The White House was disappointed by the brutal treatment President Bush’s economic summit at Baylor University received in the press Wednesday. Almost to a paper, from the New York Times and Washington Post to the L.A. Times and the San Francisco Chronicle, Bush’s event was hammered for its heavily managed aura.
“What event like this isn’t?” wonders a White House staffer who didn’t make the trip to Waco. “It’s days like this that make you wonder if those media guys are just looking to do the Democrats’ business. They complain we didn’t have any opposing voices there, but I’ve seen how the Clinton people did their so-called summits and they never had them either. No one complained then.”
Bush’s people were criticized for inviting speakers to Waco who presented testimony prepared by special interest groups, and for having obvious friends, like U.S. Chamber of Commerce president Tom Donohue, sitting on panels.
“The frustrating thing,” says the White House staffer, “is that the press knows that’s how these things work. They know what it takes to pull off one of these events. There’s a double standard here.”
The White House made sure that the 200 or so attendees featured a cross section of the country, including organized labor. “The AFL-CIO might not have liked the White House’s roster, but it’s not in the business of making the AFL-CIO happy,” says an RNC advance staffer. “We had a number of people we would have loved to have sitting at the table with Bush, but the White House ignored us and went with its own list. Hell, it even had DNC donors there.”
Concerned about the growing press fascination with his fellow Democrat presidential aspirants, such as Sens. Tom Daschle, John Edwards and Joe Lieberman, Democratic House leader Dick Gephardt is looking at his upcoming trip to Iowa as critical to setting up his presidential goals.
Gephardt, who will be in Iowa campaigning for Sen. Tom Harkin, is concerned that he is being lost amid the high profile Senators who are also exploring presidential runs. He hopes that his push in Iowa, where just about every House seat is in play for the fall, will bear some good PR fruit down the road.
“Daschle seems to be getting so much attention lately,” says a Gephardt staffer on Capitol Hill. “Edwards is the media darling. The only time Gephardt gets out from underneath that is when he hits the road and campaigns. Out there, he’s a big shot Democratic leader and it carries some weight.”
The advantage Gephardt has in Iowa is a grass roots organization that is far superior to just about everyone else’s, perhaps even to Al Gore‘s. “He has spent a ton of time there over the years,” say the Gephardt staffer. “Iowa may make or break his campaign in 2003.”