On Monday's CBS This Morning, the New York Times' Peter Baker didn't reveal anything shocking about George W. Bush's opinion about the liberal paper. Charlie Rose wondered about one detail concerning Baker's new book on Bush and Dick Cheney: "Why wouldn't President Bush talk to you?" He replied, "President Bush didn't believe that a book written by a New York Times reporter could be fair. He felt that the paper had not been balanced in his time in office." [MP3 audio available here; video below]
The journalist also dispelled the common liberal view about former Vice President Cheney's influence inside the Bush White House. Norah O'Donnell brought up how "there was this perception, of course, that Cheney was the one who was really pulling the levers of power." Baker bluntly retorted, "The picture that we have of this presidency and vice presidency is too cartoonish. It's too stick-figure – two-dimensional. It's a much more complicated story."
Rose led the interview with the longstanding question of Cheney's cardiovascular health, particularly in light of the recent 60 Minutes interview of the former politician. After asking two questions on that topic, O'Donnell asked her "pulling the lever of power" question about the Wyoming Republican. Baker gave his "cartoonish" answer, and continued that Cheney was "very influential" and "certainly, the most powerful vice president" of his time, but that his relationship with Bush "changed over time".
The CBS anchor followed up by playing up that her guest claimed in his book that "Bush and Cheney...by the time they left office, they were on opposite sides of almost every major issue, including North Korea, Syria, Lebanon, Russia, Middle East peace talks, gun rights, gay rights, climate change, surveillance. They were very far apart at the end." The New York Times correspondent spun this as a "course correction" on the former President's part.
Later in the segment, co-anchor Gayle King zeroed in on another detail from Baker's book: "You write, too, in the book that personality tests show that Dick Cheney's ideal job would have been that as a funeral director." This is actually not a new revelation, as ABC's Claire Shipman asked Cheney himself about this in an August 2004 interview on Good Morning America: "I read you once took a psychological profile test, and it said the position you’re most suited for is undertaker." The journalist did note that the former Vice President "did tell that to President Bush – yeah. And President Bush loved that. He thought that was a very funny line, and an apt line, too
King also contended that former President Bush "left office as the most disliked president in seven decades". Actually, a recent Gallup poll found that President Obama is barely more popular than Bush was at the same point in the presidencies. Both men, however, are still more popular than former President Nixon was, who had a 31.8 percent approval rating during the third quarter of 1973.
The full transcript of the Peter Baker segment from Monday's CBS This Morning:
CHARLIE ROSE: Peter Baker is the chief White House correspondent for the New York Times. His new book is called, 'Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House". Welcome, Peter.
PETER BAKER, "DAYS OF FIRE: BUSH & CHENEY IN THE WHITE HOUSE: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
[CBS News Graphic: "'Days Of Fire': New Book Chronicles Bush-Cheney Relationship"]
ROSE: So, when you look back at this critical time in the Bush presidency – during the Iraq invasion and the aftermath – is there evidence of – of Cheney's heart and how it affected him?
BAKER: Well, he did lose energy toward the end of the presidency. His aides tell us that they began to alter his schedule; try to keep it a little lighter; made sure the people who went in to brief him were giving him shorter, more concise briefings. He was seen in the Oval Office from time to time, kind of, nodding off. Bush would, kind of, make fun of him for that-
ROSE: But I'm talking about the beginning of the Iraqi invasion – the time that he was under enormous stress, as everybody else was.
BAKER: Right. There's no evidence that I heard – and I interviewed about 400 people for this book – that he was, in some way, incapacitated; or somehow, his judgment altered as a result of that. There is – you know, always speculation about, did Cheney change because of his heart condition over the years? Was he more fervent in his beliefs as a result? I think that's probably overstated. I think he always was a – a strong conservative; always believed in the things that he pushed for in the early days of the Bush-Cheney White House.
NORAH O'DONNELL: There was this perception, of course, that Cheney was the one who was really pulling the levers of power of the Bush administration-
O'DONNELL: What did you find?
BAKER: Well, I find that – we – the picture that we have of this presidency and vice presidency is – is too cartoonish. It's too stick-figure – two-dimensional. It's a much more complicated story and a more interesting story – very influential; certainly, the most powerful vice president to (sic) his time. But it changed over time. By the time the Iraq invasion starts to go badly; by the time we get into the second term, President Bush begins to move in a different direction. He wants to do more diplomacy; he is less interested in attacking other countries-
O'DONNELL: In fact, you write that Bush and Cheney, by the end of – by the time they left office, they were on opposite sides of almost every major issue, including North Korea, Syria, Lebanon, Russia, Middle East peace talks, gun rights, gay rights, climate change, surveillance. They were very far apart at the end.
