White House Talk

Dan Froomkin
White House Briefing Columnist
Wednesday, June 2, 2004; 2:00 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 the former editor of washingtonpost.com. You can also e-mail him at froomkin@washingtonpost.com.

The transcript follows.


Dan Froomkin: OK, folks, President Bush just wrapped up his commencement address at the Air Force Academy. I'd be interested in your reactions. What do you think he was trying to accomplish, and do you think he achieved it? I'll also try to answer your questions, of course. Bring it on!


Dan Froomkin: On a lighter note, I will also accept reader-suggested captions for any of these photographs, which feature the president wrestling with an umbrella yesterday.

Here, for instance, is one sent to me by a J. McNelis, that goes with this picture: "Ignoring the critics, Bush praises the performance of his umbrella."


Dan Froomkin: Earlier today, Washington Post White House correspondent Mike Allen marvelously previewed the speech in this audio interview with washingtonpost.com producer Jeffrey Marcus. Allen said one of Bush's goals was "to widen the lens beyond the immediate controversy."

I think Bush did a good job of widening the lens -- in terms of reminding us about the war on terror, and how important is it.

I don't think, however, he succesfully addressed one of the the biggest question plaguing him right now, which is: Was Iraq a distraction -- and in fact a hindrance -- to the war on terror, rather than an essential part of it.


Anonymous: I just read Mike Allen's piece on Bush's management style and wondered if the White House has responded yet. I am particularly curious about Allen's charge that Bush blames the military for Abu Ghraib.

washingtonpost.com: Management Style Shows Weaknesses (Post, June 2)

Dan Froomkin: No response that I know of. It was an interesting piece, I thought.


Woodbridge, Va.: After so many lies and half truths and misinformation that has come out of this administration, why does the media still fall for every "headline" that comes out of the White House? If Bush announced that the sky was green, there would be headlines blaring that "U.S. declares sky green" with maybe a small disclaimer at the end quoting a scientist that says the sky is actually blue. It is getting ridiculous.

Dan Froomkin: I think that's a little unkind. But Post ombudsman Michael Getler suggested Sunday that Bush gets a few too many headlines sometimes.


Bridgton, Maine: I'm mystified.
1. Why is it appropriate for the President to be making his "second weekly speech about Iraq" under the guise of a commencement address? If this is meant to inform the nation, why there?

2. As nearly as I can see, the commencement address might just possibly come under the heading of government business performed on my nickel -- just barely, considering that many institutions give their speakers an hororarium and pay travel expenses -- but fund raising dinners and meeting with religiously oriented supporters sure shouldn't be underwritten by the taxpayers.

What can be done to reform this sort of profligate use of the taxpayers' plane and employee(s) for what is essentially private business? How about some form of "rent a prez"? Maybe we could start paying down the deficit if we handle this the right way.


Dan Froomkin: The president traditionally makes a commencement address at one of the military academies each year. And it seems to me to be an entirely appropriate place to make a speech about the future mission of the armed forces.

On your second point, Bush sure does get a great deal on travel. And it gets written about all the time. Most recently, yesterday, in an AP story by Scott Lindlaw.

All recent presidents have taken advantage of this... though none quite so much.


Bethesda, Md.: In his WWII correspondence John Steinbeck made the humorous observation that Germans go to war for world domination, the English go to war to protect their island, and Americans go war to collect souvenirs. Bush is a frightening example of that quip.

Dan Froomkin: This is in response to the item in my column this morning on Richard Leiby's item on Bush's trophy room, I imagine.


Washington, D.C.: The Bush White House's "the worst is over" reminds me of Carl 'Caddyshack' Spackler's "I don't think the heavy stuff's gonna come down for quite some time."

Will the Post "play through" the spin -- as the bishop did in Caddyshack (to bad ends)?

Dan Froomkin: I am not a golfer. But I think it's safe to say that we're not at the 18th hole quite yet.


Alexandria, Va.: Hi Dan,

Did you see the Bush campaign's reaction to Monday's Milbank/VandeHei front page story on the various misleading statements in Bush's ads? It's here.

They basically claim it is the POST that is misstating, but then provide details for each claim that actually say the Post was right! It's hysterical. Will the Post respond?

Dan Froomkin: I'm getting a lot of posts about the Sunday article by Dana Milbank and Jim VandeHei that I wrote about in yesterday's column.

