Dead Again

I was walking around feeling guilty the last several days for not making the time to say farewell to our Ms. Bumiller after her last White House Letter showed up on the last Monday in May.  It was a sweet See You Later to the BushCo family as she speculated on a Jebbie run.   Because that's valuable stuff that is interesting, that she works to get and not just her sort of yammering on about something.   With that she was off to write the definitive biography of Condi, tenatively titled Yes, Mr. President: A Look Inside the Greatest Foreign Policy Mind of All Time (and she's a girl!) 

But it turns out that rumors of Ms. Bumiller's hiatus were greatly exaggerated because what do I see this week but a Bumiller byline on a story that reads suspiciously like a White House Letter, which is to say that it's a People-esque profile of a White House staffer.  But not just any staffer.  Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, Ms. Bumiller gives you a Gertrude Bell for our time.  Meet Meghan O'Sullivan, Queen of New Iraq.

At the end of each day, President Bush gets a three-to-four-page memo from the National Security Council staff about developments over the previous 24 hours in Iraq. The document, said to be written in the crisp, compelling style that the president prefers, can cover a range of issues — the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, new nominees for cabinet posts or the progress, or lack of it, in ending the three-year insurgency.

The person responsible for the memo is someone who is largely unknown outside the administration, but who colleagues say is instrumental in shaping Mr. Bush's views: Meghan L. O'Sullivan, the 36-year-old deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan, and the most senior official working on those nations full time at the White House.

I probably would have let the story go if I hadn't heard Harry Shearer (the original blogger) feature this Reuters story about Gertrude Bell, the first Queen of Iraq, during his May 14th show.

Gertrude Bell, a British traveler, writer and linguist, was one of the most powerful women of the 1920s, an adviser to empire builders and confidante to kings.

An "oriental secretary" to British governments, she is credited with drawing the boundaries of modern Iraq out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War One.

I mean, break out the Ouija board, right?

With Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, Ms. O'Sullivan briefs the president in person on Iraq up to several times a week. Over the weekend she helped to prepare the agenda for Mr. Bush's war cabinet meetings on Monday and Tuesday at Camp David and will be on hand throughout the sessions.

Ms. O'Sullivan, who spent more than a year in Baghdad as an aide to L. Paul Bremer III, then the top American civilian administrator in Iraq, also helps to prepare the agenda for the president's weekly National Security Council meetings on Iraq.

She coordinates the political, security and reconstruction efforts for Iraq throughout the agencies of the government. Not least, she briefs the president before all of his phone calls and meetings with Iraqi leaders.

Although Ms. O'Sullivan does not make major decisions — the administration's policy is run by Zalmay Khalilzad, the American ambassador to Iraq, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — she is important because of her closeness to the president and her role in helping to form his thinking.

Spooky.  But what matters and what is very clear from this comparison is that our blood-thirsty neo-colonialists, seem to have learned nothing at all from the painful lessons of the very recent past. 

Bell and her fellow colonialists settled Iraq's borders by merging the old Ottoman provinces of Mosul, Baghdad and Basra, seeking to secure British interests and with scant regard for tribal and ethnic boundaries.

"I had a well spent morning at the office making out the southern desert frontier of the Iraq," Bell, who specialized in Arabic and Persian languages, wrote to her father in 1921.

What emerged was a centralized state with three peoples with differing aims, ideals and beliefs: non-Arab Kurds in the mountainous north, Shi'ite Muslims in the south and Sunni Arabs in Baghdad and in the rest of the heartland.

In 1958, a group of nationalist military officers ousted the puppet monarchy Bell had helped install in a bogus referendum in 1921 that passed with 96 percent of the vote.

She had also helped draw up many of the policies that were later taken up by Saddam's Baath Party and which exacerbated the centuries-old tensions between Shi'ites and Sunnis.

She ensured that a Sunni elite, previously favored by the Sunni Turks running the Ottoman territories, dominated the new Iraqi government and the army, and that the majority Shi'ites, whom she regarded as religious zealots, remained oppressed.

Kurds were denied self-rule so that London could control Kurdistan's oil fields and build a buffer against the Russians.

"I don't for a moment doubt that the final authority must be in the hands of the Sunnis, in spite of their numerical inferiority; otherwise you will have a ... theocratic state, which is the very devil," Bell wrote in another letter.

She ensured a Sunni elite.  That's interesting because if you remember back a year ago, then you know that a Sunni-led government was part of the initial invasion planning.  From a March 8, 2002 Operations Paper released as part of the Downing Street Memos: (emph mine)

In considering the options for regime change below, we need to first consider what sort of Iraq we want?  There are two possibilities:  *A Sunni military strongman.  He would be likely to maintain Iraqi territorial integrity.  Assistance with reconstruction and political rehabilitation could be traded for assurances on abandoning WMD programmes and respecting human rights, particularly of ethnic minorities.  The US and other militaries could withdraw quickly.  However, there would then be a strong risk of the Iraqi system reverting to type.  Military coup could succeed coup until an autocratic, Sunni dictator emerged who protected Sunni interests.  With time he coudl acquire WMD;  or * a representative broadly democratic government.  This would be Sunni-led [were these people ever right about anything leading up BushCo's War?] but, within a federal structure, the Kurds would be guaranteed autonomy and the Shia fair access to government.  Such a regime would be less likely to develop WMD and threaten its neighbours.  However, to survivie it would require the US and others to commit to nation building for many years.  This would entail a substantial international security force and help with reconstruction.

In the end, Wolfowitz pushed the Saddam-lite option off the table in favor of "something like a functioning democracy," which isn't described in any real detail but we can assume is something like the second option outlined above.   Now we've got a Shi'a strongman in place presiding over something like the very devil.

Back to the neo-Bell:

One of Ms. O'Sullivan's chief responsibilities in Baghdad was keeping abreast of developments within the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or Sciri, one of the main Shiite parties. She covered herself from head to toe for meetings with Abdul Aziz Hakim, the party leader, and earned his trust.

At least Bell was able to dress as she chose when she did her job:

Bell, who had an aristocratic upbringing, lived in a more genteel Baghdad than today's city of sandbags, armored vehicles and the bombed-out hulks of Saddam-era government buildings.

She wore long muslin dresses and feathered hats and rode side-saddle along the banks of the Tigris. In her letters, she describes a Baghdad of tea parties, regattas, swimming excursions and luncheons on the verandas of colonial buildings.

The Neo-Bell lives more dangerously:

Ms. O'Sullivan's point of view comes from her intense months in Baghdad, where she had one major harrowing moment. In October 2003, when she was immersed in the negotiations over Iraq's first post-invasion constitution, a rocket hit her hotel in Baghdad. The blast jammed Ms. O'Sullivan's door shut, and she escaped by inching along a narrow ledge outside her 10th-floor window.

She eventually made her way to the Baghdad streets and then her office at Saddam Hussein's former palace on the banks of the Tigris. The explosion killed an American colonel and wounded 16 others.

"It was a dangerous place to live, and I was constantly reminded of that because I had Iraqi friends who were killed," Ms. O'Sullivan said matter-of-factly. "But it's amazing how you can function, and also how much more there is going on in Iraq besides the violence."

Sure, it's dangerous.  Lots of people are getting killed, absolutely.  But there's other stuff to do too.  There's waiting for the water and electricity to come back on, finding bodies in the street, hiding in your home, watching previously safe southern Iraq fall into chaos.  If you're an Iraqi woman, there's all the time you now need to devote to avoiding the violent new oppression that's come your way.  There's a lot going on!

The end of Ms. Bumiller's piece gets a little bit sad, but only if you know the story of Bell.  If you don't, then it reads like the adventure story she seems to have wanted it to be:

She lives not far from the White House, is single and tries not to work seven days a week. Her future is tied to Iraq: her colleagues say she could be national security adviser someday — or something much less.

"The reality is that if Iraq implodes, she'll probably go nowhere," Mr. Diamond said. "Because she will have been associated in an integral way with one of the biggest failures in the history of American foreign policy."

But going nowhere professionally in the field of nation building would be a good outcome for Ms. O'Sulllivan if we're going to use Bell as a yardstick: (emph mine)

But as revolt spread and Britain used bombs and poison gas against those opposed to its presence, she faded from public life.

"We have underestimated the fact that this country is really an inchoate mass of tribes which can't as yet be reduced to any system," she once said.

Five years before her death from an overdose of sleeping pills aged 57 in 1926, she wrote: "You may rely upon one thing -- I'll never engage in creating kings again; it's too great a strain."

King making, nation building.  It's all the same in the fog of war:

Ms. O'Sullivan is undaunted. "I'm able to focus on the fact that we're building a relationship with Iraq," she said, "that will have benefits to Iraq and America over the long term."

It's White House Letter Day! Thanks for the Support, Boss!

Until thirty seconds ago, I didn't know what I was going to write about the latest White House Letter or if I would mention it at all.  I've been known to skip a few after all.   Then I saw Glenn Greenwald's post (via Atrios) on Abu Gonzales' naked threat to journalists in which he says straight out that if a journalist is considered to have damaged national security interest (whatever that means) Team BushCo has the right and the obligation to prosecute that journalist.  Okay, that's almost old news.  Certainly we've been building to that announcement anyway.  Here's the truly scary part:

The nation's top law enforcer also said the government will not hesitate to track telephone calls made by reporters as part of a criminal leak investigation, but officials would not do so routinely and randomly.

Combined with what Brian Ross and Richard Esposito reported last week, that's as good as an admission that the White House is currently tracking down reporters' phone records expressly for the purpose of sealing leaks.  Or they aren't, but they want to send the message that one never knows what Big Brother is up to or capable of so be careful. 

Hold on, my internal editor says.  You can't have it both ways.  They're bad if they're tracking journalists' calls and they're bad if they aren't.  My internal editor is right.  The White House, if they are only guilty of pretending to be tracking down reporters' calls via their (ineffective and illegal) domestic spying program, is really guilty of nothing worse than punking America. 

If that feels wrong to you, it's because it is wrong.   I'm just saying there's no penalty for the federal government leaking a false confession and sending their top law-talkin' dude out to make empty threats against journalists.   And I'm not going to blame the White House for playing this game, if that is, in fact, what they're doing.  I blame the corporate media for not standing up to it because they are the part of our society that is supposed to protect us against exactly this kind of brinkmanship.  It's their fault that we're failing to make the connections that let us see that the goal isn't to actually arrest any journalists but to create an atmosphere where talking about the federal government arresting journalists for doing their jobs is okay.

If Bill Keller and the rest of the big thinkers in the corporate media heard on Sunday, as we all did, that Abu G. was making noise about arresting journalists for doing their jobs, then he should have been up all night working on a lead editorial or, at the very least, something for his Q&A column, which hasn't been updated since May 9.  You'd think he'd do it for moral building purposes alone.
Can you imagine being a reporter, say James Risen or Eric Lichblau, (or Dana Priest or Leslie Cauley for that matter) and hearing that you're in Abu's crosshairs?  That would be bad enough, I imagine, until you experience the deafening public silence from your editors.    Risen and Lichtblau were even singled out by the mighty Abu again:

Gonzales told ABC that his department is trying to determine "the appropriate court of action" relating to the disclosure by The New York Times about a National Security Agency surveillance program.

The Times reported that the attorney general did not name the statutes but apparently was referring to espionage laws that have never been used to prosecute journalists. The Times said some legal scholars also feel prosecuting reporters under the laws might violate the First Amendment.

It sounds like Keller is in the middle of kicking this one down the road, hoping for the best.  We've seen where that road goes.   It ends up a year later with wistful apologies filled with  if-only-we-had-knowns.  This particular road might be longer than a year but eventually we're going to be living in a country where the suggestion that journalists be wiretapped and arrested for doing their jobs is greeted with delerious applause rather than the apathetic silence it gets from the body politic today.

As for the White House Letter, today  was all about Fox News and whether it is the only White House-approved media outlet .   Elisabeth Bumiller writes about a "new era" dawning when Jim Vandehai asked if FOX were the only station allowed on White House televisions, including Air Force One.   Predictably nobody admits to anything.  No questions are answered.  But in the end the televisions get turned to CNN and Tony Snow engages in some Kabuki with his old FOX friend Carl Cameron.   Ms. Bumiller is elated.   This is what passes for a victory for the corporate media today.

I hope when future journalists are detained for endangering national security, they can remember whom they have to thank when they notice that all the TVs in the brand new Halliburton-built detention facility are tuned to something other than FOX.


It's White House Letter Day!

Don't miss this week's White House Letter.  It's all about Mary Cheney's new book, reviews of which Elisabeth Bumiller has apparently read. 

I have a feeling that Ms. Bumiller has already cleaned out her desk in anticipation of that leave of absence she's going to take starting in June to write "Madame Secretary, the Story of a Fabulous Life."   She's playing way past silly profiles of people tangentially associated with the White House.   I hear next week's letter will  either be about the White House Florist, who is considering retiring earlier than the announced date of January 2007, or the newest sous chef, who is a distant relation of Grover Cleveland.

I can't wait to see which one she picks.

It's White House Letter Day! Legacy or Think Tank Edition.

From an Bob Schieffer interview of Dear Leader apparently leaked to Elisabeth Bumiller:

"I would like to leave behind a legacy or a think tank, a place for people to talk about freedom and liberty, and the de Tocqueville model, what de Tocqueville saw in America," Mr. Bush told Mr. Schieffer. "I would like for there to be a place where young scholars come and write and think and articulate and opine and teach."

And so begins the wondrous journey that will culminate in the George W. Bush Freedom and Liberty Legacy or Think Tank Foundation.  It will be full of young scholars writing and thinking and legacy-ing all over the place about the the BushCo Doctrine of Preemption, what BushCo now modestly refers to as "the de Tocqueville model" and what I like to call the Doctrine of Eternal War. 

Think Progress jumped right on this with some good discussion starters for the young scholars BushCo hopes to get opinin':

“I foresee that all the military rulers who may rise up in great democratic nations will find it easier to conquer with their armies than to make their armies live at peace after conquest. There are two things that a democratic people will always find very difficult, to begin a war and to end it.” [Link]

“I know of no country in which there is so little independence of mind and real freedom of discussion as in America.” [Link]

“The American Republic will endure, until politicians realize they can bribe the people with their own money.” [Link]

“All those who seek to destroy the liberties of a democratic nation ought to know that war is the surest and shortest means to accomplish it.” [Link]

“When an opinion has taken root among a democratic people and established itself in the minds of the bulk of the community, it afterwards persists by itself and is maintained without effort, because no one attacks it.” [Link] (Note: DeTocqueville never imagined the creation of blogs)

Mais ouch! 

What's most interesting to me is that Dear Leader is so open about the uninspiring do-nothing mandate for the BushCo Freedom and Liberty Legacy or Think Tank Foundation, which is rooted in sitting around talking about Freedon and Liberty.  That is, doing essentially nothing except figuring out how to catapult the old libertudiness propaganda. 

Contrast that with what Presidents Carter and Clinton chose to do with their legacies.  Here's Ms. Bumiller's look at past presidential legacies or think tanks:

There are now a dozen presidential libraries, from Franklin D. Roosevelt's in Hyde Park, N.Y., to Bill Clinton's in Little Rock, Ark., and they operate as shrines, repositories of presidential papers and resources for scholars. None have [sic] a policy center of the kind and size that Mr. Bush evidently envisions, although Jimmy Carter's is adjacent to the well-known Carter Center, dedicated to advancing human rights and fighting disease.

Well, that's news to President Clinton, whom Ms. Bumiller ignores completely after making the comment that his library cost the most to build.   I called the Clinton Foundation today (Try finding the phone number to that place - it's not as easy as you think.) The lady I spoke to said that the Foundation most certainly is connected with the library.   And what does the Clinton Foundation want to do?  From their site:

The mission of the William J. Clinton Foundation is to strengthen the         capacity of people in the United States and throughout the world to meet         the challenges of global interdependence. To advance this mission, the         Clinton Foundation has developed programs and partnerships in the following         areas:

                        

Health Security
              Economic Empowerment
              Leadership Development and Citizen Service

              Racial, Ethnic and Religious Reconciliation

Nothing policy-related there.   And what has the Clinton Foundation done?

In Africa:

In the spring of 2005, President Clinton announced a bold initiative to   bring life-saving antiretroviral treatment to many of the millions of children   worldwide infected with HIV. Through the Clinton Foundation HIV/AIDS Initiative   (CHAI), President Clinton is drawing international attention and resources to the children   being left behind as HIV treatment scales up worldwide.

..

The   Clinton Foundation HIV/AIDS Initiative (CHAI) is working to expand access   to pediatric treatment by supporting governments as they scale up their national   treatment programs to include increasing numbers of pediatric patients. The Clinton Foundation   also works to reduce the cost of pediatric ARV formulations and support the   training of pediatric care providers and the development of pediatric protocols.

In the United States:

The William J. Clinton Foundation’s Urban Enterprise Initiative (UEI)   supports the expansion of opportunity and economic growth in urban communities   by helping small businesses and entrepreneurs compete in the changing urban   marketplace. Working with partners, the Urban Enterprise Initiative provides   small business owners and entrepreneurs with the technical assistance and strategic   advice they need to grow their businesses and turn their vision into reality.

In our schools:

The Alliance for a Healthier Generation – a joint initiative of       the William J. Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association –       has worked with representatives of Cadbury Schweppes, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo,       and the American Beverage Association to establish new guidelines to limit       portion sizes and reduce the number of calories available to children during       the school day. Under these guidelines, only lower calorie and nutritious       beverages will be sold to schools. This is the Alliance’s first industry       agreement as part of its Healthy Schools Program, and it affects close to       35 million students across the country.

There doesn't seem to be a lot of time for sitting around and talking about de Tocqueville.  So here's to BushCo!  May he fill that void at the center of the nation's political soul and create the missing neocon policy center that will finally figure out the French perspective on freedom and liberty, long neglected by young scholars all over world.  After he finds a place to stick it, that is.

Ms. Bumiller also lets us in on the trouble BushCo is having deciding where to locate his modern marvel of political thought.  She's got inside information that during a dinner with Stanford's George Schultz, the Decider was grilling the former SecSt about what it's like to have the Hoover Institute on campus.  He needs to decide which elite university will get to host his joint:

At this point, Southern Methodist University in Dallas is considered the favorite to get Mr. Bush's presidential library and policy center, but the University of Dallas and Baylor University in Waco, Tex., near the president's ranch, are also in the running. All three universities have submitted formal proposals to the Bush library selection committee, led by Donald L. Evans, the former commerce secretary and Mr. Bush's longtime friend.

Go Mustangs!

It's White House Letter Day! Dear Leader Roolz!

Kewl Kidz yearbook editor, frequent guest on Hardball and former style reporter, Elisabeth Bumiller has put the official cap on Saturday night's WHPCA dinner with a glowing, fawning tribute to Dear Leader's comedy chops:

White House officials and Mr. Bridges said the double stand-up was the idea of the president, who last year ceded his spot on the program to his wife and in previous years relied on slide shows as visual props for his routines. As the 2,500-plus guests at the annual event know, by tradition the president is supposed to make fun of himself in an effort to establish his regular-guy credentials and ingratiate himself with the press.

This is the night the captain of the football team actually gets drunk with the hangers-on instead of showing up late and taking the head cheerleader straight upstairs to get laid.  It's a magic night as they jostle for his attention and it looks like from this column that Ms. Bumiller has toadied her way to the head of the class:

He had known about Mr. Bridges, who appears regularly as a Bush impersonator on "The Tonight Show," since 2002. At Christmas that year at the president's ranch, Barbara Bush, the president's mother, showed her son and the assembled clan a video of Mr. Bridges imitating Mr. Bush that had been used to introduce her at an appearance in Texas. Mr. Bush, amused, asked to meet Mr. Bridges, and eventually got together with him in Washington on Feb. 24, 2003, three weeks before the American-led invasion of Iraq.

"Maybe he needed a break or something," said Randy Nolen, Mr. Bridges's manager. "We had him laughing."

...

Mr. Bush told Mr. Bridges, Mr. Nolen said, that the time was not right for comedy, but that in the future they had to get together and do "something big." This year's correspondents' dinner was apparently big enough, and by mid-April Mr. Parvin had a script. 

He needed a break but he knew that the time wasn't right for comedy.  How presidential.  Dear Leader knew when the time was right to laugh again.  That's how he just knew that in March, 2004, at the Radio and Television Correspondants' Dinner, with the Iraqi insurgency starting to explode, 52 US soldiers dead that month and over 300 wounded, the time was right to joke about looking for WMD under White House sofa cushions.   

   Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere.   (Laughter and applause.) 

...

Nope, no weapons over there. (Laughter and applause.) Maybe under here. (Laughter.) Oops, this photo wasn't supposed to be in here. This is the Skull and Bones secret signal. (Laughter.)

Laughter and applause from the assembled journalists.  That gag was fun-ny.   And don't kid yourself;  as Ms. Bumiller lets us know today, that kind of instinct for comedy and sensitivity isn't something you can learn.  You have to be born with it.  Thank god, Dear Leader was born with the gift.  And thank god he's willing to share it with the people who matter at their proms.

There was no mention of Stephen Colbert in the yearbook.  His comedy is just rude.  And he's so angry.  Doesn't he get that it's a party?

Related: You can't read about Colbert's performance in the corporate media, but you can watch it here, (and here), see BushCo's reaction to Colbert's video here, read a transcript of the speech here and leave a message for him at  Thank You, Stephen Colbert.   

It's White House Letter Day: Soldier Boy Edition

It's been a week since Dear Leader returned from his trip to Pakistan and India, where he blew up the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and the question on everyone's mind is how in the world was he able to spend the night safely in Dangerous Pakistan?   At least that's what Elisabeth Bumiller says and she should know:

President Bush has been back from the Asian subcontinent for more than a week now, but one big question from his trip remains: How did it happen that the president spent a night in Pakistan, the assumed haven of Osama bin Laden and one of the one most dangerous countries in the world?

Well, it happened because Perv insisted that BushCo sleep over.  And Perv insisted because he was still smarting from Clinton's refusal to spend the night six years ago.  (The powers of the Clenis are truly extraordinary.)   Now, with Pakistan harboring bin Laden a strong partner in the War on Terra, Dear Leader knew what he had to do.  From Ms. Bumiller, who must be dusting off her biography chops in preparation for the coming "Some Choose Greatness: The Fabulous Career of Condoleezza Rice":

White House officials will not say whether Mr. Bush overruled the Secret Service in making the trip, or even if he was told not to go. But it is no secret that the service was in a state of anxiety during his time in Islamabad.

Reporters were not told that Mr. Bush would be spending the night in Pakistan until 24 hours before, which was the same day that a suicide bombing in Karachi killed an American diplomat. In Islamabad, Air Force One arrived and departed in the dark, with its running lights off and shades drawn, so that it would be less of a target for a missile attack. Once the president was on the tarmac, it was impossible to tell whether he got into a waiting motorcade — or slipped into a Blackhawk helicopter for the trip to the fortresslike American embassy, with the motorcade speeding below as a decoy.

Either way, the route of the motorcade was the site of two of four assassination attempts on Mr. Musharraf, hardly a comfort to the Secret Service. In December 2003, a large bomb detonated on a bridge 30 seconds after Mr. Musharraf's motorcade passed. Eleven days later on the same route, two suicide bombers plowed their cars into the motorcade, killing 15 people and cracking Mr. Musharraf's windshield.

Oh. My. God.  He is so hot.  And brave.  Just like the soldiers who are killing and dying in that war he started.  And that wimpy Secret Service was all like, "We're nervous!" and BushCo was all like, "I'm going!  I must avenge that weakling Clinton's faux pas.  Tell my wife I love her."  And the Secret Service was all like "She's sitting in the helicopter next to you, sir."  And he was all like, "I know that!"  And they were all like, "Yes, sir.  Wheels up, sir."

We are indeed a lucky and grateful nation.

Hey, Adam! Look Over Here!

After I've spent years  watching Elisabeth Bumiller with the kind of devotion that can only be described as canine and with a balance that must be acknowledged by everyone to be rare among press watchers on the left and completely absent those on the right - after a year spent digesting the poison that dripped from Ruderon's (nee Wilgoren) reporting - after years of reading and watching the NYT political reporting in general, including some good stuff on Nagourney the Noble himself -- if he does a story on political blogs and he doesn't interview me on background ... well, that's just journalistic malpractice. 

CHUCK PENNACCHIO MUST BE ELECTED!

It's White House Letter Day! The Indian Edition

It looks like Elisabeth Bumiller is going to pull out all the stops in her final few months writing the White House Letter before she take that year off to write "Some Kind of Wonderful:  A Catalogue of the Splendiferous Accomplishments of Condi, America's  the World's Most Awesome Woman."    She's been covering the week's big story:  BushCo jumpstarting the Asian nuclear arms race by giving India a presidential, treaty-busting dispensation when it comes to nuclear non-proliferation.   

Let me take a minute here to say that I am almost completely confused about what happened in India and Pakistan.  It seems to me that BushCo has pulled another one of his Reality on the Ground tricks, wherein he decides that stuff like the Constitution, the Geneva Conventions, the War Powers Act and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty are obsolete in the face of certain "realities on the ground."  The realities in this case being the nuclearization of India,  Iran, Pakistan and North Korea despite what any treaty claimed to be able to stop.

It's a typically short-sighted view, which relies on an insane overestimation of American omnipotence in the world leading one to believe that safeguards, even imperfect ones, against an all-out Asian arms race, make us somehow weak.  But BushCo is, after all, the kind of poker player and world leader who cold calls every raise without knowing, or even caring, what's in his hand.  David Sanger helps him out on that score with a BushCo-friendly look at the cards here.   

But knowing  all the facts is for suckers.  All Dear Leader needs to know is that God is his on his side, we'll all be dead when history judges us and that every country in the world secretly wants to be us, because we are, after all, Number One!. 

If you want the other side of the story, there have been a bunch of great blog posts you can read.  BtC News, Steve Soto and Neil Shakespeare all weigh in wondering why BushCo would choose to blow up the relative calm in the region by essentially kicking Pakistan in the nuclear teeth, with China waiting in the wings to offer some needed comfort.  That question is answered from an Indian persective in this gleeful column by C. Raja Mohan in the Indian Express. (and here) Finally, in a post with Kashmir and Armageddon in the title,  Sir Lacksalot follows the path BushCo just jumped on to a logical conclusion.   I'll take this moment to remind everyone of the infamous loose nukes floating around and suggest that the increasing peer pressure on terrorist organizations, which could be nineteen guys with a bunch of money and a dream, to go nuclear is not something we should ignore. 

Are you still with me?  Those people who would rather look at beautiful celebrities in pretty clothes than think about this kind of stuff aren't looking so stupid now are they?  Which brings me back to our Ms. Bumiller, who never met a distracting GOP talking point she didn't grab with both hands, has been "covering" this story in news stories, like this 1,100-word story about the Indian deal that doesn't mention China once, and in the WH Letter, which we all know is the NYTimes answer to People Magazine. 

Last week's Letter was all about how deeply in love with India Dear Leader is.  Some of his best political friends are Indian!   But, despite that infatuation, he would not be finding time to visit the world's most famous tomb, the Taj Mahal.   Here's the take away:

In interviews last week, Mr. Bush said that he would have to visit the Taj Mahal, a three-hour drive from New Delhi, another time. (President Bill Clinton, an avid sightseer, visited the Taj on a five-day trip to India in 2000.)

"The part of international travel he likes the best, and the part he's best at, is meeting with other leaders," said Mr. Green, who is now a senior adviser at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "He'll make a lot of time for that, and he'll spend a lot of time preparing for it. That for him is the high value for travel."

BushCo can't be bothered with waddling around tourist traps like Clinton did.  Dear Leader is all about the leadership.  Ms. Bumiller continued and amplifed that theme to staggering heights today in her wrap-up letter from the trip. 

The point of the column is that the trip to India gave BushCo a break from all the domestic ire coming his way in light of Katrina, Dubai, falling polls and a bunch of other bad acts that Ms. Bumiller helpfully doesn't mention.  But the subtext is one of the White House's top talking points: BushCo, unlike any president before him, is fearless as he gives away the keys to the nuclear store and our middle class:

Mr. Bush bookended his trip to India with a surprise four-hour stop in Afghanistan and a 24-hour stay in Pakistan, where Mr. bin Laden is believed to be hiding in the remote tribal areas near the Afghan border. But Mr. Bush, the first American president to visit Afghanistan since President Eisenhower in 1959, and the first to visit Pakistan since President Clinton in 2000, bounced around Mr. bin Laden's terrain with defiance.

Unlike Mr. Clinton, who slipped into Islamabad for six hours on an unmarked military jet, Mr. Bush arrived with a roar on Air Force One. (Although Air Force One, the most recognizable 747 in the world, landed with its running lights off and shades drawn, making it a more difficult target for any ground-launched missile.) Mr. Bush also stayed the night at the fortress-like American ambassador's residence and took time out the next day to take a few swings with a cricket bat with students from the Islamabad College for Boys.

"Terrorists and killers are not going to prevent me from going to Pakistan," he had vowed in New Delhi.

My, my, I'd swoon if I weren't already sitting down.  And how about that sneaky Clinton?   He never did anything this bold.   He never dismantled the non-proliferation treaty.  He only went after welfare.  What a wimp.

We've seen love notes like this before and in similar situations.  When, for instance, the White House needed some cover from the Abu Ghraib disaster, Thom Shankar dashed off this breathless account of Ol' Man Rummy's suprise visit to Iraq after testifying about torture "interrogation techniques" at Abu Ghraib:

He touched down for the tour of the Abu Ghraib prison, west of Baghdad, on Thursday, a blustery day in which the faded prison, the desert and the overcast sky threatened to blend. The rotors of the arriving helicopter roiled the rocks and sand, forming an opaque yellow haze.

Then Mr. Rumsfeld appeared, wearing a blue blazer, gray slacks and brown desert hiking boots, the unofficial uniform of senior American civilians in Iraq.

He stepped onto the prison grounds, from one whirlwind into another.

Pick your distractions, people.  I prefer mine to be of the Clooney variety:

Ooneyclay




We'll Always Have the 2004 Campaign

Umillerbay
Oh my god, what am I going to do?   

New York Times White House correspondent Elisabeth Bumiller is close to signing a deal with Random House to write a biography of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Ms. Bumiller plans to go on a yearlong book leave beginning in June. Reached by phone on Feb. 27, she confirmed her book plans but declined to discuss specifics.

“I’m writing a biography of Condi,” she said.

And she's going to need a year to do it?   A whole year without our Elisabeth?   On the bright side, we have plenty of time to guess what the title of the book will be.  My mind is already reeling with possiblities.  (Condiriffic!)  But there's more good news for Fact-esque readers on this sad day. 

You don't need to wait over a year for the book (Devotion: Condi's Story?)  to come out.  Thanks to modern blogging science, you can always delve into the Fact-esque archives and read some Bumiller anytime you feel like you aren't getting that White House line spoonfed to you quickly enough.   Because I'm such a peach, I dug out some stories that will give us a good idea of what to expect when "Condi: A Fabulous Life" comes out:

There's the famous Valkyries White House Letter in which the fabulous Condi is lumped in with Dear Leader's wife, mommy and work mommy.    There's the soaring profile of brave, brave Condi as she readied herself to appear before the 9/11 Commission.  In that we learned that her childhood career as a concert pianist  prepared her for her current career as Dear Leader's faithful compainion.   There's the coma-inducing look at how  Single White House Women relax. (with "girl talk" about "life")  For cloak and dagger, you've got this one that helps Condi shift any association with Chalabi away from Dear Leader.  And please don't miss the process story from a Northwestern j-school graduate who lets us in on how all the Bumiller magic happens.  I think I know where the next Ms. Bumiller may come from.

And speaking of that,  who's going to get the White House Letter gig??   Somebody start a letter writing campaign to get me the job.  I think I'll fit in seamlessly.  I already have two pieces written in that style.  For the right cocktail party invitations and flattering apperances on Hardball, I can learn to believe, like Ms. Bumiller, that BushCo is one of the best I've ever seen.

** Thanks to Helga d'Oz, who found this story and the FAIR piece that goes along with it.  FAIR takes some time marveling at Keller's sudden concern about the apperance of conflicted interests, which, they suggest, is just adorable considering the source.  E&P weighs in as well.

Quack

I think that Buck is right about this:

I’ve been watching the MSM and it’s SO obvious what is going on. The 2006 elections are coming up. What better diversion than to allow all the Republican Congressmen and women to pretend that the United Arab Emirates port buyout is a major security issue? Does anyone remember that “port security” was a major theme of the Kerry campaign, and Democrats have used it as a rallying cry since then?

Blast the President and get elected. This is ***SO*** Karl Rove. Furthermore, the Abramoff scandal gets pushed to the background, Duke Cunningham is out of the picture, and more importantly, the NSA scandal gets pushed to the background. Forgotten. The Republicans have this scandal figured out. It’s so Rovian. The Man Behind the the Curtain is still pulling levers. The Republicans have pulled the rug on the port security issue from under the Democrats feet.

The thought occured to me yesterday but I didn't have a chance to blog about it.  Then  I watched the Colbert hammer the Brierney about how tone deaf and confusing this story is and I was sure.   BushCo has entered Act Two: The Laming of the Duck.   We've seen the signs coming.  Digby most of all has been anticipating this moment.  I think it started officially when Elisabeth Bumiller wrote her White House Letter about the purging of Bruce Bartlett from the conservative ranks and positioned him as sympathetic heretic.   If we know one thing about Ms. Bumiller, we know that she's always available to shape the approved narrative and that her WH Letter column is built for that express purpose.  Digby says it best:

As for the rest of his [Bartlett's] criticsm, he's just laying the groundwork for the eventual purge of Bushism --- a purge that is already gaining steam.

Yessir.  And the UAE story fits nicely onto that track, doing nothing but benefitting every Republican who stands up to question it along the way.  It's a gamble for sure, but with the corporate media  being sure to derail any criticism from the Dems with charges of racism and baby-eating, the odds start swinging back in the GOP's favor. 

BushCo is taking a big one for the team here - one of many to come I think - and given what we know about his bullying ways, one has to wonder how in the world they're getting him to play along. 

If Only Ms. Bumiller Were Always This Good

I forgot to mention Elisabeth Bumiller's last White House Letter.  I should have gotten to it sooner because as dumb as her dumbest one ever was, this one is that good.   It's all about BushCo's habit of trying to make law with signing statements and some of  the implications thereof:

But one thing is clear: Mr. Bush has issued more than 100 of them, which scholars believe might be more than any other president. (Signing statements have been around since at least the administration of Andrew Jackson.) More significant, scholars say, Mr. Bush has greatly expanded the scope and character of the signing statement, even from the time of the Reagan administration.

She does an excellent job tracing the empowerment of the signing statement back to Reagan's regime and even highlights Alito's role in that development.   And not only that, she also lists some of BushCo's Greatest Signing Statement hits:

For example, in signing the legislation that created the independent commission that investigated the Sept. 11 attacks, Mr. Bush said that while the law established "new requirements for the executive branch to disclose sensitive information," he would interpret the law "in a manner consistent with the president's constitutional authority to withhold information" for national security.

Members of the Sept. 11 commission soon learned they would have a difficult time obtaining information from the White House.

"Now, we can't prove that the reason the administration held back the information was because of the signing statement, but it announced its intentions quite clearly," said Phillip J. Cooper, a professor of public administration in the Mark O. Hatfield School of Government at Portland State University in Oregon and the author of "By Order of the President: The Use and Abuse of Executive Direct Action."

Mr. Bush also used a signing statement in November 2003 to assert that an inspector general created for oversight of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the American administration that governed Iraq, should "refrain" from audits or investigations into matters of intelligence or counterintelligence.

In December 2004, Mr. Bush used a signing statement to say that in the act that created the post of national intelligence director, he considered provisions setting forth how - and from whom - he received intelligence information to be "advisory."

Ending with the only conclusion we can draw:

Or as Mr. Rudalevige put it, "The president is basically saying that those structural changes are nice, but I don't have to listen to anybody in particular."

Well done, Ms. Bumiller.

Whose Gossip Should We Trust?

According to a recent White House Letter, the NYT's White House gossip column, we learned that Ol' Man Rummy and the Big Swingin' Dick are getting along great in their vacation village.  The locals are used to celebrities in their midst and the only grumpuses are a few pilots who can't fly over the secure disclosed locations.  Far be it from me to start something between gossip columnists, but the New York Daily News' diva of the dish, Lloyd Grove, begs to differ:

According to well-to-do residents near their waterfront estates, Don and Joy Rumsfeld blend in, don't inconvenience their neighbors and get around town with minimum fuss since they bought their weekend house a year ago.

But Dick and Lynne Cheney, who settled into St. Michaels last fall, are being blamed by the locals for stopping traffic, keeping neighbors barricaded in their homes while the motorcade passes by, and disrupting sleepers' REM cycles with low-flying Chinook helicopters.

"I hear that Mrs. Cheney is delightful," a disgruntled neighbor, who lives within sight of Ballintober, the Cheneys' $2.7 million estate, told me yesterday. "But I've had great big helicopters fly over my house at 3 o'clock in the morning and at 1 in the morning. I can tell you I'm not happy. They're very noisy. The dogs start barking, and we can't get back to sleep."

Mr. Grove, like Ms. Bumiller, is a refugee from the pro-war WaPo  so there's a good chance they can weather this embarassing episode like the professionals they are.  I hope so.  I wouldn't want anything to distract from the really good journalism going on at either paper. 

It's White House Letter Daze!

Scotty's mommy is running for governor of Texas as an Independent.  Scotty loves his mommy.  Scotty's mommy  loves her son.  Scotty's mommy loves BushCo.  BushCo doesn't care about any of this.  Neither should you.

Bumiller Creed: I try and do stuff that's topical, that's off the news. I realize it's important real estate in the New York Times. It's in the back of the A section but it's still the New York Times and so I feel like I've been given this space. It's there no matter what, I mean, that's a great honor in a way in this business and so it better be good. So I better impart information. It better be stuff that is interesting that I work to get and not just me sort of yammering on about something. I feel it has to have value.

A Whole Mess of White House Letters

Okay, there are something like twenty five hours left in the year and I realized that I've ignored the last six White House Letters.  That's a lot of nonsense to ignore.  So, in the spirit of finishing what we start or in a quick homage to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, here's a quick and dirty rundown of the last clutch of  WH Letters from 2005 in chronological order.  (Warning: nearly every link is behind the pay wall because I waited so long to get to this.)

November 7:  Far Away From Home, No Rest for a Weary President:

Good times.  BushCo was running around Mar del Plata ducking Chavez and looking annoyed that he had to listen to other people talk.  To the rescue rode Ms. Bumiller, who wrote off the hemisphere's loathing of Dear Leader to a problem with his presidency's bio-rhythms:

George W. Bush sometimes seems to be in a Murphy's Law period of his presidency, when everything that can go wrong will go wrong.

So after one of his most miserable weeks at the White House, things did not get a lot better on his messy four-day trip to Latin America.

You've had one of those stretches haven't you?   Everything just goes wrong.   You're going about your business illegally invading a country and starting a civil war, withdrawing the most ridiculously unqualified SCOTUS nominee in modern memory, suffering the indictment of a chief aide involved in a breech of national security, refusing to fire or even to suspend the security clearance of another top aide implicated in the investigation, presiding over a national catatrophe which exposes your economic policy as the Kill-the-Poor plan that we've always known it to be, pushing to make torture an offical part of US policy and then, out of nowhere people start rioting at the mention of your name.  What's up with that? 

November 14: Back at Work After Battle, Prepping the Next in Line, in which we find out that Harriet Miers may actually be a little bit slow:

As the handful of people in Ms. Miers's West Wing office that Sunday night tell it, the president's beleaguered counsel brought a sardonic sense of humor to the proceedings. When Ed Gillespie, an adviser at the meeting, told Judge Alito that if he was going to wear his glasses for the announcement then he should also wear them to his confirmation hearings, Ms. Miers offered some advice of her own.

''But don't wear eyeliner,'' she told Judge Alito, according to participants, who say the meeting immediately broke into laughter.

There's all kinds of laughter, dear.  Thank goodness she has the repression skills to cope:

Her friends suggest that her emotions have been stored up in the attic, to be dealt with later, and that work is its own therapy.

See, this humiliation would have destroyed a lesser White House, but not this one.  Not on Dear Leader's watch.  This White House has Harriet back to work the next day and coaching her replacement no less!  Brave, brave Harriet.  She owes Ms. Bumiller a note: "Dear Liz,  You are the best WH reporter ever -- deserving of great respect."   It's really only polite.

