And the winner is…
Here at The Gadflyer, we have what we call the Nathan Thurm Award, based on the classic Martin Short sleazy lawyer character on Saturday Night Live who denies everything including his denials.
Now I think it may be time to initiate an Elisabeth Bumiller Award for Chihuahua Journalism, given to the lapdog reporter who nips at the ankles rather than lunges for the heart of a story.
The only problem is finding someone who can out-duel Bumiller herself for the honor.
You may recall the New York Times White House reporter’s infamous explanation for why the press corps had laid down for Bush during his pre-war press conference:
I think we were very deferential because…it’s live, it’s very intense, it’s frightening to stand up there. Think about it, you’re standing up on prime-time live TV asking the president of the United States a question when the country’s about to go to war. There was a very serious, somber tone that evening, and no one wanted to get into an argument with the president at this very serious time.
Because after all, who needs a vigorous, independent press in a crisis? I mean, it’s not like Bush was misleading us about the cause for war or his plans for maintaining the peace afterward, right?
Then we have Bumiller’s imitation of Brenda Starr during a Democratic primary debate in New York, when she grilled John Kerry with the twin queries, “Are you a liberal?” and “Really quick, is God on America’s side?”
But Bumiller may have outdone herself recently in the Times‘ Week in Review section. Under the headline, “The Ventriloquist Jokes Don’t Bug the White House,” she explained that despite all the ribbing about Cheney being the de facto president, Bush is really in charge at the White House.
Now, on one level, we could give the award to Bob Woodward in a tie for supplying the source material for Bumiller’s piece. After all, Plan of Attack is so intent on making Bush look like the engaged, forceful leader he likes to pretend he is that the White House itself promoted it on their website.
But several things break the tie in Bumiller’s favor. One, of course, is her chutzpah in pilfering Woodward’s Rushmorization of Bush (though to be fair Woodward’s latest book is more critical than the love letter that was Bush at War). One is tempted to Google the story to see if a now-purged online version included a quote from Deep Throat.
Then there is the fact that she bases the story on quotes from such objective observers as White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett, Republican 9/11 commissioner John Lehman, Ronald Reagan “image czar” Michael Deaver, and unnamed White House sources.
And let’s not forget the “evidence” Bumiller marshals to her thesis: Bush overruling Cheney to go to the UN to “seek international approval for a war on Iraq,” by which of course she meant “pretend” to seek that approval; overruling Vice President Strangelove’s desire to inoculate all Americans against smallpox, because after all it’s worth playing Russian Roulette with millions of American’s lives to guard against all that smallpox Saddam Hussein gave Osama Bin Laden in Prague; and Cheney calling Bush “the Man” when Bush is out of the room, because let’s face it, no one does irony better than the veep.
Oh yeah, and there’s the fact that those unnamed White House sources tell Bumiller that Bush was “engaged in the fighting in Falluja,” which is sort of like saying Bush was engaged in the fighting in Vietnam (on the other hand, it does help explain why things went to hell there.)
Leave all that aside, though. What seals the award for the tenacious Timeswoman is, well, her timing.
A mere 72 hours after she assured us Bush really is the take-charge CEO his admirers like to claim he is, CBS broke the story of the abuse at Abu Ghraib prison.
Thanks to Bumiller (with an honorable mention to Woodward and the White House flaks that decided to pump his portrayal of a thoroughly hands-on president), we are all able to appreciate the cynical wit of President Bush’s defense of his stewardship during these atrocities: He was out of the loop.
That’s right: President Trump is integrally involved in every aspect of the war in Iraq, from surrendering Falluja to insurgents who burned and mutilated American civilians, to planning for elections that he won’t commit enough troops to make possible.
But somehow Bush missed the meetings where people like Colin Powell and Rumsfeld himself discussed the months-long investigation into abuses that Bush now says he’s shocked and appalled to discover.
Say this about Bush, he knows when to leave a room.
So, for helping the administration box itself into a paradox of its own making, thank you Ms. Bumiller. You maintain your crown for another news cycle.