White House Briefing Columnist
Wednesday, February 9, 2005; 1:00 PM
What's going on inside the White House? Ask Dan Froomkin, who writes the White House Briefing column for washingtonpost.com. He'll answer your questions, take your comments and links, and point you to coverage around the Web.
Dan is also deputy editor of Niemanwatchdog.org. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bring 'em on.
1) Do you prevent every crank who wants one from getting day passes to the White House briefing room? Gannon was one of many, and I'd almost be more worried if the White House started getting too controlling on that count.
2) If you're the president or the press secretary, do you call on them? Indeed, do you call on them when you need a lifeline?
I had less of a beef with Gannon than I did with the folks who actually called on him.
And there are two attenuating factors:
1) The opposition isn't making much of a fuss about it.
2) Our tendency as reporters, encouraged from our very baby steps in the business, is to eke out news even where there isn't any. So even if Bush says absolutely nothing new at an event, we may try to make it look like he sort of did. The alternative, to write a story that says "Nothing happened" runs contrary to our prime directive.
That said, as I have written before, I think that in your typical conversation about Social Security these days, what is most newsworthy is what is not said, and who is not there. That's a reasonable approach and one more reporters should take.
(For those who missed it, it's the last few paragraphs of the "Clinton Comparison" section of yesterday's column.)
I guess I was thinking about the kinds of meetings I have experienced in the world of newspapers and new media. There tended to be a fair amount of disagreement, I write understatedly.
Conceivably, I guess, if a Rove meeting is: 'Here's what I think, get cracking', well then, that might not really slow him down at all.
Thanks for the chats -- always fun and interesting.
Now I consider myself a concerned citizen, and, being young (25), I'm very interested in hearing some different proposals for reforming/altering social security. My complaint is, there's been a huge debate thus far, and no real proposal from anyone (at least not that I've seen).
How can Bush promote his plan if he won't give details (or field actual qeustions)? And, conversely, how can Democrats simply say no when Bush says that "Everything is on the table." So far, it just strikes me as a debate that's all politics and no policy.
And people wonder why voter turnout is low... Neither side of the debate has taught the American public much of anything about this complex issue, and neither seems to be trying.
We know a bit more about his private-accounts idea, though. At least enough for reasonable people to start making up their minds about that.
Longtime reader, first-time poster:
You've written several times about the Talon News White House correspondant, Jeff Gannon. Are you aware that Mr. Gannon is actually a fraud and a shill planted by the Bush Administration?
The story was broken thanks to the collective diligence of the blogosphere (see www.Dailykos.com) who through a little "investigative journalism," uncovered the shill's false identity and lack of press credentials. Now we'd like to know how the White House issued this man a daily pass to the press briefings.
As a mainstream professional journalist, are you troubled in any way by this administation's use of paid pundits to manipulate the mass media? Would you consider this "propaganda?"
Finally, will the mainstream media pick up on this story or have they given up investigative journalism in favor of letting the "internets" do their job?
Thanks for considering these questions.
Over the past year, I occasionally thought it was worth noting, when Gannon was called on at the daily briefing and responded with a really outrageous softball, that he was in fact not with what I would consider a legitimate media organization. I did that for months, and everything really hit the fan when he did it at a presidential news conference.
But I have some serious concerns with some of the Gannon-bashing going on out there. First of all, it's gotten awfully personal. And secondly, I can't imagine that Gannon was "placed" there by high-ranking GOP or administration officials.
I think he took advantage of the fact that he could get in (again, he's not the only crank there). Then he took advantage of the fact that McClellan liked using him as a foil.
Gannon's gone, fine. But the heat should be on McClellan, not him. Why did he call on Gannon? Did they ever pre-arrange anything? Did they have any contact with his parent organization?
And yes, those are questions I do think the mainstream press should be asking.
Excellent column, and kudos to the Washington Post for hosting these great live forums.
Since GWB has been in office as POTUS, do you have any evidence of anyone who has taken him aside and given him a piece of their mind?
I ask this after reading about the Reid dinner at the White House Monday evening.
That's an interesting question, and no, I don't know of any yelling matches. But I wouldn't.
