The Houston Chronicle endorsed Bush for president in 2000 as well, saying that he offered “Americans sincerely held beliefs and a blameless record in public office.” But since 2002 — and particularly in the months leading up to the second Iraq War — the paper in America’s fourth-largest city has been sharply critical of Bush. In a March 9, 2003, editorial, the paper said the Bush administration “has managed to get the United States crosswise with some of its principal allies — Turkey, France and Germany. Bush’s fixation on Iraq has also aggravated rifts with Russian, China and other regional powers.” The piece also scoffed at Bush’s claim that he had not made up his mind about military action, writing that “Americans can be forgiven for not trusting their president on this point.” Nine days later, on March 18, the paper said that in its rush to go to war the Bush administration had “left the United States paying a price in failed diplomacy, upended alliances and globally bad public relations.” The same editorial warned about the dangers that lurked in rebuilding Iraq after the war. “Perhaps the administration will learn from its prewar diplomatic ineptitudes and will manage this area more skillfully. Perhaps.”
Even The Dallas Morning News, which has been staunchly Republican since shortly after the battle of the Alamo, has been taking on the Bush administration. “Karl Rove has been particularly irate on some occasions with our editorials,” says Keven Ann Willey, vice president and editorial page editor at the Morning News. In particular, Willey said the editorial page believes that Bush has not been vigilant enough on environmental protection.
Harvey Kronberg, the editor of the Quorum Report, a political newsletter based in Austin, believes that some Texas journalists are going through the “jilted lover syndrome.” After covering Bush as governor, they thought they knew who he was and what he stood for, says Kronberg. And they also thought they’d get an interview or two once Bush moved to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. That hasn’t happened. Instead, the reporters who covered Bush have gone back to covering state politics and have left everything having to do with Bush and the White House to the national press corps. As one reporter at a big Texas daily paper, a person who has covered Bush since 1994 and rode on Bush’s plane throughout the 2000 campaign, told me, “We don’t even go to Crawford anymore.”
That lack of access to Bush may be contributing to the Texas media’s ambivalence toward Bush. “Liking him or not liking him is based not on whether he’s joking around with you but on his policies,” says another Texas reporter who covered Bush while he was governor. “So it’s a lot easier to be dispassionate about a guy when you don’t have any access.”
In 2000 all of the state’s major newspapers endorsed George W. Bush in his race against Al Gore. Despite that fact, Rich Oppel Sr., the editor of the Austin American-Statesman, told CJR that “there’s no guarantee that Bush will get our endorsement again.” In particular, Oppel said, the editorial board at his paper “will look very hard” at Bush’s fiscal policies.
While it’s far too early to predict what the major papers will do, The Dallas Morning News will probably back him again. “It’s safe to say that we’ll start out favoring the former governor of Texas,” said Willey. It appears that he’ll also get the vote of Texas Monthly’s Paul Burka, who concluded his February story on Bush by writing, “If I end up voting for him — and I probably will — it will really be Governor Bush who gets my vote.”
Governor Bush or President Bush, the president will always be a Texan. And come endorsement time, that fact will likely outweigh all other considerations. As Bob Rivard, the editor of the San Antonio Express-News, told CJR, “I’d bet my salary against a Starbucks that we endorse Bush.”