November 28: Keeping a Low Profile, but Sending a Loud Message was a profile of one Steve Schmidt, the man who is responsible for keeping Big Swingin' Dick's approval ratings in the double digits and crafting Alito's press strategy.   The 900 words are nothing more than the standard People magazine puff piece we've come to love seeing in this space but one paragraph was interesting:

Mr. Schmidt said he had devoted most of his time since June to two of President Bush's three Supreme Court nominations, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Judge Alito. Mr. Schmidt would have worked on the nomination of Harriet E. Miers but was in Iraq at the time, dispatched by the White House to assess problems in the American government's press operation in Baghdad.

Only days after that, the story of the U.S.-planted stories in the Iraqi press broke.  Steve may be having a worse stretch of luck than Dear Leader.  But we'll never know.

December 5:  Talk of Changes in the White House Turns to Its Chief: Ground softening for the possible staff shake up at the White House.  It's very important that we understand that any personnel changes would be perfectly normal and in no way an indication that everything wasn't running super smoothly at the Presidential Palace.  Andy Card needs a nap is all, which is why he'll move to a Cabinet position.  Those guys get a lot of rest.

December 12: 21st Century Warnings of a Threat Rooted in the 7th:  Ms. Bumiller hips us to the administration's new scare tactic:

The word getting the workout from the nation's top guns these days is "caliphate" - the term for the seventh-century Islamic empire that spanned the Middle East, spread to Southwest Asia, North Africa and Spain, then ended with the Mongol sack of Baghdad in 1258. The term can also refer to other caliphates, including the one declared by the Ottoman Turks that ended in 1924.

Specialists on Islam say the word is a mysterious and ominous one for many Americans, and that the administration knows it. "They recognize that there's a lot of resonance when they use the term 'caliphate,' " said Kenneth M. Pollack, a former Central Intelligence Agency analyst and now a scholar at the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution. Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser, said that the word had an "almost instinctive fearful impact."

Instinctive fearful impact?  I'm pretty sure that's what's called music to Team BushCo's ears.  If only I could believe that this column was written to inform us instead of to prime the fear pump.  The link works so you can be the judge.

December 19: Top Hawks in Search of Their Own Peace:  The Millionaire Moron Twins have moved into palatial estates on the Chesapeake.  The big news - the news that warrants 900 words in the NYT - the news that Ms. Bumiller considers valuable and good information or else she would not have written it -  is that despite the intrusive security measures, the locals are loving their new neighbors!  There's nothing like having royalty in one's midst.  That level of cheery acceptance is no doubt largely due to the acute sense of noblesse oblige evinced by the old man:

Locals say that they see Mr. Rumsfeld at the ice cream parlor and in restaurants, and that he signs autographs, poses for pictures and tries to blend in. "He doesn't mind anyone coming to talk to him," said Lesley Sprinkle, a bartender during the season at the St. Michaels Crab and Steak House, where the defense secretary has dined twice. "In fact, his head of security is one of my regulars."

Lesley Sprinkle should work at the ice cream parlor, don't you think? 

The only people whining are some pilots who can't fly over the Dick's house and local Joe Trippi, who wouldn't like Cheney and Ol' Man Rummy if they bought him a double dip of Rocky Road.  You just can't please everyone. 

And so it's on to 2006 and, I hope, more White House Letters.   Until then, I'll leave you with Ms. Bumiller's own understanding of the space:

I try and do stuff that's topical, that's off the news. I realize it's important real estate in the New York Times. It's in the back of the A section but it's still the New York Times and so I feel like I've been given this space.  It's there no matter what, I mean, that's a great honor in a way in this business and so it better be good. So I better impart information. It better be stuff that is interesting that I work to get and not just me sort of yammering on about something. I feel it has to have value.  A lot of times I kind of wait to see how the week is shaping up. Sometimes I do it if there's a theme for the week. Last week it was obvious it was Time. This week it was Bush getting into the campaign.  Sometimes I do it on a person.  It's hard to do 800 words, but I do it.

She's the wind beneath my wings.

Who Are You and What Have You Done with Elisabeth Bumiller?!

Good White House Letter from Elisabeth Bumiller today.  It's a good look at how a burgeoning (my word) scandal on the scale of Traitorgate can be stressful for White House staff.  Looking at the lives behind the WH walls is the mandate, after all, of the column so Ms. Bumiller gives us a look the only way she can, which is by interviewing some people on staff during the Lewinsky deal.  At first I thought the column was going to be an 800-word exercise in false equivalence but she does a good job making it clear that not everyone considers the two situations equal:

But the veterans of the Clinton administration were quick to point out what they saw as crucial differences, and they said they did not have the sensation over the last week of looking in the mirror.  They noted that the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the biggest of those in the Clinton years, was about sex and lying about sex, and not about a leak campaign that grew out of an effort to discredit critics of a war based on faulty intelligence.

That's even a pretty good description of the essence of Traitorgate.  Kudos to you, Ms. Bumiller!

It's White House Letter Day!

As I was reading through Ms. Bumiller's latest WH Letter, which is more of a condolence card to her West Wing buds than any kind of reporting, I couldn't get a song out of my head.  Around the middle of the column, I was hearing a sort of a wishful signature song for BushCo's second term.  I'm not surprised; I can always count on Ms. Bumiller and the NYT to crystalize Team BushCo's message du jour. 

See if you hear the same tune.  Click on the links to see the various sources.  What's amazing is that it's hard to differentiate between the National Enquirer and the NYT. 

I Get Knocked Down

We'll be singing
When we're winning
We'll be singing

Q: Do you feel more free, sir?

THE PRESIDENT:  ... And it's one of the wonderful -- it's like earning capital.  You asked, do I feel free.  Let me put it to you this way:  I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it.  It is my style.  That's what happened in the -- after the 2000 election, I earned some capital.  I've earned capital in this election -- and I'm going to spend it for what I told the people I'd spend it on, which is -- you've heard the agenda:  Social Security and tax reform, moving this economy forward, education, fighting and winning the war on terror.

I get knocked down
But I get up again
You're never going to keep me down

But as everyone in the anxiety-ridden West Wing knows, things are about as normal as waiting for a special prosecutor to decide whether to bring criminal charges against two of the most powerful men at the White House: Mr. Rove, the deputy chief of staff and Mr. Bush's political alter ego, and I. Lewis Libby Jr., Vice President Dick Cheney's  chief of staff.

Lawyers involved in the case say that the prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, is focusing on whether Mr. Rove and Mr. Libby sought to conceal their actions and mislead prosecutors in the C.I.A. leak case. Among the charges he is considering, they say, are perjury and obstruction of justice - both peripheral to the issue Mr. Fitzgerald was appointed to investigate,  [pdf file of the letter to Fitzgerald  from AAG Comey, which disproves that particular RNC lie here - eR] which is whether anyone in the administration revealed the identity of a covert intelligence officer, a potential crime.

Pissing the night away
Pissing the night away
He drinks a whisky drink
He drinks a vodka drink
He drinks a lager drink
He drinks a cider drink

A Washington source said: "The sad fact is that he has been sneaking drinks for weeks now. Laura may have only just caught him — but the word is his drinking has been going on for a while in the capital.  He's been in a pressure cooker for months.

He sings the songs that remind him
Of the good times
He sings the songs that remind him
Of the better times:
"Oh Danny Boy
Danny Boy
Danny Boy..."

Mr. Mehlman said that the White House "is focused on the people's agenda" and that a staff that has faced huge challenges, like a terrorist attack and two wars, can handle this one.

I get knocked down

Allies of the administration who talk regularly to top West Wing officials paint a less happy picture. "The general mood is one of grim determination to conduct business as usual, even though it's clearly not possible," said a Republican close to Mr. Rove who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he did not want to antagonize the White House by talking about internal thinking. "It colors the mood, it colors everything that people do, say and think about."

But I get up again
You're never going to keep me down

"The president's agenda will go forth, and staff changes all the time," said Brad Blakeman, Mr. Bush's scheduler for most of the first term, when asked at the Reagan Library last week about the impact of a possible departure by Mr. Rove. "It's quite healthy to have staff turnover."

Pissing the night away
Pissing the night away
He drinks a whisky drink
He drinks a vodka drink
He drinks a lager drink
He drinks a cider drink

Bush is under the worst pressure of his two terms in office and his popularity is near an all-time low. The handling of the Katrina crisis and troop losses in Iraq have fueled public discontent and pushed Bush back to drink.

He sings the songs that remind him
Of the good times
He sings the songs that remind him
Of the better times:
"Don't cry for me
Next door neighbour..."

The consensus among some Republicans in Washington was that Mr. Mehlman was a logical replacement for Mr. Rove, should he depart, because Mr. Mehlman, a former White House political director, managed Mr. Bush's 2004 campaign with guidance from Mr. Rove.

I get knocked down
But I get up again
You're never going to keep me down

Former Attorney General Edwin Meese III, who was also at the Reagan library, took an equally optimistic view about any toll from the investigation on the White House or Mr. Bush. "We all remember low points in presidencies, and this president is doing very well, and he'll recover," Mr. Meese said.

We'll be singing
When we're winning
We'll be singing

 

It's White House Letter Day!

From the Brain of Bumiller on the White House Letter column:

I try and do stuff that's topical, that's off the news. I realize it's important real estate in the New York Times.  It's in the back of the A section but it's still the New York Times and so I feel like I've been given this space.  It's there no matter what, I mean, that's a great honor in a way in this business and so it better be good. So I better impart information.  It better be stuff that is interesting that I work to get and not just me sort of yammering on about something.  I feel it has to have value.  A lot of times I kind of wait to see how the week is shaping up.  Sometimes I do it if there's a theme for the week. Last week it was obvious it was Time.  This week it was Bush getting into the campaign.  Sometimes I do it on a person.  It's hard to do 800 words, but I do it.

It's hard work, but she manages.   Very infrequently Ms. Bumiller also manages to stick to her own mandate and we get a column like last week's WH Letter.  If You Can't Stand the Heat, Get Out of the West Wing actually did look behind a news story and get some interesting information from White House staff:

Meanwhile, members of the administration were not especially responsive last week to questions about their personal conservation strategies.

When asked by e-mail what he was doing to conserve, Karl Rove, the White House deputy chief of staff, hit "reply" and asked, "What are you doing to conserve?"

Margaret Spellings, the secretary of education, said that she was avoiding nonessential travel because "I'm working so much that I don't have time to go anywhere personally."

Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman's spokesman did not say what Mr. Bodman was doing personally, although he did say that Mr. Bodman had asked employees to actually read the president's conservation directive.

Back at the White House, it was unclear how many people, if any, had turned in their parking passes for Metro rides. But there was one incentive: "You can get it back - it's like squatters' rights," said Trent Duffy, the deputy White House press secretary. "You don't have to give up parking permanently."

The whole column was a good, skeptical look at BushCo's newly found love of conservation.  This week we're back in crazy town.

A Place at the Table for Meiers and High-Level Friends has the chance to take even a peak (I'm not asking for miracles) at cronyism in the BushCo White House but instead veers off into 800 words about how powerful, single female members of Team BushCo and some of the female (Single?  We don't know.) WH staff entertain themselves:

In all the conservative uproar over President Bush's choice of Harriet E. Miers for the Supreme Court, and in all the looks backward into Ms. Miers's career and upbringing in Texas, one thing has been lost: her current life in the Bush administration as one of a handful of powerful single women who have become friends and part of an informal network of support in Washington.

For much of the past five years, Ms. Miers, 60, has been a close friend not only of Ms. Veneman but of Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state. Schedules permitting, the three have met for what people still call girls' nights out in Washington.

Yawn.  Ms. Bumiller does give us some new information as to Meier's nomination though:

Someone who knows both women said that it was "reasonable to speculate" that Ms. Rice - who remains as close a confidante of the president as she was when she worked steps from the Oval Office as national security adviser in the first term - played a role in Ms. Miers's selection.

I guess that reasonable speculation is worth something.  When Meier's withdraws her name from consideration, we can blame one of the girls for the mess.   But I'm afraid this week's letter doesn't meet the high standards Ms. Bumiller set out for herself:  "stuff that is interesting that I work to get and not just me sort of yammering on about something."

To be fair, Daniel "the NYT is a miracle!!!"  Okrent quoted Ms. Bumiller calling the WH Letter   "a reported column that attempts to bring to life the people and behind-the-scenes events at the White House."   This week's letter would fit that bill.  But I guess my definition of "yammering on about something" differs substantially from Ms. Bumiller's.   

Elisabeth Bumiler: Shameless White House Shill or Latter Day Swift?

I saw this line in Dowd's column today:

Even though we know W. likes to be in his bubble with his feather pillow, the stories this week are breathtaking about the lengths the White House staff had to go to in order to capture Incurious George's attention.

Which, of course, reminded me of this particularly horrible White House Letter : Running on a Campaign Trail Paved in Comfy Feathers.  When I wrote about that disaster I noted that the column was loopy enough to be a cry for help by Ms. Bumiller:

There are two possible explanations for today's White House Letter. The first gives Ms. Bumiller credit for being an obviously intelligent person and talented writer. It also assumes that she's tired of writing People Magazine-style puff pieces about BushCo and those around him.  It further assumes that she's unaware of the way the columns she writes are extensions of the BushCo campaign effort or, if not unaware, then finally fed up with being used that way.  If we assume all that, then we can read today's completely ridiculous piece as a subtle cry for help. "Get me off this beat. My professional soul is dying. Love, Elisabeth"

But I decided, based on the balance of the column, that it was more likely another in a long line of BushCo fluff pieces designed to hammer home what I had come to recognize during the campaign as the four sacred BushCo talking points:

1. BushCo is in charge of all the campaign decisions.
2. He's happy to campaign and this point can't be stressed enough.
3. He's nice, patient and disciplined.
4. BushCo is a regular guy, who likes us all.

Looking back over the Katrina dead and knowing what her willingness to pimp BushCo's lies cost this country,  I wonder how Ms. Bumiller can sleep at night.  But then there's Dowd's column from today.  Even though we know W. likes to be in his bubble with his feather pillow.  Maybe I was wrong.  Maybe the Bumiller campaign oeuvre was all an elaborate satire.   Is it all our fault for not getting the joke?   I have to sleep on that.

 

I Wanna Hold Your Hand

Elisabeth Bumiller helps push off an accountability moment and lower the bar for BushCo in the coming weeks by narrowing the roll of President to the point that we may as well vote for Dr. Phil in 2008.   It's all about the hand holding, you see.  That's what America wants in a time of crisis.  Reagan!  Lincoln!  FDR!  Ms. Bumiller allows for that possbility that BushCo may not belong in that company just yet:

Kenneth M. Duberstein, Mr. Reagan's last White House chief of staff, put it this way: "You've got to be both a rabbi and a priest ministering to the people, but also a chief executive who directs recovery and marshals resources.  Everybody looks to the president at a moment of crisis, not to the Congress.  And so you have to be that larger-than-life figure."

Whether Americans are satisfied they got all that from Mr. Bush in this crisis is unclear,  as the president has come under extraordinary criticism from Democrats, Republicans, local officials and victims for his handling of the disaster.

Yes, it's "unclear."  If we can just wait a few months, give the White House time to clear up the situation ...  Those photos of the dying won't be on television stirring up trouble much longer.  How many stories of rape and murder in the Superdome can we listen to?    And Democrats say mean things about Dear Leader all the time anyway.   Ms. Bumiller gets Operation Unclear rolling by not only giving voice to one of the spinsters who has a history in BushCo disaster apologia but also by reminding us that all criticsim is nothing but political manuevering: 

White House officials and some of Mr. Bush's supporters disagreed, among them Victoria Clarke, the former Pentagon spokeswoman, who said that "at a certain point here, people will realize that some awfully good efforts were made" and that "a lot of people did a hell of a good job."

For Ms. Clarke, the politics of natural disaster had a familiar ring, since it was almost exactly 13 years ago to the day that she was defending Mr. Bush's father against accusations that he had been slow in his response to Hurricane Andrew, which devastated South Florida.

In fact, when Bill Clinton, who was running for president at the time, said that efforts should be made to look into the problems that plagued disaster relief in Florida and Louisiana in 1992, Ms. Clarke, a Bush campaign spokeswoman, retorted that Mr. Clinton was "trying to exploit what is a terrible situation for political gain" and that "he should be ashamed of himself."

Thank god, Ms. Bumiller reminds us that Clinton has seen the light and wants to be part of the solution instead of part of the problem now:

Mr. Clinton is now working with the first President Bush to raise money for hurricane victims.

Remember the last time Clinton wanted to be part of the solution when it came to disaster response?  That's right, it was when he overhauled FEMA, elevated the director to a cabinet-level position, appointed the eminently qualified James Lee Witt and made the the agency a model for effective and efficient disaster response.  But I'm off-topic.  The topic here is hand holding:

As for Ms. Clarke, she said that the change in intensity in the news media in the last 13 years - cable channels showed around-the-clock images of people dying in New Orleans last week - had sharply increased the demands on the president.

"People want and expect more of a personal connection," she said. "He has to be commander in chief, and he has to be holding those hands."

    

It's all that round-the-clock coverage that's increasing the demands on the president.  If only people didn't know about the criminally non-responsive job he had done, it would be so much easier to lighten his load.  As it is, now he's got a lot of hands to hold.  America deserves no less.

"We Call it the Cirque du Soleil Tent ..."

Your corporate media has found a new distraction to keep from explaining to America why Cindy Sheehan thinks she deserves another meeting with BushCo.   At first the corporate narrative was restricted to her grief and giving time to the slime that the Right Wing Noise Machine sent her way.  She was a grieving mother/liberal tool standing in a ditch with a few media-savvy supporters.   That limited context, of course, allowed pro-war protesters to confront her on the equally unassailable moral ground of grief, which they will be doing this Saturday in Crawford after they ride through the west trying to gather support and explaining their determination to send their children to die to liberate foreign lands. 

Cindy, though, stands on the slightly higher ground - ground as yet unexplored by the corporate media - ground mapped by the information exposed in the Downing Street Memos, the Dulfur Report, the 9/11 Commission Report and recently released State Department documents.   She wants to ask why BushCo lied to start a war that killed her son.  She wants him to explain the noble cause that compelled him to betray not only his own oath to defend the Constitution but also the members of the military who have given life and limb to do the same.   Those are questions that the corporate media should have been investigating as the suspicious rush to war began but that kind of reporting would have been un-Corporate American and so they were silent.  Now, three years later, simply explaining that those questions are being asked by a growing number of Americans is verboten and so we get the latest line of distraction from Sheehan's message:  Is a well-funded, comfortable protest, attended by the usual suspects worth discussing seriously?

via Atrios: (emph mine)

Mike Allen on who's at Camp Casey (from Face the Nation):

However, Cindy Sheehan's gone but the camp up here is even bigger. More and more people are coming from around the country. They now have this enormous setup, Camp Casey. Used to be a couple pup tents, now it's this enormous--we call it the Cirque du Soleil tent with eight spikes, catered meals, a Cindy shuttle, a peace shuttle that takes people up and down the mountain.  Right now it's PETA, hippies, Naderites. The question is, if it becomes the Little League dads, Pop Warner moms, then the White House has a big problem.

More and more people are coming from around the country, but they're the wrong kind of people.  Camp Casey is a circus, filled with freaks and all the comforts of home. 

From Elisabeth Bumiller in today's White House Letter:

Ms. Sheehan was not here (she left Crawford on Thursday for Los Angeles to tend to her ailing mother, and is expected back this week), and the gathering had not drawn the thousands as expected. But it still looked like an upscale picnic for hundreds on the hot prairie.

In fact, the well-financed organizers said the same tent had been used the previous week for a fund-raiser at a neighboring ranch, the Broken Spoke, for Mr. Bush and his biggest contributors. "It never came off the truck," said John Wolf, the owner of a stage and scenery company in Dallas who is also a co-founder of the Crawford Peace House, a gathering spot for antiwar protesters in town.

The site was a big step up from Ms. Sheehan's original scruffy roadside spot two miles from the ranch, named Camp Casey for her son, which had drawn the ire of neighbors because of traffic and the crowds. Ms. Sheehan moved late last week after a local landowner, Fred Mattlage, offered her an acre of pastureland closer to the president's ranch.