I did write in my Jan. 25 column about a report that Colin Powell walked into the Oval Office last month and, when asked how the war in Iraq was going, told Bush "We're losing" -- and then was asked to leave.
So, it seems, "Karl Rove, senior advisor to the President" is rank understatement, yet you can't I suppose go around referring to him as "Karl Rove, the man really in charge of everything" without seeming and being biased. Now that he has the official titles, will those issues change? Or will he continue being referred to as "a senior administration official" most of the time anyway?
When you say that reporters eke out news even when (and where) there isn't any, wouldn't these "slow" news days be better spent unraveling the next layer of the news onion and going a little bit deeper with an "older" story than may have been possible on the day the "older" story broke? When the pool is wide but not very deep, it seems to me that the media is informing the public about a whole lot of nothing instead of helping foster a deeper understanding of a particular issue. Truly, both reporters' time and readers' time may be better spent. What say you?
Look, it's one thing to skip a school board meeting when there's nothing interesting on the agenda.
It's another not to attend an event held by the president of the United States. We've got to cover those -- the question is how.
But yes, I agree with your central premise. We need to be less reactive.
Has anything happened regarding Karl Rove since he appeared before the grand jury right before the election?
It's crazy how little we know about that investigation. No, I have no idea what's up.
To what do you attribute the public's lack of attention to the Medicare shortfalls? This is a much more pressing issue than Social Security, but it has not gained any traction in Bush's second term. What gives?
From the land of lost Secret Service gas masks
It's part of his whole liability cap platform.
The timing was not good, though, was it.
It is our great challenge as journalists to clarify -- but not oversimplify. And not bore our readers to death.
For one, I don't have any direct knowledge of the facts, and this is pure speculation on my part.
But my view is that there is no chance whatsoever that the Times had anything remotely like definitive proof that Bush was using an electronic device during the debate. If they had, they would have printed it.
They may have had a lighthearted story about this scientist who swore he had figured out what the bulge was. And they may have then decided they shouldn't run something like that before the election.
That's my best guess. Emphasis on the word guess.
Now that said, I am still curious about what the bulge was and don't like the White House stonewall on the topic, even if it is a security device of some sort.
And it wouldn't hurt for the Times to explain what they had.
The Democrats and others have done a rather poor job defining Social Security as insurance against poverty rather than an investment mechanism. To do this well requires a look back at the conditions that existed when the program started and the political will to use the government as a safety net to insure older Americans did not fall below an arguable minimum standard of living. As you allude in your "other" column, there are real differences between the way the program started and has been used, and the way it is being portrayed in the last 19 days. Great job. I only hope more readers get a chance to spend a few minutes absorbing it.
The fact that journalists haven't made this more clear -- and that the language of investment seeps more and more into the shorthand they use to explain things -- I find alarming.
On the one hand, this shows the incredible potential of parallel processing of people power. On the other hand, a lot of what I've seen out there is exagerated and tawdry and very personal.
I kind of wanted Gannon gone, or at least wanted McClellan to stop calling on him. But I didn't necessarily want his scalp.
In the Social Security debate, is the White house willing to compromise to find a solution? There seems to be a plethora of options to correct the problems with social security. Solutions that can include private accounts. Or is it "my way or the highway" for the White House.
A separate issue is private accounts. And there's no sign of flexibility there, at least not yet.
But he does reverse himself sometimes, abruptly and without looking back.
I'd rather ask how he thinks science teachers should be presenting evolution in public classrooms. That's a legitimate public policy question these days.
That said, I suspect that the president is not a creationist. He talks the evangelical talk, but doesn't really walk the walk, from what we can tell.
Card obviously must have gone along with this, but willingly?
Remember what Card said when Karen Hughes announced she was leaving. Let me find it.
Here. This is from Ron Suskind's piece in Esquire in 2003:
"[L]ast spring, when I spoke to White House chief of staff Andrew Card, he sounded an alarm about the unfettered rise of Rove in the wake of senior adviser Karen Hughes's resignation: 'I'll need designees, people trusted by the president that I can elevate for various needs to balance against Karl. . . . They are going to have to really step up, but it won't be easy. Karl is a formidable adversary.'"