Washington Post TV critic Tom Shales trashed President Bush’s farewell address in the Thursday newspaper. Shales was so harsh in his review – headlined "A President’s Parting Words – Convincing, at Least to Himself" – that he thought it was "delusion and denial" that Bush could claim credit for keeping America safe from terrorist attacks after 9/11. Who’s having trouble with reality in this evaluation? Shales began:
Only his remaining ardent supporters would probably classify last night's TV appearance by President Bush as reality television. On the other hand, detractors -- a sizable group, judging by popularity polls -- would likely say George W. Bush's farewell to the nation, delivered from the East Room of the White House, had the aura of delusion and denial.
America is suffering what is commonly being called the most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression, for example. Yet in Bush's speech, that crisis was euphemized into "challenges to our prosperity," as Bush took credit for bold steps to remedy the situation.
Then there's Bush's view of Afghanistan. He included the implication that America's presence there helped it go from a sexist to a feminist state.
And when Bush paid tribute to "those who night and day" do their utmost to keep the country safe from terrorists' acts, he implicitly included himself. Others returned to their pre-9/11 lives after the infamous attack, Bush said, "but I never did." And on this went.
Shales seemed to ignore the text in sneering that Bush implied Afghanistan went "from a sexist state to a feminist state." Here’s the Bush sentence: "Afghanistan has gone from a nation where the Taliban harbored al Qaeda and stoned women in the streets to a young democracy that is fighting terror and encouraging girls to go to school." Those are facts – with some rhetorical polish – but Shales wants to classify them as "delusion and denial."
Shales rubbed Bush’s face in his low approval ratings, mourning how Bush can’t have massive sales of commemorative plates like Obama. The Post’s front-page story by Dan Eggen also underlined "Although Bush's approval numbers have improved slightly as he prepares to leave office, he remains one of the most consistently unpopular presidents since the advent of modern polling."
For liberal media outlets, this is patting themselves on the back for a job well done.
Later on, Shales noticed that some anchor-people were hardly Miss Manners in their description of the departing president:
Although noting Bush has five more days in office before Obama is sworn in, CBS News anchor Katie Couric even prematurely deprived Bush of the traditional introduction afforded America's chief executives when they deliver broadcast speeches or stride out to face the press (which Bush, of course, rarely did): "Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States." Instead, Couric said simply, "And here he is, George W. Bush."
But then, CBS News as a group manufactured the "delusion and denial" known as the Dan Rather "National Guard" copies from Kinko's.
Shales seemed to like the "biting" and "lively" Bush-hater convention that assembled on the set of MSNBC:
After the speech, during biting analysis on the lively MSNBC cable channel, Chris Matthews went after Bush's philosophy with a vengeance, calling it "scary" and less faith-based than Cheney-based -- an adherence by the president, Matthews said, to the thinking of so-called neoconservatives that led to catastrophe in the Mideast, not glory. Matthews called Bush's speech "a score card that only he could design, and of course he did well on it."
Keith Olbermann, anchor of MSNBC's "Countdown," asked rhetorically whether "the only thing missing" from Bush's presentation "was another 'Mission Accomplished' banner," a reference to the banner that flew on an aircraft carrier from which Bush spoke early in the Iraq war that he championed. Even Bush has said since, in one of several farewell interviews, that the banner was probably a boo-boo.
Now with four years of a "nearly biblical pageant" of glorious "Obamavision" in his future, Shales can go on delighting in how the new president makes infomercials that are "somehow both poetic and practical, spiritual and sensible." Post readers shouldn't think they're getting a TV review so much as someone aspiring to be a dime-store Frank Rich.