Bush, Deep Throat and the Press

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, June 3, 2005; 12:54 PM

In an unusually revealing, under-the-radar chat with broadcast news directors on Wednesday, President Bush opened up about Deep Throat, anonymous sources, his relations with the press and how local news coverage is what motivates him to keep flying around the country talking about Social Security.

Getting personal, Bush also talked about how he cries easily. And the president who said on Tuesday, "I don't worry about anything here in Washington, D.C.," acknowledged on Wednesday that, in his quiet moments, he does worry -- although "not all that much" -- about such things as people losing their life in Iraq and his twin daughters.

Bush met with about two dozen board members of the Radio-Television News Directors Association in an ornate conference room in the Old Executive Office Building. It was on the record but, ironically, not for broadcast.

The Associated Press published a short story Wednesday night, but even after the RTNDA Web-published the fascinating excerpts from the session yesterday afternoon, it didn't get much attention.

Barbara Cochran, the association's president, said Bush was scheduled to only spend 30 minutes with the group, but kept talking for about 20 minutes extra.

"He seemed relaxed, eager to answer questions, and he was very expansive in his answers," Cochran told me. "I've never heard the president talk that much about his thought about the issues that we in the news media deal with all the time," she said.

On Deep Throat, Bush explained why he won't get into whether he believes W. Mark Felt was a hero or not. "I don't think it's appropriate for the President to be drawn into that debate. But having said that, I don't have an opinion yet either."

On anonymous sources, Bush seemed comfortable with the fact that two reporters are facing jail time for not disclosing their sources in the Valerie Plame Case. "Seems like to me the balance is just right when you think about it. If you think about all the unnamed sources in Washington, D.C., that affect a lot of stories, relative to the actual number of reporters that have actually been called into account. . . . There is a lot of sourcing here in Washington DC that never gets called into account. I mean, a lot. I'd say it's a million to one. That would be the ratio."

On the press: "I enjoy my relationship with the press corps. I don't necessarily agree with what's written or what's spoken. But the press corps doesn't necessarily agree with what I do either. But it is a good relationship, and it is a vital relationship for the Presidency that there be a good exchange with the press, on a regular basis."

On why he's keeps plugging away on his meticulously stage-managed and strikingly repetitive national tour on Social Security: "Part of the reason I'm going around the country, by the way, is because not everyone gets their news from the national news. In all due respect to the national Pooh-Bahs, most people get their news from the local news. And if you're trying to influence opinion, the best way to do it is to travel hard around the country and give the people their dues."

On his hardest moments: "The hardest thing I have to do is sit down as the President with loved ones who've either lost a soul or have a wounded person, severely wounded. I try to do a lot of it. It's my obligation as the President. It's an amazing experience. First of all, I'm a crier, and I weep a lot. On the other hand, when it's all over, I feel incredibly strengthened by the strength of the parents or the wife or the kids."

On his (relatively few) worries: "I'd say I'd spend most of my time worrying about right now people losing their life in Iraq. Both Americans and Iraqis. I worry about my girls. I used to worry about my wife, until she hit an 85% popularity figure. Now she's worried about me." He added a bit later: "You know, I don't worry all that much, other than what I just described to you. I attribute that to . . . I've got peace of mind. A lot of it has to do with my particular faith, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that a lot of people pray for me and Laura. . . . I'm sleeping pretty good. Seriously. I get asked that. There's times when I hadn't been. I've got peace of mind."

RTNDA's board of directors (see their group photo with Bush) is heavy with local news executives and, unless my Googling skills have failed me, it seems most of them opted not to report one word about their unique session with the president.

An exception: Brian Trauring, news director for WTVG TV in Toledo. Trauring reported on his exchange with Bush about soldiers like Ohio native Matthew Drake, who have been severely injured in Iraq and need long-term physical and occupational therapy.

Deep Throat II?

Agence France Presse reports: "The US media needs a modern-day 'Deep Throat' within the administration of President George W. Bush to reveal how America was 'misled' on Iraq, former presidential contender George McGovern said.

" 'We need someone like that who is highly placed to tell us what's really going on. We know that we were misled on Iraq,' McGovern told Fox News Radio. . . .

" 'This war in Iraq, in my opinion is worse than anything Nixon did.'"

So is Bob Woodward working on it? He and Carl Bernstein were on CNN with Larry King last night.

King asked Woodward what he was doing at the White House yesterday.

"WOODWARD: Oh, you have a source that I was at the White House? Um, I'm doing a book on the second Bush term, and I was doing an interview over there. I moved the flower pot this morning, and the source didn't show up, so I thought I'd go bang on the gate and talk to him directly.

"KING: Was it Bush you talked to today?

"WOODWARD: You know, I...

"KING: You could tell me, who did you...

