CNN's Collins: Is Bush getting his groove back?

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CNN correspondent Candy Crowley and anchor Heidi Collins uncritically reported Republican rhetoric on President Bush's March 21 press conference, with Crowley stating that "[t]he White House says the president is best in these public forums," and Collins asking, "Is the president getting his political groove back?"

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In their coverage of President Bush's March 21 press conference to defend his strategy in Iraq, CNN senior political correspondent Candy Crowley and anchor Heidi Collins uncritically reported Republican rhetoric, with Crowley stating that "[t]he White House says the president is best in these public forums," and Collins asking, "Is the president getting his political groove back?" Crowley made her remarks during a report that aired on the 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. ET March 21 editions of CNN's The Situation Room, and Collins made her comments during a report on the March 21 edition of CNN's Paula Zahn Now, which she guest-hosted.

In addition to Crowley's reports on the conference -- in which she also said that "there is substance to the [Bush's] style," and that Bush "showed some game" -- she also offered commentary in discussions with Situation Room host Wolf Blitzer. When Blitzer asked her about Bush's "bantering" with the press corps during the 4 p.m. edition, Crowley responded:

CROWLEY: [H]e's very good at zingers. He's good at jokes. He looks comfortable. He can be in command, and, but the strange thing is, Wolf, I saw that George Bush in 2000 when he was running for president, when he had to be out there, when every day was a news conference, so he's kind of in that groove.

On Paula Zahn Now, Collins echoed Crowley's remarks in an introduction to her story on the event. She stated: "Today's news conference was just as remarkable for its style as for its substance. Is the president getting his political groove back?," Collins went on to give her own uncritical report on the conference, in which she said, "[A]n unusually animated and upbeat President Bush had answers for all of the issues that are dragging him down ... starting with Iraq."

From the March 21 4 p.m. edition of CNN's The Situation Room:

CROWLEY: Wolf, there's no mistaking that the president is in a full-court press on Iraq policy. It's an effort really to seize back control through words and through actions both big and small.

[begin video clip]

BUSH: Good morning.

CROWLEY [voiceover]: Sometimes, and this is one of those times, there is substance to the style. A president in free fall in the polls needs to be and look and sound in charge.

BUSH: And I'm never going to forget the vow I made to the American people.

CROWLEY: And a president depicted as isolated from criticism needs to seek it out.

HELEN THOMAS (Hearst Newspapers columnist): You'll be sorry.

CROWLEY: Veteran newswoman Helen Thomas had not been called on in three years.

BUSH: No, hold on for a second, please. Let -- excuse me. Excuse me. No president wants war. Everything you may have heard is that, but it's just simply not true.

CROWLEY: He's begun to do a lot more of this lately, going before not entirely friendly audiences, with not entirely scripted questions, trying to counter the image of a president detached from reality, allergic to challenge. The White House says the president is best in these public forums, and yesterday in Cleveland, he responded to the criticism and showed some game.

QUESTION: Mr. President, the Cleveland Hungarian community is planning a major event in Cleveland in October.

BUSH: You got to seize the moment, you know. I'm not sure what I'm doing in October. Put me down as a maybe.

CROWLEY: But at today's news conference, for all the dogged determination and the attempts at camaraderie, and the relaxed body language, the president seemed both frustrated and dismissive of the forum.

BUSH: Let's see here. They've told me what to say -- David.

CROWLEY: There was a tension, a testiness from a president under siege.

BUSH: I'm going say it again, if I didn't believe we could succeed, I wouldn't be there. I wouldn't put those kids there.

[end video clip]

CROWLEY: The truth is, this is not a president who likes these news conferences. He is there because he has to be, using every forum and every tool at his disposal to convince an increasingly unconvinced public. No less than the war in Iraq and his legacy are at stake, and he's putting himself out there. Wolf.

BLITZER: But he's actually, in this informal sort of relaxed atmosphere -- as relaxed as it can be in the White House briefing room, he's pretty good in bantering, going back and forth with reporters. He even took a few shots at reporters, including a New York Times reporter.

CROWLEY: Absolutely. I mean, he's very good at zingers. He's good at jokes. He looks comfortable. He can be in command, and, but the strange thing is, Wolf, I saw that George Bush in 2000 when he was running for president, when he had to be out there, when every day was a news conference, so he's kind of in that groove.

And then, as you know, as things grew worse, the White House would put him in these forums where the questions were, "Gosh, you're great, how great are you?" So it's almost as though he got rusty.

You know, Ronald Reagan used to be the same way. They would sort of take him out of, you know, the give and take, and then when he first went back in, he was kind of tentative and it sort of built up this anxiousness.

Now that they've got him -- had him out since December really taking these questions, he's getting better at it. And he, he, really is -- they believe he's good in this forum and he can be good in this forum and the fact of the matter is, it's a forum they have to use.

From the March 21 edition of CNN's Paula Zahn Now:

COLLINS: We're starting with something that's pretty unusual. President Bush called a surprise news conference this morning, where he conceded that the final decision about withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq will probably be left for a future U.S. president.

But even if there's no end in sight to the war or to his falling approval numbers, it doesn't seem to be getting the president down. Today's news conference was just as remarkable for its style as for its substance. Is the president getting his political groove back? He certainly seems to be trying.

[begin video clip]

BUSH: Good morning.

COLLINS [voice-over]: He said it again: He doesn't pay attention to the polls. But at this morning's news conference, an unusually animated and upbeat President Bush had answers for all of the issues that are dragging him down, starting with Iraq.

BUSH: Secondly, I am confident -- or I believe; I'm optimistic we will -- we will succeed. If not, I'd pull our troops out. If I didn't believe we had a plan for victory, I wouldn't leave our people in harm's way.

COLLINS: The president concedes there will be more tough fighting and more deaths, but he doesn't think Iraq has fallen into civil war.

BUSH: I believe the Iraqis -- that this is a moment when the Iraqis had a chance to fall apart, and they didn't. And that's a positive development.

COLLINS: The president's advice to nervous Republicans in an election year, and to the voters: Look beyond the daily images of violence; he has a plan for victory: Get the Iraqis to form a unity government, train Iraq's security forces, and give democracy time to take root.

[...]

COLLINS: On the domestic spying issue, the president was asked about Democratic talk of censuring or even impeaching him, because he has authorized wiretaps without getting court warrants. His answer was to turn the question back on his opponents.

BUSH: They ought to take their message to the people and say, "Vote for me; I promise we're not going to have a terrorist surveillance program."

COLLINS: The president was asked if he still had the political capital he claimed he had after the 2004 election.

BUSH: I say I'm spending that capital on the war.

COLLINS: How about Social Security reform, which the president once called a priority for his second term?

BUSH: Social Security, yeah-- it didn't get done.

COLLINS: The day's big headline will be the president's answer to one question: Will there come a day when there are no American forces in Iraq?

BUSH: That, of course, is an objective, and that will be decided by future presidents and future governments of Iraq.

COLLINS: For the first time, the president conceding that stabilizing the situation in Iraq could drag on beyond the end of his term in January of 2009.

[end video clip]

Network/Outlet
CNN
Person
Candy Crowley
Show/Publication
Paula Zahn Now, The Situation Room
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