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Bush Meets A Real Journalist

 

By John Nichols

 

On the eve of his recent sojourn in Europe, President Bush had an unpleasant run-in with a species of creature he had not previously encountered often: a journalist.

 

He did not react well to the experience.

 

Bush's minders usually leave him in the gentle care of the White House press corps, which can be counted on to ask him tough questions about when his summer vacation starts.

 

Apparently under the mistaken assumption that reporters in the rest of the world are as ill-informed and pliable as the stenographers who "cover" the White House, Bush's aides scheduled a sit-down interview with Carole Coleman, Washington correspondent for RTE, the Irish public television network.

 

Coleman is a mainstream European journalist who has conducted interviews with top officials from a number of countries - her January interview with Secretary of State Colin Powell was apparently solid enough to merit posting on the State Department's Web site.

 

Unfortunately, it appears that Coleman failed to receive the memo informing reporters that they are supposed to treat this president with kid gloves. Instead, she confronted him as any serious journalist would a world leader.

 

She asked tough questions about the mounting death toll in Iraq, the failure of U.S. planning, and European opposition to the invasion and occupation. And when the president offered the sort of empty and listless "answers" that satisfy the White House press corps - at one point, he mumbled, "My job is to do my job" - she tried to get him focused by asking precise follow-up questions.

 

The president complained five times during the course of the interview about the pointed nature of Coleman's questions and follow-ups - "Please, please, please, for a minute, OK?" the hapless Bush pleaded at one point, as he demanded his questioner go easy on him.

 

After the interview was done, a Bush aide told the Irish Independent newspaper that the White House was concerned that Coleman had "overstepped the bounds of politeness."

 

As punishment, the White House canceled an exclusive interview that had been arranged for RTE with first lady Laura Bush.

 

Did Coleman step out of line? Of course not. Watch the interview (it's available on the www.rte.ie Web site) and you will see that Coleman was neither impolite nor inappropriate. She was merely treating Bush as European and Canadian journalists do prominent political players. In Western democracies such as Ireland, reporters and politicians understand that it is the job of journalists to hold leaders accountable.

 

The trouble is that accountability is not a concept that resonates with our president. The chief executive who gleefully declares that he does not read newspapers cannot begin to grasp the notion that journalists might have an important role to play in a democracy. And, if anything, the hands-off approach of the White House press corps has reinforced Bush's conceits.

 

Bush would be well served by tougher questioning from American journalists, especially those who work for the television networks. And it goes without saying that more and better journalism would be a healthy corrective for our ailing democracy.

 

Come to think of it, maybe one of the American networks should hire Carole Coleman and make her its White House correspondent. It would be Ireland's loss and America's gain.

 

Copyright , Capital Newspapers. All rights reserved.

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