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March 22, 2006
WaPo's Positive Review

The Washington Post editorial board gave George Bush a glowing review on his press conference yesterday, showing the extent to which Bush succeeded in the forum he likes the least. The praise comes as a surprise for the normally critical Post, but the clear ease and openness that Bush demonstrated in this last press conference has them asking for more:

PRESIDENT BUSH should hold more news conferences. In his hour-long exchange with reporters at the White House yesterday, he was considerably more effective in explaining and defending his commitment to the war in Iraq than in the three carefully worded speeches he has delivered in the past week. In his sometimes blunt, sometimes joking and sometimes unpolished way, he sounded authentic -- no more so than when he was asked what had become of the "political capital" he claimed after the 2004 election. "I'd say I'm spending that capital on the war," Mr. Bush replied.

And so he is. ...

Mr. Bush, however, hasn't lost sight of the stakes. "The enemy has said that it's just a matter of time before the United States loses its nerve and withdraws from Iraq. That is what they have said," he told reporters. "And their objective for driving us out of Iraq is to have a place from which to launch their campaign to overthrow moderate governments in the Middle East, as well as to continue attacking places like the United States. Now, maybe some discount those words as kind of meaningless propaganda. I don't. I take them really seriously."

As I wrote last night, the nation needs to hear this from the president, and in a manner where his words can carry over the cacaphony of the media environment. Thanks to the splintering of television audiences, the broadcast networks are loathe to carry live political speeches unless under certain special circumstances, such as Katrina or the outbreak of hostilities. However, given the self-love of the press, news conferences such as the one yesterday allow for longer-form media exposure.

Up to now, the media (and the electorate, even his supporters) have gotten the impression that Bush avoided press conferences because he didn't do well at extemporaneous speech. He mangles syntax, of course, but the common wisdom was that he couldn't operate well outside of prepared speeches and sympathetic crowds. Bush disproved that theory yesterday with a masterful performance, even when Helen Thomas provided comic relief by pretending to ask a question in the middle of her paranoid fantasies. And that hasn't just occurred at this press conference; Bush has taken to engaging audiences in Q&A periods at the end of his speeches and faced some pointed questions, and hasn't quailed a bit under the pressure.

All of that makes one wonder why Bush doesn't do more press conferences. Perhaps he gets too irritated with the reporters on the White House beat, an understandable reaction if he watches the daily briefing and the ego-jockeying that regularly victimizes Scott McClellan. Maybe he thinks it's a waste of time, given the hostility of the press corps and the contextless sound bites that arise from these events. However, he needs to put all of that aside and engage the press more often in this manner. He clearly prevailed yesterday in getting his message across, and he needs those kinds of victories on a regular basis.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at March 22, 2006 5:29 AM

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