Monday, July 18, 2005

McClellan and The Media - Dancing in the Dark

"And that's the way it is." Walter Cronkite

It's happening again. Or perhaps I should say it's continuing to happen. When the going gets heavy, the media gets lightweight. Where are the hard questions for the President and his closest aides? Where's the dig-deep investigative reporting? What, it's not sweeps so nobody gives a damn?

Last March a helicopter crashed in Afghanistan, killing dozens of American soldiers. Just before his official news conference on that horrendous tragedy, Mr. Bush was seen laughing and telling jokes. As soon as the cameras went live, it was All Somber All the Time. Why wasn't the first question, "Mr. President, with all these dead Americans on your mind, can you tell us what struck you so funny just before we went on the air?"

Let's go back further in time, to 9/11. Why in God's name did the Leader of the Free World continue with his storytime photo op in a local school instead of immediately taking charge? And why did NO ONE but Michael Moore call him on it?

Returning to the present, presidential press secretary Scott McClellan held a Press Briefing on July 11. The questions came thick and fast on Iraq, the Rove investigation, Osama bin Laden, the Rove investigation, the Downing Street Memo, the Rove investigation, Supreme Court nominees, the Rove investigation, the London bombings, nuclear weapons in North Korea and--you guessed it--the Rove investigation. But McClellen--you guessed that too--was able to dance backward, and in high heels.

Read the transcript and you too will be awestruck at Mr. McClennan's elegant and expertly executed tap dance. He managed to slide through the questioning like the Exxon Valdez through an oil slick. Here's his quick step, repeated over and over, "MR. McCLELLAN: I already responded to these questions." And here's his Big Finish, flawlessly managing not to trip over his or the President's feet: "MR. McCLELLAN: Again, I'm just not going to say anything further. I expressed all I'm going to say on this matter from this podium." Of course, he had said nothing.

Then on Sunday, the Face the Nation Hoe-down. Bob Schieffer, one of the best journalists around, does a do-si-do with Rep. Roy Blunt, unaccountably failing to dip him on his assertion that Democrats are taking the Rove investigation "too seriously" and that "This has gone on way too long." Bob, Bob, Bob. It doesn't get any more serious than a top Presidential advisor accused of treason. And it hasn't even begun to go on long enough.

But the icing on the petit fours for me was today's Associated Press stunning revelation that President Bush was actually going to stay up late for a black-tie bash in honor of India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his wife.

Their hard-hitting piece of journalism at its most insipid stands as a cautionary tale on how little we can depend on the news media to tango the Bush administration into a corner and get some real answers. Read it and gag:

Bush to Host Rare Glitzy A-List Dinner

By DARLENE SUPERVILLE Associated Press Writer

July 18,2005 WASHINGTON -- Famously early to bed, President Bush decided to make an exception Monday night for what has been a rare event in his administration: a glitzy, Washington A-list dinner.

The menu's fragrant basmati rice and lotus blossoms, the saffron-colored, silk tablecloths and the trumpeting elephants fashioned from fresh mums and roses all pointed to India, for the guest of honor was Manmohan Singh, the visiting prime minister, and his wife, Gursharan Kaur.

The event was only the fifth grand dinner of Bush's presidency, and the first of his second term. It was much anticipated, given that it's been nearly two years since the last such dinner by Bush.

Previous dinners were held for the presidents of Mexico, just days before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001; Poland, in July 2002, and the Philippines and Kenya, in May and October of 2003.

Monday's soiree was an "official" dinner, not a "state dinner" like the previous four events, because Singh is a head of government and not a head of state.

But differences between the two are minor.

"For the most part, it has many of the same elements of a state dinner," said Susan Whitson, spokeswoman for first lady Laura Bush.

The event was black-tie, which meant tuxedos for the men and fancy cocktail or floor-length dresses for their female companions. Mrs. Bush was sliding into a Bill Blass creation -- a silk chiffon evening dress of yellow and orange floral print with asymmetrical ruffles.

The saffron-hued tablecloths topped with sheer gold overlays were unfolded onto the dozen or so round tables set up in the State Dining Room, one of the Bushes' preferred entertaining spots.

The tables were topped with layered centerpieces of saffron and hot pink roses, green mums and dendrobium orchids on golden tripods, while another flower arrangement fashioned green button mums and Hot Lady roses to look like trumpeting elephants.

The vermeil flatware and good crystal were brought out, along with the Clinton china, which was used at the state dinner for Kenya's president nearly two years ago. It is bone-colored with broad, golden rims and a golden image of the White House in the center of the dinner plates.

The White House has been without an executive chef since Walter Scheib III left early this year, but the night's menu didn't seem to suffer.

The 134 dinner guests, including the president and first lady, were dining on four courses -- chilled asparagus soup and lemon creme; pan-roasted halibut, ginger-carrot butter, basmati rice with pistachio nuts and currants and herbed summer vegetables; and salad of Bibb lettuces and citrus vinaigrette.

"Our assistant White House chefs are fantastic," Whitson said.

For dessert, pastry chef Thaddeus Dubois whipped up chocolate lotus blossoms -- the lotus flower is a religious symbol in both Hinduism and Buddhism, two of India's religions -- to accompany a trio of mango, chocolate-cardamom and cashew ice creams.

Another 126 people were invited for after-dinner entertainment by a jazz band.

Bush, known to hit the sack around 9 p.m., dislikes the pomp and pageantry of the presidency and has shied away from such big dinners, where an invitation sometimes is seen as a measure of Washington social status. Consequently, he lags behind some of his predecessors.

His immediate predecessor, President Clinton, hosted 29 state dinners during his two-term presidency. Bush's father, the first President Bush, held more than two dozen such events during his single term in office, and President Reagan held 57 state dinners during his two terms.

A perfect example that when it comes to dancing with the Bush administration, the media has two left feet.

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Blogger David Goldenberg said...

Bob Schieffer--one of the best journalists around. ?? I thought Tim Rusert was one of the best journalists around. Not anymore.
Frank Rich's latest piece, Jon Stewart any night of the week, Chris Dickey all the time. Those are some of the best journalists around. Bob Schieffer, old and wise as he may be, is past his prime.
Still love reading your posts Sally! Keep it up.

11:13 PM  

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