Kiss n’ Tell

After the president announced his selections of Condoleezza Rice and Margaret Spellings for new cabinet positions last week, the press coverage centered on the political implications of their appointments in the next administration.

Much of the media buzz, however, focused on the kissing habits of President Bush.

USA Today ran a piece Thursday that opened with the titillating query, “Is there too much kissing going on the White House?”

Maria Puente gave us the juicy details: G.W. kissed Condi on the cheek twice, but “went even further with Margaret Spellings, whom he smacked on the lips.” Went even further? What’s he shooting for next, second base? Should outgoing Agricultural Secretary Ann Veneman be worried?

“Moreover, it could be argued that it was Spellings who initiated the kiss, after giving him a pat on the back,” Puente wrote.

Of course, she was totally asking for it.

In a futile attempt to substantiate the gossip, Puente invited two experts to weigh in on the issue. Amy Oppenheimer, a business consultant on workplace sexual harassment, warned that powerful men kissing their subordinates is “risky business.” Jacqueline Whitmore, head of the Protocol School of Palm Beach, also clucked her tongue with disapproval: “Kissing on the lips would not be appropriate.”

If this one article wasn’t enough, Puente compiled a series of comments from her readers and published a follow-up piece, “Sounding off about Bush’s smooching.” With reactions ranging from approval to outrage to quips about former president Bill Clinton, we tend to agree with Paula from Indiana: “I don’t care if Bush wants to give someone a friendly peck. Let’s move on to the real issues.”

The Washington Post ran its own version of the kiss-and-tell on Friday, “President Bush’s Kissing Cabinet” (also picked up by MSNBC). Unlike USA Today, fashion writer Robin Givhan took a more light-hearted look at the president’s pecking peccadilloes. Without the heavy-handed talk of sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior, Givhan framed the story within the broader custom of “bussing”, or casual kissing.

Nonetheless, any attention paid to the issue seems trivial. The blogger Obsidian Order summed up this sentiment nicely:

Thank you Washington Post for using 750 words for what I can say in nine: George Bush kisses women. He does not kiss men.

Chris Bodenner

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Chris Bodenner is a CJR intern.