Noblesse d’Etat

by Henry Farrell on June 26, 2004

“Atrios”: reports that the White House have lodged a complaint with the Irish Embassy over the “disrespectful’ “interview”: by an Irish journalist discussed “yesterday”: Mere journalists apparently aren’t allowed to interrupt the President when he’s trying to make a point. Nor are Presidents supposed to have to defend their policies against vigorous critique. Kieran “posted”: on this rather bizarre feature of US public discourse last year – as he says, it smacks more of feudalism than democracy. Indeed, as in feudalism, the respect only goes one way – the vice-president seems to feel quite entitled to tell his critics to go fuck themselves, and not to apologize for it afterwards.



C.J.Colucci 06.26.04 at 4:22 pm

Even assuming that the interview was “disrespectful” enough to be objectionable, why is it a matter to take up with representatives of the government of Ireland?


Matt McGrattan 06.26.04 at 5:35 pm

As has been mentioned before, I think a lot of us would pay good money to watch Paxman take Bush apart on prime-time TV.


l.c. kelley 06.26.04 at 6:08 pm

My dear Irish friends, do you not known that that questioning our “dear leader” is to give comfort and support to the terrorist? That is very un-American of you Irish folk.


TexasTeacher 06.26.04 at 6:19 pm

Hey, I’m a Bush supporter and I think a protest to the government is a bit absurd. The protest should rightly have gone to her employer directly.

And the problem is not that the interview may have been hard-hitting — the problem was the rudeness of the interviewer. You should not interrupt answers from the person you are interviewing — and that rule should be followed with particular scruples when that person is a major world leader commenting on important international events.


Greg 06.26.04 at 7:31 pm

On the other hand, most of her ‘interruptions’ came during long pauses when it looked like George had finished parroting his replies – replies that generally ignored the question that was asked. And he constantly cut into her questions before she finished asking them!

Considering that George paraphrased that auld biblical injunction about not taking specks from others’ eyes while ignoring the plank in your own, that’s a bit rich.


Greg 06.26.04 at 7:31 pm

On the other hand, most of her ‘interruptions’ came during long pauses when it looked like George had finished parroting his replies – replies that generally ignored the question that was asked. And he constantly cut into her questions before she finished asking them!

Considering that George paraphrased that auld biblical injunction about not taking specks from others’ eyes while ignoring the plank in your own, it seems a bit rich to have complained about this.


abb1 06.26.04 at 7:34 pm

If you don’t interrupt them, they’ll be making endless propaganda speeches instead of answering questions. Good interviewers always interrupt, and I don’t see why Bush is so special.

In fact, what’s rude is reciting some endless irrelevant bullshit in response to a direct question.

We all heard that Saddam is a bad person, you know. I wish he’d tattoo it on his forehead so we don’t have to hear it anymore.


q 06.26.04 at 7:38 pm

Maybe RUDENESS is the flavour of the day (June 25, 2004)? It is a problem when journalists call you the worst president ever (March 7, 2003), but then you can control those domestic ones more easily. It is of course very rude indeed to sack people like Valerie Plame, one of your own people, in a fit of pique (October 11, 2003). Maybe it was rude to ignore your allies “Bush needs the allies he ignored before war” ( June 25, 2004), and then ask them for cooperation later. “He who lives by unilateralism, dies by unilateralism”.

Taking a leaf out of this analysis of a coming information war (26, June,2004), maybe it is an INFORMATION CRISIS, rather than a rudeness crisis. If he had had a good answer, then he wouldn’t be so worried how eager the journalist would be, as in the end the journalist would look foolish.

The words “WMD”, “Torture” have acquired new meanings over the last year:

WMD = single old sarin shell,
Torture = does not include painful activites where the primary / specific intent is something other than inflicting pain,
Respect = ??