With $10 to $15 donations pouring in to Ms. Sheehan's Web site (organizers said at one point they were collecting $25,000 a day) the group was able to afford the tent, vans to shuttle people from Crawford, and the services of Ann Spicer, a friend of Mr. Wolf and the owner of an event-planning company in Dallas who was overseeing a makeshift kitchen, complete with two Viking stoves. Ms. Spicer turned out three meals a day for a potential 1,000 guests.

Manicotti and King Ranch chicken casserole were on the menu for dinner on Saturday night; supporters who wanted to stay the night pitched small tents in the shade around the big tent's perimeter. Last night, the folk singer Joan Baez performed a concert.

Diana Bowen, a supporter of Ms. Sheehan, said, "I just couldn't stay away." A retired bookkeeper who had flown in from Salem, Ore., Ms. Bowen was sitting at a table under the tent with Ruth McKinney, a nurse at a veterans hospital in Dallas.

"I just can't stand all these young men being killed," said Ms. McKinney, who described herself as a contributor to MoveOn.org, the advocacy group working with Ms. Sheehan.

It looks like Mike Allen should ask to share Ms. Bumiller's notes.  Who's sending those $10 and $15 donations?  And retired bookkeepers and VA hospital nurses don't sound like the lunatic fringe element he insists comprise Camp Casey.  But the two stenographers are happily on the same page when it comes to letting us know that these protesters are living the good life, eating gourmet food in their shaded tents.   The title of Ms. Bumiller's piece says it all: Tale of 2 Summer Camps.  One sponsored by your tax dollars so that Dear Leader can get some rest between fishing trips, the other sponsored by the advocacy group, MoveOn.org so some sad mothers and their hangers-on can cry about the war between catered meals and "concerts" by Joan Baez.  (video of her and Steve Earle at Truthout, by the way)

Ms. Bumiller didn't mention the workshops in non-violent resistance taught by Rev. Larry Johnson of the Southern Christian Leadership Council (scroll down for video),  which supports Cindy's efforts.  She doesn't mention Military Families Speak Out, MeetWithCindy.org or Code Pink, all of which have been supporting her logistically and financially since the first days of her camp out in that "scruffy" ditch.  She sticks faithfully to MoveOn.org, the bogeyman of the Right Wing Noise Machine.  You can hear those Ketchum Points racking up.

Of course, if Ms. Bumiller or the rest of the corporate media really looked at the groups that support Cindy, they'd have to connect some dots that they'd rather leave unconnected.  MeetWithCindy.org, for instance, is affiliated with the off-limits AfterDowningStreet.org.  Code Pink is an arm of United for Peace and Justice, which, for months before Cindy camped in that ditch, has been planning the annual massive anti-war march for September 24th in D.C.   I wonder how many PETA freaks, hippies and Naderites Mike Allen will see in that crowd.  I guess I'll have to get my "Suburban Mom Against the War" sign ready just for him.

Continue reading ""We Call it the Cirque du Soleil Tent ..."" »

The key is perseverance and a refusal to give in. "At every press conference I stand up every time and ask a question," Bumiller says. "No matter what."

Oh my god.  If you're looking for a fun waste of a few minutes, you must read this profile of Elisabeth Bumiller.  It appears in the Northwestern, which is a publication for "alumni and friends of Northwestern University."   I plan to commit it to memory.  But before you read the profile, read this week's WH Letter, which is completely pointless beyond the helpful hand it offers BushCo as he struggles to defend his decision to leave Washington for five weeks in August and September.  That way, when you read this from the Northwestern piece: (emph mine)

"Reporting is an oasis, and White House reporting is a pretty dry desert," says colleague and competitor Dana Milbank, the White House correspondent for the Washington Post. "Bumiller has a nice anti-authority streak, and she doesn't suffer fools."

You can remember that our intreprid reporter who refuses to sit still for the WH line, has just written this:

Critics have long called it [the infamously ignored August 6 PDB]  a symbol of the administration's complacency in the slow summer days before the catastrophe of Sept. 11, 2001.  Administration officials have countered that there was no specific information to act on, and that the briefing never warned that planes could be used as missiles.

And when you read this comment from Ms. Bumiller describing her style reporter gig at the pro-war WaPO:

"I wasn't just writing about flowers and dresses," Bumiller says.

"I tried to get some news out of it."

You can remember this from yesterday's WH Letter:

Meanwhile, back at a sleepy White House, major August repairs were under way.

The walnut and oak floor of the Oval Office, installed during the Reagan administration and now thin from constant refinishing, was to be ripped up and replaced. The irrigation system on the White House grounds was to be replaced, too. The masonry and stucco in the West and East Colonnades was under restoration, and the windows along the East Colonnade were being repaired.

If that ain't flowers and dresses, I don't know what is. 

I know.  I'm breaking my own rule comparing the WH Letter to Ms. Bumiller's more serious reporting.  But the Northwestern article helps on that score, saving me the trouble of scouring my archives for examples of her most fatuous news reporting and analysis.  The author, Rebecca Zeifman, uses an analysis piece Ms. Bumiller wrote on the nomination of the fabulous Condi to SecState to give us a glimpse of the reporter's skill at ferreting out a story.  Don't drink anything while you're reading this clip or you'll be shopping for a new keyboard:

This will be a tough assignment.

Yesterday was an easy day, reporting on Colin Powell's resignation, a 1,600-word story about his tenure and accomplishments. "It's easy, it's news," Bumiller says. "Just cut to the chase, cut and dried."

The Times has three White House reporters who split up the stories for the week. Yesterday David Sanger wrote the analysis on Powell. Today it is Bumiller's turn to analyze.

She will use what she calls "the outside-in" reporting method. She will talk to people outside of the White House: people on Capitol Hill, in the Department of State, Republican pollsters and Washington insiders. Only then will she ask questions of the White House.

"I think people think I expect handouts, that they think my job is to listen to what Scott McClellan says at the briefing every day and then put it in the paper. That's not my job," Bumiller says. "You talk to these large concentric circles outside of the White House, and you do it every time, no matter what."

Nicolle Devenish (GJ96), assistant to the president for communications, says that despite their occasional differences, she respects Bumiller. "Elisabeth was a tireless hunter of color and detail that we were often reluctant to share," Devenish says. "But in the end I think we learned to understand each other, and more often than not we were able to come to a middle ground on most stories."

My goodness, the way she hunted down those color elements of the story.  She was unrelenting in her quest for the odd personal tidbit and thank heaven because it was that tireless dedication to the truth that gave us this:

Bumiller writes: "Ms. Rice still packs her lunch many days as a way of avoiding the expense and calories of the White House mess.  She rises at 5 a.m. to run on the treadmill that she keeps in her sparse Watergate apartment, is in the office before 7 a.m. and is in bed by 10 p.m."

Where would we be without reporters who dig and dig until they can get that kind of information? With bombshells like that you can understand Ms. Bumiller's reliance on anonymous sources to get the story out.  CJR had that story:

The Times' Elisabeth Bumiller, for one, seems intent on ignoring assistant managing editor Allan M. Siegel's week-old pleas for fewer anonymice. And, for her impudence, she is rewarded with page one placement. In the course of her story today about "Bush's Tutor and Disciple," Condoleezza Rice, Bumiller invokes the confidence-inspiring and oh-so-specific phrase "friends say" nine times.  Among the very sensitive things that Bumiller could not get Rice's "friends" to "say" on the record: "[Rice] was transformed by [the 9/11 attacks]";  "[Rice] is capable of great charm"; "Rice, a preacher's daughter who grew up in segregated Birmingham, Ala., and was pushed by her parents into believing that anything in life is possible, has more than enough toughness and rigor for the job"; and "[Rice] has the discipline." (We should note that Bumiller does get one Rice "friend" on the record, Coit Blacker -- the same guy the Los Angeles Times quotes in their own Rice story today, which is itself full of anonymous sources such as "a close associate" and "a foreign policy specialist who had known Rice for 20 years.")

When Bumiller isn't quoting Rice's faceless "friends," she's quoting or paraphrasing "officials" of one variety or another (another specific Siegel no-no). "Officials" are allowed to go unnamed in order to explain, for example, that "[Rice's] views are not always predictable and that she sometimes challenges the president in certain circumstances." (In other words, to knock down the CW that Rice is the president's ever-welcome yes-woman).

What's the official J-school term for that kind of reporting?  Outside-In the Bag?   Ms. Bumiller could teach a master class in that technique.  Lesson One: Trying to get some news out of it.


Fists of Fury, Fingers of Hostility

What do you want to bet that Ms. Bumiller uses tomorrow's White House Letter to help humiliate internet writers who reported (I say correctly) that BushCo showed reporters "the finger of hostility"  the same way she helped out when "[i]nternet conspiracy theorists and some Democrats " found evidence that BushCo was wired during the first debate. 

I can't see how she passes this story  up since it not only invokes BushCo's beloved plain-speakin', takes-no-guff-from-the-media-elite, cowboy image but also can be spun as a dramatic eleventh hour victory for Dear Leader, further testament to his iron will.  That's a White House Letter jackpot.  Of course CAFTA passing the House was more like a fourteenth hour cheat that cost BushCo the famr, but we're talking myth making here.  Reality doesn't need to enter into it.

The other story in contention is Frist's support of stem cell research.  C'mon, hostile finger!

UPDATE:  I was wrong.  Out of nowhere we get a tour of the White House's collection of presidential portraits.  What did we learn?  BushCo, who hates spending time in museums, recently spent nearly an entire hour looking at the portraits of Gilbert Stuart, "prompting speculation" (in at least Ms. Bumiller's mind) that he's thinking about the ol' legacy.   (Note to BushCo: spend less time looking at pictures and more time at the Vietnam Memorial if you're going down the legacy road.)  Teddy Roosevelt  was tormented by John Singer Sargent and didn't like to pose for his portrait, which is has come to be considered the best in the collection.   The worst portrait, relegated to storage, is of James Buchanan, who lobbied for the Dred Scott decision.  Those anti-choicers to whom BushCo speaks in code will be glad to hear that.  Artist Gilbert Stuart was frequently broke and possibly indulged in fraud.  Clinton bumped Reagan's portrait for JFK's and BushCo (it seems) has moved FDR to somewhere "not easily seen from the public floor."   And Barbara Bush, who was portrayed in the corporate media as the last woman to ever be accused of vanity of any sort, has had her official portrait replaced with one that makes her appear more "peppy" and reincarnates her canine co-author, Millie.

This is a good time to remind you of Elisabeth Bumiller's own perspective on the WH Letter:

It's in the back of the A section but it's still the New York Times and so I feel like I've been given this space. It's there no matter what, I mean, that's a great honor in a way in this business and so it better be good. So I better impart information. It better be stuff that is interesting that I work to get and not just me sort of yammering on about something.

Next week: Barry Larkin, official White House Tee Ball Commissioner for 2005.   That's more of a suggestion than a predicition since I am obviously no Kreskin.

You Can Take the Girl Out of the Style Section ...

I missed this week's White House Letter but Michael at Reading A1 took it on brilliantly:

Liz Bumiller or whichever PR handler the White House assigned to water and mulch her this week—decided that it was time to look at the coming Supreme Court nomination battle from the woman's perspective. And by woman's, I mean lady's, since even though we're talking about the possibility of a woman replacing a woman justice, we're so in the fifties here.  The burning issue that leads today's "White House Letter":  what does Laura Bush know, and how does she know it?

When Laura Bush said in a television interview last week that she hoped her husband would name a woman to succeed Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the Supreme Court, a lot of people saw it as a top item on the first lady's "honey-do" list. But Republicans close to the White House said that people had it reversed. Mrs. Bush, they said, was not so much nudging her husband as reflecting his thinking.

(Excuse me, but: "honey-do" list? Yeecch. Did Bumiller fall asleep last night on a stack of old McCall's or something?) The gender politics are head-spinning! Is Laura lobbying Dear Hubby, or is she leaking His most intimate cogitations?

The rest is just as incisive. 

The White House Letter should be an embarassment to the NYT and  yet it persists as that bastion of People Magazine-style fawning gloss devoted to Team BushCo, where Ms. Bumiller can work out her style reporter impulses.  The only trouble is that they let her do it in real time around important issues that deserve much more thoughtful analysis.

Related: You can read about how Dear Leader was alternately "playful" and "testy" during a press-op today, courtesy of Ms. Bumiller here.  No word on the fit of his suit.  Developing ...

UPDATE: Also in that piece, notice how Ms. Bumiller announces the official creation of the Move Along Bandwagon that the corporate media are thrilled to climb on:

 

Both Republicans and Democrats said that a nomination announcement in the next few days could push the news of Karl Rove and a federal investigation into who leaked the name of a C.I.A. officer off the front pages, a development that would be highly welcome at the White House. Mr. Rove, Mr. Bush's senior adviser, has been named by two reporters as a source of the leak, a potential crime.

 

"A nomination would certainly change the momentum in Washington," said Kenneth M. Duberstein, who managed the Supreme Court nominations of Clarence Thomas and David H. Souter for Mr. Bush's father.
 

Because, you know, momentum is some organic phenomenon that exists separately from reporters and editors and owners of the corporate media. It's a current that just sweeps them helplessly along. 

It's White House Letter Day!

Ever since FOX News put the Downing Street Minutes story on their website, I've been holding out hope that the WH Letter column would be the next incredibly improbable space for the story to show up.  Today we don't get the minutes, but Ms. Bumiller does turn in an improbably gutsy look at Waura's bungled trip to Egypt:

In now well-known comments at the foot of the pyramids on May 23, Mrs. Bush praised President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt for his "very bold step" toward democracy. Mr. Mubarak, a former general who has ruled Egypt unchallenged since 1981, has called for the first multiparty elections in the country's history, but with some curbs on who can run. Pro-democracy opposition groups have criticized those steps as a sham. Two days after Mrs. Bush's comments, on the occasion of a referendum to pave the way for the elections, Mr. Mubarak's supporters beat up the opposition in Cairo's streets.

Wow, huh?  And if you thought this was easy for her, read this coded message for help:

President Bush was asked about his wife's comments after the violence in Cairo at a recent White House news conference, where he looked stone-faced at his questioner and then, with the benefit of hindsight, walked back some of his wife's praise.

It isn't easy questioning Dear Leader.   Remember what Ms. Bumiller herself told us about that part of her job:

I think we were very deferential because in the East Room press conference it's live. It's very intense. It's frightening to stand up there.

I mean think about it, you're standing up on prime time live televsion asking the President of the United States a question and when the country is about to go to war. There was a very serious, somber tone that evening and I think it made, you know, nobody wanted to get into an argument with the president at this serious time. It had a very heavy feeling of history to it, that press conference.

So big hugs for Ms. Bumiller, for resisting the temptation to tell us how much the chief chef at Crawford, who cooked at the presidential twin's summer camp before he was hired away by then-Governor Bush, enjoys cooking for foreign dignataries and what Dear Leader's favorite comfort food is.

It's See the Future White House Letters Day!

Set aside the fact that Elisabeth Bumiller had the guts to actually quote People Magazine in this week's White House Letter.  I think there's a troubling trend developing in the reporting concerning the BushCo twins:

The Bush twins, Jenna and Barbara, will be hosts of the youth concert, where the teenage singer JoJo will appear along with Kid Rock.  

Elisabeth Bumiller White House Lettter 1/3/05

Mr. Bush has had his Apple iPod since July, when he received it from his twin daughters as a birthday gift.

Elisabeth Bumiller, White House Letter 4/11/05

In Mrs. Bush's case, playing off "Desperate Housewives" was a natural, even though Ms. Whitson said that Mrs. Bush had never actually seen the racy ABC hit show.  Ms. Whitson said the first lady had heard about the characters and plot from the Bush twins, Jenna and Barbara, who are fans ...

                Elisabeth Bumiller, White House Letter 5/2/05

Last summer, in a Bush family interview with People magazine, Mr. Bush said that his twin daughters' taste in men was "excellent" and that they liked people who were "polite" and "not afraid of the old man, which is good."

Elisabeth Bumiller, White House Letter 5/30/05

It better be stuff that is interesting that I work to get and not just me sort of yammering on about something.  I feel it has to have value. 

Elisabeth Bumiller, author of the WH Letter on the WH Letter

Can this WH Letter be far behind?

WHITE HOUSE LETTER

Presidential Twins Say 'Enough is Enough'

By ELISABETH BUMILLER

Published: June 6, 2005

WASHINGTON

Take Your Child to Work Day was celebrated last week by corporate fathers and mothers across the country.  For most of the children that meant a day off school to get a peak behind the curtain of where at least one of their parents spends most of their waking hours.  But for two of the country's most famous daughters, the thrill of spending a little too much time in front of the curtain on the world stage where their very famous father works, may be wearing off. 

Since Jenna and Barbara Bush made their political debut in the pages of Vogue and on the stage of the Republican National Convention last summer, aides close to the two young women say that they are starting to feel as if their lives are being mined for interesting tidbits to hand to journalists looking for a scoop or worse, as a shield for certain revelations that may be tricky for the president and the first lady, both of a certain age, to explain. 

The aides, who insisted on anonymity in order to avoid the appearance of cashing in on an admittedly “really close, like super close” relationship with the first daughters, say that the first sign of trouble came during their father’s second inauguration party planning, when it was reported that Kid Rock would perform at a youth ball hosted by Jenna and Barbara Bush.  The implications, friends say, was clear.  “When I read that, I couldn’t believe it,” one anonymous friend said in an email interview.  “Jenna and Barb, wouldn’t be caught dead at a Kid Rock concert.  That was totally not their idea.  They wanted Fifty Cent or maybe Usher.  Usher’s hot.”  When asked if the daughters were taking the blame for a booking that led to hundreds of angry emails and phone calls, the friend said, “All I know is that anyone who knows music wouldn’t have booked Kid Rock.” 

The next dust-up, also music-related, involved the president’s iPod, which was a gift from his daughters.  It was reported in this column that an aide to President Bush maintained the device’s playlist.  What was not reported was that the iPod came pre-programmed by his daughters as part of the gift.  Among the email to this reporter generated by that story, nearly all of it positive, came a note from the office of the First Daughters that included the gift’s original playlist (Eric Clapton exclusively) and a request to let the public know that the Bush daughters “rock.”  Certainly it was never the intention of this column to suggest that either the taste or the gift etiquette of either Barbara or Jenna Bush was ever less than slammin’.

But problems with their PR haven’t only come through careless reporting; sometimes a family member can step on some toes as well.  A close friend of the First Family, who insisted on anonymity, claims that after First Lady Laura Bush’s starmaking performance at the White House Correspondent’s Dinner last month, during which she wowed the crowed, her daughters were less than thrilled to be linked to the hit television series, Desperate Housewives.  “Sure, it's sexy but I mean everyone in the show is over forty, right?  It’s gross,” the friend said in a telephone interview.  “It’s not exactly must-see tv for Jen and Barb’s crowd.  One Tree Hill though, that’s hot.” 

The family friction is sure to heat up after last week’s profile of Blake Gottesman, who serves as personal aide to the President and who, just happened to have dated Jenna Bush when the two were in high school.  It’s unclear yet what the fall-out from the piece has been. This reporter’s voicemail and email boxes have yet to hear a complaint, but judging from Jenna’s reaction to the disclosure that she and Mr. Gottesman were once an item (according to People Magazine she squealed a reminder to her father that the two dated nearly a decade ago and were “old news”) it seems clear that the two young women would rather the White House publicity office refrain from putting words in their mouths so that they may rely on their own efforts to shape their image as the political spokeswomen and role models that they have so bravely chosen to become for their father's totally rockin' administration.

Bushtwinchart

Image via Wonkette.

It's White House Letter Day!

Elisabeth Bumiller thought that BushCo's Calvin College commencement speech was so nice, she had to write about it twice!

It turns out that Waura wasn't the only BushCo forced to endure public protests of her husband's policies.  Dear Leader was also put in the uncomfortable position of facing a crowd that wasn't handpicked, screeened and subjected  to loyalty oaths.  The result was predictable: when people are allowed to speak, they speak - especially in the Middle East and even at small evangelical Christian college in the battleground state(aw, I miss that term) of Michigan. 

Ms. Bumiller does her level best to minimize the protests:

To underscore their antipolitics point, about a quarter of the graduates wore buttons on their gowns that proclaimed "God is not a Democrat or a Republican."

But there were no protests in the field house during the president's speech, and Mr. Bush was warmly greeted with a big round of applause. He did, however, cut a planned 45-minute speech to a largely bipartisan 15 minutes on the power Americans have when they bond together in community groups, like school boards and neighborhood organizations, for the common good.