It's turned out to be an extraordinarily well-read and much-discussed article.


Arlington, Va.: Nice smear job the Post put out on Memorial day, using mostly liberal academics to complain about misleading Bush ads. When does MoveOn and other left leaning groups get equally bad treatment on the front page?

Dan Froomkin: Another point of view.


Arlington, Va.: In a recent column you discussed Dana Milbank's article accusing the Bush campaign of being negative and misleading. I'm shocked that after months of negative and misleading campaigning by Democrats during the primaries, and by John Kerry just a few months ago, you are only now getting around to looking at this issue. And now that the Post has done so, they have excluded from their analysis all ads aired before March and all ads aired by liberal 527 groups like Moveon.org. Isn't it starting to look like the Post is just another arm of the Kerry advertising campaign?

Dan Froomkin: Ad-watching is an ongoing vocation at The Washington Post. There have been many stories in the past, there will be many in the future, and this article did in fact touch on Kerry's own ads.


Anonymous: "Yes, I know the intelligences reports state the umbrella goes the other way, but Cheney and Rumsfeld assure me this way is correct."

Dan Froomkin: The picture captions are coming in.


Greenbelt, Md.: Wow. Now the Bushies are requiring burquas for female reporters going to the Vatican? Combined with their faith-based foreign policy, I'm getting more than a little fear creeping in.

What is wrong with these people?

Dan Froomkin: First of all, I should say that I'm always tickle when I see proof that people got all the way to the bottom of my column!

This is in reference to today's final item, about the dress code for the press pool covering Bush's audience with the Pope.

I am quite confident that these are not White House rules, although I must admit they didn't seem the least bit apologetic about enforcing them.

Any Vatican experts want to chime in?


Los Angeles, Calif.: In all of his press conferences and speeches, President Bush always makes a point of saying that the war on terror can be won, must be won, will be won. My question is this: Has he ever once said how we'll -know- when this war is "won" and, presumably, over? Will it be when there's no more terrorism in the world? (And does he really think such a day will ever come?) In a war waged against a nation-state, the end of the war is formalized with all sorts of treaties and declarations. It seems to me that in a war against an ideology, which is really what the war on terror is, there can be no formal "end," since ideologues (like P.T. Barnum's suckers) are born every minute. Am I being cynical, or doesn't it seem possible that the administration knows that a war on "terror" is in such a different category altogether from all other wars that it by definition will remain open-ended and ongoing, generously providing political cover for all sorts of spooky things deemed "necessary" for its maintenance?

Dan Froomkin: That's an interesting question. I can't answer it.


Damascus, Md.: Enron, and the president's good buddy Ken Lay, have been out of the news for quite some time now. The coming of the summer electricity season, and the potential for brownouts as power demands soar, made me think of them and the administration's first scandal.

Have there been any further developments? Or has the massive gouging of the California public been successfully swept under the rug?

Dan Froomkin: Apparently, you don't watch CBS.


Manhattan: "Who gave me this umbrella?" "Secretary Powell, sir"

Dan Froomkin: Another caption.


Orange, Va.: Was there any chortling among the assembled press yesterday when the President tried to disclaim any type of relationship with Chalabi? He was afterall the person chosen to sit at the Iraqi table when Bush spoke at the UN last fall.

Dan Froomkin: And Chalabi was one of the first lady's special guests at the State of the Union in January. I think everyone was amazed at the distance Bush tried to put between him and Chalabi, yes.


Kensington, Md.: Has anyone actually asked the president about the misleading (to put the kindest euphemism) ads his campaign has been running? He "approves" them. Is it considered bad etiquette to ask presidents these types of questions or are reporters just cowards (or both)?

Dan Froomkin: I think it's a legitimate question. Yesterday, however, at the impromptu news conference, everyone's mind was on Iraq. (Except for the Bloomberg reporter, of course, who asked about gas prices.)


Charlotte, N.C.: Mike Moore's movie is due in theaters on June 25. What is the feeling among those in the White House about its release? Do they see the potential for negative fallout?

Dan Froomkin: I don't think it will be screened at the White House. Of course they're not looking forward to it.

Incidentally, for those who can't wait until then to see the video of Bush sitting in the Florida classroom for minutes after hearing about the second World Trade Center being attacked, it's available now at The Memory Hole.


Caption: "Chalabi!; I'd know his work anywhere."

