Who dares question the great OZ?

by Ted on July 2, 2004

The White House has contacted the Irish Embassy to complain about the Irish journalist, Carole Coleman, who interviewed President Bush last week. (via Radley Balko)

“’The White House rang Thursday evening,’” said Irish embassy spokeswoman Síghle Dougherty. ‘They were concerned over the number of interruptions and that they thought the president was not given an opportunity to respond to the questions.’”

Said Dougherty: “They were mostly troubled by what they said was the way the president was ‘talked over.’ “

I’d imagine that most regular blog readers are aware of this interview. (Here’s the transcript; here’s the video, starting around 15:00.) You can judge for yourself about whether Bush was given the opportunity to respond to questions.

She asked tough questions about the mounting death toll in Iraq, the failure of U.S. planning, and European opposition to the invasion and occupation. And when the president offered the sort of empty and listless “answers” that satisfy the White House press corps – at one point, he mumbled, “My job is to do my job” – she tried to get him focused by asking precise follow-up questions.

The president complained five times during the course of the interview about the pointed nature of Coleman’s questions and follow-ups – “Please, please, please, for a minute, OK?” the hapless Bush pleaded at one point, as he demanded his questioner go easy on him.

A few questions:

1. What the hell is the Irish embassy supposed to do about it?
2. Why would the White House decide that the benefits of this action possibly outweigh the negatives involved in keeping the story alive?
3. … unless this supposed to be a warning shot at the American press,letting them know that the President is not to be the subject of serious interviews?
4. Will the press be so cowardly as to play along?

There’s this sense of how dare you question them. And that is the thing that I almost find more appalling than the decisions that they make. Because I can accept incompetence, but I cannot accept self-righteous incompetence.

Jon Stewart

UPDATE: Jesse Walker has more, and the Poor Man does a good job of summarizing the general issue.

ANOTHER UPDATE: One of my betters has more on this. Thanks to antirealist.



Rod 07.02.04 at 4:48 pm

This is pretty startling. I guess that mostly I’m surprised at what appears to be his inability to deal with firm questionning. This is a basic political skill and I just can’t get to grips with the idea that any high-profile politician, let alone the President of the United States can’t hold his own in an interview.

Can’t wait for the TV debates later in the campaign!


P O'Neill 07.02.04 at 5:05 pm

The complaint to the Embassy arose because the Embassy had been involved in setting up the interview. But of course the 15 minute sit-down with a journalist from a country on Dubya’s itinerary is a usual part of his foreign trip. He just didn’t expect a journalist who wouldn’t sit politely through his rote answers. And I doubt Ms Coleman needed to channel a “Big Russ” equivalent before deciding on her strategy. But the answer to your question 4 is still Yes.


Bob 07.02.04 at 5:16 pm

According to this surely unimpeachable source, Bush was on a divinely sanctioned mission in starting the Iraq war:

Bush said: “God told me to strike at al Qaida and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam, which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East. If you help me I will act, and if not, the elections will come and I will have to focus on them.” – from: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/pages/ShArt.jhtml?itemNo=310788&contrassID=2&subContrassID=1&sbSubContrassID=0&listSrc=Y

Of course, in most European countries nowadays, people who feel impelled to start wars because they believe they hear voices from God usually get confined to secure mental health hospitals.

Let’s all hope that Bush doesn’t suddenly receive an extra-terrestial mandate to commence war with Ireland.


harry 07.02.04 at 5:19 pm

My favourite bit:

bq. THE PRESIDENT: Why do you say that?

bq. Q There are terrorist bombings every single day. It’s now a daily event. It wasn’t like that two years ago.

bq. THE PRESIDENT: What was it like September the 11th, 2001? It was a — there was a relative calm, we —

bq. Q But it’s your response to Iraq that’s considered —

bq. THE PRESIDENT: Let me finish. Let me finish, please. Please. You ask the questions and I’ll answer them, if you don’t mind.


dsquared 07.02.04 at 5:45 pm

Is he not worried about coming across as a bit of a langer?


Joe M. 07.02.04 at 5:55 pm

Is everyone watching the same interview? I thought Bush did just fine, and that it was indeed the interviewer who kept repeatedly interrupting after he had said only a few words.

And her questions were often exceedingly stupid. At about 19 minutes into the video, she asks the following question:

Do you not see that the world is a more dangerous place? I saw four of your soldiers lying dead on the television the other day. A picture of four soldiers just lying there without their [garbled.]

Four people die, and that makes the world more dangerous? More people die from falling off ladders. And this is the sort of “serious” questioning that impresses liberals? Wow.

Harry points to the following interchange as one of his favorites:

Q There are terrorist bombings every single day. It’s now a daily event. It wasn’t like that two years ago.

