Newsweek: Bush "Callous" and "Clintonian"; Time: Bush "Wobbly";
US News: Bush "Stumbles"
1. Newsweek: Clintonian answers dog Bush in his "first real clash with the media." Stuart Taylor Jr. argued the Bush's possible drug use is relevant because he has joined in the "orgy of punishment with enthusiasm" for drug users.
2. Time: Bush campaign is "pretty wobbly" in face of criticism and accusations of drug use. Nancy Gibbs contended: "His nondenial was not as bad as Clinton's infamous 'I never broke the laws of my country,' but it was sung in the same key." Gibbs, however, also scolded reporters.
3. US News & World Report relayed how Bush's aides believe he "succeeded in arguing his case: that whatever skeletons remain in his closet were put there a generation ago and the public will forgive and forget."
The covers of the August 30 editions of the three news weeklies reflected a relatively slow news week. "Bill Gates Just Wants to Have Fun" made the cover of Newsweek. Time led with "Elder Care" and U.S. News & World Report featured its annual look at America’s best colleges.
Howard Fineman focused on the George W. Bush drug controversy in "The Man To Beat," in which Fineman likened the GOP frontrunner to Bill Clinton: "When a Dallas-based reporter approached Bush at a school in New Orleans with a clever question about rumors of past drug use, the governor of Texas was on his own -- and therefore in peril. He proceeded to do the one thing his aides advise him not to do: depart from the script. The result was his first real clash with the media, accusations of Clintonian evasiveness and hypocrisy, and fresh doubts about Bush's ability to master the role of front runner in the Republican race."
Fineman continued: "By winning the Iowa straw poll, ‘W’ confirmed his standing as the man to beat -- and beat up. Last week the pummeling began in earnest. In a recent interview, he mocked the plight of one death-row inmate in Texas, and critics pounced on him for seeming callous and political. Democratic opponents attacked his role as the boss of Texas regulators. In a lawsuit, one of them claimed she had been fired for aggressively investigating a funeral-home company headed by a Bush supporter. The governor denied he'd had a ‘conversation’ about the company's situation, but last week lawyers for the woman accused him of lying under oath. Bush admits he asked a casual question about the matter; his attorneys say that doesn't amount to a ‘conversation.’ Texas Democrats were chortling. ‘The hairsplitting sounds like a certain president we all know, doesn't it?’ said one."
Fineman acknowledged, "Questions are focusing on whether he ever used cocaine even though no news organization or opponent has unearthed evidence that he did. Drugs are of interest because the governor has been so forthcoming on other private matters."
Fineman showed how Gary Bauer pressed Bush to acknowledge if he had ever committed a felony and aired the complaints of others who believed "His salami-slicing was all too reminiscent of the man he's trying to replace." Fineman concluded: "The most common comment in opposing camps had less to do with Bush's new position than how he got there. ‘He looks like he's not ready for prime time,’ said a rival campaign manager. That may be wishful thinking, but it's the kind that keeps your enemies in the race."
In "Why the Story Matters," noted legal writer Stuart Taylor Jr. explained why possible drug use by Bush was relevant: "The most important cocaine question for George W. Bush is this: would you seek long prison terms for today's 18-year-olds for doing what you say you may or may not have done as a young man -- and when you now suggest that whatever you did was a mere youthful indiscretion, and thus irrelevant to your candidacy?"
Taylor cited Bush’s record as Texas Governor as the basis for the pertinence of Bush’s alleged drug history: "As governor of Texas, Bush -- like most other politicians in both parties -- has joined in this orgy of punishment with enthusiasm, signing laws that toughen penalties for drug users as well as pushers, and that send juveniles as young as 14 to prison for especially serious crimes, including some drug crimes." Taylor justified the media’s obsession with the rumor mongering: "There is strong journalistic justification for confronting any drug use in Bush's past. That would foster debate on a vital issue of national policy: should Congress and the next president (as well as the states) revise the draconian drug-sentencing regime that has packed prisons with nonviolent, small-time drug offenders -- mostly poor and nonwhite -- and helped send the number of Americans behind bars soaring above 1.8 million?"
Taylor closed: "Any Bush admission that he used cocaine when he was (say) 25 years old -- if he did -- should force him, his supporters and the rest of us to do some hard thinking about whether today's 25-year-olds (and 18-year-olds) should go to prison for doing the same thing."
In a "Special Nose for News Edition" of the Conventional Wisdom Watch, Newsweek savored the rumors circulating around George W: "While thousands die in Turkey, the CW obsesses over unproven rumors of G. W. Bush's long-ago taste for nose candy. Trivial--unless you're in jail in Texas for the same thing."
Bush received a down arrow: "Furious George snorts at press--and offers Clintonian snow jobs. Fess up." Elizabeth Dole warranted a sideways arrow: "No traction yet for her or other GOP also-runs. But if W keeps stepping in it..." Finally, the media gave itself an up arrow: "Old: Cut out that gotcha game. New: Gotcha game is test of presidential timber."
