Post Politics Hour: The President and the Press
Washington Post White House reporter Peter Baker answered questions from readers during Wednesday's Post Politics Hour. Selected questions from the chat and a link to the full transcript are included below:
Dover, Del.: President Bush was on his game at the press conference. He was emotional, sincere, and touched me when he said that if he didn't believe we could win he'd bring the boys home. I'm a believer! I have always backed him, but may have started to wander onto the fringes of questioning our strategy. No more. I'm with him, this country and our troops.
Peter Baker: Lots of reaction today to President Bush's news conference yesterday. As usual, it was dominated by Iraq. If you had a chance to watch, send in your reaction and I'll post a few.
Brunswick, Ga.: Now that President Bush had stated that the next President will have to decide when to bring the troops home from Iraq, won't that question become a defining issue in the presidential primaries for every candidate in both parties? My personal feeling is this is Bush's war and he needs to get it over before he leaves office.
Peter Baker: Another view from the news conference. The biggest news probably was the president's statement that the question of when all U.S. troops would be out of Iraq "will be decided by future presidents and future governments of Iraq." That's probably not really a surprise, in that most people in Washington have expected that at least some U.S. troops would remain there for many years (look how long we've stayed in Germany and Japan after World War II, or even Saudi Arabia after the first Gulf War). But it was still striking to hear the president articulate it that way, making clear he does not view this as ending completely in the next three years.
Tallahassee, Fla.: President Bush yesterday said that the decision to remove U.S. troops from Iraq may very well be up to future administrations or Iraqi governments. If pressure from the American public to withdrawal U.S. forces increases what avenues would Congress have to bring the troops home? Is the only route to simply cut off funding?
Peter Baker: In theory I imagine they could cut off funding, but as a practical and political matter, it's hard to see a Congress inserting itself that deeply into war decision making. True, the Constitution left it to Congress to declare war, but that hasn't really happened since World War II and in the modern era Congress has been extremely reluctant to try to force a president's hand in such a matter legislatively.
New York, N.Y.: In The Post piece this morning on funds going to Bush allies, the term conservative appears 14 times while the term liberal appears only twice. Yet groups such as Planned Parenthood is merely an "abortion rights group," and when complaints surface in the story from the Sexuality Education and Information Council of the United States (SIECUS), they are not liberal, merely "one of the most outspoken critics of abstinence-only sex education programs."
If the press is going to engage in labeling such groups (which I think they should), shouldn't it be even across the board? This happens every day in the Post, NY Times and the rest of the MSM.
Peter Baker: Hi, thanks for the question. You touch on a sensitive and tough issue for newspapers -- when do we label a person or an organization by political views? Some say we should never do it, but I think that can be a disservice to the reader. I agree that if we identify conservative groups as conservative, we ought to identify liberal groups as liberal. In some cases, though, that's not as easy as it sounds. I've found that many conservatives have no problem identifying themselves that way, but some liberals don't like the term or see themselves that way, others even prefer the term "progressive." So can we identify someone as believing an ideology that they don't say they believe in? The best solution is to say a group advocates a particular issue, rather than just say conservative or liberal. For instance, we can say "the NRA, a group that promotes gun rights," or "Handgun Control, a group that promotes gun restrictions." It's more precise anyway. As for Tom Edsall's smart story this morning, it probably uses the word conservative more than liberal because it's about conservative groups getting these grants. I don't think counting necessarily tells us anything in a story that's predominantly about groups on one side of the political spectrum.
Washington, D.C.: How are Bush's approval ratings impacting congressional races and campaigns at this point?
Peter Baker: Hard to say. Some Republicans clearly are trying to distance themselves from the president. Not a single member of the Ohio Republican congressional delegation showed up when the president went to Cleveland this week. (They pleaded scheduling conflicts.) At the same time, polls show that congressional Democrats aren't doing any better than Bush in approval ratings. So at the moment it all still looks up for grabs to me.
Bedford, Mass.: It strikes me that Bush is waging a new campaign: the war on journalists. To be sure, some of the fake folksiness is intended to humanize him, but in the last two press conferences Bush has taken repeated digs at reporters--questioning their professionalism, fairness and seriousness. Do all Presidents do this? Does the press corp share the perception that the White House is trying to damage the credibility of journalists?
Peter Baker: All politicians take shots at the press, particularly those who are in political trouble. But I haven't taken any digs by the president at news conferences as especially hostile or anything. In fact, compared to most, Bush isn't particularly thin-skinned about reporters and doesn't seem to take what we write personally. As a journalist, I'm much more worried about attempts by the government to hunt down sources and hide information.
Read the full transcript of Wednesday's Politics Hour discussion.
Thursday at 11 a.m. ET: Washington Post White House reporter Michael Fletcher hosts the Post Politics Hour. Submit a question or comment here.
March 22, 2006; 2:32 PM ET
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