George W. Bush Is a Swell Guy, Just Ask His Friends

georgewbushlibraryThe opening of the George W. Bush library later this week is already kicking up some coverage discussing the  rehabilitation of the former president’s image. But some of the coverage doesn’t merely talk about the issue–it contributes to the effort to cast the Bush years in a more positive light.

Take the Washington Post‘s Dan Balz, who has a piece (4/23/13) about how Bush is being viewed more favorably these days.  “Contemporary judgments of Bush’s presidency have been harsh,” Balz wrote, “But Bush will return to public view at a moment when some parts of his record are being viewed more charitably.” That, of course, depends on who’s doing the looking.

The library’s opening is “likely to trigger fresh public debate about his eight fateful years in office,” according to Balz–who then proceeds to get quotes from Bush friends and associates. Balz quotes Karen Hughes and Karl Rove, close advisers to Bush; he talks to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair; the president of the George W. Bush Foundation, Mark Langdale; and former Bush chief of staff Joshua Bolten.

For balance, perhaps, came an assessment from Maya MacGuineas, a former McCain campaign adviser in 2000, who Balz reports “said the country would be happy to have the deficit levels of Bush’s presidency, but she declined to praise his overall record.”

Balz quotes a few historians, who had little to say about Bush’s record. (This brings to mind an op-ed  the Post published over the weekend, which slammed historians for being too “partisan” in their critiques of the Bush presidency.)

If Bush’s library is “likely to trigger fresh public debate” about his presidency, it’s apparently not going to happen in Dan Balz’s article.

natl-journal-good-manNor are you likely to see much of it from Ron Fournier, who covered the Bush White House for the Associated Press and now writes for National Journal. Fournier’s piece (4/22/13), “Go Ahead, Admit It: George W. Bush is a Good Man.”

The article opens with a classic anecdote:

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer walked into the media cabin of Air Force One on May 24, 2002, and dropped identical envelopes in the laps of two reporters, myself and Steve Holland of Reuters. Inside each was a manila card–marked by a small presidential seal and, in a simple font, “THE PRESIDENT.”

Handwritten in the tight script of President George W. Bush, both notes said essentially the same thing: “Thank you for the respect you showed for the office of the President, and, therefore, the respect you showed for our country.”

What had we done? Not much, really. An hour earlier, at a rare outdoor news conference in Germany, Steve and I decided to abide by the U.S. media tradition of rising from our seats when the president entered our presence. The snickering German press corps remained seated. “What a contrast!” Bush wrote. “What class.”

Fournier goes on to note “the essential humanity and decency of our presidents,” and offers up the belief that Bush

did not thank us for respecting him. He knew it wasn’t about George W. Bush. He was touched instead by the small measure of respect we showed “for our country.”

Uh huh, sure.

This wasn’t the only time Fournier exchanged pleasantries with the Bush White House. As we noted in Extra! (9/08), a congressional report on the Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch stories unearthed some email messages between Fournier and Karl Rove:

As Talking Points Memo pointed out (7/14/08), the report quoted an email exchange about Tillman between Karl Rove and Associated Press reporter Ron Fournier, under the subject line “H-E-R-O.” In response to an email from Fournier, Rove asked, “How does our country continue to produce men and women like this?” To which Fournier replied: “The Lord creates men and women like this all over the world. But only the great and free countries allow them to flourish. Keep up the fight.”

If the journalists who were far too generous in their coverage of Bush’s presidency are the same ones writing about how that presidency should be viewed now, he’s in safe hands.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.