Register Friday | September 21 | 2018

Handle With Kid Gloves

Bush vs. Journalists

I hope this story gets far more play than it has so far. President Bush sat down with Irish reporter Carole Coleman, who apparently had the gall to ask him (wait for it... wait for it) questions rather than serving up sound bites. I know. What an asshole, right? You can watch the clip here. (You will need Real Player to watch it.) If it looks off to American audiences, don't adjust your screen. This is what reporters supposedly do. We've just gotten used to the handjob fireside chats that Russert, Matthews, and the White House Press Corps conduct with Bush.

I hope the "journalists" in the White House press corps hang their impotent heads in shame, because it’s about time they rethink their role, not just as "reporters" but within the broader structure of an American aristocratic hierarchy, err... I mean democracy. Right. We have a democracy, right?

A Scene from the White House Press Room:

Reporter: "Mr. President, what color is that shirt you're wearing?"
POTUS: "I think they call this purple."
Reporter: "Are you sure it's not lavender, Mr. President?"
POTUS: "I think they call it purple. It's a purple shirt. I have seen purple before, and this is purple."
Reporter: "Purple it is, sir. I just have one last question for you."
POTUS: [Icy Stare]
Reporter: "Maybe I don't."
POTUS: "Keep to the script."
Reporter: "What's my line again?"
POTUS: "For fuck sake, Bill, we rehearsed this all morning!"
Reporter: "I know, I know. Crap. I'm sorry."
White House Spokesman: "Cut! Cut! Cut! Come on, people! This has to look seamless. Bill, can you pull your head out of your ass for a second."
Reporter: "I can. Sorry."
Spokesman: "Big guy?"
President: "You know I'm ready."
Spokesman: "Alright, let's get touch up on the President."
[People come in. Hair is combed down. Make up dabbed. They leave.]
Spokesman: "And.... ACTION!"
Reporter: "Mr. President, how are things going in Iraq."
POTUS: "Well, we've definitely had some problems. But we won't be intimidated. We have a tough road ahead, but we will not be swayed, because freedom is too important. The evil doers will not win."
Reporter: "That's it from the White House, where the US is staying the course in Iraq, and will not be scared away. The President was resolute in his conviction, giving all Americans hope for a better tomorrow."
Spokesman: "That's a wrap, people. Great work. Print it, Tom Brokaw."

Memo to the White House Press Corps:
I know that there are many times as a writer you feel more PR rep than story teller. In the magazine world, as unfortunate as that is, the effects of this particular devil's handshake make for reduced access and poorer copy. Just read a Vanity Fair cover story to see what I mean. In politics, in grown up journalism (which magazines participate in too, from time to time) that deal with the devil doesn't just hurt copy, it is amoral. What amazes me about the current hullabaloo over Fahrenheit 9/11 is not that Michael Moore had the balls to tell the story no one would tell, it's that he is actually holding our President accountable to the American people. Let me lay this out for you, dear White House "journalists." The President is beholden to you. You are his boss, as citizens of this country. Because you have access to him in a way that we, the normal people to us, that gives you two responsibilities. To question him, directly, about his policies, his decisions, his whereabouts, his movements, his political life. When he fails to answer, you are to question him again. When he gives a half-assed answer, you are to follow up. And when you get answers, your job is to report back to me, the American citizen, about his successes and his failures. You are not Bush's personal publicist (although I think he should more aptly be dubbed the Publicist in Chief); you are the unwritten check and balance. Are you so worried about losing your access that you’ve stopped doing your job? That your name will be sullied? That your editor will fail to defend you? (God, I wish some editor would get up there and raise hell.)

The office of the President certainly demands respect, if not in the form of the person holding office, than certainly in the office itself. What better way to respect the Presidency than, you know, doing your job. Consider this interview a first lesson. You are all going back to school, and when you get out, please start doing your jobs, you softball lobbing wimps. Do your damn jobs. I have a crazy idea. If all of you were to band together, perhaps ask a hard question or three, have your credentials removed by the White House, maybe, just maybe, the dynamic that currently exists between this President, nay, this administration, and the "free" press in the US will change.