“Gotcha” Gestalt: Presidential Press Conference

Some thoughts on the recent presidential press conference:

*Where was JFK when we really — REALLY — needed him? At least Sam Donaldson has suitable successors.

*Once again neither the press nor the president distinguished themselves. Too many network preeners and NPR wieners. As a result, too many queries were typical gotcha questions aimed at eliciting a headline-grabbing mea culpa from Bush on what happened — or didn’t happen — right before Sept. 11. All they prompted were some presidential mea, gulp, uhs.

*All the president’s handlers — well, Karl Rove, Andy Card and Karen Hughes — knew he would get a post-Richard Clarke barrage. At least they could have provided him with a cheat sheet saying:

“Stay in charge. Don’t refer to terrorists as ‘folks.’ Remember it’s a forum designed to make you look bad; it’s not a Moose Lodge love-in. Grandstanding reporters are asking the leading questions, but the rest of the world is listening to your answers. Don’t try to befriend anyone. Casual connotes the wrong image for the commander-in-chief during time of war. Bridge to your agenda of resolve. When in doubt, stop. Think deposition.

“As to those queuing up for their swing at the presidential piñata, respond this way to the lead-off man:

‘I was expecting this question, especially in the aftermath of certain 9/11 commission testimony. And I’ll be glad to answer it. ONCE.

‘As president, I take full responsibility for EVERYTHING that happens on my watch. I have ultimate accountability. Our capacity to gather, share and act on intelligence fell far short of ferreting out the most despicably cruel atrocity ever perpetrated on this country. As my national security advisor, Dr. Condolezza Rice, and others have told the 9/11 commission, although war had been declared on us, we were not on a ‘war footing.’ There were institutional walls and barriers and even statutes that precluded the best possible readiness. We know now what we didn’t know then. We always do.

‘More importantly, we’re changing that unacceptable culture as quickly as possible. But I’m not going to play the blame game. As I said, it’s my watch.

‘A day doesn’t go by that I don’t grieve for the innocent lives lost on Sept. 11. And a day doesn’t go by that I don’t grow more determined to do everything humanly possible to keep this country as safe as possible from those who would attack us.

‘Now, does anyone have a different question?'”

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