THE PRESIDENT: What was it like September the 11th, 2001? It was a — there was a relative calm, we —


One of my favorites too, because Bush was correct. The Irish interviewer was trying to prove that the world is “more dangerous” today than two years ago, and she claimed that there were more terrorist bombings now. Bush’s point, which he made after the interruption, was that you can’t judge the safety of the world by looking at tiny day-to-day events. The world might have seemed more peaceful before September 11, as he said, but that was an illusion because the enemy was just taking the time to plan a gigantic attack.


Alan 07.02.04 at 6:10 pm

I’m not sure I understand the point of Jesse Walker’s piece. It opens discussing how the President is an incompetent speaker who can only work with scripted talking points, whose White House works hard to keep him from any kind of impromptu speaking. But then it fishtails and says that, well, at least unlike Clinton, Bush doesn’t actually like to talk, and uses Bush’s ribs-ordering photo op in New Mexico to suggest that the press shouldn’t make him talk about current events, anyway.


antirealist 07.02.04 at 6:25 pm

These guys had an interesting discussion on this a while back. They’re often worth reading.


Giles 07.02.04 at 6:28 pm

This kind of reminds me of the last election – the articulate Al Gore was going to wipe the floor in the debates. But he didnt because like coleman he thought he was so much more intelligent than his opponent that he didn’t need to listen.

The second canard is that the President doesnt know how to handle a confrontational interview. Given that 90% of the media’s Washington bureau are democrats, I think that he’s got more than enough experience with hostile questioning. In fact I’d say that he generally performs more poorly in Fox soft soap interviews than with adversarial interviewers.


BJC 07.02.04 at 6:52 pm

It is very interesting to compare the Bush interview — with his scripted answers — to this Clinton interview, http://www.npr.org/features/features.php?wfId=1972216 where he is interrupted but doesn’t complain.


harry 07.02.04 at 7:04 pm

It’s my favourite bit because he asks her two questions, doesn’t let her answer, complains about her not letting him answer, and says that she should ask the questions and he should provide the answers. If someone did that to me I’d think they were an idiot, extremely rude, and not worth talking to.

He doesn’t hold press conferences giles, so he’s not used to being confrotned by the press corp. And they, even if Democrat, are supine, in ways that Brit/Irish journalists woudn’t imagine.


Extradite the Neocons 07.02.04 at 7:24 pm

Given that 90% of the media’s Washington bureau are democrats, I think that he’s got more than enough experience with hostile questioning.

Still flogging that one are we? LOL!

And just when was W. going to get all that ‘experience’?

Any day now?


Buck 07.02.04 at 7:31 pm

What hostile questioning has Bush had to deal with? Seriously, what would that be?


Rob 07.02.04 at 9:06 pm

Umm, if Bush did so well why did he go whining to the Irish governemnt “the mean lady asked too tough questions”? Perhaps one should remove their Bush colored glasses?


mc 07.02.04 at 9:24 pm

Negatives? Does the Bush camp even suffer any negatives at all? They politically survived 9/11, the (non) investigation, two wars, a 900% defense budget increase, intelligence screwups, and a torture scandal, amongst other things. What’s the harm a pathetic complaint for a pathetic failure to deal with totally _normal_ and even _dull_ questions from an interviewer to do to Bush’s image that Abu Ghraib and the WMD fiasco itself didn’t? Clearly massive display of arrogance and unaccountability is the winning recipe here.

Oh, America… good luck…


Robert Nagle 07.02.04 at 9:53 pm

At the risk of causing a ruckus, I listened to the interview, and I have to say I’m inclined to agree that the interviewer didn’t treat Bush fairly.

First, let me mention that I am an ardent democrat and think Bush is a goof.

It’s pretty easy for interviewers to “score points” by interrupting politicians and control the conversation completely.

But politicians often have to articulate nuanced policy positions, and if they are constantly interrupted, it’s almost impossible to articulate anything. The interviewer could have easily waited for Bush to finish making his point before asking the hostile question. Instead she chose to interrupt his line of thought at several points, which basically prevented Bush from getting any thought across. A politician shouldn’t have to worry about being unable to finish his thought.

It’s unrealistic to expect a politician to answer a difficult controversial question without having time to do so. Yes, there are limits. But we don’t want our politicians to rely only on soundbites out of some fear that some uppity press person will try to cut him off.


jack pugh 07.02.04 at 10:19 pm

After reading the transcript I’m more than ever convinced that Bush is the best illustration i’ve yet seen or heard of Jean Baudrillard’s comment that “We are everywhere already living in an aesthetic hallucination of reality.”


harry 07.02.04 at 10:21 pm

Half way through the interview she got the message and stopped interupting him. At which point he starts to meander aimlessly, like an undergrad who hasn’t done the reading, but isn’t smart enough to get away without doing it. I agree, she asked some bad questions. That, and not the interupting was her main problem, apart from the fact that she seemed to be interviewing a dolt.


