Meanwhile, some callers to my radio show sharply questioned the propriety of the White House meeting -- suggesting that it represented some illegitimate effort to mani[ulate the press. In less than a year, I've received three Presidential invitations and flown to Washington each time for the chance to see Mr. Bush. Can I claim to maintain my objectivity when the chief executive himself has worked to build this sort of comfortable and friendly relationship?
And when, precisely, did I ever claim objectivity?
I have never aspired to the role of neutral observer when it comes to political issues or personalities. I'm a commentator, a controversialist, not a reporter who feigns Olympian detachment.
There is nothing unique, by the way, in President Bush cultivating and privileging journalists (in this case talk show hosts) who tend to support him.
As long ago as the Kennedy administration, JFK extended all sorts of privileges and opportunities to his two favorite columnists-- the Alsop brothers, Stuart and Joe. They regularly received White House scoops, background briefings, unparalleled access to the President. Did this amount to some sort of un-American manipulation? Of course not. Everyone knew that the Alsops amounted to semi-official administration spokespeople and defenders.
These relationships don't pose a problem because they're not the President's only connection with the press. Like President Kennedy, President Bush holds regular press conferences where he fields questions from all comers (even David Gregory and-- groan-- Helen Thomas, who's called him the worst President in history).
It's no more surprising or inappropriate that Mr. Bush would limit his special White House invtiations to ideological soul mates, than it is that top Democrats would grant regular interviews to "Air America" but refuse all invitations to answer questions on the Michael Medved Show (or any other conservative program).
Since the purpose of this morning's meeting involved the President's desire to put out a clear, strong message about the War on Terror, it makes all the sense in the world that he would count on broadcasters who support the message he means to send.
As it happens, I'm proud -- not embarrassed in any way -- to try (in any small way) to help our embatttled chief executive in this essential endeavor, which will help to determine the sort of security and prosperity that we pass on to our children.
Listeners to my radio show today know by now that I met with the President of the United States in the Oval Office this morning, together with nine of my colleagues from conservative talk radio. Though specific quotations from Mr. Bush remain "off the record," I can officially reveal that he seemed energized, optimistic, focused, articulate, comfortable and totally in command. Anyone who doubts that this chief executive enjoys the Presidency and its demands has never seen him in the White House. As the President unequivocally declared (and as I think I'm permitted to quote): "I like the atmosphere in the Oval Office."