So when we talk about changing the tone, what we really mean is that “respect” is not asking difficult questions. RESPECT runs both ways. We can assume that if Bush and Cheney must not be asked about Halliburton and Iraq, then can we have a list of topics about which we must not worry our heads? Respect = trust the government = government filters out bad news. Something very reminiscent of LBJ. Richard Clarke has already highlighted this trend: Former antiterror adviser says Bush ignored 9/11 warnings (May, 6, 2004). Truly excellent milestone video from the Bush campaign, administrators are running around straightening out deck chairs while the Titanic goes down: GWB is optimism , steady leadership and progress.


harry 06.26.04 at 8:08 pm

bq. You should not interrupt answers from the person you are interviewing — and that rule should be followed with particular scruples when that person is a major world leader commenting on important international events.

Nonsense. A good interviewer at best has to manage the time used in an interview. Bush comes off as a rambling half-wit, incapable of answering questions asked, and incapable of making any points concisely; he should be grateful to be interrupted; if he’d gracefully answered the questions in a manner respectful to the audience he’d have come off much better. If I were him I’d do everythign possible to prevent his voters from seeing the interview, rather than publicising it like this. My wife always tells me Bush is stupid; until seeing this interview I (being an admirer of his father) gave him the benefit of the doubt. I do hope that his private conversations are nothing like this.

Actually, I just rewatched and noticed the bit where he asked her a question, and then interrupted her answer saying ‘Please, you ask the questions and I’ll answer them (around 19 minutes)’. OF course, the supine US press will give him a free ride on this.


harry 06.26.04 at 8:28 pm

sorry, of course I meant… ‘Please, you ask the questions and I’ll answer them’ (around 19 minutes).


Detached Observer 06.26.04 at 10:45 pm

I don’t want to defend the indefensible — lodging a diplomatic protest over an interview is rather silly — but I fail to see anything wrong with a culture that bids journalists to respectfully treat the people they are interviewing.

This does not mean that Presidents do not have to “defend their policies against vigorous critique” — unless vigorous critique involves rudeness and repeated interruption so as to prevent you from answering the question.

Kieran reproduces a portion of an interview from Tony Blair on the entry you linked to, citing it as an example of a useful debate not available in the US. I don’t see it that way — Blair manages to say a sentence or two before being cut off and bombarded with something new — all the public gets is a series of snippets none of which amounts to a substantive answer.

The comparison between the Bush interview and Cheney’s “fuck off” comment is just bizarre — one is between a journalist and a politican and the other is between two politicians — the same code of behavior does not apply to both.


richierich 06.26.04 at 11:29 pm

If Ms. Coleman is supposed to respect Bush and let him finish his “dubyaspeak” shouldn’t he respect her and the viewer and answer the g.d. question?


Robin Green 06.27.04 at 12:54 am

Don’t be silly. Have you ever encountered an elected politician – in any party – who always answers a straight question with a straight answer?

You see, when all politicians are slippery and evasive, it’s not so much of an electoral liability(1) – whereas answering with a true but embarassing answer could be a huge vote liability.

(1) Unless you are very dumbly evasive and are against an opponent who is very cleverly evasive, I suppose. But even then, it could go either way…


nick 06.27.04 at 1:07 am

I fail to see anything wrong with a culture that bids journalists to respectfully treat the people they are interviewing.

Oh, I do. As Jon Stewart noted on Larry King’s show — and King is a chief villain here, for his supine deference — politicians didn’t know how to handle TV in 1960, but now they have not just the training to flannel interviewers, but can also play on the overweening egos of network anchors with the magic word, ‘Access’. It’s a corrupting relationship.

So, bugger deference. The prez doesn’t have to face congressional scrutiny. He has people around to make sure that the soles of his shoes never touch the dirt. Since when does he have the right to demand the ‘Very good, Mr President, please say “strong leader” another five times’ treatment from a member of the foreign press?