"WOODWARD: Yeah, I can't tell you. And I won't. We're really serious about protecting sources, even people in the White House."

Social Security Watch

David E. Sanger writes in the New York Times: "When President Bush's Social Security plan first ran into headwinds, the White House began a 60-cities-in-60-days tour to drum up political support that could be used in Congress.

"That approach proved insufficient. So Thursday, in Hopkinsville, Ky., Mr. Bush described his next tactic: the endless Social Security tour.

"After explaining that he was going to visit his ranch in Crawford, Tex., he said:

"'But after that I'm going to head back out again, and I'm going to spend time talking about Social Security every week until something gets done - because that's my job.'"

Here's the transcript of the otherwise numbingly repetitive (at least to the ears of the national press corps) event.

Deb Riechmann writes for the Associated Press: "President Bush has pledged to pursue changing Social Security until his final day in office, but the challenge he faces was evident Thursday. He stumped for his program in the district of an undecided House Republican who was traveling overseas. . . .

"People in the hand-picked audience applauded, but their congressman, Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., was away on a previously scheduled government trip to Cyprus and Turkey."

Michael A. Fletcher writes in The Washington Post that Bush later "headlined a $2,000-a-plate fundraiser for Sen. James M. Talent (R-Mo.) Thursday night, putting his popularity to the test at a time when his approval rating among voters has plummeted to all-time lows and some of his most important initiatives are struggling to gain traction in Congress."

Fletcher notes that "with midterm election campaigns approaching, some of the president's aides say privately that his most ambitious initiatives, including restructuring Social Security, must win broader support soon if they are going to be enacted this year."

Local Coverage

And by golly, here's some of that local coverage Bush was talking about.

Michael A. Lindenberger leads his story in the Louisville Courier-Journal with 86-year-old Cecil Ferrell, "one of five Hopkinsville residents invited to sit onstage with Bush as he quizzed them about their retirement plans to highlight his proposal for overhauling Social Security."

What's Ferrell got to say? " I think this system you are working on is the right way to go."

Anne Marshall reports for WAVE TV: "After about 50 minutes, the crowd's reviews? Mostly positive, but mixed."

Apples and Aardvarks

Warren Vieth and Joel Havemann write in the Los Angeles Times: "As President Bush tours the country to promote his Social Security restructuring proposal, he has taken to describing the sizable nest eggs he says workers could accumulate if Congress would only let them put part of their payroll taxes in personal investment accounts. . . .

"Yet in the view of Bush's political opponents, his sales pitch is based on a false comparison between social insurance programs and retirement savings accounts, as well as assumptions about future investment returns that may prove unrealistic. . . .

"When Bush contrasts the 1.8% rate of return on traditional Social Security with the 4.6% projected return on stocks and bonds, [critics] say he might as well be comparing apples and aardvarks."

Lame Duck Watch

Linda Feldmann writes in the Christian Science Monitor: "Just seven months after the election results rolled in, some Washington cognoscenti are already wondering if President Bush has fallen into the second-term trap - overreaching and winding up with a fistful of air.

"Nonsense, say White House officials, who counsel patience. The president is trying to do big things - such as remaking Social Security and transforming the Middle East - and success takes time. . . .

"Ultimately, say presidential scholars, no one should count Bush out."

Janet Hook writes in the Los Angeles Times about Bush's mountain-biking style as a metaphor for his approach to the presidency.

"Bush's doggedness is one of many assets he has retained in his second term, and he has needed it of late as his top priorities have run into heavy weather in Congress. Democratic critics see Bush's recent troubles as evidence that he has become a lame duck who has lost leverage with lawmakers.

"But many analysts -- including foes of the White House -- say it is premature to write off a president who holds a formidable array of political and institutional tools -- and who is determined to use them."

Incoming: Judges

Peter Baker writes in The Washington Post: "The White House is preparing to send a raft of new judicial nominations to the Senate in the next few weeks, according to Republican strategists inside and outside the administration -- a move that could challenge the durability of last week's bipartisan filibuster deal and reignite the political warfare it was intended to halt."

Gambling Man?

Michael Kranish writes in the Boston Globe that Bush initially campaigned as an opponent of gambling, but hasn't governed as one.

"Bush's retreat from his antigambling rhetoric came as Republican lobbyists and activist groups collected tens of millions of dollars from Indian tribes seeking to preserve their casinos. Now those payments are the focus of Senate and Justice Department investigations.

"Bush is not the subject of the investigations and denied through a spokesman having anything to do with aiding Indian casino interests. But Bush's aides acknowledge that the president met with Indian gaming leaders at the White House in annual sessions over a four-year period that were arranged by antitax crusader Grover Norquist, in some cases after tribes contributed to Norquist's organization. Norquist and the White House say casinos were not discussed."

G8 Watch

Is there some sort of compromise in the works prior to the big G8 meeting in Scotland next month?

