President Bush may have spurned any attempt to manage or manipulate his own approval-rating polls, but the media clearly see Bush’s low approval numbers as their achievement. Discussing Bush’s last press conference January 12 on the PBS talk show Charlie Rose, Newsweek editor Jon Meacham declared the poll numbers showed Bush’s leadership was below mediocre:
If you are a president of the United States for eight years, through the kind of tumult we faced, and you come out with this kind of approval rating, you have failed at a very basic job, which is to convince the people, enough people that your course is the right one. And so as a clinical matter -- that’s not a smart-aleck media point, it’s not a liberal media point -- it's just simply true that George W. Bush has not led the democracy in ways that our greatest presidents and even mediocre ones have done.
This quote was used to summarize the interview segment at the top of the show. Meacham added that President Bush looks at his father’s legacy and argued that everything that defeated him for re-election was right, including the 1990 tax hikes:
His father, interestingly, was proven right later, and that is what the son is counting on. The three things that George H.W. Bush was beaten on -- raising taxes, the economy, not going to Baghdad -- all ultimately proved to be the right decisions. And I think, perhaps subconsciously, the son needs -- is counting to some extent on that.
But overall, Meacham took out his rhetorical stick and beat the President with it. It was Bush versus the facts, and Bush as Nixon:
JON MEACHAM: I think that, as John Adams said, facts are stubborn things, and so is George Bush. And I think part of the last eight years was these two forces coming together. And sometimes the facts won, and sometimes Bush won in the short-term.
I thought this was a great moment in presidential history, because that was 47 minutes that we will always have of sort of I was thinking of it this afternoon as I watched it again on YouTube -- it’s sort of Nixon lite. It`s not quite the East Room on the 9th of August 1974, but it was pretty revealing.
The real similarity is the amount of liberal hatred in the press corps. But it grew really interesting when Meacham – one of the media’s starkest examples of pomposity, especially when he sits on the Charlie Rose set – acted as the pot calling the kettle black in accusing Bush of being self-involved:
I must say he is not introspective, but boy is he self-involved. This is a man who is insistent that there is no short-term history, because as he says, there is long-term history. What is the first thing he went to when asked about Katrina? Should he have landed the plane. It wasn’t about the people in New Orleans. It was about what he should have done. For a man who doesn’t read the press, he sure liked to talked about the opiners and the windy opinion pieces were disguised as reported pieces.
"Windy opinion pieces disguised as reported pieces" could be Newsweek’s motto. Meacham and the other guests – New York Times reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg, and author/GQ writer Robert Draper – agreed that they found it disconcerting that Bush seemed light in tone at this press conference. As Meacham said:
He made a very good case for the human dimension of leadership. But I must say I kept watching and thinking, this is a wartime president. We have two wars, unfolding as we speak, and it’s not over for them. It’s not over for the soldiers who have -- who under his orders have gone out into the world to execute a mission that is controversial, to say the least. Saying not having weapons of mass destruction was a disappointment, was candid, I think, but there was a slight disconnect between the facts of the moment and his attitude. He was very loose at a very grave time, and I found that disconnect interesting.
First of all, Meacham should never bring up the troops and suggest he’s more connected with them than Bush is – let's not forget it was Newsweek that spurred deadly riots in the Muslim world by falsely and recklessly reporting that American interrogators were throwing Korans in the toilet.
But none of these writers seemed introspective enough to realize that sending Bush to meet the press is sending him into a room of the people who have worked very hard to tear him down and tell the public he is a disengaged boob. Even when he tried to pretend to like them, they denounced him for being "very loose at a grave time," and having a "disconnect." Their spin is relentless.