Charles V 06.27.04 at 1:33 am

I saw the interview, and thought Ms. Coleman did a fair job, although I wish she would have tried harder to keep him on point. But obviously, Bush has a couple of problems with a real interview: 1) He is not smart enough to answer tough questions on the fly, even questions that were submitted in advance, thus he must recite lines from his grab-bag of non-sequitous gibberish and stall for time; and 2) Bush sees himself as a regal figure, not just above the law, but also above having to justify his actions to America or to the world.


Matt McGrattan 06.27.04 at 2:43 am

The point re: Congressional scrutiny is a good one.

Here in the UK the Prime Minister has to go before Parliament for Prime Minister’s Questions and get righteously savaged both by the opposition and by his own backbenchers. It’s utterly unthinkable that anyone could reach a position of major political prominence here without the ability to think on their feet and to answer their critics.

In the media there are also venues such as Newsnight, the Today program and Question Time on which all major political figures might be expected to appear from time to time – and receive a thorough grilling from combative interviewers (on the first two) or members of the public (on the latter).

This isn’t just a presentational point re: the relative slickness of the politicians. It’s a substantive one too. In between elections just about the only way to hold politicians to public account is in precisely this kind of way. There’s something wierdly undemocratic and ‘regal’ about an elected leader not called upon regularly to justify their actions and the actions of their government in a public forum. [And scripted press conferences with tame journalists are hardly the same thing…]

Of course the USA is particulalry unusual in this respect in the sense that the US President (of whatever political persuasion) is accorded considerably more leeway and deference in this respect than any European leader.


Jeffrey Kramer 06.27.04 at 3:44 am

Coleman’s questions were mostly of the form “Lots of people don’t like what you’re doing, Mr. President, how do you respond to them?” That’s a batting-practice pitch, an open invitation to blather. (“Well, Carol, I’d say that I’m doing the right thing and the good thing and the thing that needs to be done.”) And Bush still manages to come away from the session traumatized by the way the interviewer occasionally starts to say “But…” in the middle of the blather?


Craig Howard 06.27.04 at 4:55 am

I haven’t yet listened to the exchange, but the audio is posted on a prominent American website,, as an example of Euro-rudeness.

It is true that the press in Ireland and England are much more confrontational than ours (ours don’t ask much, they just draw their own conclusions out of whole cloth).

This is similar to Bill Clinton’s grilling and subsequent meltdown on Panorama last week. No journalist in the U.S. ever dared confront him on his tawdry little personal life.


Craig Howard 06.27.04 at 4:58 am

And a P.S.

I suspect that this report of a formal complaint will turn out to be false.


maurinsky 06.27.04 at 7:14 am

Craig Howard – what color is the sky in your world? I remember reading the paper every day in the 90s, and it was all about Bill Clinton’s tawdry personal life. That’s the only thing the U.S. Media paid any attention to.

And if Bill Clinton had a “meltdown”, then George W. Bush spontaneously combusted.


Matt McGrattan 06.27.04 at 10:10 am

Bill Clinton didn’t have a meltdown on Panorama!

Far from it.

What bizarre parallel universe are you in?


Chris Lawrence 06.27.04 at 11:22 am

First, I agree the protest is silly. You don’t want a Euro-style interview–don’t sit for one.

Second, however, I think that such interview practices are only slightly more preferable than the American practice of Dowdifying interviews (see, e.g., Tom Brokaw’s recent interview with Pres. Bush).

In any event, at least one observer thought Bush did a good job.. and that he should engage in such interviews more often.


Rob 06.27.04 at 7:16 pm

It’s a good thing the interruption caused such a stir, because the interview itself was shat.

Like Colemen said, the questions were approved by the whitehouse 3 days in advance, this wasn’t a serious interrogation. It’s only because the press is so managed and lifeless that this comes across as a gripping interview worthy of note.

