Tuesday, October 19
Team Bush declares war on the New York Times
Eric Boehlert, Salon.com, October 19, 2004
The GOP attack on a Times Magazine story is the latest attempt to rally the conservative base by "whacking a newspaper with 'New York' in its name," says executive editor Bill Keller.
Oct. 19, 2004 During the closing weeks of the 2000 presidential campaign, at a campaign rally, George W. Bush spotted a veteran political reporter and turned to Dick Cheney, standing next to him on the platform, to remark, "There's Adam Clymer, major league asshole from the New York Times." "Oh yeah, big time," replied Cheney.
Unbeknownst to them, their locker-room exchange was caught by an open microphone.
Four years later, nobody connected with the Bush-Cheney campaign appears even slightly concerned about being caught denigrating the Times; they're more than happy to do it on the record, as the White House has all but declared open warfare on the nation's leading newspaper.
The latest volley came over the weekend when Republican campaign officials accused the Times Sunday magazine of fabricating a provocative quote from Bush in which he bragged -- behind closed doors and speaking to wealthy supporters -- that he would announce plans for "privatizing of Social Security" early next year, after his reelection.
When Democrats jumped on the remark, dubbing it the "January surprise," Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie dismissed the Times' work as "Kitty Kelley journalism," insisting Bush never uttered the phrase attributed to him.
But the Times stands by the 8,300-word story by Ron Suskind, author of "The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House and the Education of Paul O'Neill," a revealing account of the former secretary of the treasury published earlier this year. [...more]
Reality Based Reporting
Eric Boehlert, Salon.com, October 20, 2004
Believe it or not, Bush aides once welcomed reporter Ron Suskind into the West Wing, invited him to attend some meetings, gave him lengthy interviews and even found him his own desk to work at inside the White House. That was back in early 2002, when Suskind, who had won a Pulitzer Prize while working for the Wall Street Journal, was profiling Karen Hughes for Esquire magazine. ... ...
Suskind has pulled back the White House curtain perhaps more effectively than any other reporter. And the portraits Suskind has painted of Bush and his advisors are not at all flattering, though they are reality-based.
Suskind's latest article, "Without a Doubt," appeared in Sunday's New York Times Magazine, and it is arguably the most damning of all. It made headlines when the Kerry campaign seized upon a remark Bush reportedly made to top donors, quoted in the article, during a closed-door lunch in September, promising that after his swearing in in January he would "come out strong with ... privatizing of Social Security."
The Bush campaign denied the quote, labeled it a fabrication, accused the Times of practicing "Kitty Kelley journalism" and attacked Suskind as a partisan hack, even including his picture and voter registration information in an e-mail blasted to the national press corps as a combination of preemptive intimidation and inoculation.
"Without a Doubt," which relies upon mostly Republican sources, examines the extraordinary degree to which Bush and his senior aides are "faith based" in their decision making, and disdain those who are "reality based."
It also discusses how Bush allegedly sends special symbolic signals to his evangelical constituency of "faith-based" true believers.
Suskind's White House reporting began with the 2002 profile of Karen Hughes, Bush's then chief of communications, who was just departing her position.
... ... Finally, this past Sunday, Suskind published the latest chapter in his revelations about the Bush White House. I spoke to him by telephone on Tuesday.
E.B.: What did you suspect would be the reaction to the Times article, and did the whole Social Security privatization flap surprise you?
I wasn't expecting that. I was expecting Bush's quote -- "I'm going to be real positive while I keep on John Kerry's throat" -- to create a lot of heat and light. I was surprised the privatization quote got so much play. I think it was largely because Kerry focused on it.
E.B.: Did that then force the Bush campaign to deny the quote and call it fabricated and "Kitty Kelley journalism"?
Of course. At this point, with two weeks to go until the election, it is regrettable but expected that either side, frankly, will do just about anything. It's regrettable that both sides have jumped onto the little rowboat of that one word [privatize]. But the fact is, that's what Bush said.
As well, the president said, "I'm going to have an opportunity to name somebody to the Supreme Court right after my swearing in."
That certainly suggests to me a quid pro quo, that there's been at least a passing of communication, if you will, between someone on the Supreme Court and the White House-- that immediately after the president's swearing in he'll have his first of what he considers, as he said at the luncheon, the first of four spots that he's expected to [be able to name] in his second term.
"... I don't talk to Democrats; I know what they're going to say. I'm talking to Republicans who have personal experience with the president or with his innermost circle. Those are my sources. And the fact is, many of them have been calling over the last few days to say thank you for writing this story."
E.B.: In the Times story and your Esquire work, as well as in the O'Neill book, you paint a portrait of the president that's very different from that provided by the rest of the press corps that has been covering him for four years. In fact, after one of the Esquire flaps, there was a quote in the Washington Post from someone at the White House saying incredulously,
"This town is filled with journalists covering Bush and somehow Suskind supposedly gets these people to talk?" Why does your portrait of Bush come through so different?
To tell you the truth, it's two things. What I've been able to report over the last two or three years are things that many people in the Washington press corps suspected but have been unable to confirm or to get people to talk about. That I've been able to get them to talk about it is in some measure a function of preparation meets opportunity, a lucky break. With the first piece, on Karen Hughes, I spent time in the West Wing and had serious conversations. And they got to know me. After that story came out the White House's reaction was so angry, it sent a kind of tone where I stumbled onto something. That was the first little crack in the dome of silence.
After that it just evolved, that's all. There are many reporters in town who are as good as or better than I am. Many of my friends in town I consider to be heroes in the cause of trying to report on this White House when what they're literally having to do is run into a brick wall every single morning. That early crack, that break if you will -- and the fact that I can step back and don't have to worry about issues of access day to day and can dig 10 or 20 feet below the crust -- has allowed this thing to evolve over three years. And it has clearly evolved rather strikingly.
E.B.: Who's going to win the election?
My betting line right now is, and has been since midsummer, to stick with Bush.
There was something very interesting from that [September] luncheon, where Bush spoke for 65 minutes in a very open and freewheeling way to his top contributors. He said, "I'll be criticized and there will be a lot of who won, who lost.
And just prepare yourself for [the fact that] I will not necessarily be at my best. But after that, during the final three weeks, that's when the real campaign will resume." That means an extraordinary electoral machine targeted at energizing the base, largely the faith-based core of the base. And that machine is kicking up now, and I think you're seeing it in the poll data.
It's like two great machines racing across the horizon. I think the Bush machine, with its support from the powers of the executive, is a machine that's hard to beat.
Having said that, I think the Kerry machine is certainly the most forceful, energetic and well-running machine the Democrats have ever created.
But the Republican machine is also best of breed for Republicans. At the end of the day, it's not just the man but the machine he sits on, and I think Bush sits on a slightly more pointed and efficient machine -- one that Karl Rove has been building and oiling and calibrating the gears on for four years.
That's why, right now, it looks to me at least, like Bush.
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