Let Them Eat Polenta

Pity the reporter covering an administration notoriously stingy with information which has just nominated to the Supreme Court a woman whose legal philosophy is a tabula rasa.

It seems someone in the White House did take pity — and threw the press a bone. Or at least a menu.

And so, while the New York Times’ Elisabeth Bumiller may not have been able to report today “how many candidates Mr. Bush interviewed for the second [Supreme Court] position, or who they were” because, as often happens, “White House officials would not say,” she could and did report — courtesy of unnamed “White House officials” — that “Mr. Bush formally offered Ms. Miers the job on Sunday night over a dinner of fried shrimp and polenta with Laura Bush at the White House.”

We’re trying to imagine that menu entry:

Fried shrimp and polenta with Laura Bush?

Perhaps the Associated Press’ Deb Riechmann knows even more observant White House anonymice, as she was able to report on the dessert course as well. “Over a Sunday dinner of shrimp, polenta and chocolate mousse, Bush offered the nomination to his counsel and loyal member of his inner circle,” Riechmann writes. (Hey Deb, those shrimp were fried.)

Now that’s something the press can chew on. Like the celebrity magazine profile that begins with the movie star picking at an arugula salad sprinkled with pine nuts, the inclusion of these dinner details creates a feeling of eyewitnessery (that’s a word we just made up) and lends any story an air of authenticity, even when little else is known about the proceedings at hand.

Edwin Chen of the Los Angeles Times, too, got the “chocolate mousse” detail but apparently was more impressed with the presence of Laura Bush on the menu. Because Mrs. Bush answered in the affirmative when asked by reporters on two different occasions in recent weeks whether she would like to see another woman nominated to the Supreme Court, Chen elevates the first lady to the status of Harriet Miers’ “influential ally” and notes that “before the dinner of fried shrimp, polenta and chocolate mousse was over, the first lady’s wish [for a female nominee] came true.”

As we chewed on our toasted sesame-seed-poppy-seed-onion-garlic bagel with cream cheese, washed down with coffee (with skim) this morning, we realized that we were still waiting for our wish to come true: that the White House press corps would stop chewing endlessly on any crumb the administration tosses its way and develop a bigger appetite for actual news.

Liz Cox Barrett

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.