Picking Presidential Pockets

Remember back in April when the New York Times’ Elisabeth Bumiller shared with the world the fruits of her investigation into “what, exactly, is on the [president’s] iPod?” (Lest you forgot, the “First iPod,” Bumiller reported, is “heavy on traditional country singers.”)

At first glance, it looked like a reporter from Argentina’s La Nacion newspaper borrowed a page from the Bumiller playbook yesterday, using his rare audience with the president to ask a question obviously on the minds of all Argentines: What does Bush keep in his pockets? (We’re sure the White House press corps is kicking itself for not thinking to ask this question themselves.)

The answer, as the Associated Press’ Nedra Pickler reports today in her story about this particular line of questioning (featured prominently on CNN.com and used as fodder for inane banter this morning on Fox News Channel’s “Fox and Friends” — “I would have thought [the president] had a wallet … Suppose he wants to buy a birthday card for his wife?”) is that while “President Bush may be burdened with the world’s problems … his pockets are pretty light” because “the leader of the free world doesn’t have to worry about carrying all the essentials of the common man.”

Pickler continues: “When the reporter from La Nacion asked Bush to show him what he carries, the president stood up, fished in his pockets, then dramatically pulled his hands out holding nothing but a white handkerchief that he waved playfully in the air.” (What was this reporter hoping the president would produce from his pocket? Long-lost National Guard attendance records? A list of lawyers to give to Scooter Libby? A tattered map showing all of Dick Cheney’s undisclosed locations? A Snickers bar that he was hiding from Laura?)

Fishing around herself for another paragraph or two to pad her story, Pickler informs readers that Bush “doesn’t need any cash, since his staff takes care of buying anything he might need. He carries no cell phone, either, since he is surrounded by aides who take care of dialing his calls. And why would he need keys since every door is held open for him and his car comes with a driver trained by the Secret Service?” Why, indeed.

As it turns out, the La Nacion reporter did ask Bush a series of what appears (as least as far as we, with one year of high school Spanish in our pockets, can determine) to be serious questions about things like the invasion of Iraq and elections in Bolivia, and wrote a long piece about it all. The presidential pocket stuff? That made it into a sidebar to the main La Nacion article.

And so, while La Nacion picked both the president’s pocket and his brain, American audiences — thanks to AP, Fox and CNN —- got just the pocket lint.

Liz Cox Barrett

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.