The Detroit Free Press, among other outlets, saw fit to mention the "several dozen protesters" outside of the event.  But she does something else as well.  If you read her Sunday story, you're almost sure to come away with the idea that BushCo reached across the aisle with bi-partisan talk about the importance of service.  But if you read the speech, you'll see that it was a call to mission:

The heart and soul of America is in our local communities; it is in the citizen school boards that determine how our children are educated; it's in city councils and state legislators that reflect the unique needs and priorities of the people they serve; it's in the volunteer groups that transform towns and cities into caring communities and neighborhoods. In the years to come, I hope that you'll consider joining these associations or serving in government -- because when you come together to serve a cause greater than yourself, you will energize your communities and help build a more just and compassionate America.

[snip]

At Calvin College, you take this call to service to heart. You serve as "agents of renewal" across the Earth. You volunteer for Big Brothers/Big Sisters to mentor young people. You work at Bethany Christian Services here in Grand Rapids, one of the best-known adoption services in America. A former Calvin student and professor, Vern Ehlers, serves in the halls of Congress. As the Class of 2005 goes out into the world, I ask you to embrace this tradition of service and help set an example for all Americans. As Americans we share an agenda that calls us to action -- a great responsibility to serve and love others, a responsibility that goes back to the greatest commandment.

Yikes.  He constantly used the phrase "our faith-based and community groups," as if there's a tension between the two.  He specifically mentioned the Boy Scouts, not the Girl Scouts or even simply "Scouts."   His biggest applause line, "This isn't a Democratic idea. This isn't a Republican idea. This is an American idea," was a lie because this faith-based stuff, which was set up to allow groups to discriminate when hiring is, in fact, a Republican idea.  I recently read a post about "dog-whistle politics" at Paperwight's place.  This was foghorn politics.

I'm not saying that a call to missionary service is inappropriate at a Christian commencement address.  I'm saying that America should know that their president is making that missionary call and is not, as reported, advancing a simple bi-partisan message of service along the lines of what Kennedy did when he exhorted people to ask what they can do for their country or what Karzai did at BU last Sunday. 

As for Today's White House Letter, it actually does a good job of looking at some of the politics behind the speech, which is, above all, a political event.  It's a simple-minded and tired analysis.  And Ms. Bumiller still offers up that soothing tone to let us know that the  WH has everything under control, that it's all good in the Jesus hood and that Christians still love her guy; and it ends with an unfathomable quote from a Republican professor at Calvin who compares Clinton's personal policy of having sex outside his marriage and BushCo's policies of invading non-threatening countries and crushing the poor, but at least the column looks at the politics of Rove's decision to send BushCo to Calvin:

Mr. Rove secured the invitation through Representative Vernon J. Ehlers, the Republican who represents Grand Rapids and who attended Calvin.

"I think they understood the nature of Calvin," said Jon Brandt, Mr. Ehlers's press secretary, who also attended Calvin. "The White House isn't stupid."

That would be the view of Corwin Smidt, a political science professor at Calvin and the director of the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity and Politics. Mr. Bush's visit, he said, was both "rewarding the faithful" who voted for him in 2004 and a strategic positioning for 2006.

That is when Dick DeVos, an heir to the Amway fortune and a member of a Michigan family that has been a major contributor to the Republican Party and Calvin College, may challenge Gov. Jennifer M. Granholm, a Democrat. Republicans will also try next year to unseat another Democrat, Senator Debbie Stabenow.

It's too bad that's all we got.  Based on that vote of confidence for Team BushCo, I would have been more intersted in reading about the thinking that went into the decision to shorten his speech by 2/3.  Based on the content of the speech, I wanted to read an analysis of the phrase "faith-based and community organizations."  But I've been reading this column for a long time now and this is the closest she's come in a while to looking at an actual political issue in this space.  I'll take the good where I can find it. It doesn't come along very often. 

McCarthy? Hey, Whoa, Hey - Who Said Anything About McCarthy?

I'm currently immersed in the internet-available writings of Steven Cohen and end-of-the-year stuff I have to do for my daughter's school.  (My son's middle school has an awful policy of keeping parents uninvolved.)   I want to finish all the Cohen reading before I think about Elisabeth Bumiller's reporting of BushCo's Grand FDR-Bashing Tour of Eastern Europe, but it's clear that Ms. Bumiller has used today's WH Letter to dot the i's of the trip as she lends Dear Leader yet another helping hand, and in a shamefully (even for Ms. Bumiller) overt way.

You know the story.  BushCo showed up in Eastern Europe and eagerly  re-started the radical Right's favorite parlor game - demonizing FDR.   The White House, via their private PR column in the "liberal" NYT, wants us to believe that BushCo's international show of sustained disrespect for FDR is all about Russia and spreading freedom's libertudiness flames.  If his conclusions are based in a wildly inaccurate reading of history, well, that's okay because "conservatives (Pat (Patrick J.) Buchannan, Anne Applebaum and an anonymous WH staffer) are equally adament" that Yalta was a disasterous capitulation to the Commies. Will we ever know the truth? 

Yes!  Directly from the WH to you via the Bumiller pipline:

An administration official said on Friday that in the discussions about Mr. Bush's address - the president typically gives his speechwriters big-picture thematic direction and then has a heavy hand in the editing - the goal was to make the point that "countries need to look at their pasts." In this case, the White House wanted to make the point that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, Mr. Bush's host the following day, should apologize for the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, which led to the Soviet annexation of Latvia and the other Baltic states.

So Mr. Bush's assertion of American failure at Yalta was viewed at the White House as a model for what Mr. Putin should - but did not - do. It was also a poke in the eye to the Russians, salve to Mr. Bush's Baltic hosts and an effort to contrast what Mr. Bush promotes as his uncompromising vision for democracy in the Middle East with what he sees as the expedience of the past.

The administration official, who requested anonymity because he said he wanted to let the president's words speak for themselves, said the White House had not anticipated last week's fallout, nor had anyone there discussed what he called the "nasty and stupid" Yalta politics of the McCarthy era.

"The point was, it was a lousy agreement," the official said.
 

See?  Yalta was just a lousy agreement.  BushCo didn't mean to step on any toes.  He had to sacrifice FDR on the alter of Democracy is all - show Pooty Poot how it's done.   Nobody wants to return to the McCarthy era! Certainly not this uniter-not-a-divider president.  He's all about the love.  Just ask Ms. Bumiller, always happy to throw up a tarp when the blowback starts.

Ms. Bumiller and the NYT get a lot of justly deserved flak for the WH Letters that tell us what's programmed into BushCo's iPod or when she writes a style piece about how Dear Leader won over Georgia with his dancing, but I think she's much more dangerous when she operates in PR flack mode on issues of national security. The misrepresentation of Yalta isn't something that started with BushCo and his drive to spread God's gift of liberty throughout the planet.  This is an old story with deep roots.  By slanting it and dumbing it down like she does, Ms. Bumiller does a disservice to NYT readers who may not have access to columns like Steve Gilliard's or Mick's,(brilliant post) which explain the historical background and the probable motives behind what happened last week.  The only people Ms. Bumiller is servicing are in the White House. 

Faust is Laughing

Jeez, Sirota has decided that Elisabeth Bumiller is the postergirl for the fawning, lazy, whining, frightened Washington Press Corps.   I was trying to think of a way to defend her because, you know, sisterhood.  But there's no way.   This is what happens when a high-profile professional sells her soul. 

There's one thing though that bugs me about most criticisms of Ms. Bumiller, Sirota's included.  When people take her to task, they almost always point to her White House Letter column as proof that she's a fawning stenographer.  That's not completely fair because no matter what the NYT says to the contrary, that column exists specifically to run BushCo puff pieces.  It could be renamed White House Love Letter without running the risk of overstatement.  When Keller Raines offered her the spot, she would have had to have been some kind of saint to turn it down.  If someone offered me the same chance to write a weekly PR column for the opposition, I'd take it. 

And that's the problem with the WH Letter.  If you're going to accept its existence in the first place, then you have to demand a like column for the Democrats.   That lack of balance was an especially glaring example of bias during the '04 campaign, when BushCo got the WH Letter and all the "lighthearted looks" Kerry got came from the hideous Political Points column often written by the venomous Wilgoren and Brierney One, who could give Wilgoren a run for her money in the venom department. 

If you're going to look at Bumiller's work, take the WHLetter out of the equation or take your issue up with the frightened and fawning Bill Keller, who thinks that 800 words every week about how lucky we are to bask in Dear Leader's glow is a worthy use of NYT section-A space.  While you've got Keller's attention (he doesn't return my calls), please ask him why we don't see a weekly love note to the Dems.  I hear that Harry Reid is a great poker player and an amateur historian - and what's up with that Incredible Hulk tie he wears?

All that said, if Sirota needed a posterchild for the ridiculously and dangerously subservient attitude of the WH Press Corps, Ms. Bumiller is a good choice.  She dug her own grave with her mystifying appearance on the CBS/NYT DemCan debate last year and then later, when she confessed for the whole corps that the herd was actually frightened to ask BushCo questions.  Thank god she does interviews or we'd have no idea why the press corps act the way they do - especially since Ketchum won't release the names of everyone on the WH account's payroll.

So, I'm glad Sirota is stirring things up.  God knows we need it.  He's a big enough player to make some waves.  But I wish there were a way to get the editors and publishers to pay attention because after over a year of watching Ms. Bumiller's work very closely, I can tell you that exposing the people who take the orders isn't getting us anywhere.

UPDATE: It was Howell Raines, not Keller, who offered Ms. Bumiller the WH Letter column:

Howell Raines got the idea to fill pages in A Nation Challenged section as the war was winding down. Would you like to write this thing for A Nation Challenged? After the section stopped, they said do you want to keep it going?

It's White House Letter Day!

Ms. Bumiller on the White House Letter:

I try and do stuff that's topical, that's off the news. I realize it's important real estate in the New York Times. It's in the back of the A section but it's still the New York Times and so I feel like I've been given this space. It's there no matter what, I mean, that's a great honor in a way in this business and so it better be good. So I better impart information. It better be stuff that is interesting that I work to get and not just me sort of yammering on about something. I feel it has to have value. A lot of times I kind of wait to see how the week is shaping up. Sometimes I do it if there's a theme for the week. Last week it was obvious it was Time. This week it was Bush getting into the campaign. Sometimes I do it on a person. It's hard to do 800 words, but I do it.

In this week's WH Letter we remember why it's good to be king.  On a tour of the palace gardens, during an interview with the royal gardener, court stenographer, Elisabeth Bumiller, gives us a look inside the royal fortress:

A final stop was the Children's Garden, a hidden, shady spot with a fish pond in a corner of the South Lawn. Created by Lady Bird Johnson, the garden walkway has the bronze handprints of presidential grandchildren, dominated by at least a dozen Bushes from the 41st presidency (Barbara and Jenna, George P., Lauren, Jebby, Nicole, etc.).

As if to underscore the whiff of dynasty, a big black limousine carrying the first President Bush happened to drive by while Mr. Haney was pointing out the prints. Former president and presidential horticulturist gave each other big waves. "He was here last night," Mr. Haney said.

Who else but Ms. Bumiller could so gracefully combine the ideas of political domination, in the guise of children's handprints no less, and noblesse oblige

To be fair - and I'm nothing if not fair - this is the kind of crap the WH Letter column is all about.  It's important for the rabble to have access to their kings as they wave happily from their limousines. 

I have no earthly idea why the WH hasn't figured out the value of having a few of these written about the Crawford palace.   You can be sure that when they do, they'll know whom to call.

My Dream is Realized at Long Last

So last week Elisabeth Bumiller rips off Roxanne to give us the BushCo Random Thirteen (from an iPod programmed by a flunky).  This week Ms. Bumiller takes me to school to demonstrate how a professional shill, with awesome White House "access", gets it done as she rips me off with a long overdue WH Love Letter about BushCo's valuable background in and love affair with baseball. 

I stand in awe of Ms. Bumiller's talent for knocking every one of the undoubtedly Ketchum-approved myth-points out of the park.  She writes:

When he was a child, the game was an obsession and a link to his father, the captain and first baseman on the Yale team. When he became an adult, the game made Mr. Bush a multimillionaire and helped start his political career, and now serves as an escape from the pressures of the White House.

Next time I have to remember to wedge in the complicated but rewarding relationship with his father at every opportunity.  In my WH Letter, I went with Jenna and Not-Jenna practically growing up at the park with Daddy.  Live and learn. 

Ms. Bumiller fawns on:

Anyone who knew Mr. Bush as an owner of the Rangers invariably described a man who was not just promoting a team but also building the image and political skills necessary to win the Texas governorship and the White House.

"Listen, the president was the ideal baseball owner from the commissioner's perspective," said Steve Greenberg, the son of the baseball legend Hank Greenberg and the deputy baseball commissioner to Fay Vincent when Mr. Bush owned the Rangers. "He was first and foremost a fan and lover of the game. Secondly, he was very supportive of the commissioner. I think as a politician, maybe by osmosis at that point, he understood how difficult it was to govern 30 headstrong, very wealthy owners."

and

Roland Betts, the chairman of the Chelsea Piers sports complex in Lower Manhattan and the single largest investor in the group that bought the Rangers with Mr. Bush, recalled in an interview earlier this year that after the group set up Mr. Bush as managing partner, he quickly took to the road promoting the team.

Even I went deep with all those myth-points.  The whole point of the White House Letter column is to remind us that BushCo was destined to lead us. But what's this about "anyone who knew him then" knowing that they were in the presence of greatness?  That's odd.  This site (scroll down) quotes the Rangers' GM, who remembers exactly what BushCo did during his years fronting for the Rangers in a less masterful light:

"George was the front man. George was the guy that you met when you wanted to be introduced to Ranger baseball. He was the spokesperson. He dealt with the media, he dealt with the fans, and it was obvious to us right from the start that that's what he was made for... George chose to sit right next to the dugout, with the fans, every day... I mean, it's 100 degrees down there. He's there from before the game, half an hour before the game, didn't leave his seat except to go to the bathroom, cheering for the ball club, signing autographs, listening to hecklers, accepting well-wishes from season-ticket customers."

George absolutely loved it. And why not? It was the ultimate dream job, it was business but it was also fun. Then somebody suggested that he run for governor. But Bush was unwilling to give up baseball. In fact, the only ambition he had was to someday become league commissioner.  When the presiding commissioner suddenly resigned, George called him to see if he could get his support to assume the post. When the man suggested that Bush pursue politics, George replied: "I think I'd rather be commissioner than governor."

But just as other people were running the team while he clapped and grinned, other people were running his political career for him as well. 

No, no, Bumiller, through Roland Betts, insists:

"Well, he really wasn't making speeches about the Texas Rangers," Mr. Betts said. "He was helping local Republican politicians, and using the Rangers as his talking points. He was building political capital. So when he decided to make his move, he had his machine." Mr. Bush and the other owners sold the team in 1998, when Mr. Bush made more than $15 million on an investment of $600,000.

Bush_rangers_shrunk

That line "helping local politicians" will either make you laugh or cry if you know the background of the building of the Texas Rangers Stadium,or as Nicholas Kristof, of all people, called it, "The Great Land Grab."   In fact, I'm surprised that she risked going so far down the Texas Rangers road, especially that last bit about it being such a brilliant investment.  It is, after all, so easy to find out the details of the deal and exactly how rotten it was for Texas taxpayers - raising taxes, confiscating land from private owners, building his political machine to take over national politics - all between bags of peanuts and hot dogs. 

But it's not Ms. Bumiller's job to pick and choose which Ketchum myth-points get used in the WH Letter.  It's her job to clean them up and make them look believable.  And, I have to admit, she does that better than anyone else in the business.

UPDATE: Riggsveda, in the comments, provides the definitive pre-2000 election BushCo profile.

In Defense of Ms. Bumiller

I'm kidding.  There's no defending this week's infamous iPod story.  Even if we accept that the WH Letter slot is NYT's answer to People Magazine and gets a direct feed from the offices of Ketchum PR, it was still a joke.  On  the other hand, the Heretik is getting some very funny mileage out of it and  Etc's Bumiller piece is great.  How did she get the formatting so perfect?? 

Now, in the interest of healthy self-promotion, (women bloggers aren't good at self-promotion) or because I'm a total whiner who wants to grab some of the spotlight that others have earned, (way more likely) I will point you to a White House Letter I wrote way back before it was Atrios-cool to mock my Ms. Bumiller. 

BushCo Monday Random Thirteen

Elisabeth Bumiller is cranking out the important stories.  According to E&P, she's got the "scoop" on BushCo's iPod playlist. (It's a scoop!)  He uses the iPod to get his heart pumping at a manly 179 beats/minute while he's out ruggedly riding his mountain bike.  He's hot!

Everyone in Blogtopia knows that all we're reading here is a long-winded Monday Random Thirteen.  Something tells me that Ms. Bumiller is caught up on her blog reading.  If that's true, I hope Rox thinks of a meme that will eventually suggest a column or two about Presidential information we can use.  Wednesday Random Leaks, Thursday Not-So Random Journalists on the Take, Tuesday Random Censored Scientists.

But, you know, music is good too.  And Ms. Bumiller certainly doesn't pull any punches.  He likes artists that don't like him (Fogerty).  He likes "My Sharona," which, according to Rolling Stone's Joe Levy, is downright raunchy.  He listens to George Jones, recovering alcoholic - wink, wink. 

That's journalism, baby.

Here's the Presidential Random Thirteen:

John Fogerty, "Centerfield"

Van Morrison, "New Biography," "Brown Eyed Girl"

John Hiatt, "Circle Back"

Alan Jackson

George Jones

Alejandro Escovedo, "Castanets"

Joni Mitchell, "(You're So Square) Baby, I Don't Care"

The Gourds, "El Paso"

Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, "Swinging From the Chains of Love"

Stevie Ray Vaughan, "The House is Rockin' "

James McMurtry, "Valley Road"

The Thrills, "Say It Ain't So"

The Knack, "My Sharona"

Misty, Watercolored Memories

Exactly as she shone during the weeks around the GOP convention, Elisabeth Bumiller has been luminescent in the weeks leading up to and including the inaguration. Not surprisingly she's had a story nearly every day - a few on the front page. Her experience as a style reporter has held her in good stead to be able to handle the gripping questions facing our country like Which millionaires are pals with BushCo? and Which will be raising money for him? Equally valuable is her facility for morphing a political story into a frontpage paean to Dear Leader, which we're sure has not gone unnoticed.

I put off looking at Ms. Bumiller's inaugural oeuvre until the day was mercifully behind us. But now let's walk together down Ms. Bumiller's Road to the Coronation.

The journey started weeks ago with three puff pieces that explained to the peasants how the coronation would be funded (PRIVATELY! With no help from Enron!) and why, in the face of the greatest natural disaster of our lifetimes and while we're in the middle of losing a war fought on false premises, it's a good idea to spend tens of millions of dollars on parties for people who are buying access to power. (here, here and here) Over the weeks, Ms. Bumiller faithfully regurtitated WH spin, including the idea that anyone who questioned the wisdom of the four-day wartime exercise in excess was taking a "political shot."

Those three stores were followed by a two-page spread devoted to an Up Close and Personal look at one of BushCo bestest friends, some rich guy he knew at Yale. From rich guy we learned that BushCo is full of common sense and isn't as conservative as people think. He, via Ms. Bumiller, told us that BushCo brought Cheney to the 9/11 panel because he wanted to show how he was "calling all the shots." We learned that it was this rich guy who persuaded BushCo to have the GOP convention in NYC even though we had been told in previous Bumiller stories that the idea was all BushCo's - or was it Rove's? Those are RNC talking points and Ketchum point-grabbers 2 - 5, 11, 17, 25 and 46 for those of you keeping score at home.

But there's more! On the Tuesday before the Big Day, Ms. Bumiller teamed up with Richard Stevenson to crank out an apparently in-depth look at how the administration's own superhero, Dick "dick" Cheney, is working to advance his BushCo's reckless bold domestic agenda: (emph mine)

Vice President Dick Cheney is playing a potentially pivotal role in shaping the Bush administration's ambitious domestic agenda, supporting larger personal investment accounts for Social Security than many other Republicans and helping gauge how the White House should proceed on Capitol Hill, administration officials and associates of Mr. Cheney say.

