Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Press and a Thin-Skinned President

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Press and a Thin-Skinned President

Article excerpt

Sometimes you wait years to find out about people - including presidents.

In the late 1980s, when George Bush was president, I received a phone call from his press secretary, Marlin Fitzwater, who was sitting next to his boss on Air Force One, high above the South somewhere.

"Sorry," Mr. Fitzwater said, "But the president won't be able to make that breakfast he has scheduled with your group." Fitzwater told me only that "Something has come up." At the time, I thought it was an emergency that had "come up." President Bush had returned to the White House within a few hours after the call. But he didn't announce anything out of the ordinary. Indeed, no information ever surfaced that gave me the slightest clue as to what had interfered with that Monitor breakfast. Invitations to reporters had already gone out, and we had to act quickly to call everything off. It remained a puzzlement over the years - until just the other day, that is, when Fitzwater, now retired, was a guest at a Monitor lunch. In response to my questioning, he finally told us the reason for the cancellation. During the flight that day, Fitzwater had handed the president a list of the journalists who were to attend the breakfast. Some of reporters listed, Mr. Bush noticed, were those who had written some critical articles about him. "Why should I go in and talk to them?" Bush asked. Then he ordered Fitzwater to "call it off." Bush had been to a Monitor breakfast when he was US ambassador to the UN, so I had had every expectation that he would come again. But it wasn't to be. The Fitzwater explanation, however, reveals more than why Bush missed a get-together with the press. It's indicative of how thin-skinned the president was when it came to what the press had to say about him. A contrasting example: Ronald Reagan had our group in for four breakfasts at the White House; he also had met with us twice when he was a governor - once in Washington and once at a governors' conference. …

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