As for someone’s comment above, yeah Paxman’s job on Blair was much better, but still left a LOT to be desired. Still, you gotta start somewhere.


dave 06.27.04 at 7:21 pm

I agree with the comment of chris, namely, if you don’t want a Euro-style interview-don’t sit for one. It appears doubtful that there is a ruder or less intelligent press anyplace in the world that can hold a candle to those dumber than shit ones from the British Isles. And, don’t get me started on the alcoholic ones from Ireland.


robbo 06.27.04 at 8:37 pm

Hilarious that Craig Howard compares Clinton’s alleged “meltdown” to Bush’s embarrassing little fit of pique. Clinton calmly chided his interviewer for wasting such a large percentage of his face time rehashing the Monica Lewinsky affair — as if it was some sort of scoop! If you can’t tell the difference between Clinton’s performance and Bush’s pathetic meltdown in the face of a real journalist, you’re hopeless.

In reality, however, I think that Craig and all the other Bush apologists know exactly what a failure they have in W — but they perceive some personal gain from having the chimp stay in office. So they’ll screw the rest of us.

It’ll be a long, hot summer as we see how far the wingnuts will go to retain raw power, er, I mean the reins of prudent and well-reasoned governance.


bryan 06.27.04 at 9:15 pm

if only the press were as nice as dave then there wouldn’t be any problem.


Canuck watching in shock+awe 06.27.04 at 11:21 pm

I’m in agreement with Greg who posted much earlier… As I watched the interview I felt Ms. Coleman only “interrupted” when she could hear The Chimp winding down his blather. But, after the first time, it almost seemed he was setting a little trap for her. As soon as she’d jump in he’d reprimand her. Then, in his arrogant, smirky, elitist way, sniff in the air and add some additional Politbureau propaganda. It didn’t have to make sense (Pakistan a democracy? the world a safer place? )… it didn’t have to be on topic… it just had to… um… fill time.

… And I, too, was incredulous at that plank-in-your-eye chestnut he spouted… Why doesn’t America fix its own schools, its own prison system, its own economy, its own corruption etc. etc. before deciding to invade another country in the name of “freedom”. Sheesh… excuse me while I puke….

— after reading the posts on the interview I was expecting some hard hitting questions and a real exchange — I was underwhelmed by it all… The Chimp can only rhyme of passages learned by heart — he cannot give a thoughtful or insightful answer because, of course, chimps aren’t capable of that…


JamesW 06.28.04 at 9:19 am

Remember Silvio Berlusconi’s speech to the pretty genteel European Parliament when Italy took over the EU chair? Faced with heckling from a Green German MEP, he blew up and compared his challenger to a concentration camp guard. It tells you a lot about the man’s cosseted environment at home.


Dave F 06.28.04 at 11:12 am

Haven’t seen the interview so can’t comment on how rude it was. But as a journalist. I observe that a lot of reporters –– usually from the BBC or one of the chattering classes papers –– ask questions that actually contain the answers they want to get. When your questions are longer than the answers and don’t get you anywhere, you’re just screwing up. It’s spectacle, not interviewing. Paxman’s show is about Paxman’s views, not the person he’s grilling. I fully support the pursuit of a probing line of questioning. But that is a subtle art rarely seen now. Rudeness is self-defeating.

The funniest unintentional self-parody of British journalistic technique I’ve seen is the question hurled at the unsuspecting Tony Blair, as he headed for a Euro meeting: “Do you have blood on your hands, Prime Minister?”

That is not a question expecting the answer yes or no, obviously; it is a not very veiled accusation.

Blair didn’t reply, but the reporter had had his moment. Of what value is this to the inquiring viewer?


Giles 06.28.04 at 4:38 pm

we dont know what the complaint was about – maybe they were complaining that the Irish taxpayer (inlcuding US company’s) are forced to pay for Ms Colemans monologue?


Jack 06.28.04 at 6:04 pm

I don’t think many companies will be complaining about the amount of tax they have to pay the Irish government.


Robert 07.03.04 at 5:25 pm

The complaint was made to the Irish Embassy because it had informed the White House that RTE is a legitimate news organisation.

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