President Bush’s performance at his March 6 news conference came across as solemn and serious, as you might expect from a leader about to order his military forces into war. But Tom Shales of the Washington Post saw it differently, calling Bush “lethargic” and “curiously subdued.” He claimed Bush “would stare blankly into space during lengthy pauses between statements?pauses that once or twice threatened to be endless.” He added, “There were times when it appeared his train of thought had jumped the tracks.”
Shales may have offered that extremely negative review because his colleague Mike Allen of the Washington Post, who was seated in the front row at the press conference, was not called on for a question. But Bill Sammon of the rival Washington Times did get picked to ask a question. The Times noted that syndicated columnist Helen Thomas was relegated to the third row and was also snubbed. The paper said that, if the memory of press corps veterans is accurate, that was her first presidential snub. Thomas, described by some as the dean of the White House press corps, traditionally asked the second question when she was a reporter for the UPI wire service. But she quit UPI and became a columnist.
This so-called “First Lady of the White House Press Corps” is a cranky partisan liberal who uses her “questions” to make accusations. “This is the worst president ever,” Mrs. Thomas told the Daily Breeze of Torrance, California, in January. “He is the worst president in all of American history.” She says Bush is “an ultraconservative.” On the other hand, Thomas claimed that President John F. Kennedy “made Americans look to their higher angels” and that he “had the greatest vision.”
At a presidential press briefing she asked spokesman Ari Fleischer: “Why does [Bush] want to drop bombs on innocent Iraqis? ” On another occasion, Thomas asked, “Ari, does the President think that the Palestinians have a right to resist 35 years of brutal military occupation and suppression?” She didn’t say if she believed suicide bombings are legitimate “resistance.” Thomas, an Arab-American, is scheduled to receive an award in April from the Arab-American Institute.
On one occasion, Fleischer set her straight. Thomas had asked, “Does the president consider this [the 2002 congressional election] a mandate to fulfill his agenda, going to war with Iraq, privatizing Social Security, weakening the civil service commission?” Fleischer responded: “Helen, you sound like a commercial that didn’t work.” At the Bush news conference, the president did not entertain questions from reporters waving their hands in the air shouting “Mr. President.” Rather, he had a list of reporters and chose from that list. Fleischer said the process was “more orderly” than other formats, and we agree.
Fleischer said the president’s intention was to pick journalists who report news rather than columnists who give their opinions. Many of us are tired of hearing Thomas’s opinions disguised as questions. She ought to quit journalism altogether and became a liberal advocate for the Arab cause.