The Pluck of the Irish

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Thursday, July 1, 2004; 10:43 AM

Regular visitors to this space will recall Irish television correspondent Carole Coleman's 10-minute interview with the president last Thursday.

He got snippy when she tried to move him along. The White House complained to the Irish Embassy that she interrupted too much and cancelled her interview with the first lady. And afterwards, she reignited a debate about the role of the White House press corps when she said she had submitted her questions in advance.

Here's the video of the interview; here's the transcript.

It was quite the topic of conversation at yesterday's press briefing with Scott McClellan. (Here's the full text.)

"Q Did anyone in the White House or the administration ask Irish television or its reporter, Carole Coleman, to submit questions in advance of her interview with the President last Wednesday?

"MR. McCLELLAN: Bill, a couple of things. I saw I guess some reports on that. I don't know what every individual office -- whatever discussions that they have with reporters in terms of interviews. But obviously, the President was -- is pleased to sit down and do interviews with journalists, both from abroad, as well as here at home, and to talk about the priorities of this administration. And I think anytime that there is an interview that's going to take place, obviously there are staff-level discussions with reporters before that interview and to --

"Q -- what are the --

"MR. McCLELLAN: Well, to talk about what issues might be on their mind, and stuff. That's -- but, reporters --

"Q That's not the same thing as asking for --

"MR. McCLELLAN: Let me finish. Let me finish."

[Irony alert: "Let me finish" was Bush's frequent refrain in his Coleman interview.]

"Q -- and my question is, were questions asked for.

"MR. McCLELLAN: Let me finish. Reporters, when they meet with the President, can ask whatever questions they want. And any suggestion to the contrary is just --

"Q Right, but that doesn't answer the question. Did somebody in the administration ask her for questions in advance, and is that your policy?

"MR. McCLELLAN: No, in terms -- you're talking my policy?

"Q No, the administration's policy.

"MR. McCLELLAN: I don't know what an individual staffer may or may not have asked specifically of this reporter, but some of these interviews are set up by people outside of my direct office and control. . . . "

[More back and forth ensues.]

"Q Is it your policy to ask for questions in advance?

"MR. McCLELLAN: No, it is not my policy. In fact, if reporters would give me their questions, this press briefing would be a whole lot easier, I'm sure. But that's not my policy.

"Q Sometimes you might answer them. (Laughter.)"

Who Called to Complain?

Susan Falvella-Garraty writes in the Irish American weekly newspaper, Irish Echo, that the White House complaint about Coleman's interview came directly from Mary Catherine Andrews, who recently took over the White House's Office of Global Communications from its founder, Tucker Eskew.

The Coleman interview was arranged through the Office of Global Communication (Unofficial motto: Countering propaganda and disinformation since 2002), rather than through the regular press office.

"'The White House rang Thursday evening,'" said Irish embassy spokeswoman Síghle Dougherty. 'They were concerned over the number of interruptions and that they thought the president was not given an opportunity to respond to the questions.'"

Said Dougherty: "They were mostly troubled by what they said was the way the president was 'talked over.' "

Cheers and Jeers

John Nichols writes in an opinion column in the Madison Capital Times: "President Bush had an unpleasant run-in with a species of creature he had not previously encountered often: a journalist."

Jesse Walker writes on "Bush's complaint would have been more credible if his answers didn't typically consist of loosely connected talking points, not all of them related to the question originally posed."

Out in the blogosphere, posters include BoingBoing and the Carpetbagger report.

But it's not all pro-Coleman. See, for instance, the readers of, who went so far as to encourage people offended by Coleman to call her office. Says one poster: "The silly rude twit doesn't understand that the President of the United States represents the people of the United States and she just insulted ALL of us."

This was a big topic in my Live Online yesterday, as well.

Poll Watch

Mark Murray writes for NBC News: "With just over four months until Election Day, a near-majority of Americans believe the nation is headed in the wrong direction and that President Bush deliberately misled the public to make the case for war in Iraq, the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds. Yet even with those less-than-positive numbers for the president, the survey also shows that the race between Bush and presumptive Democratic nominee John Kerry is a statistical tie."

That second factoid is astounding, and I suspect you will be hearing a lot more about it in the coming days.

According to the complete results, 47 percent of Americans believe Bush deliberately misled people to make the case for war with Iraq, compared to 44 percent who think he gave the most accurate information he had.

Back in March, it was 53-41 in favor of giving him the benefit to the doubt.

John Harwood writes in the Wall Street Journal: "Midway through a dismal election year, President Bush finds the underpinnings of his political support badly eroded. But they haven't collapsed.

"A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll documents the toll that months of setbacks have taken on the president's standing. A majority of Americans say that the Iraq war has increased terrorist threats, not reduced them, and that the U.S. economy is headed for long-term trouble. More voters want Mr. Bush defeated than want him re-elected.

"Yet he remains deadlocked with Democratic challenger John Kerry, and can even nurse hopes of a rebound before the Nov. 2 election."

Harwood quotes pollster Peter Hart as saying Bush is "down but not out." But Harwood warns: "Mr. Bush's 45% job-approval rating matches Gerald Ford's at a similar point in 1976; since the advent of modern polling, the only White House incumbent who has survived a midsummer rating that low was Harry Truman in 1948."

Here's Campbell Brown talking through the results on NBC News.

Under Pressure

Ken Fireman of Newsday looks at the news out of the White House in the past week -- you know, the cussing, the visiting prosecutors, etc., etc. -- and sees "the hallmarks of an administration under increasing pressure, and starting to stagger and stumble under the accumulated weight."

He warns that "once a perception of fecklessness settles in around an administration, it is difficult to reverse -- especially in the fevered climate of a campaign. It is not clear that such a turning point has been reached. But the extraordinary polarization of the electorate gives Bush little margin for error, and recent events do not project an image of an administration confidently marching toward success."

