Off the record
President Bush is now holding off the record tea parties with journalists in order to improve his public image.
“It was very pleasant, he seemed very thoughtful and frank,” said Stephan Dinan, a Washington Times reporter and one of about six reporters who took part in a session Monday afternoon. “It was on a wide range of stuff.”
Monday’s gathering also included reporters from the Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, and Cox Newspapers, according to sources.
Some papers might see these off-the-record intimate gatherings as counterproductive, such as The New York Times:
“The Times has declined this opportunity after weighing the potential benefits to our readers against the prospect of withholding information from them about the discussion with Mr. Bush,” Times Washington bureau chief Philip Taubman said in Tuesday’s edition. “As a matter of policy and practice, we would prefer when possible to conduct on-the-record interviews with public officials.”
I think the New York Times nailed it: Journalists should be more concerned with getting Bush to comment on the record, than privately chewing the fat with him—especially when his approval ratings are at an all time low. So what’s with all the off-the-record chit chat, and requests for anonymity?
Several reporters declined to comment on the record, but said they had been called personally by Press Secretary Scott McClellan to participate in the chats, some getting invited just hours ahead of time. “It doesn’t surprise me because presidents do this,” said one reporter invited to a session on Tuesday who requested anonymity. “Clinton did it toward the end of his second term. A little bit of legacy-building, post-impeachment, post-Monica.”
Bush’s strength is in charming small groups of people. What he lacks for in intelligence, he seems to make up for in charisma—maybe it’s his innocent (vacant?) wide-eyed stare, or his infectious giggle. Either way, I find it disappointing that reporters are attending these closed door tea parties, and then declining to comment on them.