Dan Froomkin: Another caption.


Washington, D.C.: Who was that guy who scorched the White House press corps over their negative Iraq coverage at Friday's briefing?

Do you think his criticism is valid?

Dan Froomkin: That's Jeff Gannon, scourge of the liberal media. In fact, I'm guessing this question is from Jeff Gannon. Hi Jeff. ;-)

Jeff writes for Talon News.


Chicago, Ill.: Today's article in the Post that says that the Bush Administration thinks that a corner has been turned in Iraq leads me to believe that they are out of touch with reality. In the past they (the administration) claimed that the deaths of Uday and Qusay as well as the capture of Saddam would end the insurgency. Instead this country has suffered more casualties in April/May than in the whole initial war phase. What do you think is causing this irrational exuberance?

Dan Froomkin: Hope springs eternal.

And they may, conceivably, be right. Bush looked very presidential today. He'll be looking very presidential for the next several days in Europe. If the lead stories and images for the next week are from Bush's planned events, rather than about prison abuse, dead American soldiers, gas prices, Ahmed Chalabi, Halliburton, what have you, well then maybe he will have turned a corner of sorts.

This is not so much about the reality on the ground as it is about perception and politics.


Dan Froomkin: Did none of you people watch the speech?


Dessert lover: How can George Bush dislike Roland Mesnier's desserts? They are works of art! Mr. Mesnier is the best!

washingtonpost.com: 25 Years in the White House (Post, June 2)

Dan Froomkin: "He doesn't like froufrou food," says Mesnier. That is not the same as saying he doesn't like Mesnier's desserts.


Centreville, Va.: Hi Dan. Love your columns. Is George Bush or Dick Cheney EVER going to speak at an event that isn't populated by either military or hand-picked Republican boosters? To me, this shows how much trouble this President/VP is in when they are obviously AFRAID to even speak to a crowd that isn't PRO-Bush/Cheney. Other than to lie, how can a card carrying DNC member get in to ask these guys a question? Of course, I'm assuming that these guys actually take questions sight unseen. This is ugly democracy, but not surprising coming from these guys.

Dan Froomkin: You make a good point. The White House has picked its venues with great care. I will be interested to see what happens when Bush is in Europe. See, for instance, this AFP story.


Watched the speech?: We have jobs, Dan.

Dan Froomkin: And we have streaming video right here on the Web site! With headphones, you can actually look like you're working and still listen to the president.


Burqas at the Vatican: While I blame the Bush administration for A LOT, this is not their fault. Since time immemorial there has been a dress code for women at the Vatican, at least if they directly meet the Pope. There is a historic pic of Jackie O in a black veil meeting whoever was the Pope then (I'm Catholic, but I forget--maybe John XXIII).

Dan Froomkin: Thank you for that information.


Philadelphia, Pa.: Hi Dan, I enjoy your column daily (almost). Haven't heard too much about the mission to Mars lately. What's up with that? Thanks, Paul.

Dan Froomkin: Traci Watson had a chipper story in USA Today a few weeks ago about the possibility of extended moon visits, which were proposed by Bush in January as a steppingstone for the more complex task of reaching Mars. But I wouldn't hold my breath even for that.


Tallahassee, Fla.: What is the status of the Valerie Plame investigation? Shouldn't this be resolved with due diligence and quickly, since--in the interim--it stands to reason that a delay may bring about further risk to security if the guilty may have been granted security clearance? And why on God's green earth haven't we read anything further re: Robert Novak, Karl Rove, Dick Cheney, and Scooter Libbey?

Dan Froomkin: We're waiting for something to come out of the grand jury. I haven't heard anything since the reporter subpoenas.


Dallas, Tex.: Mike Allen's analysis in this morning's Post of the President's management style paraphrases Mr. Bush as saying that accountability is an essential ingredient of that ostensibly successful style. But given the track record of the past year (faulty intelligence, poor postwar planning, the Valerie Plame affair, the Abu Ghraib scandal, enthusiastic support for Ahmad Chalabi, etc., etc.), has anyone noticed that a hallmark of this administration is an astounding lack of accountability? How does that square with Mr. Bush's self-described "management" style?

Dan Froomkin: That is indeed a part of the traditional CEO toolbox we haven't really seen thus far.


Europe: Iraq as part of the "war on terror"?

Was the presence of terrorists in Iraq the reason Bush went to war or is it the consequence of his decision?

