Reporters can be as two-faced as politicians. On Monday, they say one thing. Come Tuesday, they can say the opposite without a hint of embarrassment. Too often, the press pack floats along like a balloon tied to the Democratic donkey's tail, and like the Democrats they are capable of saying anything that fits the political agenda of the moment.
First we had the story that Bush "taking a month off" would hurt him in the polls. Then when he tried to throw the reporters a bone by holding an economic conference in Waco during that "vacation," a public-relations event that reminds everyone of the bull-session Clinton presidency, they criticized him for that, too. For the press this was all a shallow, one-sided stunt.
Is there anything funnier than the liberal media disparaging others as shallow, one-sided, or addicted to stunts?
When Bill Clinton held his (endless) talkathons, media hearts pittered and pattered over the breathtaking workish brainpower on display. Clinton attending a town meeting or an economic conference made reporters sound like golf junkies waiting for Tiger Woods to tee off. It didn't matter if anything (or anyone) made sense, or that no problem was actually solved. The mere act of talking, of "aerobic listening" and "feeling your pain," caused reporters to swoon with delight.
When Hillary Clinton's health care effort was scorched from the right for its secrecy, the public-relations solution was a series of town-hall meetings, paid for by the socialism-boosting Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, rigidly controlled and scripted. But reporters didn't lead with the bias of the sponsors, or the one-sidedness of the presentations. They were just too impressed with Mrs. Clinton, with her note-card-free command of arcana and her overflowing compassion for the children.
But when President Bush welcomed 240 people to Baylor University to discuss the state of the economy and how to boost it, reporters had the opposite reaction. The pack didn't want to let this president score points for feeling pain or displaying his brain.
ABC's Terry Moran picked every nit, starting with the notion that while Bush wants to look like "a man who listens to the people," he could only take 20 minutes at each breakout session, so "he had little time for any kind of extended give and take." Speaking of stunts, Moran then gratuitously asserted: "Mr. Bush was hobnobbing at the forum with, among others, Charles Schwab, who made $353 million cashing in stock options before the price of his company shares plummeted." Needless to say, neither the administration nor Mr. Schwab were given any time for rebuttal. In the morning, ABC's Diane Sawyer picked at Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill about the cost to the taxpayer for flying all these cabinet secretaries to Waco for publicity, as if liberal reporters were suddenly the mouthpiece for the National Taxpayers Union.
Nearly every television and print story focused on the brief comments the president made on the state of the economy, while ignoring all the talk at Baylor about conservative solutions.
Participants cheered the move to make the Bush tax cuts permanent. They urged an end to the death tax, decreasing the dramatic amount of government regulation and paperwork, and giving shareholders more power over CEOs by decreasing the hostility of the tax code toward paying dividends, so that paper profits couldn't be faked. But ABC and CBS had nothing to say in their stories about the substance of this summit. Only NBC's Kelly O'Donnell managed a sentence about the ideas floated.
Impressive minority speakers from all walks of business life also were largely ignored. Apparently, blacks and Latinos who have risen to some wealth and favor conservative economic solutions are nothing but traitors to their races and former classes.
In the final plenary session, President Bush was uncharacteristically loud and critical of Democrats in Congress for overspending and obstruction. He declared he would reject the congressional request to approve $5 billion in pork-laden "emergency" spending. "A limited and focused government is essential to a growing economy. And if the Congress won't show spending restraint, I intend to enforce spending restraint," he warned.
Perhaps since Democrats have complained loudly that the cable news networks show too many presidential speeches, these remarks were not shown live anywhere on TV except C-SPAN and CNBC. The three cable "news" networks were all carrying a live news conference about the whereabouts of 4-year-old missing California girl Jessica Cortez, who was later found. You can't accuse these networks of not knowing which story is better for their bottom line during the daytime hours. Sensationalism sells, policy talk smells.
The Bushies were pleased that underneath the media complaints, viewers saw the president at work and concerned about the nation's condition. But they also should have learned that attempting to copy Clinton-style events won't work with reporters wading in hip boots through their gooey Clinton nostalgia.