WASHINGTON -- President Bush recently gave an hour-long exclusive interview to Fox TV anchor Brit Hume, who tossed him a series of softball questions.
Among them, Bush was asked how he gets his news. Answer: He relies on briefings by chief of staff Andrew Card and national security affairs adviser Condoleezza Rice.
He walks into the Oval Office in the morning, Bush said, and asks Card: "What's in the newspapers worth worrying about? I glance at the headlines just to kind of (get) a flavor of what's moving," Bush said. "I rarely read the stories," he said.
Instead, the president continued, he gets "briefed by people who have probably read the news themselves." Rice, on the other hand, is getting the news "directly from the participants on the world stage."
Bush said this had long been his practice.
"I have great respect for the media," he said. "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."
To which Hume told Bush: "I won't disagree with that, sir."
Bush continued: "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."
What struck me and a lot of other folks about the interview was Bush's revelation that he does not read newspapers.
Anyone who wants to stay in touch with national, international and local events looks forward to reading the newspaper every day. The variety and breadth of newspaper stories make Americans the best-informed people in the world.
If the president doesn't read newspapers but relies only on his aides, then I wonder if they told him about Kimberly Requell Mari Brice, the Landover, Md., 5-year-old first grader who was fatally shot by her 4-year old brother. Her teacher said Kimberly "always gave me the biggest and best hugs." The story was in The Washington Post on Oct. 9.
It was a tragic story that made a compelling case for gun control, something that Bush is totally opposed to.
Busy as he is, Bush would be better acquainted with the daily lives of Americans if he read his daily newspapers.
I don't know of many brave White House staffers willing to risk the president's anger by dishing him the bad news.
Instead, Bush is spoon-fed the relevant news from his staff. Top aides usually know the buttons not to push when it comes to bad news. More often they will tell the president what he wants to hear -- the good news if there is any. Or they may just sugar coat the news that is tougher to swallow.
It's too bad that Bush's reading habits take him out of the information link that connects us and provides the glue that holds our society together.
President Kennedy quipped that after he got into the White House he found himself "reading more and enjoying it less."
An annoyed Kennedy cancelled his subscription to the now-defunct New York Herald Tribune because he felt the newspaper -- owned by John Hay Whitney, a wealthy Republican -- played up allegations of impropriety in his administration and toned down allegations of impropriety in the previous Republican Eisenhower era.
But Kennedy was aghast when the flap hit the headlines and regretted the cancellation. His staff later brought him bootleg copies daily.
All presidents rail against the press. It goes with the turf.
Thomas Jefferson, relentless in his defense of the First Amendment, was fed up with the attacks on his leadership when he served as the nation's third president.
But Jefferson is remembered for saying he "would rather have newspapers without government than government without newspapers."
Bush is missing a lot by getting the news filtered by his staff. If he read a newspaper every day he would be sharing an experience with most Americans. Otherwise, he's just out of the loop.
Helen Thomas is a columnist for Hearst Newspapers.
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