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Inside Politics

Forcing news out of the president

By Bill Schneider
CNN Political Unit

President Bush strides toward waiting reporters for Wednesday's press conference.
President Bush strides toward waiting reporters for Wednesday's press conference.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In the battle between President Bush and the Washington press corps, the president usually wins.

But every now and then, the press gets its way. When that happens, it just might be the political Play of the Week.

President Bush is not too fond of formal news conferences. White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said on July 14, "These grand news conferences of the past are designed for a little more theatre than they are for information."

The president's press conference on March 6 was stiff and formal -- and, apparently, scripted.

Nearly five months later, the Washington press corps was clamoring for access to the president.

What about a news conference, clamored The Washington Post.

What about a news conference, clamored reporters.

By this time in their respective presidencies, Bush's father had held 61 news conferences and Bill Clinton had held 33.

This president? A mere eight.

So on Wednesday, the White House held a news conference -- at 10:30 in the morning, when everybody's at work.

The president showed up, on time as usual, sounding kind of chipper. There were some Bush moments.

When the president tried to talk about al Qaeda operatives, he said, "Kjhalid Sheikh Mohammed. Abu Zubaida. Ramzi, Ramzi Alshibh, or whatever the guy's name was ... Sorry Ramzi, if I got it wrong."

And there was an interesting challenge.

One reporter asked, "Mr. President, with no opponent, how can you spend $170 million dollars or more on your primary campaign?"

Bush responded, "Just watch."

Despite everything, news managed to break out.

On the discredited statement in the State of the Union speech concerning Saddam Hussein's effort to acquire uranium, the president said, "I take personal responsibility for everything I say, of course."

And one piece of news the president made to a question he wasn't really asked. He said about gay marriage, "I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. And I think we ought to codify that one way or the other. And we've got lawyers looking at the best way to do that."

The press corps forces this president to make news. Man bites dog, and it's the political Play of the Week.

Most viewers have no idea how frustrating it is for the press corps to be embedded in the White House, week after week, with no access to the person they're covering.

That's why they're often reduced to shouting questions and sounding rude.


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