. And, while the press is far from a monolith, it tends to herdishness and conventional thinking.

The picture you get of a president emerges from this collective press thinking.

At this point in Bill Clinton's presidency, the press hadn't settled on what to think of him. His new administration was boisterous, messy and full of emotional excesses. So was the coverage: In the first 50 days of the Clinton administration, the TV networks devoted 15 hours to it. They've given half that to the Bush administration's first 50 days, according to the Center for Media and Public Affairs, a non-profit watchdog organization here.

The spare coverage matches perceptions of the Bush administration that seem to have formed within the media : We've got grown-ups in the White House now. A president who likes creased pants and curtailed hours, short meetings and leak-free loyalty. Efficient, focused leadership. An MBA presidency.

Washington Post media writer Howard Kurtz recently wrote about the lean Bush coverage, presenting it as something intended by the administration. Their man uses the bully pulpit efficiently, Bush advisers told Kurtz. Not like Clinton, whose overuse diluted its effectiveness.

The most openly sympathetic elements of the press make their embrace of this positive characterization evident. Bush is not a hands-off president, but an admirably focused one, says Weekly Standard Editor William Kristol. The administration has "decided he does not have to be on the news every day."

Or, as the National Review's Noemie Emery wrote : "He inhabits the stage, but does not overwhelm it. He does not pretend to have mastered each topic. He cannot bring crowds to their feet."

Many editors talking to one another after Bush's inhabitance of the Marriott stage spoke of their surprise that he has yet to figure out how to look at all presidential. They wondered why he hadn't been briefed about a topic so likely to be brought up at an editors' gathering as freedom of information. They noted the short time he allotted for questions and answers, the long period afterward he spent shaking hands. The overall effect, said more than a few, was unsettling. Even scary.

It will be interesting to see if sentiments like these begin to shape what you read and see about this new president, who to date has been treated so tenderly.

Prove Me Wrong

Let's do a "what if" so I can make a point. I think it's a good one. I think it's so good, I'd like to hear from anyone who disagrees.

What if a show like Dateline did a "hatchet job" on Smirk? It wouldn't have to really be a hatchet job, but any honest appraisal of that idiot's qualifications would prove he's a non-thinking rich man's boy - and that's all. But what would happen if Dateline did an unflattering portrait of Smirk?

I'll tell you what would happen :

OK, we're going to call the above "Exhibit A."

Now, everyone on that list has done at least a dozen hit pieces on Clinton.

My question is, Where is "Exhibit B?"

When those 38 people attack Clinton and his cock, who does the rebuttal?

Even you ditto-sheep have to admit that nobody on that list has EVER defended a fabricated lie against the president.

There is no "Exhibit B," because there are so few liberal voices on television. The closest you can get is Eleanor on McLaughlin or Geraldo, but there is barely a liberal whisper on television, even though there are DOZENS of right-wing, Smirk-apologist shows whose livelyhood is lying about liberals.

I don't think you ditto-heads can offer an answer.

Prove Me Wrong.