BAKER: That's a big list, isn't it?
O'DONNELL: It is a big list-
BAKER: Exactly. From Vice President Cheney's point of view, he felt that Bush had – began to pull away from the principles that they had shared at the beginning, and he was very disappointed. From Bush's point of view, it was a course correction. He needed to begin to put his presidency on the line. It would survive his time in office.
O'DONNELL: I just want to tick through one thing: one of the most consequential decisions, of course, of this presidency – and there were a lot in the Bush presidency – but certainly, the decision invade Iraq – and you go through a great deal some of the doubts. Karen Hughes, one of the President's closest advisers, wanting to express those doubts to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. And then, you write this. You talked to a senior official who said – who came to rue his involvement in Iraq – said, quote, 'The only reason we went into Iraq, I tell people now, is we were looking for somebody's blank to kick. Afghanistan was too easy.' What does mean?
BAKER: Well, I think he was talking about inside the administration and the country at large – that this was a period when, after 9/11, the country was in a very angry moment – scared moment – and that it wasn't enough simply to go in and knock off these relatively primitive – government in Afghanistan and that – that Iraq became part of this, what do we do next? We have to keep – keep going. And – and this particular official – unfortunately, he's not named – he did come to regret it. A lot of people, I think, in the administration did come to regret it, and – and we've seen the results.
GAYLE KING: You write, too, in the book that personality tests show that Dick Cheney's ideal job would have been that as a funeral director-
BAKER: He did tell that to President Bush – yeah. And President Bush loved that. He thought that was a very funny line, and an apt line, too.
KING: And that, in many ways, people thought that he actually engineered his way into the V.P. job. What do you mean?
BAKER: Well, you know, he ran the process that found a vice president. Strangely enough, it turned out to be him. You know, there's a lot of speculation about this. This is one of the great mysteries we'll have for a long time. His answer to that is, look, President Bush came to me early on – through his aide Joe Allbaugh – and asked if I wanted to do it; and I said, no. But there are people – even friend of his – who believe that – you know, over time, he found the flaws in all the other candidates, so that he himself would be left in the position to be the logical choice.
O'DONNELL: But don't you suggest that Bush, actually, had talked about Cheney to be on his father's ticket?
BAKER: That's the interesting thing, right?
O'DONNELL: Yeah, you learned that-
BAKER: Bush had been – actually, focused on Cheney for a long time. He had suggested his father dump Dan Quayle in 1992. And who should he put on the ticket? Dick Cheney. So, he jokes, in fact, I always had this idea of a Bush-Cheney for a long time.
ROSE: Let's talk about the President, George Bush – 43rd President of the United States. He comes off here, I think, better than many people expect him, in terms of – of decision-making. Do you believe that?
BAKER: Well, I think it's important to try to get into the decision-making – to understand why he made the decisions he did – not to agree with them or disagree with them – but in order to evaluate how they were made. And I think that – you know, history is going to – is going to reexamine and re-look at this period of time for decades. We're going to be debating these things for a long time.
KING: Yeah, because you say that he left office, though, as the most disliked president in seven decades-
BAKER: He did-
KING: And Cheney didn't fare much better than that either.
BAKER: No, he didn't. In fact, a former aide goes to President Bush after office and said, what's it like to leave office as an unpopular president? And he kind of bristles. He says, I was also the most popular president, which he was, for a time, after 9/11.
ROSE: Why wouldn't President Bush talk to you?
BAKER: President Bush didn't believe that a book written by a New York Times reporter could be fair. He felt that the paper had not been balanced in his time in office. But I think, in the end, he allowed a lot of people around him to talk – at least implicitly.
O'DONNELL: And then, quickly, you have an interesting nugget, too, about Harriet Miers. People may not remember that name, but she was actually going to be President Bush's choice to the Supreme Court. And then, they tested her, and she knew very little about the Constitution.
BAKER: Yeah. They had the lawyers go and try to prep her for the Senate hearings, right? You have to go before the Senate and answer a lot of questions. They found she really didn't have the mastery of things like Fourth Amendment – search and seizure, Fifth Amendment – self-incrimination. You know, she had been a Dallas lawyer – very talented; very accomplished – but these are not issues she had been schooled on, and she would have been crucified, they felt, in a Senate hearing.
O'DONNELL: And Cheney said, 'I tried to tell him'.
BAKER: 'I tried to tell him' – yeah.
O'DONNELL: Peter Baker, thank you – great book.
BAKER: Thank you.