Friday, October 13, 2006


High Fashion At The White House News Conference...

When I read this, I understood why the White House Press Corps hasn’t exactly done their jobs. They’re too busy trying to out-fashion each other. When reporters wear $1,500 suits, you know they aren’t going to take any chances about getting dirt on them…Still, they did manage to bug Georgy-boy.

Retreating to Small Talk When the News Isn't So Good

By Dana Milbank
Thursday, October 12, 2006; A02

President Bush needed to change the subject.

"If I might say, that is a beautiful suit," he told NBC News correspondent Kevin Corke at yesterday's news conference in the Rose Garden.

"My tailor appreciates that," replied Corke, wearing a $1,500 custom pinstripe number by Tom James with bright-red tie and pocket square.

"And I can't see anybody else who even comes close," Bush added, drawing laughs from the assembled scribes in wrinkled navy blazers.

Then the president spied CNN's Suzanne Malveaux, pointing at her Benetton suit with pink pinstripes. "Suzanne, I take that back," Bush amended with chivalry. Moments later he bestowed on her the day's "best-dressed" honors.

"Kevin and I coordinated," she explained.

CBS News's Jim Axelrod was feeling left out. "My best suit's in the cleaners," he told the commander in chief.

Bush eyed Axelrod's slacks with disdain. "That's not even a suit," he said, before chalking up the whole thing to "high-priced news guys."

It was about the only fun Bush had all morning. North Korea is exploding, Iraq is imploding, and congressional Republicans are self-destructing. Reporters weren't about to let the president forget about that, even if he looked natty in his gray suit and dark-blue tie.

"Do you ever feel like the walls are closing in on you?" Axelrod tormented.

Bret Baier of Fox News asked Bush about "the tide turning, according to several polls, towards the Democrats."

USA Today's David Jackson noted the "shelf full of books" about Iraq and their claims that "administration policies contributed to the difficulties there."

"There's a lot of books out there -- a lot," the president agreed. "I guess it means that I've made some hard decisions."

Actually, the books say he and his aides made a lot of bad decisions: too few troops in Iraq, no reconstruction plan, ignored insurgency warnings, and keeping Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon while pushing Colin Powell out of the State Department.

The underdressed reporters peppered Bush with 15 questions about Iraq and North Korea; only near the end did the Chicago Tribune's Mark Silva mention some guy named Foley. Pressed to defend his foreign policy, Bush instead cited the "stakes" involved in the Middle East and North Korea -- 13 times.

"I understand the stakes," Bush announced. "I'm going to repeat them one more time. As a matter of fact, I'm going to spend a lot of time repeating the stakes."

He made good on that promise. Five times he said "the stakes are high," occasionally adding that "the stakes are really high" and even that, "as a matter of fact, they couldn't be higher."

"I know this sounds [as if] I'm just saying it over and over again," Bush admitted. But repetition is crucial to learning; to that end, Bush also said four times that the enemy is trying to establish a "caliphate."

Dissatisfied with the reporters' prickly questions, Bush went about answering his own. He said abandoning Iraq would allow terrorists to launch new attacks on America. "How do I know that would happen?" Bush asked himself. "Because that's what the enemy has told us," he answered.

When a questioner asked about the credibility of the administration's threats toward North Korea, Bush said: "I thought you were going to ask . . . 'How come you didn't use military action?' " Bush then replied: "My answer is that I believe the commander in chief must try all diplomatic measures."

"I'll ask myself a follow-up," Bush continued. "If that's the case, why did you use military action in Iraq?" His answer to himself: "Because we tried the diplomacy."

It's dicey for a president to hold a news conference when his support is below 40 percent and there is little good news to share. Bush started off by pointing out that the federal budget deficit has been shrinking faster than expected. But his questioners, perhaps heeding Vice President Cheney's admonition that "deficits don't matter," didn't ask any questions on the subject.

The president's opening statement, though heavily qualified, contained some of his trademark sanguinity: "We're on the move. We're taking action. . . . We accomplished that mission."

But the mood darkened when the first questioner asked "is your administration to blame" for North Korea's getting nuclear weapons. On cue, a sudden breeze sent willow leaves fluttering onto the party.

No, Bush answered, the Clinton administration is to blame.

This provoked a challenge from ABC News's Martha Raddatz. "How can you say your policy is more successful, given that North Korea has apparently tested a nuclear weapon?" she asked.

Off to the side sat four Bush aides who had been with him through his entire presidency: Josh Bolten, Karl Rove, Steve Hadley and Dan Bartlett. Grayer and thinner on top than they were six years ago, they watched expressionlessly as Bush entered with a spring in his step and a wave to the cameras, then as he left an hour later with less good cheer.

"Thank you for your interest," the president said curtly, skipping the usual pleasantries. As he walked back into the Oval Office, he shot a glance in the direction of his aides that showed he was not pleased.
© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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