Press Exercised by Exercising White House

The press has taken on some hard-hitting stories this week, from the cleanliness of the president's desk to Condi's workout program.

The beauty of mainstream journalists hopping on the blogging bandwagon — if there is beauty to be had — is that these blogs provide a place to turn for more information, for explanation, and to get the story behind the story.

For example, here is what ABC News’ Elizabeth Vargas posted on her blog, the World Newser, after her “exclusive” interview with President Bush yesterday: “While it is impossible to prepare too much before interviewing the President of the United States, there is also no way to fully anticipate what it will be like to spend a morning with the most powerful person in the world. We arrived at the West Wing expecting a limited amount of time with President Bush…It was a welcome change of plans when we stayed longer and talked more than any of us had expected.”

Translation: We weren’t prepared! We weren’t prepared for the president to give us so much time! We asked about Katrina, we asked about Iraq, but we didn’t have enough questions in our notebook to fill all that time! Which explains such exchanges as this:

VARGAS (in the Oval Office): Your desk is so clean Mr. President.

BUSH: Yeah, well, you know that is what happens when you have desk cleaners everywhere.

VARGAS: Do you spend a lot of time here?

BUSH: I do….I like to work here ‘cause I like how open it feels.

VARGAS: It is … very.

And this:

VARGAS: How are the dogs?

BUSH: The dogs are comfortable.

VARGAS: As they always seem to be.

BUSH: Not only comfortable but quite independent.

VARGAS: Every time we’ve been here, we have chronicled some mischief that one or the other has been up to.

BUSH: They’re handy in Washington. They don’t talk back, they don’t argue with you. They’re good.

VARGAS: They also just treat you like anybody else. I mean, that must be nice, I mean I’m sure your family does that too.

During her unexpectedly extended audience with Bush, Vargas was also able to pin the president down as an “evening” exerciser and to get him to go on record “encourag[ing] our fellow citizens to exercise” — including broadcast journalists because, as Bush said to Vargas, “You know what your job’s like, your job’s got big hours. It’s intense, you’ve got to be on cue when the thing comes on, you’ve got to deliver and exercise helps you keep your mind clear and helps you get over the stress of the day.”

Turns out Bush isn’t the only fitness buff in the White House. Thanks to the enterprising reporting of one Barbara Harrison of NBC4-TV in Washington, D.C., we now also know the particulars of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s exercise routine. Rice allowed Harrison to tag along on her weekend workout, which produced footage of the secretary — hair pulled back in a low pony tail, dressed in a t-shirt and black tights — doing barbell squats and riding a stationary bike. The spectacle has had the desired effect, from NBC4’s perspective, in that other reporters are reporting on their report. And, predictably, word play is involved — some (the headline in today’s New York Daily News: “Sec’y of Weights”) better than others (the caption during NBC’s “Today Show:” “Condi-Robics”).

We were going to applaud Washington reporters for exercising some restraint on this Condi Exercises! story. After all, they waited until the final question of a lengthy State Department press briefing yesterday — focusing first on Taiwan and Darfur and North Korea — to ask about Rice’s “workout video.” But then we heard NBC4’s Harrison say the following this morning about journalists engaging in unbridled speculation: “It’s just interesting some of the reporters who called after they heard [Rice’s workout footage] was going to air, ‘Does this signal [Rice is] about to run for president’ or this or that? I think it signals [Rice’s] interest in promoting fitness.”

NBC4’s interest, meanwhile, is in promoting its Exclusive Rice Workout Interview by stringing it out over three days. Tomorrow’s installment: “Condi reveals the one time her weight got out of control.”

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.