On issues like Social Security and overhauling the tax code, they say Mr. Cheney tends to mix an instinct for free-market conservatism with a pragmatic knack for vote counting, being the former House member that he is. Although Mr. Cheney is most identified in the public mind with foreign policy, he has also begun assertively rebutting administration critics on domestic issues, as he did in a speech last week on Social Security, while he works behind the scenes to hold together an increasingly fractious Republican Party.

As on Iraq and other foreign policy issues, Mr. Cheney's views on domestic matters tend to favor bold action even at the risk of short-term political backlash - what his critics would consider overreaching, reinforcing President Bush's own instincts. But even as he usually favors conservative approaches to whatever issue is under consideration, he also has a realistic streak honed by his keen sense of what members of his party on Capitol Hill are willing and able to push through Congress and deliver to Mr. Bush's desk, people who have discussed domestic issues with him say.

Holy politics, Batman! After that the rest of the story goes into sleeping-pill mode as it drones the list of Cheney's plans for the country's economy. We could use some of Stevenon's trademark action-packed writing in this section but instead we get innocuous, WH/Ketchum-approved phrases like "incentives for more savings and investment" and a story that makes it seem as if Supply Side Economics wasn't a giant scam to redistribute wealth. And, despite the excrutiatingly obvious comparisons between the way the country was hustled into a bad war in Iraq and the way BushCo is currently trying to hustle through the destruction of Social Security, there's no mention beyond the above, As on Iraq and other foreign policy issues. And, just in case that phrase rang any bells with the odd reader, threatening to wake her up, the story is quick to tell us that Mr. Cheney's supporters say he has no desire to elbow aside cabinet secretaries or run economic policy day to day. That should shut up any nagging voices that try to remind us that Cheney did exactly that when he strongarmed the CIA to come up with intelligence that would get us into Iraq.

The WHLetter for Coronation Week was a profile of Michael Gerson, the man responsible for Bushco's dreadful speech that mentioned freedom and liberty 237 times, but justice not once. Gerson "defended" his use of religious imagery. It's too bad Ms. Bumiller didn't interview him after we heard the speech so he could have defended his use of revisionist history and mind-numbing platitudes that rendered any ideas in the speech meaningless. Live and learn.

Despite her best efforts to stay in the plus column Ketchum-wise, she couldn't help but stir up some trouble for the WH, which goes to show you that even a blind, bound and gagged squirrel can find an acorn every once in a while. On the day after the coronation, Ms. Bumiller had one more column reminding us why BushCo the country desperately needed this four-day extravaganza. It was all about the troops and democracy:

When President Bush delivered his Inaugural Address on Thursday, it was the culmination of a meticulously planned White House communications strategy to portray a $40 million weeklong party as a tribute to troops overseas and an enduring symbol of American democracy.

The rest of the story is a look at exactly how insecure and needy BushCo is hidden in talk about the troops and BushCo's pre-inauguration media blitz. But in the last two paragraphs, Ms. Bumiller, who's practically Nellie Bly if you think about it, can't resist reminding us that she did break two stories over the last several weeks. It was she who had the scandalous Kid Rock booking first, almost three weeks before the Big Day - even though the WH insisted on saying that he was never confirmed, although she backs off that part:

Kid Rock, the rap star whom Barbara Bush, the president’s daughter, wanted to perform at a youth concert, did not. Conservatives had complained about the often profane lyrics of the rapper, who has described himself as the “pimp of the nation.’’
She also reminds us that way back in November, she helped to ruin the day for one of the chief inaugural fundraisers, Brad Freeman, when he told the LAT a sexist joke that she reprinted verbatim
"I told the president, 'I finally figured out that dating one 50-year-old is better than two 25-year-olds,' " Mr. Freeman told The Los Angeles Times. In any case, Mr. Freeman is now focusing his attention on what he estimates will be at least a hundred phone calls he needs to make to the best names in his Rolodex. As incentives for a big check - there are no limits, unlike those on campaign contributions - Mr. Freeman and the inaugural committee will offer benefits like invitations to select dinners with Mr. Bush, good seats at the swearing-in on Jan. 20 and tickets to the best balls.

My goodness - imagine telling the president that! He loves his old girl, Waura. Mr. Freeman was not allowed to talk to the press after that.

And so here we are, full circle, back at the early days of Ms. Bumiller's excellent coronation adventure, when she was unknowingly breaking meaningless stories, simply by taking dication. It's good to be king - or, you know, the king's stenographer.

White House Letter Day! The Circus Inauguration Bi-Partisan Celebration of Democracy is Privately Funded, Damnit! How Many Times Do You Need to be Told?

This week's White House Letter is the third story Elisabeth Bumiller has done about the funding of the imminent BushCo coronation. The first, another White House Letter, told us all about the maverick sexist millionaire who is part of the fundraising team in charge of shaking loose the millions it's going to take to make Dear Leader feel appreciated. The second, which showed up less than two weeks later, was a front page rehash of the first story that Ms. Bumiller expanded to include descriptions of the events planned. We learned, for instance, that there would be a ball to honor soldiers and that, to our great relief, the fundraising was on track.

One would guess that two stories in two weeks about the same thing would be enough. And one would be right. But the NYT is bold. They know when they're needed and in the aftermath of the tsunamis, when the inevitable comparison between BushCo's initial aid offer and the cost of his four-day par-tay started bubbling up, the NYT sprang into action, unleashing Ms. Bumiller to do what she does best: provide cover for Dear Leader:

The contrast between the two sites was not lost on inaugural organizers, who have already had to justify their plans to spend as much as $40 million on partying at a time of war. Last week they came under new questions when the United States initially offered only $15 million to aid the tsunami victims, although by Friday Mr. Bush announced that the American aid would be at least $350 million for what he termed an "epic disaster."

In either case, the organizers were ready with an answer to critics who questioned the price tag on the merriment, which is similar to what was spent for the inaugural in 2001. A presidential inaugural, they said, has never been canceled, even during world wars. Mr. James, who has staged events for both President Bushes, went back and checked. "The celebrations went on, that's the lesson we learned," he said.

Or as one senior inaugural official defined the criticism: "It's a political shot. People are not going to demand the cancellation of the Rose Bowl parade or the Oscars."

The Oscars, by the way, were at least postponed three times, in 1981 when Reagan was shot, in 1968 when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated and in 1938 when LA flooded. And as Maha points out at Mahablog, three of FDR's inaugurations were ball-free in order to reflect their serious times. Although FDR wasn't going to do much dancing no matter what... But that's not important. Other lessons were learned, people. Inauguration = Rose Bowl = Oscars held on time - especially the ones hosted by that delightful Billy Crystal. The upcoming "bipartisan celebration of democracy" has nothing to do with politics and so political questions relating to it are inappropriate. Questions like - Should we be having such a lavish celebration during wartime? or Is the cost of four days of security a public expense we want to incur right now - an expense which is never mentioned by Ms. Bumiller in any of her stories about the Big Day. Which celebrities are scheduled to perform? Kelsey Grammar and Kid Rock! Where will Barb and Jenna be? At a special youth concert! Awesome! And appropriate.

In a few days it will be time to start popping that dexadrine and counting down the hours to showtime. I'm not sure if we'll get another update on how the fundraising is going or another lesson in the history of comparable entertainment events. That will depend on how badly things break in Iraq or if some country coughs up a billion dollars in tsunami aid. Whatever, you can count on the NYT to be there to respond with the appropriate smoke to blow up our four-panel sequined skirts.

NYT Ombudsman Takes a Hard Look at Paper. Decides that it's a Miracle!

I'm glad Daniel Okrent will be giving up his position as ombudsman of the NYT in May. He just doesn't have the stomach for the job. Okrent himself dispelled any doubt of that in his year-end column on Sunday:

Several weeks ago I decided that I'd write a year-end column enumerating a bunch of The Times's crimes and misdemeanors over the past 12 months - the ones I never got around to writing about because they seemed of insufficient interest to support an entire column, or because they were replays of transgressions I had already addressed. Or because articles I'd clipped, notated and misplaced months ago suddenly showed up in my sock drawer.

He's folksy, our Dan. And lazy. I know why I have piles of old NYT cluttering my house. But I don't have an office and unilimited access to the NYT archives. I also don't get paid for enumerating a bunch of NYT crimes and misdemeanors - even in only one area of their reporting - so it's hard to justify the time that takes to my family. What's Dan's excuse?

Apparently he's not lazy. No, he's been blinded by the "daily miracle" that is the New York Times. It was this story by Robin Toner that led to his convenient epiphany.

It addressed an extremely contentious issue without betraying the writer's own views. It avoided the euphemistic use of those specious and self-serving slogans "pro-life" and "pro-choice," and instead used "anti-abortion" and "abortion rights" to describe people who are, as it happens, against abortion or are supporters of abortion rights. It explained the nature of abortion-related legislation to be debated in the coming Congressional session, examined the strategies apt to be employed and weighed the likelihood of passage. People on each side of the issue were given a fair hearing. From reading Toner's piece, I learned much about an important public issue.

Dan's right about the balance and completeness of the story. Her choice of labels though was a mistake. "Anti-abortion" covers plenty of people who are pro-abortion rights. "Anti-abortion" also sets up the Dems as "pro-abortion," which the party is not, although the GOP would like it to be labelled just that way. The better name for the GOP opposition would be "anti-abortion rights." I'm not sure why Dan caves on the "pro-choice" label since it simply emphasizes the private aspect of the abortion issue, which has been established as crucial to the debate. He seems to have forgotten his own law here - The pursuit of balance can create imbalance, because sometimes something is true.

So instead of a hard look at the many dire failings of the NYT, which would have been especially meaningful in the wake of the latest violence in Iraq and an election that was marked by abysmal campaign coverage, we get a column about the continuing daily miracle of putting out a national paper, 'cause, you know, that's hard work.

Okrent ends his column by listing all the good things that NYT is doing: assigning a reporter to cover political and social conservatives to balance all that liberal bias at the paper, doing better with using anonymous sources (I haven't seen any evidence of this at all), implementing an op-ed corrections policy, improving communications with readers, and the formation of a panel to study all of the above. It would have been great if Okrent could have helped us remember why the NYT thinks they need to do all of those things.

Related Note: The non-evil Roger Ailes found this story that captures Okrent's attitude about his job. Read what Roger says, but also read the article because it includes some really good insights from media watchers who understand that they aren't employed to be cheerleaders.

My favorite three:

Geneva Overholser, the Curtis B. Hurley Chair in public affairs reporting, Missouri School of Journalism, Washington bureau

"This was the year when it finally became unmistakably clear that objectivity has outlived its usefulness as an ethical touchstone for journalism. The way it is currently construed, "objectivity" makes the media easily manipulable by an executive branch intent on and adept at controlling the message. It produces a rigid orthodoxy, excluding voices beyond the narrowly conventional.

"And it leads to a false balance of `on the one hand, on the other hand' stories that make the two `hands' appear equal even when factual weight lies 98 percent on one side. Objectivity's most effective use today is as a cudgel in the hands of those who wish to beat up on the media."

Steve Lovelady, managing editor of Campaigndesk.org, and former newspaper and magazine editor

"I think the most important media story of the year was the way in which the press was so easily manipulated by spin machines all the way through the election campaign, partly thanks to the fact that it was hopelessly hobbled by some of its own outdated conventions and frameworks. And that, in turn, is related to its embarrassing performance in 2003 on weapons of mass destruction and on the question of an Iraqi tie to 9/11.

"[It is also related to] its inability to be as nimble or fast on its feet as some blogs, and to continuing media consolidation, which invariably leaves editors with less staff and less space to make sense of the world for their readers. In some fairly scary ways, it all dovetails together."

Barry Sussman, editor of NiemanWatchdog Project and former newspaper editor

"We learned two main things about the news media in 2004: First they do some great work, large organizations and small ones both. Second, get past the great work, and the rest tends to be mediocre to poor to a disservice. No sense of what's important, what's not. One- or two-day stories that became regular beats; stories of immense importance ignored altogether. Network TV disappeared from view."

"But one great story stands out in my mind so vividly was a joint effort by the Washington Post and [PBS's] `Frontline' in which a number of Post reporters and `Frontline' spoke about the Iraq War. It was just a stunner. I'm not used to seeing things that good, and TV is such a marvelous vehicle for reporters who are knowledgeable.

"The problem is that what sticks in the mind isn't the good work, but rather the failures. I think the failures are systemic. It's the way the owners and chief editors want it. They don't want to rock the boat. They set the tone, and reporters are quick to understand. They won't do better until the publishers and chief editors want to do better."

Worst. White House Letter. Ever.

The White House Letter is supposed to be a place for light-hearted observations about some item from the week's news. What the column does do, of course, is provide cover for BushCo's most egregious missteps and character flaws.

When he supported the first discriminatory amendment to the Constitution, we heard about his civil reception of a transgender friend who visited the White House. When the buzz was that he is disengaged from policy decisions - as he was starting to devote nearly a year to getting re-elected and was forced by his opponent to start earlier than is customary - we heard that he's a man of action, who likes to be in charge and know every detail of his campaign. I might prefer him to care more about the growing list of problems caused by his administration, instead of what version of the lastest attack ad he should run, but I guess I don't understand BushCo's competitive nature and drive to win. That's why I read the White House Letters.

The very next week, after John Kerry pointed out that BushCo could find an hour to go to a rodeo, but not to meet with the 9/11 Commission, we got a WH Letter that detailed BushCo's highly disciplined management style.

In the wake of the election when European papers ran headlines like "How Can 59,054,087 People Be So Dumb?" we got a WHLetter explaining how European leaders are bending to BushCo's will in the all-important post-election phone call component of our foreign relations. They're coming around! BushCo's winning!

Still, with the precedent for bailing BushCo out clearly set, I was surprised by this week's WHLetter that actually tries to tell us that there is method to BushCo's Cabinet nomination madness. His nominees don't need all that fancy vettin'; they're vetted by "life's tests."  A nomination process, in BushCo's WH, is like a scene from a 30's rags-to-riches movie. "You've got spunk, kid. I like spunk." Ms. Bumiller even explains how that love of other people's hard knock lives can be explained with some psychobabble nonsense about growing up in a rich family that expected a lot from their drunk and angry son. So we can understand why Dear Leader tried to foist a mobbed-up cheat on the country in the most visible anti-terror position. He's a guy who loves not wisely but too well and even if the Kerik nomination exploded when the corporate press finally did their job, the others have worked out fine - in the absencee of any real scrutiny. Dr. Bumiller helps us understand our president's thinking:

First, Mr. Bush's choices reflect the sentiments of a man who was incubated in the world of the East Coast elite but has a spent a rebellious lifetime trying to make his own way. Mr. Bush's cabinet is notably light on Ivy League graduates, and only one of his past and present choices, John Ashcroft, the departing attorney general, attended the president's undergraduate alma mater, Yale.

Only one of his choices graduated from Harvard College, and that was Tom Ridge, the departing homeland security secretary who attended on a scholarship and grew up in veterans' public housing. Mr. Gonzales did graduate from Harvard Law School, and Elaine L. Chao, the labor secretary, graduated from Harvard Business School, as did the president, but she arrived in the United States as a Chinese immigrant on a freighter in New York Harbor at the age of 8, speaking no English.

"Elaine Chao believes deeply in the American dream because she has lived it," Mr. Bush said in typical remarks when he nominated Ms. Chao in 2001.

Second, Mr. Bush seems to identify with the hardscrabble stories, as difficult as that may be to believe about a man who was born into one of the most privileged families in the United States. As Jim Hightower, the former Texas agriculture commissioner, memorably cracked about Mr. Bush's father in comments since applied to the 43rd president: "He is a man who was born on third base and thinks he hit a triple."

Stanley A. Renshon, a psychoanalyst and political scientist at the City University of New York, argues that there is in fact something to the remark, and that Mr. Bush, who said last spring that he had to "knock on a lot of doors to follow the old man's footsteps," truly believes that he had to overcome hurdles on his way to the White House.

"He was born into a family where there were enormous expectations for the kids, and he literally spent a lifetime not measuring up," said Mr. Renshon, whose recent book, "In his Father's Shadow: The Transformations of George W. Bush," is a psychological study of the president.

"In Bush's case," Mr. Renshon added, "he follows in his father's footsteps, he doesn't make it for decades, but he keeps on plugging, and he succeeds. But I think it was very complex for him because he often didn't know where his parents' and family help ended and his own contribution picked up. He had to carve out his own sphere in a very big shadow."

Finally, the cabinet choices make a political point by underscoring what Mr. Bush likes to promote as important values of his administration: ownership, opportunity and individual initiative.

Of course, in the case of Mr. Kerik, whose nomination imploded in questions about his past legal, ethical and financial dealings, some wonder if the president became a little too wrapped up in the romance of the American dream.

"Bush is a good judge of character," Mr. Renshon said, "but he gets swept away."

"Swept away"? How romantic. How about completely unhinged? How about so in love with his own hype that he's starting to believe it, at great risk to the safety of the country? No, he gets "swept away."

Since we're psychoanalysing BushCo, let me offer something less flattering, but more rooted in the reality on the ground, to use one of BushCo's favorite phrases. I agree that emphasizing the hard work any cabinet nominee put in to get ahead serves to underscore the mythology that the WH wants to push about being poor in America, but to ascribe that kind of thoughtful analysis to BushCo is unrealistic. According to a previous WHLetter that was explaining the pre-Kerik cabinet choices, the quality most prized in a cabinet official isn't overcoming a life of challenges, it's learning how to kowtow:

Above all, they say, he has a gut instinct for who is with him and who is not.

"You go in front of him, and if you know your stuff and don't take yourself too seriously and he can see that you don't have another agenda, he's awesome," said one Bush adviser who insisted on anonymity because the president gets irritated when his staff talks about internal White House dealings. "And if you don't know your stuff, and you take yourself too seriously and have another agenda, he wants absolutely nothing to do with you."

Sounds to me like there's one thing that motivates BushCo's choices in life and that's a deep and abiding personal insecurity, which Ms. Bumiller does hint at. But whereas she spins it into something that BushCo has managed to turn to personal good, I think it's compounded with anger issues that manifest in alcoholism, self-esteem that's wildly inflated and bullying. He's a classic codependent addict - a control freak that doesn't believe he is capable of being in control and so demands unwavering sychophancy from everyone he considers a subordinate in order to stave off the personal doubt. He defers to authority figures if they are able to convince him to compartmentalize and separate what they do from what he does. They must allow him to take credit for their successes as they shield him from any mistakes.

As for people who worked their way out of hard beginnings or people who are currently faced with challenges, he doesn't repect or admire them. He may even hate them but it's more likely that he simply doesn't care about them at all. Sink or swim, that's up to them and their god. He knows if they're worthy of salvation. Not BushCo's problem.

So there's a different bunch of psychobabble about Dear Leader. It uses the same basic assumptions but comes to different, less fantastic conclusions. But that's why Andrew Card returns Ms. Bumiller's calls. Mine? Not so much.

It's the Day After White House Letter Day!

You know a presidential event went badly when Elisabeth Bumiller devotes the next WHLetter column to putting the event in context for us. This time we find out that while BushCo is apparently the most incurious, boorish and insecure president since Nixon, he is not the only one to zip through his foreign travel obligations. Carter did it. And Clinton, who, Ms. Bumiller with a nod to Hedda Hopper is quick to remind us, took a suspiciously long trip to Africa during the Lewinsky scandal, spent roughly the same amount of time overseas during his first term as BushCo did.

The reasons we get for BushCo's pit stops are the same themes the WH likes to push about their incurious boy:

Mr. Bush's advisers say the president doesn't meander on foreign trips for three reasons: his security apparatus puts a huge strain on the countries he visits, American taxpayers are footing the bill and presidents don't waste time.

We pay for his vacations at Camp David and the ranch too, right? And we paid for his turkey holding trip to Iraq. We paid for his photo-op on the aircraft carrier. We paid for the this-is-Karen-Ryan-reporting Medicare commercials. And we paid for her work on behalf of selling NCLB. We paid for campaign literature that came out of government agencies. I guess BushCo has to draw the line somewhere.


It's the Day After White House Letter Day!

It's boring to examine what industries and individuals gave the most to the candidates and political parties during the last election. That's what places like Mother Jones and the depressing WhiteHouseForSale.org is for. It's fun to read about the charmingly sexist millionaire who's wrangling donations for Dear Leader's coronation. That's what Elisabeth Bumiller is for!