Keith 07.02.04 at 10:42 pm

Based on BJC’s post, I’ll listen/watch the BC interview and the Bush interview.

I’m listening to Bill Clinton’s interview right now. I’m two minutes in and Juan Williams (a liberal Democrat) hasn’t interrupted once…

2 and a half. No int.

3 minutes. No interruptions.

3 and a half….

4… nuthin’ (unless you count Juan Williams finishing Bill Clinton’s thought in a supportive way.)

4 and a half….

5….6…. (by the way, Clinton has spoken for minutes at a time without interruption so far)….7…8…(Again, Juan only sort of “interrupts” for two seconds to support what Clinton is saying)…9…10

Okay, there’s ten minutes of Clinton’s interview. Two very, very, very short interjections by Juan Williams, both of which support or encapsulate what Clinton is saying at the moment in a very friendly way.

Time for Bush’s tape:


16…17…17.5…first interruption (disagreeing)…18…2nd interruption (disagreeing)…18.5…19…3rd interruption (disagreeing)…19.5…20…20.5…21…4th interruption (disagreeing)…21.5…22…5th interruption (I dunno whether it was hostile or not)…22.5…23…23.5…24…24.5…25 6th interruption (disagreeing)…25.5…6th interruption (disagreeing)…

So even if I don’t count the last minute of the Bush interview, he got interrupted 4 times, all disagreeing. In BC’s first ten minutes, he gets two interruptions, both of which summarize his thought in a sympathetic manner.

Maybe Juan Williams got a lot ruder in that second 12 minutes, but chances are Bush got a tougher interview than BC. That’s cool, because Bush is a sitting President who made some controversial decisions, but let’s not kid ourselves. Bush actually handled a tough interview pretty well. But it is very pansyish to go whining to the Embassy about the interviewer.

This is what I dislike about a lot of Bush-bashers. They are so blinded that they make a ton of unreasonable assertions based on their biases, when they could make an excellent case based on facts.


grubstreet 07.03.04 at 2:10 am

Whether you think Bush did well or badly, and whether you think the reporter behaved professionally or not, it is still *ridiculous* to whing to the Irish embassy about it.


hairy 07.03.04 at 2:47 am

harry – “he asks her two questions, doesn’t let her answer, complains about her not letting him answer, and says that she should ask the questions and he should provide the answers. If someone did that to me I’d think they were an idiot, extremely rude, and not worth talking to.”

Nonsense. In your favorite bit: he asks her a question; she answers; he asks a rhetorical question; he starts to answer it; she interrupts. The idiot may be that guy you see in the mirror foaming at the mouth.


Mr Ripley 07.03.04 at 1:14 pm

Juan Williams is a liberal Democrat?


Zizka 07.03.04 at 1:21 pm

Lots of scroll-past here. Herrings, herrings everywhere. There’s gotta be an award for giles somewhere.

Complaining to the Irish government is silly in a somewhat sinister way. Boo-hoo, George Bush. You poor thing. Are they being mean to you?

One of Bush’s strength is his appeal to wilfully stupid people, some of whom are represented above. Democrats have been instructed not to call Bush stupid, since that helps him. Citizens of nations with different voting patterns may not understand this.


harry 07.03.04 at 2:13 pm

Fair enough that she answered the first question. Was the second rhetorical? Didn’t sound it in the interview. Hard to tell. But he asked it, she didn’t answer it. She wasn’t being rude in trying to answer it, and wouldn’t have been being rude even in a non-interview situation.

I think the people who think Bush did well in this are victims of the low expectations this President has inspired even in his supporters.

BTW, just in case this seems partisan, I was publicly indifferent between Bush and Gore in 2000, and am, even now, so unenthusiastic about Kerry that I have no desire to use this appalling performance to beat Bush politically.

Reagan’s defenders tended to recognise his deficiencies, and were ok about doing so because they believed he had compensating virtues.


Steve 07.03.04 at 11:47 pm

Soooo….what you are saying is Bush is a dumb-ass. Right?

I agree.


Greg 07.04.04 at 12:12 am

And to make it worse, Bush had the questions three days in advance! Coleman says so herself here, but if you can’t watch the file, just read my transcript here.


Ray 07.05.04 at 9:08 am

_Is he not worried about coming across as a bit of a langer?_

There was a placard to that effect on one of the demonstrations when Bush was in Ireland.


Lilypod 07.05.04 at 11:23 am

The irony is that Carole Coleman is so far from being a challenging reporter that I couldn’t stomach watching the interview for that reason. I knew – as was later confirmed – that her questions would be submitted in advance, and I had no interest in watching a mechanical, going-through-the-motions piece.

And the Bush administration still complains…

I did a double take when I saw the headlines casting Coleman in her new guise as a rottweiler reporter. Someone suggested to me that the complaint was probably a pat on the head to make her feel better.

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