Important matters of state aside, yesterday's presidential press conference was noteworthy for the easy contempt Mr. Bush displayed for the Washington press corps. I'd hate to be a mule on his ranch! Bush no longer feels the need even to pretend to be courting any of these critters. If looks could maim, there'd not be a single Washington pressy walking steadily these days.
The president's friendliest remarks seemed to be directed at Fox News' Carl Cameron, all of them premised on the notion that Cameron, like Fox, is a pariah in liberal media eyes:
Bush: Carl, welcome to the beat. Is everybody thrilled Carl is here?
Cameron: Yes. (Laughter.) Thanks, very much.
Bush: Please express a little more enthusiasm for him. (Laughter.)
To make matters worse, Bush called on several reporters whose questions could only have come from the White House communications office. Most famously, Jeff Gannon of the openly Republican Talon News mocked recent comments by Democrats Harry Reid and Hillary Clinton before asking Bush how was he "going to work with [such] people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?" Did Ronald Reagan ever enjoy such a friendly query?
Of course, some of the old guard tried to get in some licks, not that it did them any good. As usual, the intensely prissy Terry Moran took top prize. ABC's man at the White House appears to hate Bush as much as John Kerry and Al Gore do. Naturally, in keeping with his network's highest standards, Moran tried to sandbag Bush yesterday, informing him that
Last month in Jordan, a gentleman named Ali Hatar was arrested after delivering a lecture called, "Why We Boycott America." He was charged under section 191 of their penal code for slander of government officials. He stood up for democracy, you might say. And I wonder if here and now, you will specifically condemn this abuse of human rights by a key American ally. And if you won't, sir, then what, in a practical sense, do your fine words mean?
Oooh, can't you just feel the contempt? "You might say." "If here and now." "If you won't, sir." "What ? do your fine words mean?" Would he ever use this tone on his boss Peter Jennings? Better yet, Moran equates standing up for democracy with boycotting America. What good is democracy if it's not anti-American?
Bush answered that he knew nothing about the case. He wasn't the only one. Neither Moran nor ABC News had ever said a thing about it. Its only value lay in its potential to trip up the president. As it was, Bush had the last cutting word. When Moran attempted a follow-up, Bush responded:
Again, I don't know the facts, Terry. You're asking me to comment on something I do not know the facts. Perhaps you're accurate in your description of the facts, but I have not seen those facts.
That was a mighty big "perhaps." As during the presidential debates, Bush left open the possibility that the major media do not report accurately.
After the Democrats' embarrassing oppositionist display before Condoleezza Rice's confirmation yesterday, Rush Limbaugh spoke of how no one can fear those losers anymore. The same must be said of the White House press corps, which might want to rethink its line of attack. Instead of criticizing Bush for never holding a press conference, it ought to go after him for holding one in the first place -- and request a restraining order.