Reader Michael K. sent me an e-mail in response to this post from Friday, in which I asked what Bush should have done to head off the press attack over the Dubai ports deal. At the time I wrote the post, I was more angry at the press’s hostility than the Bush team’s ineffectiveness. But I’ve been thinking about Michael’s e-mail, and today — after a tired speech on Iraq and another White House personnel scandal — I find myself in agreement, especially with the second paragraph:
You ask what should Bush have done. I remember lots of concerns expressed when the PRC took over the old Long Beach Shipyard and set up a huge container terminal. I drive by it every week on my way to
my boat slip in LA harbor. An astute press operation in the White House would have realized that such a fuss was possible and immediately put out a press package about how Clinton had braved the storm in 1998 and the Long Beach deal was working well and had caused no undue concern. That would have done two things. It would have mentioned Clinton and an equally controversial deal but without Clinton-bashing and it would have suggested that all our ports are
being run by foreigners and not all of those are allies. They might even have trotted out Bill C. to mention that Dubai is an ally. They had to know he is a paid agent of UAE.
The Bush White House is tone-deaf. They must have a flock of people with PR and marketing savvy but they are the gang that couldn’t shoot straight (no pun intended). They are consistently blind-sided. They know they have a hostile press and a tongue tied President although he is getting better. McClellan is weak and looks confused half the time. The shooting incident did come out of nowhere but it could have been used to show how out-of-touch the press corps is. That eventually happened but it took too much time.
Mike Deaver took a lot of heat for Reagan but he knew how to counter-punch. These guys don’t and Bush is suffering in the polls.
The Bush administration’s strategy of shutting out the press isn’t working anymore. It is too politically vulnerable on too many fronts right now, and the press is willing to twist the facts to exploit every weakness. Remember when the AP dug up a video from the Katrina days, lied about what it said, made it a major story for about a week, and then issued a “clarification” on a Friday night that no one noticed? That’s what I mean. Like the Democrat party, reporters feel like Bush and the Republicans have walked all over them for too long. No ploy is too cynical or far-fetched if it scores political points against the administration.
Bush is losing his war with the press and needs a radical personnel change. A personnel change would do two things. It would distract the media, which would suddenly need to explain the new team to the public. And the new team could engage the press without worrying about the baggage of 2005. Bringing in new people would be a symbolic way to put this horrible year behind him. The sooner the better.