Can anyone imagine reporters during World War II asking President Franklin Roosevelt if he'd like to apologize for the number of American dead and wounded, or Harry Truman if he'd like to repent for dropping bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which forced Japan to surrender? Those were different times - when "psycho" meant you were crazy and "babble" meant you didn't make any sense.
Both psycho and babble were on display at President Bush's news conference Tuesday night (April 13). Four times, by my count, reporters tried to get the president to admit he had done something wrong. What they really wanted was a huge headline: "President Admits Fault for 9/11" or, even better (from their perspective), "President Admits Mistakes in Iraq War."
Frustrated by their inability to pry such words from the president, Don Gonyea from National Public Radio tried another tactic. Rather than asking a question, Gonyea made an accusation. He charged Bush with being a failure as a communicator because he uses the "same phrases" a lot and his speeches "don't vary from one to the next" and maybe that's a major reason "for your falling support." Reporters' questions don't vary a lot, either. If you didn't know the guy was from NPR, you might have guessed from the tone and ideology behind his question that he works for Al-Jazeera or the John Kerry campaign.
The question may have produced the best and most persuasive response of the evening. The president said he doesn't make decisions based on polls and that he hopes "I have communicated my convictions." He added that people should know by now that "when I say something, I mean it."
Why should this president apologize for toppling a murderous dictator responsible for the deaths of perhaps more than 1 million people and the rape and torture of unknown thousands of others? Why should Bush admit mistakes when he didn't start the war? That dubious honor goes to the likes of Saddam Hussein, Yasser Arafat, Osama bin Laden and terror-spawning groups named Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Why should Bush take responsibility for an intelligence apparatus that was dysfunctional when he inherited it less than seven months earlier and, by law, was designed to continue misfunctioning until disaster struck?
An apology isn't necessary because Americans are not the ones blowing themselves up and trying to take others with them. Americans don't seek territorial gains. Americans are not depriving others of humanity's most basic right - freedom. If any apologies are due, they should come from the warmongering religious fascists who fear freedom and pervert the name of God. If a mistake has been made, it is by the insurgents and terrorists who believe that the United States learned nothing from Vietnam and Mogadishu. The Bush administration knows we can't afford a replay of those conflicts.
From the comfort of the East Room and the security of their mostly high salaries and many privileges, these pampered and in many cases egotistical reporters throw around words like "quagmire" and wonder if the president accepts any "personal responsibility" for 9/11. Bush declined to enter their trap.
No wonder this president doesn't like prime-time news conferences. They are not used by reporters to transmit information to the public. Rather, they serve as fronts for the Kerry campaign (most journalists vote for Democrats in case you didn't know), and they are used as a platform for reporters to preen and pretend they are doing the people's business.
Reporters haven't asked Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry to apologize or admit error for any of his votes in the Senate. I guess he doesn't have to because on this war, as well as so many other issues, he voted on both sides, so he can claim he was right at least once.
The presidential news conference is necessary so the public can see and hear George Bush, unfiltered by some of these same sound-bite journalists who care more about how they look than about what the president says. But it is frustrating - to the public as well as the president - that in serious times too many in the media continue to play "gotcha" games.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
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