Bush Prefers the Sports Pages

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Tuesday, May 11, 2004; 10:55 AM

President Bush doesn't spend much time poring over news coverage because it would just muddle his thinking and bring him down, he told the author of a new, admiring book about his presidency.

In the second of three reports based on his new book, "Misunderestimated: The President Battles Terrorism, John Kerry and the Bush Haters," Bill Sammon of the Washington Times writes that Bush gets four newspapers -- and reads the sports pages. As for the front pages? He scans and skims.

"Mr. Bush thinks that immersing himself in voluminous, mostly liberal-leaning news coverage might cloud his thinking and even hinder his efforts to remain an optimistic leader," Sammon writes.

"I like to have a clear outlook," Bush told Sammon, who is also a political analyst for Fox News. "It can be a frustrating experience to pay attention to somebody's false opinion or somebody's characterization, which simply isn't true. . . .

"I don't watch the nightly newscasts on TV, nor do I watch the endless hours of people giving their opinion about things. . . . I don't read the editorial pages; I don't read the columnists."

"Yet Mr. Bush regularly monitors the news pages of a select few daily publications," Sammon writes.

"I get the newspapers -- the New York Times, The Washington Times, The Washington Post and USA Today -- those are the four papers delivered," Bush said. "I can scan a front page, and if there is a particular story of interest, I'll skim it."

"Mrs. Bush routinely delves more deeply into the news pages than her husband, who prefers other sections," Sammon writes.

"He does not dwell on the newspaper, but he reads the sports page every day," Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. told Sammon.

In an often-quoted January story in the New Yorker, Ken Auletta wrote about the "declaration of press irrelevance" by the White House.

There's more on Sammon's book in yesterday's column.

Poll Watch

Jill Lawrence writes in USA Today: "President Bush's approval rating dropped to the lowest of his presidency in a poll taken after a week of revelations about abuse of Iraqi prisoners and questions about whether Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld should keep his job. . . .

"'For an incumbent to be at 46% job approval at this point in an election year has historically always spelled defeat' for presidents since 1950, says Frank Newport, editor in chief of the Gallup Poll."

John Ritter, also in USA Today, writes about public reaction to the war in particular: "For the first time, a majority of Americans say they're dissatisfied with President Bush's performance, and 58% disapprove of his handling of the situation in Iraq, according to a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll taken Friday through Sunday."

Here are the poll results from USA Today, and a results slide show from CNN.

CNN's William Schneider told Lou Dobbs, said yesterday: "The prisoner abuse scandal is taking a toll on President Bush. Three weeks ago, just after the insurgency began, the public was evenly divided over how President Bush was handling Iraq. Now? 58 percent disapprove.

"In the past, Bush has held the advantage over Democratic challenger John Kerry on Iraq. Now, the public is pretty closely split over who would do a better job in Iraq. Bush's advantage has just about disappeared.

"Terrorism is still President Bush's issue. And the economy is Kerry's. What about all those good economic indicators that just came out? Aren't they giving the president a boost? No."

Prison Abuse Update

"President Bush went before cameras at the Pentagon yesterday to unequivocally praise Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld in an effort to head off growing pressure for his resignation," write Mike Allen and Bradley Graham of The Washington Post. Bush also privately "examined more than a dozen new photos documenting abuse of Iraqi detainees" and "shook his head in disgust at the images, which included frames from videos, said an aide who was present."

Richard W. Stevenson and Carl Hulse write in the New York Times: "In his show of support, Mr. Bush sought to quash speculation that he would seek Mr. Rumsfeld's resignation. By arraying other senior aides around him as he made the statement -- including Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Gen. Richard B. Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff -- he sought to create a tableau of a national security team that, however fractured it has been over Iraq, was now united in its determination to deal with the repercussions of the abuse cases, quell the insurgency in Iraq and transfer governance to the Iraqis."

AFP warns that "Bush's unqualified support for his embattled Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who is facing resignation calls over a widening Iraqi prisoner abuse scandal, may dent the president's reelection bid."

Ron Hutcheson and James Kuhnhenn write for Knight Ridder Newspapers: "Karl Rove, Bush's chief political adviser, opposes getting rid of Rumsfeld because he believes that firing the defense secretary or other top officials, or forcing them to resign now, would put the Bush administration's Iraq policy on trial instead of a few soldiers who broke the rules, said a leading Republican who recently discussed the issue with Rove."

Maura Reynolds and Esther Schrader write in the Los Angeles Times: "Bush travels only infrequently across the Potomac River to the sprawling Pentagon complex, because military officials can brief him in the White House over a secure video linkup. White House officials said the visit, his sixth since taking office, had been in the works for several weeks and was not initiated so that the president could view the photos.

"McClellan offered no explanation for the trip other than that the president likes to visit the Pentagon 'from time to time.' During the visit, Bush received a briefing from commanders on Iraq and gave an interview to Armed Forces Radio and Television."

Here's the transcript of Bush's remarks at the Pentagon, as well as video.

"You are courageously leading our nation in the war against terror. You are doing a superb job. You are a strong secretary of defense. And our nation owes you a debt of gratitude," Bush said.

But Carla Anne Robbins and Greg Hitt of the Wall Street Journal write that Bush's "praise is unlikely to quiet demands for Mr. Rumsfeld's resignation in the wake of the Iraqi prisoner-abuse scandal, or halt the handicapping on his likely successor."