A busy week for Newsweek’s Fineman as he also wrote a short piece on the possible candidacy of Warren Beatty. "Displaying 'the Gift of Fame'" looked at how Beatty views a run for the White House: "At first it seemed laughable: an actor who played Dick Tracy now posing as the James Madison of Mulholland Drive. But Beatty is a serious man, a lifelong liberal and campaign kibitzer. He knows that fame is the iron ore of the age of celebrity. Once you had to win a war -- say the Civil War or World War II -- to be famous in a politically potent way. Jesse Ventura proved that you just have to be famous." Beatty’s despair at what he views as the marginalization of liberalism within the Democratic Party fuels his campaign: "If Beatty does run, friends say, he might do so in stages: first entering the Democratic race, then switching to the Reform Party. Beatty thinks neither Al Gore nor Bill Bradley speaks to the Democrats' liberal wing, but early polls give him little room. ‘The left is pretty comfortable’ with the present candidates, says a top Democratic strategist in California. The Reform Party may be a better target."
Daniel Klaidman pursued developments in the Los Alamos spy case in "The Nuclear Spy Case Suffers a Meltdown": "Warren Rudman had finally heard enough. Earlier this year, President Clinton asked the former Republican senator to review how the administration handled the case of Wen Ho Lee, the Los Alamos scientist suspected of leaking nuclear secrets to China. Rudman quickly concluded that the case against Lee was precariously thin. The FBI has turned up scant evidence that the Taiwanese-born physicist gave nuclear-weapons designs to Beijing. Instead, agents are now focusing on Lee's admission that he transferred nuclear codes onto his unsecure office computer. In a report highly critical of the investigation, Rudman questioned why agents had zeroed in on Lee while ignoring dozens of other possible
The week’s political coverage centered around Bush and the cocaine question in Nancy Gibbs’ "I've Made Mistakes..." Gibbs wrote of Bush’s week and some poll numbers: As Governor of Texas, George W. Bush has been adamant on the subject of drugs: Stay away from them; expect to go to jail if you're caught with them; and don't ask me whether I ever used them. While every other Republican candidate denied ever taking illegal drugs, Bush continued to hold to his line: ‘I've made mistakes in the past, and I've learned from my mistakes.’ Period. It was time, he said, for someone to put an end to the politics of personal destruction, and in the context of the past year, when America completed its excruciating graduate seminar in truth, character and privacy, he had history and public sentiment on his side. In a TIME/CNN poll last week, 84% of those surveyed didn't think youthful cocaine use should disqualify him from being President."
Gibbs portrayed the Bush campaign as not ready for prime time: "Even people who thought reporters had no business asking the questions were surprised by how Bush was answering them. By the end of the week, Bush allies wondered why he was giving so much oxygen to a story he needs to smother. It's not that they're suddenly worried he could lose; they just started wondering whether he'll be ready if he wins. It was the first big public test of Bush's instincts and of his staff, and the results were pretty wobbly."
Gibbs also likened Bush to Clinton: "Last week it wasn't just Bush's gleeful rivals who were saying he should confess any relevant sins. Well-meaning allies were telling the Governor the same thing and warning that the alternative was worse, damaging Bush's principal claim to the White House -- the fact that he's not Bill Clinton...Bush presents himself as a straight-talking Texan who does not mince words or parse meanings, does not run late or overeat or flirt with women not his wife. His biggest applause line is his vow to restore dignity and honor to the office. And so it was positively painful for friends to watch the Governor admitting that he made mistakes when he was younger but that ‘I don't want to send a signal to children that whatever I may have done is O.K.’ His nondenial was not as bad as Clinton's infamous ‘I never broke the laws of my country,’ but it was sung in the same key."
Alas, for Bush, there was a silver lining as Gibbs noted: "Happily for Bush, the only folks in an equally squirmy position were the reporters raising the questions. There was still not a shred of evidence of drug use. A lot of reporters wouldn't much like to answer these questions themselves. Voters have made it clear they don't care. In June, 60% of voters said they thought candidates should answer questions about cocaine use, but after last week's ruckus, less than half thought so. And when Bush argues that his answers are part of a principled fight to clean up the process, he is appealing to a palpable national longing."
Kenneth Walsh criticized Bush’s handling of the drug question in his piece "George W. Stumbles on the Drug Issue." Walsh began: "This time, it was Texas Gov. George W. Bush's turn to squint uncomfortably into the cameras, force a smile, and try to quell a growing media feeding frenzy. The subject: the long-standing rumor that he had used cocaine, a charge he repeatedly insisted he would never discuss because it would only encourage the ‘politics of personal destruction.’ Walsh ended: "Some of his allies say addressing the drug question was a mistake because it gave the rumors new life. His critics say he comes off as a hypocrite, akin to President Clinton when he claimed he smoked marijuana but didn't inhale. But his closest advisers say that while he may have been briefly thrown off balance, Bush succeeded in arguing his case: that whatever skeletons remain in his closet were put there a generation ago–and the public will forgive and forget."
Walsh also examined the education issue in next year’s presidential race: "Gore is promoting a lengthy list of reforms, including block grants for the states to provide universal access to preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds. (Gore says he will come up with a cost estimate later.) He is also promoting the Clinton administration's initiative to reduce class size by helping schools hire 100,000 new teachers, as well as a proposal to encourage, but not force, states to require all teachers to pass performance evaluations to retain their teaching credentials." When it comes to this issue, "Bush understands that voters won't accept a presidential candidate who treats education as someone else's problem, as congressional Republicans have seemed to do in recent years."
After an early honeymoon with the Texas Governor, the liberal media are now holding him to a tougher standard than they ever held Bill Clinton. With no evidence and no eyewitness accounts, the mainstream press have once again illustrated their hypocrisy (see Juanita Broaddrick) and collective agenda in airing unsubstantiated charges against George W. Bush.
-- Mark H. Drake
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