- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 14, 2001

They may be peevish, vindictive, restless and biased, but the free-wheeling press is a reflection of a free democracy. So says the leader of the Free World.
"The press in America has never been stronger and never been freer and never been more vibrant, sometimes to my chagrin, and a lot of times to my delight," said President Bush yesterday during his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"Whoever thinks that I have the capability or my government has the capability of reining in this press corps simply doesn't understand the American way," Mr. Bush said.
"I've been trying to tame our press corps ever since I got into politics, and I've failed miserably. They get to express their opinions sometimes in the form of news," he said, and the gaggle of assembled journalists laughed along with him.
Those are gracious remarks considering that the president has been in journalistic cross hairs for months on end, criticized by those who claimed he "stole" the election or was not presidential enough by their standards.
Mr. Bush proved plenty presidential yesterday in his near affectionate praise of media still focused upon potshots, Watergate-style investigation and scandal-mongering even after September 11. There have been trying moments for the White House since then.
Among other things, print and broadcast journalists have criticized Mr. Bush's appearance and mannerisms, questioned the legality of his decision to muster troops and fussed when he wasn't immediately in front of TV cameras in the hours after the terrorist attacks.
In a September 11 broadcast, ABC's Peter Jennings said the president was "hiding behind the CIA." After the attacks, Newsweek's Howard Fineman noted, "Bush has yet to find a note of eloquence in his own voice."
When White House and Pentagon officials asked the media for some discretion when covering military matters or security issues, some journalists interpreted the request as an act of official censorship.
As recently as Monday morning, NBC devoted four minutes and 24 seconds to a story that concluded Mr. Bush won the 2000 election based on analyses from a media consortium. Yet the network aired for seven minutes and 17 seconds an Oct. 30 interview with author Jeffrey Toobin on his contention that Al Gore was "robbed," according to the Media Research Center.
Nevertheless, Mr. Bush proved his own mettle yesterday, lauding news organizations for acting responsibly. With good humored civility, he also dismissed the failure of some broadcast networks to air his 30-minute address to the nation on Thursday.
"If I'm going to have to get on the news, they've got to ask me questions," Mr. Bush said.
It would behoove future White House aspirants to adopt such civility and flexibility in the face of snarling media, traits both Mr. Bush and his wife, Laura Bush, have shown this year. The president's suggestions for cooperation between the press and White House even seem to be winning over liberal Hollywood.
"This is a recognition that September 11 was a day that changed the world, and if we can step forward and help our country contend with how their world has changed, I think that's the patriotic thing for us to do," said Disney's Robert Iger on Sunday after a meeting with White House senior adviser Karl Rove.

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