Australia is and has been, through both Democratic and Republican administrations a staunch and steadfast ally of the United States. The Aussies have fought alongside American forces in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the first Gulf War, in Afghanistan and in Iraq, and the U.S. and Australia are partners in a free-trade agreement. Given that, readers of the Washington Post should reasonably expect reporters and editors at the paper to understand the propriety of President Bush hosting former Prime Minister John Howard at Blair House in the closing days of his administration, especially since Howard was in town to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
But for some reason, that's asking too much of Post staffer Manuel Roig-Franzia and his editors. Roig-Franzia opened his January 14 below-the-fold Style section front pager by calling Howard "America's most inconvenient houseguest."
The Post writer continued in his second paragraph by reminding readers of a gripe that liberal journalists have been fixated on even as President-elect Obama brushed off the "inconvenience" as no big deal:
Former Australian prime minister John Howard accepted the nation's highest civilian honor after spending the night at Blair House, the 119-room presidential guesthouse -- edging out someone else who had hoped to crash there . . . President-elect Barack Obama.
By contrast, it took Roig-Franzia until the 16th paragraph in his 22-paragraph story to note that Howard was in Washington on September 11, 2001 and that Bush praised him as "a sturdy friend in a time of need." Even so, Roig-Franzia quickly returned to the alleged Obama snub, dismissing the notion that Howard was worthy of the accolade by citing biased journalists from the land down under:
Most recently, though, it was Howard's stay at Blair House that caused controversy, provoking ridicule here and in his home country.
Obama and his family had asked the Bush administration for permission to stay at the mansion prior to the inauguration so the Obama girls, Malia and Sasha, could start school. The Bush administration declined the request, saying the mansion was taken. It later was revealed that Howard and his wife, Janette, were the only overnight guests during the period the Obamas wanted to stay at the mansion. Needing a secure place to lay their heads, the Obamas opted to stay at the Hay-Adams Hotel until their scheduled move into Blair House on Thursday.
Howard's decision to stay at the mansion piqued the feisty Australian press. A headline in the Courier-Mail screamed: "Sleep in the park, US tells Howard." The Australian newspaper wrote of "Fury as John Howard's end upsets Barack Obama's beginning," and the Herald Sun declared, "Howard bushwhacks Obama."