Our delightful commander in chief!

How the D.C. press corps goes ga-ga for the president -- or for the current one, at least.

By Eric Boehlert
Published March 17, 2005 7:15PM (EST)

When people complain about how timid the D.C. press corps is towards Bush, how reporters have adopted a ridiculously soft standard in their coverage, it's stories like this that prove the point. Out on the road with Bush last week as he barnstormed in support of his Social Security reform initiative, the Time.com article adopts a gee-whiz attitude towards Bush that would likely be out of place at most small town newspapers. And it's a tone that was noticeably absent during the previous administration.

The whole point of the article ("When it comes to his Social Security plan, Bush relishes the role of chief sales officer") is that Bush was "enjoying himself." Bush was ad-libbing! Bush was making jokes -- about being a C-student again -- in public. From Time.com we learn "The president gets so folksy," and that he "delights in defying expectations." There's more: "He can't help interjecting a little of his own banter." And: "He even at times has a comedian's good timing" -- a "Shecky Bush," according to the magazine.

Time.com further gushes, "Watching Bush loop the slack in the microphone, needle his guests on stage and slip into a gooey Texas slang, it's clear that he's enjoying his role as Social Security infomercial host as he travels around the country selling his plan."

As for any notes of dissent, Time.com dismisses one or two hecklers who squeaked past security to gain access to the GOP loyalist crowd, because "their taunts were a little too wonky to punch through."

Of course, there's nothing wrong with political stories that fall on the light side, that examine how the presidents do their job, and offer sketches of their personality. Although it seems a bit strange to cast Bush as being on a Social Security joy ride while his vague proposal for reform is already being pronounced D.O.A. in Congress. (The Time.com article was posted one day before a new ABC/Washington Post poll found a strong majority of Americans disapprove of how Bush is handling the issue of Social Security.)

The question is, where were Time's fun loving stories about Bill Clinton? When the Democratic president, like Bush, was out stumping for a bold new policy initiative (health care reform), the magazine took a very different tack. In an article from Nov. 8, 1993, just days after the Clinton health care plan was officially unveiled and months before it ran into serious political opposition, Time described Clinton's personal effort to sell his plan. It was not pretty. Clinton was "pleading," he "cried out" according to Time, and "sounded oddly supplicating: 'Please help us,' he implored." During one appearance Clinton was "waving his arms and banging the lectern, first with a forefinger and then with a fist, as he slid into an ad-lib riff on the necessity for reform."

It should be noted that back then Clinton enjoyed nearly identical job approval ratings as Bush (roughly 49 percent), so it wasn't a case of one president being up and another being down, in terms of explaining the difference in Time's Bush and Clinton coverage. It goes well beyond that -- an obvious double-standard that's been adopted by media inside the Beltway.

Eric Boehlert

Eric Boehlert, a former senior writer for Salon, is the author of "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush."

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