Relaying NYT’s Snide Take, ABC’s Woodruff Derides Bush’s Outreach to Ex-Officials

Journalists have eagerly passed along, and themselves formulated, complaints that President Bush is too isolated (ie Newsweek’s “Bush in a bubble”). But after, at his invitation, 13 former Secretaries of State and Defense came to the White House Thursday for a briefing on Iraq and a chance to give Bush and his top foreign policy officials their feedback, ABC anchor Bob Woodruff copied from a snide New York Times posting as he sneeringly stressed how “the dialogue was limited” since “the entire affair lasted just 40 minutes.” He added, as if it had some great import, that “we're told...that former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who has criticized the administration's handling of the war, did not say a word." To that tidbit, World News Tonight co-anchor Elizabeth Vargas chirped in: "Interesting."

Did the entire event really last just 40 minutes? The New York Times story posted Thursday afternoon simply referred to “an exceedingly upbeat 40-minute briefing to 13 living former Secretaries of State and Defense about how well things are going in Iraq.” Presumably, since news accounts related the advice given to Bush by several attendees, that was preceded and/or followed by time for comments. The Times story even later noted that Bush heard from the group for another ten minutes, followed by time with his advisers. I reviewed stories aired on all three cable news networks, as well as the AP and Washington Post postings, but none included any information about the length of the consultation. [Update, 8:30am EST Friday: In the story in the hard copy edition of Friday's Washington Post, Jim VandeHei reported that "Bush spent an hour" with the "prominent foreign policy voices."]

Woodruff, who read ABC’s short item from Israel, clearly took his cue from David Sanger’s New York Times story which was much snootier than articles posted elsewhere. (Comparisons follow.)

Neither the CBS Evening News or NBC Nightly News uttered a word about the session/photo-op.

From Israel, after a story on violence in Iraq, Bob Woodruff read this item on the January 6 World News Tonight. As he spoke, viewers saw video of the former officials around the table in the Roosevelt Room with Bush followed by a picture of them all with Bush, VP Cheney, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Rice in the Oval Office:

“One other note about Iraq. There was quite a gathering at the White House today. President Bush invited 13 former Secretaries of State and Defense, to talk about Iraq. They are the architects of American foreign policy since the Vietnam era. But the dialogue was limited. The entire affair lasted just 40 minutes. And we're told, Elizabeth, that former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who has criticized the administration's handling of the war, did not say a word.”

Elizabeth Vargas, at ABC’s Manhattan studio: “Interesting.”

Sanger led his New York Times posting:

Colin Powell said nothing -- a silence that spoke volumes to many in the White House today.

His predecessor, Madeleine Albright, was a bit riled after hearing an exceedingly upbeat 40-minute briefing to 13 living former secretaries of state and defense about how well things are going in Iraq. Saying the war in Iraq was “taking up all the energy” of President Bush's foreign policy team, she asked Mr. Bush whether he had let nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea spin out of control, and Latin America and China policy suffer by benign neglect.

"I can't let this comment stand," Mr. Bush shot back, telling Ms. Albright and the rare assembly of her colleagues, who reached back to the Kennedy White House, that his administration "can do more than one thing at a time."

The Bush administration, the president insisted, had "the best relations of any country with Japan, China and Korea," and active programs to win alliances around the world.

That was, according to some of the participants, one of the few moments of heat during an unusual White House effort to bring some of its critics into the fold and give a patina of bipartisan common ground to the strategy that Mr. Bush has laid out in recent weeks for Iraq.

But if it was a bipartisan consultation, as advertised by the White House, it was a brief one. Mr. Bush allowed 5 to 10 minutes this morning for interchange with the group -- which included three veterans of another difficult war, the one in Vietnam: Robert S. McNamara, Melvin R. Laird and James R. Schlesinger. Then the entire group was herded the Oval Office for what he called a "family picture."

Those who wanted to impart more wisdom to the current occupants of the White House were sent back across the hall to meet again with Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, and Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. But, as several of the participants noted, by that time Mr. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld had gone on to other meetings....

END of Excerpt from

By comparison, reporter William Branigin began his 2:30pm EST Washington Post Web site posting, with a lot less attitude:

President Bush reached out for suggestions about his Iraq policy today, inviting a bipartisan group of 13 former secretaries of state and defense to the White House for talks with him and top aides.

Bush told reporters after the meeting that the former secretaries from Republican and Democratic administrations had received a briefing "on our strategy for victory in Iraq" from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and the U.S. ambassador and top military commander in Iraq.

"I've also had a chance to listen to their concerns, their suggestions about the way forward," Bush said. "Not everybody around this table agreed with my decision to go into Iraq, and I fully understand that. But these are good, solid Americans who understand that we've got to succeed now that we're there."

Bush said he was "most grateful for the suggestions that have been given," adding, "We take to heart the advice."

The meeting marked the first time that Bush has convened such a gathering of former Cabinet secretaries to talk about Iraq, an outreach effort recommended to him by senior Republican members of Congress, among others. The meeting coincided with another deadly day in Iraq, where insurgent violence claimed the lives of at least 130 Iraqis and five more American soldiers....

Bush, seated at a long table between Rice and Vice President Cheney, took no questions from reporters. But a few of the former secretaries answered queries about the meeting outside the White House, saying the group emphasized a need for the president to clearly explain his policies to the public.

"It was a unique meeting," said Frank C. Carlucci, 75, who served as defense secretary under President Ronald Reagan in the late 1980s. "It was all very respectful, but I think people didn't hesitate to express candid views." Among those who made "very strong points," he said, were former defense secretary Melvin R. Laird, 83, who served under President Richard M. Nixon, and former secretaries of state George P. Shultz, 85, a Reagan appointee, and Madeleine K. Albright, 68, who served under President Bill Clinton....

END Excerpt from

And the AP’s Jennifer Loven opened her 4:38pm EST dispatch as posted on Yahoo News:

President Bush brought foreign policy heavyweights from yesteryear to the White House on Thursday, including Democrats who have opposed his Iraq strategy. He got support for the mission -- along with a few concerns -- and a right to claim he was reaching out.

Waging an unpopular war that has dragged down his approval ratings, Bush has been campaigning to win the public over to his argument that he has a successful strategy for stabilizing Iraq and bringing American troops home.

As part of that effort, Bush brought to the White House more than a dozen former secretaries of state and defense, split almost evenly between Republican and Democratic administrations, for a detailed briefing and give-and-take.

He gambled that one-time high-level public officials, when personally summoned by the president, would resist temptation to be too critical.

He was right....

END of Excerpt from the AP

Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center