Reporters, Bored, Manufacture Marital Discord

If you believe what you read in the news, Laura Bush on Tuesday made an urgent, public plea to her husband to nominate a woman to the Supreme Court. When reporters informed President Bush about his wife’s strident appeal, the president was visibly shaken.

Take, for one, Deborah Orin’s version of events in today’s New York Post under the headline, “Laura’s Court Appeal: “[Mrs. Bush] urged [the president] to pick another woman to replace Sandra Day O’Connor.” And President Bush “was caught off-guard when reporters told him that his wife was publicly lobbying for a woman.” (Italics ours.)

Michael Hedges and Jessica Holzer of the Houston Chronicle breathlessly described the matter as “an unusual turn” in the “Supreme Court sweepstakes.” Further, the duo reports, “President Bush seemed bewildered when reporters asked him about his wife’s remarks.”

The headline on Kathy Kiely’s USA Today piece reads: “Bush Gets Court Advice, Some Unexpected.” Reports Kiely: “President Bush got an earful Tuesday about his search for someone to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor — first from Senate leaders and then, long-distance, from his wife.” And then there’s the info-box (titled “Presidential he-said, she-said”) that accompanies Kiely’s story and helpfully informs readers that “most couples’ communication issues aren’t about whom to name to the Supreme Court” — stunned, we’re stunned, I tell you — followed by quotes from President and Mrs. Bush.

Lest you think Laura Bush took time yesterday while traveling in Africa to hold a press conference at which she insisted, under threat of divorce, that her husband name a woman to replace O’Connor, here is what really happened:

At one point during an interview yesterday with the First Lady, NBC’s Ann Curry asked Mrs. Bush, “Let me shift to a topic that a lot of Americans care a lot about. That is what will happen in the wake of Sandra Day O’Connor retiring. Do you want your husband to name another woman?” Mrs. Bush smiled and replied, “Sure. I would really like for him to name another woman, but — and I admire and respect Sandra Day O’Connor so much. She’s been a friend that I’ve loved seeing whenever I’ve had the chance when — when I’m in Washington. But I know that my husband will pick somebody who has — has a lot of integrity and strength and whether it’s a woman or a man, of course, I have no idea. But — but I’m proud that Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman on the Supreme Court.”

That’s the “unusual turn” in the SupremeStakes. That’s the extent of Laura Bush’s “public lobbying.” When a reporter asked her if she’d like to see another woman nominated she answered, “sure” (a word not included in the aforementioned press reports), followed by assurances that her husband will select someone with “integrity and strength” regardless of gender.

Reporters are always hoping their interviews will “make news” — that is, that their fellow reporters will report on their original report. Score one for Curry; she sent a lot of ostensible journalists chasing after, and magnifying a whiff of smoke.

Makes us wonder how much media exposure Curry’s interview would have received had Mrs. Bush inexplicably answered no, she could care less if — and in fact would not want — another woman named to the court.

Liz Cox Barrett

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.