Congressional hearings and the inevitable release of more pictures, and video, mean this story is not simmering down anytime soon. And still entirely unclear is when the White House first knew about the scandal.

On NBC's Today Show this morning, for instance, Andrea Mitchell reports that the Red Cross claims that the White House was alerted to prison abuses "early on."

And Who Are They Rooting For?

An excerpt from Bush's interview with Armed Forces Radio (for some reason, not on the White House Web site):

"And, you know, the Iraqis are sitting there watching this election process of ours. It's an important process, obviously. Democracy is essential, in my judgment, for a peaceful world. And we're the leading democracy on the face of the Earth.

"But as they watch this, they're wondering whether or not I've got what it takes to stand up to the political pressures and do what I think is right, which is, follow through with our strategy to win this war and make sure they're free. They've got to hear this. And our troops must hear this. I don't care what the politics are like in America. We're doing the right thing, and we will -- we will finish the task, because I understand how important the task is for the future of this country."

Commencement Watch

Elisabeth Bumiller writes in the New York Times: "President Bush will be going to three college commencements in coming weeks -- but not those of his twin daughters, Barbara and Jenna.

"Mr. Bush and his wife, Laura, said they did not want to subject other families to the disruptions of a presidential visit when Barbara Bush graduates from Yale University on May 24 in New Haven and Jenna Bush graduates from the University of Texas on May 22 in Austin.

"Mr. Bush turned down an invitation to speak at the Texas ceremony. But he will give a commencement address at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge and at Concordia University in Mequon, Wis."

Two things Yale and Texas have -- that the Air Force Academy, LSU and Concordia don't -- is students guaranteed to virulently protest a Bush visit.

For comparison purposes: President and Mrs. Clinton attended daughter Chelsea's graduation from Stanford in 2001.

The Bushes' plans to skip their daughters' graduations also were reported over the weekend in The Washington Post's Names & Faces column and elsewhere.

Speaking of Twins

In another tidbit from his book, Sammon of the Washington Times writes that the twins were worried when they heard Bush was flying to Baghdad last Thanksgiving.

"They began to wonder whether this was the last time they'd see me," Bush told Sammon. "That sounds a little overdramatic, but nevertheless, I'll just say their hugs -- and the hug of Laura -- were intense."

Asked and Answered

From "Email the White House:"

"Q: Trevor from Bend Oregon: My mother and father enjoy watching West Wing every Wednesday night. I try and stay up and watch it with them, my dad tells me that someday I can be the President of the United States. I was wondering how much of that show captures the real events around the white house and the west wing.

"Thank you for answering my question."

"A: Secretary Andy Card, White House Chief of Staff: The show stretches reality, but frequently has story lines based on credible experiences. The real West Wing is not as 'large' as it appears in the television show, and the offices are much smaller. Never have I seen West Wing staffers running around the corridors in any panic. The President is also not likely to give a long speech to his staff in the Oval Office."

But is that a good thing?

Speaking of That Other 'West Wing'

My washingtonpost.com colleague Jen Chaney says that the second season of the show, newly out on DVD, was the "best season ever." And the DVD even features a tour and a map of the "West Wing" version of the West Wing.

For a map of the real-world version, click here.

First Lady Watch

Michael Slackman writes in the New York Times: "The first lady was in New York yesterday to visit a school in Queens and to dedicate Gardens of Remembrance, a 10,0000-square-foot public park in honor of those who died on Sept. 11. Her appearance had all the markings of a carefully choreographed campaign stop."

Mrs. Bush gave an interview on ABC's Good Morning America yesterday.

Cheney Heart Watch

The Associated Press reports: "Vice President Dick Cheney was undergoing a routine exam Tuesday to check on a pacemaker placed in his chest in June 2001."

Super Bowl Celebration

The Associated Press writes: "President Bush huddled at the White House for a second time with New England Patriots, winners of two Super Bowls. "

Here are Bush's remarks. Here's a funny Reuters photo of Bush headed back to the Oval Office afterwards.

Syria Watch

Reuters reports: "President Bush plans on Tuesday to impose economic sanctions on Syria for allegedly supporting terrorism and failing to stop guerrillas from entering Iraq, people involved in the deliberations said."

Today's Calendar

Deb Riechmann of the Associated Press writes: "President Bush is putting his education policies on display during a three-day focus on the subject, including visits to two states that are toss-ups in the November presidential election.

"Bush on Tuesday discusses the No Child Left Behind education law when he visits Butterfield Junior High School in Van Buren, Ark., a Republican stronghold near the Arkansas-Oklahoma border. On Wednesday, in suburban Washington, he speaks about the importance of reading in early grades, followed by a visit Thursday to a West Virginia high school.

"The president's education tour follows a similar three-day swing by Democratic presidential rival John Kerry."

Future Travel Plans

Oh, there is joy in the White House press corps. This is so much more fun than the Arkansas-Oklahoma border.

The Associated Press reports: "President Bush will make two trips to Europe in June to mark the 60th anniversary of World War II, meet with European Union leaders in Ireland and attend a NATO summit in Turkey."

The first trip will be to Italy and France. The second, later in the month, will be to Ireland and then Istanbul.

© 2004 washingtonpost.com