The Bush Charm Offensive

With approval ratings mired in the low 30’s, and support for the war (and most of the rest of his agenda) in collapse, the president has embarked on a new initiative for American renewal. He is wooing the press.

This is a somewhat surprising development from an administration that consistently blames its problems on the press. This White House has never been able to admit a mistake, only that the media fails present a properly glowing image of its achievments.

However, in the past week the president has been inviting reporters to engage in “off-the-record” trysts where he hopes to seduce them into painting more flattering portraits of his adventures. The media, whores that they are, are lapping it up. With few exceptions, they have accepted the invitations and revelled in the attention showered on them.

Most journalists agree that conversations with the president constitute news and should never be off the record. But some of them just can’t help themselves when granted access to the corridors of power. Meetings like this are worrisome because the public doesn’t know what took place. We don’t know if there were promises made or favors agreed to. The risk that reporters can be influenced to color their reporting by the prospect of scoring future exclusives or leaks is too great to ignore. And even if that never takes place, the secrecy surrounding it chews off a chunk of their credibility because we’ll never know what went on.

Putting aside all suspicion and possibility of ethics breaches, there is another very simple reason to decline such meetings: They have no journalistic purpose. If the reporter cannot disclose what was said (and the White House wanted to keep secret the fact the the meetings even took place), then the only benefit to any party is to the president who is free to spin and/or bribe his guests. That alone makes it shameful for anyone in the media to accept such a tainted invitation.


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