Either you're with us, or with the terrorists

Published January 26, 2005 8:05PM (EST)

The timidity and ineptitude of the White House press corps serving under the Bush administration continues in earnest. It was on glorious display again during this morning's press conference with the president, where one reporter (we can't tell who from the transcript) essentially set Bush up to tag his fiercest critics on Capitol Hill as weak-willed cowards, and to align them with the terrorists in Iraq. Bush was perfectly obliged, of course, to keep his eye on the softball and swing away.

The fact that Bush usually makes a point of calling on a reporter from a right-wing publication like the Washington Times is one matter, but even the mainstream media can't seem to put any real pressure on the president during these things.

Journalism 101: Don't pile on multiple questions before allowing an answer. (There's something called a follow-up.) Especially if the latter question lets the respondent off the hook of the first, and, uh, might even help further the respondent's partisan agenda.

Here's how one reporter challenged Bush today to answer critics of his Iraq war policies (emphasis is ours):

Q: Mr. President, Senator Ted Kennedy recently repeated his characterization of Iraq as a, quote, "quagmire," and has called it your Vietnam. And the questioning of Alberto Gonzales and Condi Rice in the Senate has been largely used by Democrats to criticize your entire Iraq program, especially what you're trying to do postwar. I wonder if you have any response to those criticisms? And what kind of an effect do you think these statements have on the morale of our troops and of the confidence of the Iraqi people that what you're trying to do over there is going to succeed?

PRESIDENT BUSH: I think the Iraqi people are wondering whether or not this nation has the will necessary to stand with them as a democracy evolves. The enemy would like nothing more than the United States to precipitously pull out and withdraw before the Iraqis are prepared to defend themselves. Their objective is to stop the advance of democracy. Freedom scares them. Zarqawi said something interesting the other day, that -- you know, he -- he was talking about democracy and how terrible democracy is. You know, we -- we believe that people ought to be allowed to express themselves, and we believe that people ought to decide the fates of their governments.

Why not make it easier on everybody and just go with, "Mr. President, do you believe that by criticizing your war policies Senators Kennedy and Boxer are in fact standing with the terrorists against democracy?"

By Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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