Out of the Desert

Scott Lindlaw reports for the Associated Press: "With former envoy L. Paul Bremer at his side, President Bush offered a favorable progress report on Iraq yesterday and pledged anew that the United States was committed to finishing the job there despite a new wave of violence.

"Bush threw his arm around Bremer, until Monday the top occupation official in Iraq, as the two men walked into a presidential speech before about 150 Iraqi Americans.

"The President 'talked about the progress that we have made in just 14 months in Iraq,' White House spokesman Scott McClellan said. 'He also firmly stated our commitment to help the Iraqi people complete the mission of a free and peaceful Iraq.'"

The meeting was closed to the press, and I've seen no independent reports at all.

Here's Dana Bash talking to Judy Woodruff on CNN: "Well, Judy, if you look at the date on today's calendar, some might have already forgotten the importance of it. June 30, today, was when the transition was supposed to happen.

"In fact, the president we're told was planning to give an address today to the American people and the Iraqi people discussing the handover. But it was shortened and it was given of course on Monday, when the president was in Istanbul, when the handover actually happened two days early. And instead, Mr. Bush spent time today with his now former Iraqi administrator, Paul Bremer.

"The two spent some time. They had a private lunch. But it was all notably low-key, Judy. In fact, we didn't hear from the president all day today."

As for Bremer, he is still wearing his trademark desert footwear. Here's a White House photo.

Buy some wingtips, man! You're not in Iraq anymore!

Churches and the Campaign

Alan Cooperman writes in The Washington Post: "The Bush-Cheney reelection campaign has sent a detailed plan of action to religious volunteers across the country asking them to turn over church directories to the campaign, distribute issue guides in their churches and persuade their pastors to hold voter registration drives.

"Campaign officials said the instructions are part of an accelerating effort to mobilize President Bush's base of religious supporters. They said the suggested activities are intended to help churchgoers rally support for Bush without violating tax rules that prohibit churches from engaging in partisan activity."

Detainee Denial

Neil A. Lewis and David E. Sanger write in the New York Times that their sources say the Bush administration is "is still struggling to come to grips" with the Supreme Court's decision limiting their ability to imprison people indefinitely at Guantánamo Bay.

"Some administration officials, speaking to reporters on the condition that their names not be used, said they believed Mr. Bush and his aides were unprepared for how broadly and decisively the court struck down the practice of indefinite detention without hearings in almost all cases of the enemy combatants."

Here is press secretary Scott McClellan yesterday:

"Certainly, in terms of the Supreme Court decision, we're pleased that Supreme Court recognized the authority of the President, as Commander-in-Chief, to exercise his constitutional responsibility in a time of war. The President's most solemn obligation is to protect the American people. We also recognize that the court had some concerns, and we respect those concerns. So the National Security Council and the Department of Defense and the Department of Justice and others are discussing these issues. They're working expeditiously to move forward to put a process in place to address these concerns. And that is where things stand at this point."

Questions for the President

I asked you readers to suggest questions you'd ask the president if you had a chance, and they certainly spiced up my Live Online yesterday. Media blogger extraordinaire Jim Romenesko picked his two favorites: "How does 'My Pet Goat' end?" and "Why is Helen Thomas sitting in the back of the room?"

There were some slightly more serious ones: "Mr. President, Have you thought of a mistake yet?" and " Can you give us instances in which you have been humble in your duties as president?"

And there were some entirely serious ones: "Mr. President, given your enthusiastic support for Turkey's entry into the EU, could you outline what you believe the EU is and what membership entails? Follow-up: Why are you not granting Mexico the same privileges?" And: "Name 20 of the soldiers who you have sent to their deaths."

Cheney Watch

Peter Wallsten writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Vice President Dick Cheney is the master of the monotone speech and a man who relishes his backstage role at the White House. But Republican strategists are suddenly pushing the consummate inside guy into a more prominent role in the closely fought presidential campaign. . . .

"Democrats have their own focus on him -- trying to draw attention to his ties to contractor Halliburton Co., his role in building the case for war with Iraq and his recent use of a vulgarity on the Senate floor.

"The strategy is a gamble for both sides."

Today's Calendar

Bush participates in the swearing-in of John C. Danforth as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, then makes remarks commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act.

Cheney is in New Orleans to give a speech about Iraq and the war on terror to Republicans at the D-Day Museum there.

Bush and the Guard

Bouncing around the blogosphere -- see, for instance, this post from blogger David Niewert -- is a new amateur research report on Bush's military records. It's called: "Deserter: The story of George W. Bush after he quit the Texas Air National Guard."

Who's Scarier?

Doug Donovan writes in the Baltimore Sun about the fallout from Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley repeated assertion that he is more worried about President Bush's policies than he is about al Qaeda terrorists.

Howard Stern Watch

Carla Marinucci of the San Francisco Chronicle writes that "experts say shock-jock Howard Stern might hold shockingly profound influence -- with the 'King of Swing' firing up millions of critical swing voters against President Bush."

Optimistic Fellow

I've never heard Bush be anything but unfailingly optimistic about his reelection bid.

But New York Daily News gossip columnist Lloyd Grove reports today -- let's see, is that sourcing third or fourth hand? -- that Bush recently joked to some visiting fellow members of Yale secret society Skull & Bones: "If you want anything from me, you better ask for it now. I might not be here next year." Watch

The latest on Barney, the First Dog, from

"Shrouded in secrecy for months, the culprit responsible for the mysterious 'South Lawn Doughnuts' is finally revealed."

Also: The Barney diet.

Froomkin Watch

I'm taking an extra-long weekend. See you again on Wednesday. Happy Independence Day!

© 2004