Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

George Bush at a Crossroads

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

George Bush at a Crossroads

Article excerpt

WHAT determines the public perception of turmoil at the top? The ambiguous economy, for one thing. Is it slowly on its way back? Or is the recession holding, even deepening? To many observers, George Bush seems to be fumbling around as he searches for answers.

Through several changes of direction - the postponement of his trip to the Far East, his encouragement of lower interest rates on credit cards followed by a modification of that approach, and his pullback from a memo that would have done away with preferential hiring in the federal government - the president hasn't been having his best days.

Indeed, a president who handled the war in Iraq with superb confidence and a firm hand has appeared to be less than sure of himself of late. In the war he was a cool-headed activist, aggressively putting together a global coalition and never looking back. That was only a few months ago. Now he appears to be reacting, not acting.

And once again, as so often happens when a president is looking less than good, the finger is being pointed at the press. As during Nixon's Watergate, supporters of the president are forgetting that the press is the messenger, not the message.

So when presidential chief of staff John Sununu publicly called the credibility of a reporter into question the other day (she said he charged that she "lied" in her stories, he later claimed he had shouted that she was "dead wrong") it seemed to be the outward expression of the same old complaint: that the press was picking on the president.

In fact, President Bush has been treated very well, very fairly, by the press. The reporters who cover his day-to-day activities like the company and the style of this friendly president. They applaud him for his openness and, particularly, for his frequent press conferences. Few previous presidents have met with reporters as often.

The press also likes press secretary Marlin Fitzwater. Reporters approved of low-keyed, candid Mr. Fitzwater from the moment he took over the job during Ronald Reagan's second term. …

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