Thudding Mallet Attacks Velvet Hammer

How many times does the president have to deny that Laura Bush is running for office before the AP decides it might not actually be a story?

Breaking news flash from the Associated Press:

Laura Bush has no intention — absolutely none — of running for elected office.

But that didn’t stop the AP, which knows some good political chatter when it sees it, from devoting the better part of a dispatch to the issue this afternoon.

Wrote the AP’s Jennifer Loven, covering the president as he gave a speech on the economy in Sterling, Va., “The Senate may be the place for some former first ladies, but President Bush on Thursday categorically ruled out a run for office by his wife, Laura Bush.” Said the president, in something of a non sequitur: “She’s not interested in running for office. She’s interested in literacy.”

After an audience member asked if Laura would ever run for the Senate from Texas, “Bush responded ‘never’ — twice,” the AP reported. “He also declined the woman’s plea that she at least ask Mrs. Bush if she might be willing.”

The AP duly took down the earlier Bush quote — “She’s not interested in running for office” — when he said it again. The wire service then proceeded to wonder, well, if she might anyway:

“Mrs. Bush’s popularity well exceeds her husband’s, leading some to speculate that she might follow in the footsteps of her predecessor as first lady, now-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., and seek elected office.”

But, again, the president thinks not — so for the fifth time in the story’s first six paragraphs we are told that Laura Bush is not running for office.


Given that the first lady has no personal political ambitions, the AP’s Deb Riechmann sure made her out to be a partisan figure in a story datelined Nigeria last night:

Laura Bush criticized Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday for suggesting that the Republican-controlled House is run like a plantation where dissenting voices are ignored.

“I think it’s ridiculous — it’s a ridiculous comment,” Mrs. Bush told reporters when asked about the remark during a return flight to Washington following her four-day swing through West Africa.

There followed a summary of the partisan squabbling over Clinton’s Monday comment, then the news that Mrs. Bush, whose next trip will likely take her to New Orleans’ schools, “also reacted to a comment by New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin that stirred controversy.” (“This city will be chocolate at the end of the day,” Nagin declared, also on Monday.)

After a long recounting of the Nagin controversy, the AP delivered the promised reaction: “Mrs. Bush joked that she didn’t really think she could speak for God.” (And you expected something else from someone so humble she’s not even running for Senate?)

Then the AP quotes Mrs. Bush saying that Nagin, herself and her husband all want New Orleans’ former residents to return to the city. (Quelle surprise!)

All told, that’s seven paragraphs on political controversies that reporters had asked Mrs. Bush about on a plane ride — followed by six paragraphs on the first lady’s entirely newsworthy visit to Africa, in which she drew attention to the administration’s HIV/AIDS efforts in Nigeria and attended the inauguration of the continent’s first elected woman president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia.

What’s sad about this is that for a better example of substantial reporting on a public figure, one need look no farther than another piece by Riechmann herself from yesterday morning — an informative profile of Laura Bush that explained the much more prominent role she is taking abroad on women’s issues during her husband’s second term. That piece told an interesting story — including the nice detail that “Mrs. Bush often gets her work done with a ‘velvet hammer’” — without resorting to political superficialities or speculation.

Better a velvet hammer than the all-too-repetitive and thudding mallet of the AP.

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Edward B. Colby was a writer at CJR Daily.