Bush In Clover - Or Is It Poison Ivy?

On the same day that the Associated Press ran a story declaring that “Bush Allies Say He’s Lost His Way,” the forecast in the Washington Times called for sun (headline: “Clouds Clear Quickly for Bush”).

The Associated Press’ Ron Fournier yesterday found (or was found by) “senior Republicans, including past and current White House advisers,” “close [Bush] allies” — who requested anonymity “because they did not want to be viewed as disloyal” — “fret[ting] about [Bush’s] presidency” and “say[ing] he’s lost his way.”

On the contrary, reported Bill Sammon of the Washington Times, Bush “appears to have rebounded” after “one of the roughest weeks of his presidency,” and he quoted a “senior White House official” (for whose anonymity Sammon did not feel the need to account) calling it a “good week.”

What led Fournier’s anonymous sources to their conclusion that “the building blocks of President Bush’s career — his credibility and image as a strong and competent leader — have been severely undercut by self-inflicted wounds”? Among other things, there’s PlameGate, which, Fournier wrote, “cuts at the president’s hard-earned credibility,” noting that “the president’s own supporters” see a “Clintonesque distinction” in Bush’s evolving statements about what will or won’t happen to those involved. There’s also Bush’s response to Hurricane Katrina and “the belated and reluctant nature of his mea culpa [which] did not go over well with Americans who like their leaders to be buck-stops-here accountable.” Witness, Fournier wrote, Bush’s sagging poll numbers.

And what accounted for Sammon’s sunny outlook in the Washington Times? Sammon credited Bush with “holding on to his top political strategist and ending a conservative rebellion over the Supreme Court,” thereby neatly dispensing with PlameGate and the Miers withdrawal in one fell swoop. Sharing Sammon’s optimism is Rush Limbaugh, whom Sammon quoted cheerleading on his radio show, among other things, the GOP’s strength and Bush’s nomination of Alito. And, Sammon reported, “White House aides noted with satisfaction that Mr. Limbaugh’s analysis was echoed by some members of the mainstream press.” Such as? Sammon quoted ABC’s The Note calling the right “unified” and declaring it “only a matter of time before Alito joins the High Court.” It is the “hope” of “White House officials,” Sammon was also happy to report, that “conservative enthusiasm for Judge Alito will reverse the president’s slide in public approval surveys.” (How’s that for optimism?)

In Fournier’s piece, Republican anonymice explained that “the president can find his way back into people’s hearts” with some “extreme measures” — “shake up his staff, unveil fresh policies, travel the country and be more accountable for his mistakes” — all of which, Fournier reported, “are being discussed at the highest levels of the GOP.”

Not in Sammon’s story, where an unnamed Republican source insisted there will be no “display of ‘hand wringing’ by the president” and, Sammon reported, it’s only Democrats “demand[ing] a major staff shake-up at the White House,” “call[ing] on Mr. Bush to reflect upon the error of his ways,” and “maintain[ing] the president still has plenty of problems.” In his lede, Sammon quoted an anonymouse saying that “everybody was shrieking about how terrible the president was doing and yet already, through the clouds, you begin to see the remedy take shape.” (Shaped, perhaps, like a Bill Sammon article?)

In sum, depending largely upon which anonymous Republican insiders a reporter turns to (or which reporter anonymous Republican insiders turn to), readers are told that President Bush has effortlessly recovered from a series of miscues (Sammon) or that President Bush has got hold of a tar baby that he can’t shed.

And they wonder why readers find none of this credible.

Liz Cox Barrett

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.