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Bush Reading Newspapers
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Matt Yglesias asks the keen political question "Can we say the President is stupid?". He seems to answer the question himself (yes), mostly by pointing to Bush's admission that he doesn't get his news from newspapers:

And it is, I think, a real problem -- a "character issue," if you will -- that the president is unable or unwilling to gain access to sources of information about the world that are independent of his staff and Cheney.

Bill Maher even has a segment of his new show devoted to reading to President Bush things he's missing by not reading the newspaper:

MAHER: Because President Bush proudly has said that he does not read the paper. So every week, I'm going to read him something that I think it would benefit him to know.


Okay, now in yesterday's paper, vultures are dying. Vultures. Because the carcasses they eat are so polluted with the toxicity that we have in our system, vultures are circling themselves.

Man, it's a good thing that Bill Maher's there to catch the important stories that might be falling through the cracks for Bush. Maher's segment could be a cute idea, but he shoots himself in the comedic foot by picking obscure environmental stories. Do we really want the President focused on vulture toxicity instead of...oh, about 40 billion other issues of more importance?

But basically I take exception to all the bullshit about how, because Bush has said that he doesn't get his news from newspapers, that he's somehow shielded from reality.

Here's the segment of the Diane Sawyer interview where Bush talks about this:

DIANE SAWYER: First of all, I just want to ask about reading. Mr. President, you know that there was a great deal of reporting about the fact that you said, first of all, that you let Condoleezza Rice and Andrew Card give you a flavor of what's in the news.


DIANE SAWYER: That you don't read the stories yourself.

PRESIDENT BUSH: Yes. I get my news from people who don't editorialize. They give me the actual news, and it makes it easier to digest, on a daily basis, the facts.

DIANE SAWYER: Is it just harder to read constant criticism or to read

PRESIDENT BUSH: Why even put up with it when you can get the facts elsewhere? I'm a lucky man. I've got, it's not just Condi and Andy, it's all kinds of people in my administration who are charged with different responsibilities, and they come in and say this is what's happening, this isn't what's happening.

And from the earlier Brit Hume interview:

HUME: How do you get your news?

BUSH: I get briefed by Andy Card and Condi in the morning. They come in and tell me. In all due respect, you've got a beautiful face and everything.

I glance at the headlines just to kind of a flavor for what's moving. I rarely read the stories, and get briefed by people who are probably read the news themselves. But like Condoleezza, in her case, the national security adviser is getting her news directly from the participants on the world stage.

HUME: Has that been your practice since day one, or is that a practice that you've...

BUSH: Practice since day one.

HUME: Really?

BUSH: Yes. You know, look, I have great respect for the media. I mean, our society is a good, solid democracy because of a good, solid media. But I also understand that a lot of times there's opinions mixed in with news. And I...

HUME: I won't disagree with that, sir.

BUSH: I appreciate people's opinions, but I'm more interested in news. And the best way to get the news is from objective sources. And the most objective sources I have are people on my staff who tell me what's happening in the world.

Now people who don't like Bush are going to point to these kinds of quotes and, like Bill Maher, assume that Bush is insulated from the real world, and that his advisors simply tell him what they think he wants to hear.

But this seems like a case of Bush just not being able to articulate very well. To me it makes a certain amount of sense, and it would be better if he gave a specific example. If you want to find out how negotiations on a South American trade agreement are going, would you rather read about it in the newspaper or talk to the head of the department leading the negotiations? If you wanted to know how talks with North Korea were panning out, would you read the New York Times or ask Colin Powell?

I know it's not necessarily an either/or, but it's a big country and a busy world, and in the name of efficiency, it probably does make a lot more sense for Bush to get brief on timely events (like the recent Ricin situation in the Senate):

President Bush was briefed on the situation, and the administration established an interagency team to investigate what Frist told colleagues was a chilling crime.

Isn't it better that the President was briefed on the situation, presumably by law enforcement and health officials, rather than off CNN Headline News?

This is the sort of criticism that frankly makes Bush's critics look rather stupid. I'd have more respect for those on the Left that criticize Bush if they stuck to the issues, rather than lame ad hominem attacks.

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