Beer and Hurricanes

Last Friday, Dan Froomkin of the Washington Post was one of the few journalists to follow up on a little soiree the president threw last week for about 50 members of the White House press corps at his ranch in Crawford. According to reports, Bush served fried catfish, potato salad, coleslaw, homemade cheese and chocolate-chip cookies, all washed down with local beer Shiner Bock. The catch? None of the reporters were allowed to tell anyone what the president and his aides said afterward.

As you can imagine, the blogs grabbed on to the story, and took some varying perspectives on the matter. Truth from a Lefty Christian isn’t very happy with the journalists who attended, writing that “These [reporters] … who are supposed to be the guard dogs of American Democracy … reporting faithfully on the activities of the administration, alerting us to wrong-doing … are fawning around and drinking with the president. I teach high school. What if I were to show up at my students’ parties on the weekend? What if I were to drink their drinks and eat their food? Schmooze and gossip with them? How then would I properly do my job and grade them effectively? How would I perform my job? I could not, because my integrity, my neutrality would be permanently compromised. The reporters need to keep a professional distance from the president. And for heaven’s sake, why are they promising not to reveal their activities??”

Fresh Politics, however, takes more of a gourmand’s approach, reading great meaning into the president’s choice of beer to serve his guests:

- Shiner Bock’s flavor is distinctive, but smooth. This would seem to me the image that Bush would want to impress upon his guests. The president is strong, but won’t bite.

- The mild-flavored beer is also a reach-out in another fashion. Everybody knows that women typically don’t drink beer, especially strong bitter ones. By adopting a brew that everyone can enjoy, he’s sending an open message to the woman journalists in attendance.

- Finally, while I don’t know the specific amount (anyone from Texas?), a dark lager’s alcohol by volume is generally pretty low (at least, according to my standards). This is probably a good thing — we don’t want the press gaggle to break out in a drunken scuffle over Iraq or Jeff Gannon. While the president is hosting the group, he’s not trying to get them wasted. Shiner Beer is no jungle juice.

Overall, I think Shiner Bock is a good choice. It says: “Enjoy the gathering, but don’t get belligerent.” While still welcoming his guests with an interesting and personalized choice of beer, it creates an implicit social distance that, say, shots of vodka wouldn’t establish.

Empire Burlesque was having none of it, however, noting that “Anyone who is a journalist — anyone who has ever been a journalist — anyone who ever reads journalism — should be ashamed of this.”

Move a little bit east from Crawford and there, of course, is Hurricane Katrina, which is lashing the Gulf coast around and about New Orleans. The New Orleans Times-Picayune has been keeping a blog from the center of the storm, tracking of the latest developments. At about 9:30, the paper’s reporter wrote, “Fairly heavy street flooding in front and behind the Times-Picayune … water appears about knee deep, whipped by the steady wind into whitecaps and breakers. Water is hubcap deep on the furthest vehicles in the employee parking lot, and rising quickly.”

USA Today is also keeping a hurricane blog, which is being updated more regularly. The storm isn’t likely to abate any time before nightfall, so we can only hope that the city, the coast, and all those who live there make it out OK.

Paul McLeary

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Paul McLeary is senior editor of Defense Technology International magazine, and is a former CJR staffer.