How The “Wistful” “Final Q&A” Was Covered

A quick comparison of some of the coverage of yesterday’s presidential press conference. The Washington Post and LA Times saw things much the same way (emphasis mine):

The Post’s lead:

A wistful and introspective President Bush devoted a valedictory news conference yesterday to a robust defense of his “good, strong record,” going further than he has gone before in conceding errors — but making it clear that he has few major regrets about his handling of Iraq, Hurricane Katrina and the other major events of his eight years in office.

The LA Times (note the emphasis, right up top, on the legacy-building aspect):

By offering a wistful and introspective closing argument to the American people who elected him twice but then lost confidence in him, retiring President George W. Bush is attempting to write the first draft of his own history.

First came a sober public confession of mistakes and disappointments in his final news conference Monday — a remarkably personal moment for a president never prone to self-examination or questioning under the klieg lights. He also offered a robust defense of his administration, including its response to Hurricane Katrina, and a defiant insistence that he waged a necessary war in Iraq and should not be judged too quickly for it.

The AP also saw “wistful” (and emphasized the legacy-building at play):

With rare public emotion, George W. Bush sat in judgment on his controversial, consequential presidency on Monday, lamenting mistakes but claiming few as his own, heatedly defending his record on disasters in Iraq and at home and offering kindly advice to a successor who won largely because the nation ached for something new.

By turns wistful, aggressive and joking in his final news conference, Bush covered a huge range of topics in summing up his eight years in the White House - the latest in a recent string of efforts to have his say before historians have theirs.

The WSJ employed noticeably fewer adjectives in its lead (I’ve added [ ] where adjectives might have been used/where other news accounts used them):

[ ] President George W. Bush called a surprise farewell news conference Monday to give an [ ] accounting of his [ ] time in office, making new concessions to his critics while offering sometimes-emotional defenses of his [ ] handling of Iraq, Hurricane Katrina and the war against terrorism.

And, the NYT:

President Bush held what he called “the ultimate exit interview” on Monday, using the final news conference of his presidency to dispute the idea that the nation’s “moral standing has been damaged” by his actions and to warn President-elect Barack Obama that, despite the turbulence in the economy, his most urgent priority must be fighting “an enemy that would like to attack America and Americans again.”

Looking back over the long arc of his turbulent presidency, Mr. Bush was by turns impassioned and defiant, reflective and light-hearted, even as he conceded that some things “didn’t go according to plan.” He confessed a litany of mistakes, refused to talk about pardons, cautioned the Republican Party to be inclusive and wondered aloud what it would feel like to make coffee for his wife, Laura, at their ranch in Crawford, Tex., on the morning after Mr. Obama takes his place.

A gripe: each of the above accounts mentions Katrina in the lead (by name or obvious reference) and devotes multiple paragraphs to Bush’s responses to Katrina-related questions — which, to me, represented some of the more telling/frustrating/memorable moments of yesterday’s press conference (“Don’t tell me the federal response was slow…,” etc.) — while “Katrina” first appears in the Times’s account toward the very end of the piece and is handled in just two sentences.

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.