"I told the president, 'I finally figured out that dating one 50-year-old is better than two 25-year-olds,' " Mr. Freeman told The Los Angeles Times. In any case, Mr. Freeman is now focusing his attention on what he estimates will be at least a hundred phone calls he needs to make to the best names in his Rolodex. As incentives for a big check - there are no limits, unlike those on campaign contributions - Mr. Freeman and the inaugural committee will offer benefits like invitations to select dinners with Mr. Bush, good seats at the swearing-in on Jan. 20 and tickets to the best balls.

"People are going to get rewarded for what they've done," he said.

In spades, Mr. Freeman! And in clean air and water, and in whatever boondoggle of an energy policy BushCo pushes this term and in new bankruptcy laws that exempt credit card debt and in eVoting machines that Stalin would have envied and in so many other glorious ways.

But that's all such a downer and the WH Letter is no place for that! Happy BushCo news all the time. And if lines like "People are going to get rewarded for what they've done," make you ache inside at the crippling servitude of the corporate media, then you're probably one of those cranks from the internets who doesn't understand what really good journalism is.

It's White House Letter Day! Elisabeth Bumiller is Giving Up

Boy the next four years are going to be hard on a lot of people. More of our soldiers will die and be wounded in Iraq. The poor will doubtless get poorer and hungrier. More of us will join their ranks. More of us will lose our health insurance. We'll fall deeper in debt. Interest rates are going to soar. Good jobs will stay scarce. College will get more difficult for more of us to afford. Federal tax policy may become even more regressive and Social Security may start down the road to privatization. But if you read today's White House Letter, the people you'll really be worried for make up the WH press corps. Nobody is going to have a tougher time than they will - or would if they were actually worried about getting real information from the administration and, you know, doing their jobs. According to Elisabeth Bumiller, that's going to be even more difficult than last term now that BushCo has appointed a bunch of his best pals to cabinet positions. And we all know how hard they tried last term.

We know the names by now: Spellings in Ed, Gonzales in Justice, Miers to replace Gonzales, the fabulous Condi at State. But Ms. Bumiller puts them all together in one column to let us know exactly how much we don't know or will never know about these new generals in BushCo's war on disclosure. They are "low-profile", "sealed-lips" and "little-known." (Note to Ms. Bumiller: There isn't much known about them because nobody's looked. Start looking!) They value loyalty and secrecy. And, if they toe the line precisely, they'll get loyalty from Dear Leader:

The loyalty, Mr. Bush's advisers say, goes both ways. Although the president is described as an impatient, demanding boss who snaps at the people he knows well and can use plenty of profanity when he is angry with the staff, advisers say he also goes out of his way to thank personally the lowest person on the White House food chain for a job well done.

Advisers also say that Mr. Bush never fails to ask about their families and tries never to keep them waiting. Above all, they say, he has a gut instinct for who is with him and who is not.

"You go in front of him, and if you know your stuff and don't take yourself too seriously and he can see that you don't have another agenda, he's awesome," said one Bush adviser who insisted on anonymity because the president gets irritated when his staff talks about internal White House dealings. "And if you don't know your stuff, and you take yourself too seriously and have another agenda, he wants absolutely nothing to do with you."

Okay, let's set aside the fact that we didn't we here more about that profanity during the campaign when BushCo ran as the country's landline to the Baby Jesus. We'll move on. What's this about Cabinet advisors not taking themselves "too seriously"? Holy Kremlin. How seriously would that be? I have to say, I'm fascinated by this dynamic. And here's the narrative for the next four years: White House locked down by incurious King - adversarial press makes it their mission to get the true facts. Unfortunately, from the defeatist tone of this column, it seems that Ms. Bumiller is preparing us to accept that only the first part of that story will be told.

White House Letters That Practically Write Themselves!

I'm guessing that Elisabeth Bumiller is having a tough time trying to figure out which goofy story from last week to go with for tomorrow's White House Letter. She's got the whole Clinton Library opening to use. It appears that BushCo didn't embarrass himself there and Clinton had that idiotic line where he wondered if he is the only person in America who likes Kerry and BushCo. But more recently and much more dramatically, BushCo, according to the press, "dove" into a "melee" to "rescue" his Secret Service bodyguard, who was being prevented from accompanying one of the world's most hated rulers into a meeting. That's just made for a White House Lettter. It's funny AND it polishes Dear Leader's apple - except the being hated part.

Nobody's asking me, but I'd go with a different photo op, one from the Clinton Library, courtesy of my vigilant cousin and BuzzFlash:

Clintonlibrary

That's our BushCo! Shoving the guest of honor, last successful president of the United States and recent heart patient, Bill Clinton, out of the way to get through a door first. I could write 900 words on that.


Congratulations, Elisabeth Bumiller

Elisabeth Bumiller, MY Elisabeth Bumiller, is racking up the awards. Back in May, courtesy of the Gadflyer, she had an award named for her. It's an award for fearful reporting that nips at the ankles of issues rather than going for the jugular, but it certainly counts as winning something. Now she's won the not-so-coveted Wimblehack competition, which went to the worst campaign reporter of the 2004 season. Matt Taibbi writes:

This habit of taking at face value the unconfirmable assertions about the personal feelings of officials—assertions hand-delivered to the journalist by a paid mouthpiece whose very job is to deadpan preposterous pieces of mythmaking to the media—is nothing new to most political reporters. But almost no one consumes this stuff more eagerly than Bumiller.

He right on both counts; Ms. Bumiller loves the happy adminstration quote that she can get effortlessly and she's not the only one. But as for overall political reporting, she's not the worst of the political reporters out there - or even at the NYT. That honor goes to Jodi Wilgoren without a doubt. Ms. Bumiller avoids the tough issue and shills for BushCo but Jodi Wilgoren is the bored mean girl, which is worse because she has made a career lately of tearing people down for no good reason and obscuring important issues, which is a real disservice to NYT readers and the political process. If she were a real investigative reporter, digging up important facts, I'd be happy to read her stuff. But Wilgoren's writing is lazy and sarcastic with no real interest in facts She stubbornly pretends not to understand simple concepts, i.e. Kerry can be very wealthy and still want to help the poor, when that means she'll get a good line out of it. Ms. Bumiller doesn't make any of those mistakes. Ms. Bumiller, a more talented writer, is gracious to a fault.

Another problem with Taibbi's analysis is that he lumps the White House Letters in with Ms. Bumiller's other reporting when he makes the point that her stuff lacks substance. We can all agree that the WH Letters are horrible - pure PR for the RNC. But their mandate is not to cover matters of life and death. They're supposed to look at the people behind the throne and look at some cutesy angle from the week's news. They are really damaging only when Ms. Bumiller forgets that mission and tries to tackle serious issues from that cutesy, fawning perspective. Taibbi uses the one about < ahref="http://www.smh.com.au/news/World/Battle-of-the-bulge-ruffles-Bush-tailor/2004/11/08/1099781324308.html?oneclick=true">BushCo's tailor as an example of irrelevent, cheery reporting, but that's what it's supposed to be. My biggest complaint about that column is that there is no comparable free ad space for the opposition. But that's not Ms. Bumiller's fault.

So here I am defending Elisabeth Bumiller. I'll do it happily because while her sins are legion, she doesn't compound them by being the viper that Wilgoren is. If every political reporter made Ms. Bumiller's mistakes and choices, we'd be in deep trouble for sure, but it wouldn't be the poisonous kind of trouble that Wilgoren's writing creates. If the NYT can't find someone to report on the BushCo administration honestly, then they should find someone to cover the opposition who is equally blind to her subjects' faults and pathetically eager to curry their good will. Of course, they should find reporters and editors that will actually work for a living, lose their fun Washington friends and get the stories behind all the politicians they cover. I won't hold my breath waiting for that to happen.

White House Letter Day!

It looks like the White House wanted a feel-good piece about Europe showing up the week that the fabulous Condi is announced to replace the disgraced Colin Powell. Their go-to gal, Elisbeth Bumiller, helps out. It's not enough that BushCo is repeatedly reported to have a domestic mandate, he must also have a (grudging) one from Old Europe as well:

"One reason the Europeans are coming around is that they can read the election results, too," one White House official said.

Yes, the same people about whom the fabulous Condi in 2003 said

''Punish France, ignore Germany and forgive Russia."

are now being brought to heel. How do we know they've forgiven Dear Leader for three years of imperious and reckless behavior and are ready to start turning cheeks? Well, they're making phone calls! The emptiest and most symbolic act of civility a leader of a foreign country can manage after an election is, to Ms. Bumiller, a measure of the health of our foreign relations. Something that matters as much as the inane ring ups presidents have taken to making to winning locker rooms, is how we are guaging the cooperation of our deepest alliances during wartime.

But, it seems that BushCo - wounded, insecure victor that he is - may put quite a bit of stock in who reaches out to touch whom. As Eric Alterman reminds us, our petulant president refused to congratulate Schroeder after his recent win. The WH explained the rude reticence: (emph mine)

"There will be a period where they've got to mend fences. They've got to change the atmosphere," said a senior administration official. "We'd like to see the Germans who created this nasty atmosphere to take steps themselves to correct it. They started it."

Truly diplomatic is our King. Punish and ignore our allies when they balk at bucking the will of their peple to start an illegal war. Mock them at every campaign stop. Ignore their political triumphs. It's all good because you'll get columns like this one that find a way to make you look like the good guy, patiently waiting for them to acknowledge your wisdom in the end.

It's the Day After White House Letter Day!

This week'sWhite House Letter gives BushCo's push to smooth over his unbelievably bad debate performances with humor a helping hand. In Talk of Bubble Leads to Battle Over Bulge Ms. Bumiller links the transmitter/ear piece rumors with the fact that Dear Leader lives in Cone of Ass Kissery where nobody dare question him. She says that the rumor, fueled by pictures of BushCo's back on the Internet, is that he needs the earpiece because he's unaccustomed to being questioned. He's out of practice is all. The three consequtive dreadful BushCo appearances were anomalies that had nothing to do with Kerry's masterful and steady performances.

I'm guessing that Ms. Bumiller mentions the Internet theories for the bulge because they're easy to laugh off. She doesn't say anything about the other theories racing around cyberspace: the stories suggest that he was medicated, had a stroke, is suffering from dementia or a combination of all three - why did he ditch his physical anyway?; the stories that assume that he's never been very bright or quick on his feet and that against a man of Kerry's talents, he would, left to his own devices, be lost for even the most basic responses to the simplest of questions; the stories that pick up on the idea that BushCo's short fuse, personal insecurity and vanity would allow Kerry to throw him so far off balance that he wouldn't be able to recover. Those stories would be interesting to people who are considering which person to elect as a leader in wartime because if there's one word that describes all of BushCo debate performances it would be 'unpredictable.' Not exactly the kind of temperment most people want in their leader when the chips are down.

But don't pay attention to that crazy Internet talk. Let's laugh with Ms. Bumiller about the rumors and wonder about BushCo's bubble. The WH Letter isn't supposed to concern itself with matters of life and death and debates certainly aren't life and death. And who knows? If BushCo is ever negotiating with a difficult world leader or is in another life and death situation, as he was on 9/11, that requires clear, rational thought and quick, independent judgments, maybe we'll get lucky and he'll be able to muddle through somehow.

UPDATE: This Political Memo by Nagourney the Noble is a good contrast to the WHLetter column. It takes on a current event which doesn't rise to the level of life and death, which is what Ms. Bumiller's column is supposed to do. The only problem is that while the WH Letters nearly weekly play down stories of consequence while pumping RNC talking points, this Nagourney column elevates an inconsequential story while pumping RNC talking points. The idiotic Marygate would have been good fodder for a WHLetter-style piece. The NYT decided to treat it like news. Go figure.

It's the Day After White House Letter Day!

This week's WHLetter is a look at the men each campaign used as surrogates for the other during practice debates. Elisabeth Bumiller thus crushes the post-debate rumor that BushCo prepared for the debate by playing Yahtzee and watching The Caine Mutiny.

It's a short, unfocused column but our Ms. Bumiller manages to get in two uncontested shots for her home team. From Sen. Judd Gregg, the faux-Kerry:

"Gore was predictable in the sense that he was mechanical in many ways and plotted in a specific direction," Mr. Gregg said in an interview last week. "But John Kerry goes in three or four different directions, and they're not necessarily compatible."

If you watched the debate, and nearly any of Kerry's previous debates, you know that when it counts, he doesn't go in three or four different directions. If you didn't watch the debate, and only read this, then you think that Kerry was all over the place on Thursday. But, as if that wasn't enough, there's more:

But Mr. Gregg, 57, did say that playing Mr. Kerry was hard because Mr. Kerry changed his positions so much - the No. 1 White House talking point on Mr. Bush's debate preparations last week.

"He's constantly on the move," Mr. Gregg said. "He either subtly or substantively can change his positions from week to week."

With all the excuses and talk of hard work he throws around, Mr. Gregg would be a better BushCo impersonator than a faux-Kerry. Ms. Bumiller acknowledges that the script Gregg is repeating is the WH's number one talking point, but she crams it in twice anyway. The first time is with no caveat at all.

When Ms. Bumiller quotes Mr. Craig, the BushCo stand-in, she's quick to qualify what he says:

"I think the president is much, much stronger in terms of content on domestic policy than most people expect," said Mr. Craig, who insisted he was not spinning positively about Mr. Bush to lower expectations for Mr. Kerry.

The bottom line is that when you read this column, you have to think of the debates as the WH wants you to, as a series of (maybe) three meetings instead of separate events. If you let your brain concentrate too much on the fact that BushCo was a laughing stock on Thursday night, then this peek into how he prepared to lose so badly never makes sense.

As usual, there's a story here that Ms. Bumiller misses in her eagerness to toe the WH line and it's this: How is the preparation for the next debate different from the preparation for the first one? What have both sides learned? That would have allowed her to stick to her WH line that the debates are more like a playoff series where no single night means too much. It wouldn't have done much to stop the WH from making silly excuses for their boy or from re-writing recent history in the process though. That job falls to Ms. Bumiller, who is usually not up to that task.

The Noble Nagourney hid out in his office the night of the debate so worried was he about about being exposed to the demon spin. Someone should warn him to stay away from the WHLetter column too then since Ms. Bumiller is still dealing the hard stuff four days later on her street corner.

White House Letter Day!

Why is the NYT continuing to publish WHLetters? The point of them is to show a lighter side of WH personnel and issues. I get that. But Ms. Bumiller is now so pressed for topics that she is reduced to apologizing for the latest one in the opening:

People may think they have heard enough about the things that President Bush and Senator John Kerry have in common - Yankee ancestry, distant relatives, Skull and Bones. But there is one more shared experience, if readers can bear another ramble down the byways of Yale, which is of no small relevance in a week when the two presidential candidates face off in their first debate.

Note to Ms. Bumiller: If you find yourself wondering why anyone would want to read what you're writing, stop writing it.

So what do we learn about Dear Leader this week? Nothing new it turns out. He's still in charge, telling speechwriters how to write speeches, using all that Yale learnin' to explain to Karen Hughes how a speech should be written. In case you're writing a speech later, BushCo sez: "It should have an introduction, three major points, then a peroration - a call to arms, tugs on the heartstrings, then a conclusion, which is different from a peroration." I would add that for extra points your peroration should be in verse and, ideally, sung.

It doesn't disturb Ms. Bumiller that she's getting her "facts" from Karen "National Mommy" Hughes, who lies so regularly for BushCo. She happily comments on Kerry's extinct "brahmin lilt" but doesn't mention BushCo's contrived twang. She's untroubled by predicting the coverage of the debate before it happens: "Mr. Bush will get high marks for personality and Mr. Kerry for substance." At least now we know the narrative. It hasn't changed since 2000 and that didn't work out so well for the strong-on-substance guy.

It's the Day After White House Letter Day

So I got my wish. Ms. Bumiller had to file a White House Letter about the Kerry campaign. I'm going to give her the benefit of the doubt (I'm swell) and say that when she had the very obvious column idea to compare the two major candidates' campaigns, she didn't intend to suggest that Kerry is indifferent to the open suffering of a woman testifying on stage next to him during a campaign appearance and that that indifference is part of what sets him apart from BushCo:

Second, if Mr. Bush is a ham on the stump, Mr. Kerry is the lead in a Shakespearean drama. He is a big man with a big voice and a command of the material and the stage, but he sometimes can appear more focused on his words than on his audience.

When a woman stood up at a town hall meeting in Aurora, Colo., on Friday and wept about three sick people in her family, Mr. Kerry at first stood in front of her - "Take your time, take your time, take a deep breath and just take your time,'' he said - but then walked away from her to answer her question at the podium.

There's no mention that a woman sobbing about her current economic situation wouldn't be allowed within fifty miles of a BushCo event. There's no mention of another women, who lost her son in Iraq and showed up at a recent Waura appearance only to be arrested for interrupting Waura's speech to ask why her daughters aren't serving in Iraq. That was compassionate! As I remember that story, Waura didn't make any move to help the obviously distraught woman.

As usual with this column, there is a story buried under the fantasy and misdirection:

Mr. Kerry and Mr. Bush do share some traits, of course, not least an intensive involvement in their own campaigns. Mr. Bush's aides say he likes strategy, while Mr. Kerry's aides say he likes policy.

Well now, that's the story Ms. Bumiller has been dancing around writing for months. In fact, she's done so much research and writing on the topic of exactly how in charge Dear Leader is of his campaign that half the story is already done for her. BushCo likes to shout at morning meetings about hitting Kerry and he knows trivia about every swing state in the union. He's a big picture guy whose attention flags if a briefing goes on too long. "You're losing speed and altitude," he'll say. He peppers aides with campaign-related questions constantly, in person and via cell phone, and he loves to plan the daily attack.

Kerry, Ms. Bumiller says, is more interested in policy. I'm forced to guess that that means stuff like affordable health care, a plan of community service that will provide four years of higher ed for America's youth, an energy policy that is structured to get us independent of foreign oil and will create jobs, tax code reform that won't reward companies for moving jobs offshore - policies that will affect the country beyond the next six weeks.

I understand that the way I've pitched it, the idea sounds like nothing but BushCo bashing. That's fair, I can't stand the guy. But Americans who still may vote for him deserve to read about the very different leadership styles of the two people from which they must choose. If they're led to believe that the differences extend mostly to speaking styles, who has the better command of Spanish and who appears to care more about the people who appear at their campaign stops, how can they possibly make an informed decision when it matters?


It's White House Letter Day!

If you're a fan of White House Letters, or just obsessed, like me, then you remember the classic Comfy Feather Letter. In that masterpiece of sychophancy we learned the four RNC first three directives, out of four, for reporters writing about BushCo on the trail:

1. BushCo is in charge of all the campaign decisions.
2. He's happy to campaign and this point can't be stressed enough.
3. He's nice, patient and disciplined.
4. BushCo is a regular guy, who likes us all.

That was in March. White House Letters and straight news reporting reliably confirmed those points for months while this blog and hundreds of others had seen through the strategy that Team BushCo used to get clips of adoring audiences on the local and national news.

Now it's August with fewer than 80 days to go until election day and the White House Letter is starting to see the light. I guess it's grown too bright to ignore.

Bush campaign officials tell reporters at every "Ask President Bush'' forum that the questions are not planted and that the sessions are spontaneous. Senator John Kerry's campaign officials say the events are too ridiculous to be believed.

Whatever the case, Bush campaign officials readily say that they carefully screen the crowds by distributing tickets through campaign volunteers. "Our supporters hand them out to other supporters and people who may be undecided,'' said Scott Stanzel, a campaign spokesman.

The result is often a love-in with heavily Christian crowds. Mr. Bush relaxes, shows off his humor and appears more human than in his sometimes tongue-tied and tense encounters with the press. He clearly relishes the sessions: As of this coming Wednesday in Wisconsin, Mr. Bush will have had 12 such campaign forums, which is one less than the number of solo news conferences he has had in three and a half years in the White House.

Of course, reporters write that the events are canned, but campaign officials care only about the lively snippets of Mr. Bush that get on the local news.

The point about the solo press conferences is a good one, although a Bushie would probably take exeception to it - apples and oranges, gotta get past the filter ... But since we're fighting his private war, it would great if BushCo faced the scrutiny of the press, such as it is, more regularly. It's a chuckle to read the famously frightened Ms. Bumiller make the point.

