White House Book Flap

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Monday, January 12, 2004; 9:45 AM

Pulitzer-Prize winning author Ron Suskind's new book, "The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O'Neill," isn't actually out until Tuesday, but it's Amazon's top seller as of this morning.

In the book, the former Treasury Secretary offers the first long, hard look at the workings of the Bush White House from a key insider.

The two themes making headlines: 1.) That the president is disengaged ("like a blind man in a room full of deaf people") and managed by his staff (encircled by "a Praetorian guard"); and 2.) That the White House was intent on overthrowing Saddam Hussein long before 9/11 ("It was all about finding a way to do it.")

O'Neill and Suskind, a former Wall Street Journal reporter, were on "60 Minutes" last night. There's a full transcript on the CBS News Web site, as well as video highlights.

Suskind also made headlines a little over a year ago, with his Esquire story about Karl Rove, "Why Are These Men Laughing?" in which the former head of Bush's office of faith-based programs, John J. DiIulio Jr., described an overpoliticized White House as "the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis."

The Wall Street Journal has a 2,700-word excerpt from "The Price of Loyalty" that "centers on Mr. O'Neill's evolving views of Mr. Cheney" and "depicts the vice president's extraordinary clout on economic issues, from steel tariffs to tax cuts."

Time has its own interview with O'Neill.

In Newsweek, Tamara Lipper and Evan Thomas say Bush is "Over the Moon" but that the book could be a problem. "The Bushies understand that character and leadership are more likely to be decisive than policy or programs, which is one reason they have been nervously awaiting" it.

The official White House line, from press secretary Scott McClellan: "It appears that the world according to Mr. O'Neill is more about trying to justify his own opinion than looking at the reality of the results we are achieving on behalf of the American people."

Today's Calendar

Bush flies to Monterrey, Mexico, this morning to attend the Special Summit of the Americas (Web site), a gathering of 34 democratically elected leaders in the Western Hemisphere, where he'll make time today to meet separately with President Vicente Fox of Mexico, President Ricardo Lagos of Chile and leaders of CARICOM, the Caribbean community (list of members). There will be more sessions and more presidents Tuesday and he'll be back at the White House Tuesday night.

Not quite as exotically, the vice president today will be making remarks at a "Safety Record Ceremony" for the 99th Airlift Squadron at Andrews Air Force Base, before he flies out to Colorado, for a $1,000-a-plate Bush-Cheney '04 reception at the Hyatt Regency Denver.

That Mexico Trip

A quick summary of the lookahead stories:

Chris Marquis, New York Times: The United States is increasingly facing resentment over security and trade policies from Latin American countries.

Tim Weiner and Elizabeth Bumiller, New York Times: Expectations for great progress are low and friction on important proposals is high.

Howard LaFranchi, Christian Science Monitor: The United States can't count on the Southern Hemisphere to toe the line anymore.

Kevin Sullivan, The Washington Post: Bush comes to Mexico as the most dominant political leader in the world, while Fox is struggling for relevance.

Richard Boudreaux, Los Angeles Times: Bush is deeply unpopular in much of the region.

Joel Millman and Greg Hitt, Wall Street Journal: Controversy over the U.S. war on terror threatens to overshadow President Bush's efforts to improve relations with Latin America.

By the Numbers

CBS Radio White House correspondent Mark Knoller meticulously tracks presidential data. He tells White House Briefing that this is Bush's 19th foreign trip and his fourth visit as president to Mexico. "That's more visits than to any other country. Runners up are Britain and Russia -- three visits each." According to Knoller's complete list of foreign visits, Bush has visited a total of 38 countries.

The State Department also maintains a list of presidential trips all the way back to 1901, sorted by president and by country.

Bush is flying to Mexico from his ranch in Crawford, Tex. He will spend two days and one night in Mexico. By contrast, he has spent all or part of 220 days of his presidency at his ranch, Knoller reports. That's more than seven months, or almost one in five days since inauguration.

Mutual Recriminations

Howard Kurtz (second item) in The Washington Post describes a New Yorker story by Ken Auletta (not available on the Web until tomorrow) about the relationship between the White House and the press corps. "In the White House, Karl Rove says Bush has 'a cagey respect' for the press but views it as 'elitist,' a bunch of people trying 'to get a headline or get a story that will make people pay attention to their magazine, newspaper or television more,'" Kurtz writes. And "Feelings are raw on the other side as well."

Over in the New York Daily News, a Lloyd Grove item on the same topic is headlined "W & Aides Broadcast Media Hate."

Risky Business

"Bush Gets 'Vision Thing' and Embraces Big Risks." That's the headline for today's White House Letter from the New York Times's Elizabeth Bumiller. "More than many presidents, historians say, Mr. Bush seems to understand how to use the powers of the office and to see the political benefits in risk. . . . In a re-election year, Mr. Bush's plan is to steal the show."

Bumiller and Richard W. Stevenson also put together a story and chart for Sunday's paper on Bush's reelection campaign. The official message "is that he is so focused on the business of running the nation that he has paid little attention to the details of his re-election campaign. . . . In reality, presidential advisers say, Mr. Bush is wholly absorbed by the race."

It's the Economy, Readers

The Wall Street Journal's Jacob M. Schlesinger assesses Bush's reelection chances based on the economy, and concludes that his chances are better than his dad's, because of "better timing."

Epitomizing Bush: The Contest

Al Kamen of The Washington Post today ushers in the first In the Loop contest for 2004, searching for the hit movie or television show most associated with George W. Bush's tenure as president. His last item also notes Ziad S. Ojakli's departure from the White House. Ojakli, known as "Z," was top deputy for legislative affairs and Senate liaison.

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