Dan Froomkin: That issue was not addressed today. Bush sort of loosely likened World War II, the Cold War, the war on terror and the war in Iraq, but didn't provide details or explain some of the apparent differences.


Washington, D.C.: When the Chalabi issue came out, why didn't they run the picture of Chalabi standing with Laura Bush at the State of the Union? I mean, this man was vetted by the president, has been to the White House and turned out to be a spy for the axil of evil!

Dan Froomkin: A lot of folks think the Chalabi story has legs. It certainly has drama: Chalabi goes from golden boy to pariah. Chalabi was at the heart of the flawed WMD intelligence that led to war in Iraq. Etc. etc.

I recently received a pool report from this morning. Here's an excerpt: "Scott McClellan did a mini-gaggle during the brief flight to Colorado Springs. Notably, he did not answer repeated questions about reports that Ahmad Chalabi had disclosed to Iran secret information that the United States had broken the communications code of the Iranian intelligence service. 'We aren't going to comment on anything related to intelligence matters,' Scott said."


Washington, D.C.: The latest speech: right analogy, wrong theatre of operations.

Sure Islamic extremism presents in some ways a challenge similar to WWII.

Trouble is, they're barking up the wrong tree in Iraq in the estimation of many far more knowledgeable than those of us on this discussion, and they're actually inflaming the opposition.

I'm fully in favor of using massive force where necessary to devastate Islamic extremists. The war in Iraq, so far as I can tell, has done little or nothing to accomplish that goal.

Dan Froomkin: Here's someone who watched the speech! (I think.)


Gaithersburg, Md.: Dan, do you think the media is obligated to report that the audiences at Bush's speeches are hand-picked, and that protestors are sent off to "free speech" zones? I don't think the networks should broadcast a single cheer or clap unless they mention those facts.

Dan Froomkin: I think it may indeed be time for some reporting on the handling of protest. And I know some reporters take great pains to describe the makeup of the audience.


Lanham, Md.: You mean women really must be VEILED to speak to the pope? I knew women had to dress conservatively but veiled? And we shudder at the Taliban? Isn't that taking the Samson and Delilah thing too far?

Dan Froomkin: Hold on. See the next post.


Vatican knowhow: Not to disappoint the Bush bashers (since I am one) but the veil required to meet the Pope is a lace head covering about the size of a hanky (if people know what that is).

Dan Froomkin: There. Not such a big deal after all.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Dan. You do a great job -- I appreciate it. My question regards White House Chief of Staff Andy Card. He has to be the most invisible chief of staff in recent memory. How much influence does he currently have on White House decisionmaking, and do you expect that he'll stay on next term if the president is re-elected?

Dan Froomkin: My sense is that Card is incredibly influential in terms of the process at the White House. (See my profile of him in my White House Who's Who.) I'm not as clear on how much influence he has ideologically. And you've got to wonder whether he's taking any of the blame for the increased discord and chaos in the White House.


Silver Spring, Md.: Why haven't reporters critized the Bush administration for its deliberate actions that have driven down the value of the dollar by more than 35 percent since Bush took office and which is the primary cause of record oil prices that we are experiencing? Why hasn't the public been informed that Bush is the cause of the soaring oil prices?

Dan Froomkin: You know, that's a fine question. I don't know why there isn't more coverage of the dive of the dollar. Seems to me it has enormous impact on all sorts of thing.


Portland, Ore.: All I could think of was Mary Poppins. But Bush isn't that nice. My seven year old son wants to know why Bush doesn't do anything good for the environment. Wild.

Dan Froomkin: And our final attempt at a caption.


Washington, D.C.: Can't help but notice (read: choke on) the obvious anti-Bush sentiment in all of the questions submitted to this chat. With the race between Kerry and Bush pretty much a dead heat based on polls, why is it that your column and chat seems to elicit only a limited point of view? Could it be something in your White House bashing content?

Dan Froomkin: A lot of us in Live Online land seem to find that the Bush-haters are present in considerable numbers. I don't exactly know why. But I'm glad you stayed till the end. My goal is to be interesting to everyone.


Fairfax, Va.: Define frou-frou.

Dan Froomkin: Not chocolate cake.

OK folks, thanks for all the great questions. Sorry I couldn't get to more of them. See you again here in two weeks, and every weekday morning on the home page.


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