Thursday, October 6, 2005

Bush’s bunker

Last year, when nobody else was writing about Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers, best-selling author Ronald Kessler was doing so in his book “A Matter of Character: Inside the White House of George W. Bush.”

Mr. Kessler was writing about how little was known of Miss Miers — or for that matter, anybody else toiling in the Bush White House.

“Reporters reacted with stunned disbelief when Bush said he wasn’t watching TV for news on the war in Iraq,” recalls the author. “At a press conference on December 12, 2003, Fox TV correspondent Wendell Goler asked Bush, ‘Mr. President, in light of the New York Times editorial today, tell me why?’

“‘Let me stop you, Wendell,’ Bush said. ‘I don’t read those editorials.’”

“Bush’s aides made the point that not everyone reads the Washington Post and the New York Times,” Mr. Kessler says. “Rather, the Bush people were like antimatter: rather than having the normal inclination to feed their egos by garnering attention, they had the opposite orientation and were nearly impervious to press criticism.”

Margaret Spellings, then assistant to the president for domestic policy (now education secretary), observed in the book: “The press office and I have a deal. They don’t do policy, and I don’t do press. You never see Harriet Miers’ name in the paper.”

Harriet who?

The remark gave Mr. Kessler impetus to write everything he could learn about Miss Miers, from her days in Texas and arrival at the White House — in her first job, “she controlled the paper flow to the president, making sure that briefing papers submitted to him were clearly written and timely and presented all sides of the issues” — to her last position as White House counsel.

Calling her petite and soft-spoken, the author wrote that “she applied discipline even-handedly, telling aides that they had not gotten their papers in on time or had written a magnificent paper, but it was not tight enough or did not have a bottom line.”

Then, when the time came for former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer to announce Miss Miers’ appointment as deputy chief of staff, “a reporter had to ask how to spell her name.”

“She doesn’t want to be in the paper,” Mrs. Spellings said at the time of Miss Miers. “She’s all about the president. Will people think she is important and in the know for her next gig? I can tell you she is and she is.”

Little did Mr. Kessler know that next gig would be as nominee to become a Supreme Court justice.

What he did know was that Miss Miers, one of Mr. Bush’s most powerful aides, was so “unknown to the media and the public, [it] was a measure of how successful the Bush White House was at maintaining secrecy.”

Better be pepper

White House reporters strive to know every detail about the daily activities of the president and vice president — what they do, where they go, who they meet and what they eat.

Sam Coates of The Washington Post is no exception. Given White House pool duty this week, he saw fit to note that Vice President Dick Cheney “added either salt or pepper before eating” his turkey, sweet potatoes, carrots, rice and peas.

Quote of the week

“We learned in school that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. You know, the bottom line is that unethical conduct, illegal activity, just totally confronts a reform agenda … . Even if he is not guilty of criminal activity, he has been admonished three times ethically. And it just seems to me, it’s a good thing that he is not our leader.”

—Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican, in an interview with MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough (a former Republican congressman from Florida), referring to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas.

New life

Before his death in April, Pope John Paul II designated the Holy Family Hospital of Bethlehem as one of the world’s most important works of charity — if for no other reason than its location on the map. The hospital cares for pregnant women and newborns in the West Bank, regardless of religion or national origin.

Now, in honor of the late pope, Sen. Christopher S. Bond, Missouri Republican, has just secured $3.5 million for the hospital to improve and expand its maternal, neonatal and well-baby facilities. The funding will be provided by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

As Kerri Houston, vice president for policy at Frontiers of Freedom, tells us, “This will help to promote an environment of peace and a culture of life in a war-torn area. It’s the perfect way to honor Pope John Paul II.”

• John McCaslin, whose column is nationally syndicated, can be reached at 202/636-3284 or

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