Mike Peacock reports for Reuters: "Britain's Tony Blair will try to sell his plans to lift Africa out of poverty and tackle global warming to a reluctant President George W. Bush next week with supporters and critics declaring now is the time to deliver.

"The prime minister, who will be in Washington on Monday and Tuesday, has staked his reputation on helping Africa during Britain's presidency of the G8 group of rich nations."

And James Macharia reports for Reuters: "The United States is willing to look for ways to fund a 'Marshall Plan' for Africa even if it opposes Britain's plan for a new lending facility, South African President Thabo Mbeki said on Friday.

"Mbeki, fresh from meeting President George Bush in Washington this week, told the World Economic Forum Africa summit in Cape Town the U.S. leader was willing to help Africa, and Bush hoped commitments would be made at the G8 summit. . . .

" 'What President Bush has said is, give me the target (funding), but leave to me the matter of what method I will use to produce this outcome . . . He (Bush) wasn't talking about it being too much money,' Mbeki said."

China Back On the Radar

Greg Jaffe and Jay Solomon write in the Wall Street Journal that officials in Washington are once again grappling with how to respond to China's military, economic and political rise.

"When President Bush took office, Beijing was his chief foreign-policy focus, and tensions rose over Chinese handling of an American spy plane. After Sept. 11, 2001, China became an ally in the war on terror and a secondary concern for Washington. Now, Beijing's rising power and influence -- and its role as a potential rival -- are becoming a focus again."

Latin America and Democracy

Paul Richter writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Latin American leaders are quietly resisting a Bush administration proposal to strengthen democracy in the region, saying they fear it was crafted to target Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. . . .

"Diplomats from many countries fear that it is aimed at Chavez, viewed by some as an anti-U.S. leader, and that it also could amount to an invitation for the U.S.-dominated group to meddle in other nations' affairs."

Korean War of Words Watch

Agence France Presse reports: "The White House defended outspoken personal criticism of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il by Vice President Dick Cheney that may have dashed any hopes of bringing Pyongyang back to six-party nuclear talks.

"Cheney had called Kim an 'irresponsible' leader who did not care for his people and ran a police state, drawing a strong rebuke Thursday from Pyongyang, which slammed the US vice president as a 'blood-thirsty beast.' "

White House spokesman Scott McClellan "said Pyongyang's harsh words for Cheney were 'more of the same kind of bluster we hear from North Korea from time to time.' "

But wait! Reuters is now reporting: "North Korea offered rare praise to President Bush on Friday, saying the U.S. leader addressing the North's leader as 'Mr. Kim Jong-il' improved the tone for talks on Pyongyang's nuclear programs."

At Tuesday's press conference, Bush said: "It's a matter of continuing to send a message to Mr. Kim Jong-il that if you want to be accepted by the neighborhood and be a part of the -- of those who are viewed with respect in the world, work with us to get rid of your nuclear weapons program."

Counterterrorism Wait

Walter Pincus writes in The Washington Post: "The nation's primary agency for analyzing terrorist threats and planning counterterrorism operations at home and abroad is waiting for President Bush to name its director and settle whether that person will report directly to the president or go through Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte."

The Cox Nod

A team of Wall Street Journal reporters write: "In naming Rep. Christopher Cox as the new chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, President Bush is picking a business-friendly champion of free enterprise who worked in the Reagan White House. The California Republican has supported legislation making it harder for investors to file securities-fraud suits and opposed stricter rules on expensing stock options and merger accounting.

"His arrival promises to bring a shift in the SEC's approach to its crucial role in regulating businesses and markets. It comes in the wake of an unprecedented crackdown on corporate fraud over the past 2 years."

The President's Barber

Just for a few moments at last night's fund-raiser in St. Louis, the president went off script -- to talk about his barber.

Here's the transcript.

"My barber was raised in Afghanistan. And she came over here to -- there was a revolution or civil war, or whatever you want to call it, and she decided to stay in America; raised her three kids here, and used her great talents and enthusiasm for her country to raise money to build two schools. Think about that. What kind of a country is it where you got a barber to the President working hard, using her influence and her contacts and her friends to raise money -- quite a bit of money, by the way -- to build schools in a faraway country -- spectacular country that encourages compassion not only at home, but abroad."

On Secrecy

Writing in The Washington Post Style section about Deep Throat, Washington and secrecy, Sally Quinn notes: "The Bush crowd is the most tightlipped group of people I have ever seen in Washington. Shortly after 9/11, at a brunch at Don and Joyce Rumsfeld's, the Cheneys were guests. Dick Cheney and Rumsfeld were relaxed and calm, chatting with guests and generally appearing to enjoy themselves. Hours later the United States began bombing Afghanistan. Nobody in the room had a clue what was about to happen. It was a stunning performance."

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