I'm more interested though in what the NYT is going to do with this information about the duplicity behind the BushCo campaign, if anything. BushCo is passing off staged events as spontaneous campaign stops. He, who is in charge of every decision, has apparently directed his staff to insist on loyalty oaths for audience members at who knows how many appearances. Kerry is appearing to crowds in the tens of thousands, protesters included. The contrast could not be starker ,yet last week Wilgoren had a story in the Week in Review that actually suggested that the campaigns were equally exclusive: (long excerpt to be fair)

The visit to the Pacific Northwest contrasted with Mr. Bush's trip earlier this week through the conservative Florida Panhandle, where thousands of fans lined the highway to glimpse the president's entourage. Here, the small clusters gathered to wave as the president passed included protesters as well.

Mr. Kerry also faced critics at his morning event Friday in Springfield - one held a sign asking whether he had "waffles" for breakfast - but he reached beyond his base by stopping Thursday night in the Republican-leaning southwestern corner of the state, where 10,000 people filled the Jackson County fairgrounds.

For Mr. Kerry, the Portland rally was the final stop on his post-convention swing through 17 states - Mr. Edwards hit another five on his own - using 43 buses, a train, seven helicopters, three planes and a ferry. His campaign said he had seen 300,000 people over two weeks.

Flying here Thursday night, he was delighted to discover local news coverage comparing his open-to-the-public rally with Mr. Bush's invitation-only event, and his aides made a show on Friday of reports that people were told they had to volunteer for Mr. Bush's campaign to get in.

Scott Stanzel, a Bush spokesman, said logistics prevented the president from having wide-open doors.

"It is important for us to make sure that the people who are working hard on behalf of this campaign have an opportunity to see the president and hear what he has to say," he said. While Mr. Kerry's rally here was unticketed, at his earlier event, on a quiet cul-de-sac in Springfield, the line of people holding invitations was filled with campaign volunteers, while neighbors watched from across the street.

"I don't know how you go about being invited," sighed Karen McEldowney-Hay, 56, an undecided Democrat who was stuck behind the cordon. "I just was going to watch and see if I could get a glimpse of him."

Clearly, Wilgoren has once again forgotten Okrent's Law as the NYT continues to mislead and underinform its readers.

So deserved kudos to Ms. Bumiller for finally speaking frankly about the sham campaign that BushCo is running. Let's see if the NYT lets the information make it to the news reporting as well, where a frank comparison of the two campaigns could do some good.

UPDATE: Read Carl Hulse's tiny Political Points story today to see what the NYT considers news coverage of the issue. Note how it stands in contrast to Nagourney's frequent and lengthy stories about how worried Democrats are about the Kerry Campaign:

There's no doubt Mr. Bush has his base stirred up, with his energetic rallies marked by the heavy presence of conservative Christians. But it is a risky strategy to try to win strictly on the basis of his base. And it appears he has some work to do in converting independents and swing Democrats and Republicans outside the nation's conservative centers.

First rule of NYT political reporting: Don't connect the dots. Second rule: BushCo is in charge. So the cowardly appearances in front of invitation-only audiences forced to sign loyalty oaths becomes a strategy instead of the campaigning equivalent of hiding in a bunker. It would be helpful to read more about that strategy and the cynical thinking behind it.

Well, BushCo will be appearing in a de facto way in two weeks in NYC during the convention. He won't have the benefit of hiding protesters behind buses or of forcing the people of NYC to sign loyalty oaths before they leave their homes. Let's see if the NYT - with all its local access to the native New Yorkers and the protesters, some of whom will come from all over the country and will probably number in the hundreds of thousands - still thinks that BushCo only "apparently has some work to do" after that week of public access to Dear Leader's roadshow.

It's White House Letter Day!

Ms. Bumiller is finally writing openly but uselessly about something that we've known for months now: BushCo's campaign stops are nothing more than a series of roadshows, carefully scripted and by-invitation-only. Which is fine really if the press would get the word out that that is the case so that voters can consider if they want to elect a talkshow host, who is too insecure to appear in front of a crowd that isn't handpicked, as president. As I wrote in the wake of the New Mexico loyalty oath scandal, every story about a BushCo appearance should include information that lets us know if loyalty oaths were required for admission. But instead of taking that issue, and everything it says about this administration, seriously, the NYT would rather dance around the facts and, when they finally do look at them, do it in the jokey, "not-a-matter-of-life-and-death" WHLetter space.

In her latest, Scenes from a Presidential Roadshow, Raw and Uncut", Ms. Bumiller is so set on making it clear how much fun BushCo is having, that she ends up giving us cause to worry for the mental health of Dear Leader:


By the time he did a 90-minute turn as a kind of talk show host (his description) for an "Ask President Bush" session in Columbus, Ohio, the nation's chief executive was either so merry or so tired that he did not even bother to hide the fact that the event was classic political stagecraft and that the voters arrayed before the television cameras were invited guests with prepared endorsements of administration policies.

He's having so much fun! He's not even bothering to pretend the appearances aren't staged. Except he is. Because the clips that show up on the national news, are ones absent any protesters or stony silences. And they are what matters. America sees a beloved figure and doesn't wonder if the crowds are rigged. Even Ms. Bumiller, in this story, which appears to pull back the curtain from the stagecraft of the BushCo roadshow, does not see fit to include a mention of the loyalty oaths or, for that matter, BushCo's painful-to-watch crash and burn performance in front of the Unity: Journalists of Color convention, where pointed questions from an unsworn crowd drew louder applause breaks than any of his answers. But that probably wasn't so much fun for BushCo and if it doesn't fit with the meme, down the memory hole it goes.

What is important to Ms. Bumiller? BushCo biting a raw ear of corn:

Maybe it was the moment last week when President Bush chomped down on a raw ear of corn at an Iowa farmers' market that the absurdity in any American presidential campaign became clear.

"Oh, yeah, you don't even need to cook it," the president said assuredly, husk in hand, as the cameras recorded every bite. "It's really, really good."

Wilgoren gives us peanut butter. Ms. Bumiller gives us raw corn. (Note to Elisabeth: It's really not that weird. Raw sweet corn is yummy and even edible.) She mentions it twice as evidence of either BushCo's freewheeling attitude on the trail or his increasingly unhinged affect. She uses words like "absurd" and "loopy" to describe the campaign tour.

This column can definitely be read as for and against BushCo. It's honestly probably neither. The shame of it is that the NYT is allowing BushCo to run a campaign on no ideas at all without calling him on it. I've read many times in the same paper how worried Democrats are concerned that Kerry is unable to differentiate himself from BushCo's foreign policy and that he needs to make his ideas clear. Not so with BushCo. We've heard that he is rolling out his vision for America, (because he says he is), but none has been forthcoming. When Ms. Bumiller had the chance to make this point as forcefully as she should have, in a story headlined "Talk-Show Style, Ohioans Get to 'Ask President Bush'" (sound familiar?) about BushCo's latest speech in Ohio, Ms. Bumiller skated around it:

The theme of the event was Mr. Bush's proposal for legislation that would let workers in private companies choose time off as an alternative to overtime pay, and permit them to work more hours in one week and fewer the next. Under the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, most employees of private companies cannot choose time off as an alternative to overtime pay. But Mr. Bush barely mentioned the proposals, called flex time and comp time, in the nearly 90-minute event, and then only at the end when he prompted Mr. Derrow to bring them up.

The bottom line is that this letter could have been written months ago since BushCo's strategy of stacking the audience and strutting around the stage like Donahue has always been his modus operandi. As even Ms. Bumiller acknowledges in the WHLetter:

On television or in newspapers, campaigns appear to have a grown-up coherence: articles and broadcasts about the day's events are organized around specific themes, like the loss of jobs in Ohio, or about something newsworthy the candidates said.

He's not the president but he plays one on TV. Does that matter to the voting public? Don't look for any NYT reporter to examine that issue. Ms. Bumiller for one is too busy worrying about loopy trips to farmers' markets and whether anyone in their right mind would eat corn raw.

It's White House Letter Day!

After a month off, the White House Letter, home of light-hearted, nothing life-and-death story about Dear Leader and his minions, is back. And today we actually get balanced talk about something insignificant after too many columns that tried to tackle issues that overwhelmed the alleged purpose of the space or were flat-out love letters.

Ms. Bumiller's topic today is BushCo's 2004 vacation. He'll be going to Crawford, but not for as long a time as he had in the last three years. And especially not for as long as he did in the month leading up to 9/11, the day that changed everything. She makes it clear that the decision is a political one since she lets us know that in August of 2002 BushCo spent 27 days at the ranch and in August of 2003, he spent 29 days hacking away at invasive vegetation. I'm not crazy with the effort she puts into getting us to believe that no polling was done, helping to reinforce a key WH point, which is that BushCo scorns polls:

At this White House, Mr. Rove's views, which may well have been the president's views, prevailed, to no one's surprise.

and

As far as can be told, no one did any polling, unlike Bill Clinton's former adviser Dick Morris, who incurred the president's wrath in 1995 when he went so far as to suggest that his surveys showed a presidential camping vacation would play well with swing voters.

Of course, according to what she wrote, there's no evidence that anyone didn't do any polling either, but that gets lost in the sentence, with the mention of the famously poll-driven Clenis and all. But it's not a bad column and certainly not as wildly unbalanced as WHLetters have been known to be. For instance, there's no gratuitous mention of how much BushCo loves to campaign or that he's enjoying the time to be with his daughters. In fact, she closes with the opposite observation:

This year, there has been no word on Mr. Bush's mood about his truncated vacation. When asked if the president was complaining, the adviser crisply replied that he was "very energized by the campaign."

One thing is certain: as much as Mr. Bush likes his ranch, he likes winning more.

It's White House Letter Day!

Today's WHLetter is going to have a lot of Bushies complaining since in Trying on Reagan's Mantle, but It Doesn't Exactly Fit Ms. Bumiller lists a few ways that Dear Leader fails to measure up to the Glorious Creator. Frankly, I was suprised to read that anonymous former Reagan aides said that BushCo is a divider who wants to beat his enemies whereas Reagan was a unifier who wanted his enemies to join him. But any disgruntled fans of Junior are going to have to stay quiet after last week, when, if we learned nothing else, we learned that the prime directive of the GOP is to speak no evil of the now mythical father of Movement Conservatism. BushCo will have to take one for the team.

What had me scratching my head was realizing that I missed the day when Team BushCo decided it was a good thing to have their guy obsessed by polling numbers. When did that happen? I know he didn't care about polls when he ran against Al Gore, who came from the famously poll-driven Clinton White House. And he didn't care about "focus groups" during the rush to war in Iraq. And in this October 2003 interview with an Australian television journalist, (who has more guts than all of the NYTimes' White House correspondents combined) BushCo goes out of his way to explain why he doesn't care about polls:

THE PRESIDENT: I am. Politicians, by the way, who pay attention to the polls are doomed to be kind of chasing -- trying to chase opinion. What you need to do is lead, set the tone.


But now Ms. Bumiller, our best source for RNC talking points, is reporting this:

The second difference [between Reagan and BushCo] is in the business of politics. Mr. Bush, who is his own de facto campaign manager, loves the combat and gossip. His advisers say he knows his exact standing in recent polls, the names of his chairmen in the battleground states and probably the names of important county chairmen. (emph. mine)

I love the bit about being his own de facto campaign manager. Ms. Bumiller just doesn't give up. And like any good campaign manager, real or imagined, he's a regular poll jockey too! I wonder if he's worried about chasing opinion. If so, he should take some time to sit down with the de facto candidate and have a little chat about that - if Cheney will see him.

Bonus: Read the interview with Australian television to see the answer to the question as to the well-being of the Australian citizens who were then in US custody. "Are they being tortured?"

It's the Day After White House Letter Day!

Ms. Bumiller wrote about the history of D-Day Presidential addresses and how the occasion has evolved from a quiet memorial into a stage for American presidents to address political goals. She's right. She cast President Clinton's speechas a courtship of the military by a president, the first born after World War II, who had avoided service in Vietnam. Reagan's was a "powerful speech" that had a political purpose: to try to calm a trans-Atlantic crisis over his deployment of Pershing 2 missiles in Europe. She doesn't describe BushCo's effort much beyond calling it "an emotional symphony" like Clinton's and Reagan's. She also claims that the subtext of the speech was all about Iraq:

While Mr. Bush was careful not to utter the word "Iraq" to a still-bitter Europe on Sunday, his allusions were clear. In any case, he had drawn a direct parallel between the invasions of Baghdad and Normandy in a commencement speech at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs on Wednesday.

I read only highlights of the speech, but what jumped out at me wasn't Iraq - although BushCo's choice to speak in Coqueville-sur-Mer, near the cemetery, instead of Pointe du Hoc near the monument to the American Rangers, was significant. What got me was the way BushCo's speech sounded more like a sermon than anything else. The Christian symbolism is really unrelenting. In fact I would give him more credit for not using the word "crusade" than I do for avoiding the word "Iraq" because that subtext was even more clear.

The White House Letter column is no place for an analysis of BushCo's exploitation of Christianity to further his political goals since that goes a step beyond looking at how American Presidents have come to use D-Day to further their political goals, but I'm going to be interested to read the books that discuss that particular technique of BushCo's when his term in office is over.

It's White House Letter Day!

Today's unusually poorly written WHLetter, mysteriously entitled Taking the High Road, the Low Road and Maybe a Boulder or Two, starts off like a harmless, light-hearted compare-and-contrast piece about the biking habits of the two presidential candidates.  I was willing to overlook the mention that BushCo's gift bike cost roughly a quarter of the one that Sen. Kerry bought for himself.  Facts are facts.  But when Ms. Bumiller brought up as an example of poor sportsmanship the 'training wheels' comment that Sen. Kerry made upon hearing of BushCo's famous header on all that wet ground in Crawford, without acknowledging that it was a play on BushCo's idiotic comment about the training wheels coming off Iraq on June 30, she lost the benefit of the doubt I was so generously giving her.

Read the column if you can bear it.  Or save time and simply remind yourself of the RNC's pet Kerry memes: Kerry, the road biker, is a weak rich guy with a mean streak.  He's nobody you'd want to have a beer with.  BushCo, the mountain biker, is strong and vigorous.  His "intense" bike trips give the Secret Service agents who ride with him sore muscles.   Just so you're completely clear on the point that road biking is for wimps, Ms. Bumiller includes a comparison of mountain biking and road biking:

"It's a much different type of exercise," said Stephen Madden, the editor of Bicycling and Mountain Bike magazines. "Mountain biking involves a lot of up and down, and it also can involve a lot of technical expertise in jumping logs and rocks."

(The ground was wet and there were probably LOGS!) 

Honestly, Sen. Kerry can't buy BushCo's coverage in the NYTimes.  I'm desperate to hear how Okrent, who's planning to look at the political reporting some time before the election, justifies almost weekly puff pieces like this one with no balancing effort for the Kerry camp.

In case you don't want to bother reading the 900 words Ms. Bumiller strings together, and who would blame you, here's the bit about the training wheels:

When Mr. Bush had his spill, Mr. Kerry's reaction rapidly coursed through political cyberspace. According to The Drudge Report, Mr. Kerry said to reporters in what he believed was an off-the-record remark, "Did the training wheels fall off?"

The Chicago Sun-Times then reported that Chicago's Democratic mayor, Richard M. Daley - who ripped the skin off his kneecap in a bicycle accident a few years ago - had scolded Mr. Kerry for the wisecrack. "You should not wish ill upon anyone," Mr. Daley said.

Sigh.

It's White House Letter Day!

We're through the looking glass here, people. There's been a sea change in the reporting of Elisabeth Bumiller.

Ms. Bumiller's two previous stories were back in the mold I remembered from five months ago, when she was capable of finding balance and simply telling the story. Today's WHLetter is a complete flip from the fatuous columns we've grown accustomed to reading. Last week's WHLetter seemed to start the trend. That one mentioned that the level of protests planned for Yale and UT, should BushCo show up, played into his decision to skip his daughters' commencements. Today's WHLetter: The Other Long Occupation: Bush in a Bubble, continues the theme of isolation as Ms. Bumiller lets some congressmen and a diplomat vent about the increasingly sequestered president.

Continue reading "It's White House Letter Day! " »

I Get White House Letters Letters

Here's the response I received from the office of the public editor at the NYTimes. I wrote about the infamous "Comfy Feathers" White House Letter.

Several readers have voiced concerns about the White House Letter.

I include Mr. Okrent's response below:

As for the White House Letter, it’s part of a longstanding Times practice of trying to provide a glimpse into the personal side of newsmakers’ lives. I do think the paper could do a better job of labeling these pieces and making clear that they are not about, nor meant to be about, life-and-death issues.

Sincerely,
Arthur Bovino
Office of the Public Editor
The New York Times

What would that label possibly say? White House Letter: Helping You Decide to Elect Dear Leader? White House Letter: There's No Beating Bush!? And as for "life and death" - that's just a nice way of telling me to calm the hell down about stuff that doesn't matter. Remember, the idea for the WH Letter came up during the days after 9/11 in the A Nation Challenged section. It may have started out as filler, but they decided to keep it for a reason. Ms. Bumiller herself says that the space they set aside for the Letter is valuable simply by virtue of being in the NYTimes. She says that she had better have something valuable to say in it. Maybe they think she's still a style reporter and she thinks she's on the Washington beat. Maybe I'm being lied to by Mr. Bovino. But when the WH Letters clearly toe the RNC CREEP line and are not balanced by similarly fawning pieces about Kerry and his people, and given BushCo's record of war mongering, I consider that a matter of life and death.

White House Letter - I'm Pinch Hitting for Ms. Bumiller

There was no White House Letter today. It appears that Ms. Bumiller is on vacation. However, I've spent enough time with them to be able to help out the NYTimes. Here's a White House Letter they can feel free to use:

Continue reading "White House Letter - I'm Pinch Hitting for Ms. Bumiller" »

Don't Worry George, Elisabeth's Got Your Back

I have started this post three times. There are so many ways to come at the latest White House Letter from Elisabeth Bumiller that my mind actually reeled. I was dizzy. I'm better now.

As has been the most recent custom with this column, Ms. Bumiller has stepped in to defend BushCo from the slings and arrows of the world around him. In February she wrote jokey pieces about his membership in Skull & Bones and the way the White House handled the response to the AWOL scandal, which has since been dropped by the mainstream press. In the beginning of March, right around the time of BushCo's announcement supporting the FMA, we got an inside look at how BushCo doesn't hate gays. He has a transgender friend! He just doesn't want gays to have the same rights as heterosexuals and is willing to amend our Constitution to codify that belief. It's nothing personal. Last week, in answer to old and new charges that BushCo is disengaged from and disinterested in day-to-day policy making decisions, we read about how BushCo is consumed by the campaign to get elected. He's revved up and ready to engage politically and he's in charge of all the major decsions made so far.

The pattern has been that when an issue hits the public fan, there are Ms. Bumiller and the NYTimes ready to help the WH clean up the mess. This week, in direct response to Sen. Kerry's comment about BushCo's time spent at a rodeo, we get a column about Dear Leader's Time Management skills. Here's a hint: they're everything that President Clinton's weren't.

Continue reading "Don't Worry George, Elisabeth's Got Your Back" »

Elisabeth Bumiller - White House Letter

I have an email into the NYTimes about the White House Letter column. I'm truly confused as to why it's published and I don't want to comment on today's until someone has a chance to respond. I'll post about it later today.

Later Today: 7:30pmET: So, nobody from the NYTimes returned my call. I did speak to a pleasant man at the Washington Bureau who told me that the mission of the White House Letter column is not to run a People Magazine-style puff piece for the administration. So that was a relief. But then I re-read today's WHLetter and became confused all over again.

Continue reading "Elisabeth Bumiller - White House Letter" »

Some of His Best Friends are Queers

I started wondering about just how connected Elisabeth Bumiller is to the White House when I saw read her profile of Waura. I wondered why she would be wasting her time on something that belonged in Good Housekeeping - nothing against Good Housekeeping, but it isn't the National Desk of the NYTimes. The next blip on the radar came during the investigation into BushCo's lack of service during the Vietnam War. In Ms. Bumiller's story, which was written on the Saturday after the big Friday paperstorm, when the WH released a whole lotta nothing, she mentions a phone interview with WH Communications Director, Dan Bartlett. I wondered then who did the calling given the apologetic tone and general emptiness of the piece that Ms. Bumiller produced. Now we get another image piece that's extremely flattering to a Bush but completely lacking in news. It seems that Ms. Bumiller is indeed well-connected to the White House but has chosen to use her power for evil. And that's a shame.


Continue reading "Some of His Best Friends are Queers" »