BROOKE GLADSTONE: Thursday night, President Bush devoted an hour of his 60th birthday to a White House sit-down with a major news organization. It was a rare exercise for the president, who so mistrusts the media filter he has substantially filtered the media out of his executive routine. But there he was, along with the First Lady, answering questions live to tape on CNN. A million or so viewers caught the broadcast. One of them was Bob.
BOB GARFIELD: Larry King? CNN gets an hour with the President and they send Larry King? In cowboy boots, no less! Okay, let's figure the White House wasn't going to let George Bush sit down with John King or Christiane Amanpour or Dr. Sanja Gupta or anyone else more likely than Larry to hold presidential feet to the fire. So, presuming this would be "Larry King Live" or no Bush exclusive at all, let's give one of broadcasting's most inveterate interviewers the benefit of the doubt. And, sure enough, some of the questions were just the ones, say, I would have asked.
LARRY KING: So there is no doubt, if you had to do it all over again knowing that WMDs weren't there, you'd still go in. How well are we prepared if there's another Katrina? Are you optimistic that this Korean thing will be resolved?
GEORGE W. BUSH: Absolutely. I'm optimistic that all problems will be resolved.
BOB GARFIELD: The President, alas, wasn't especially revealing. So Larry challenged, interrupted and repeated the questions relentlessly.
LARRY KING: She told me it was not her decision, it was ABC's decision.
STAR JONES REYNOLDS: But I said - [OVERTALK]
LARRY KING: And she held it off for a while. [OVERTALK]
STAR JONES REYNOLDS: I understand.
LARRY KING: They wanted to do it earlier. Is that true?
BOB GARFIELD: Oh, wait. That wasn't Thursday with the President. That was last week with Star Jones Reynolds about her firing from "The View." Now, with the President, Larry was as relent-ful as can be.
LARRY KING: Al Gore was on recently on this program, and concerning the environment, he said, President Bush and Vice-President Cheney have anointed to every key position that has anything to do with climate change special interest spokesmen for the oil companies, coal companies, and this is no secret. How do you respond to that?
GEORGE W. BUSH: Um -
LARRY KING: Have you seen his film?
GEORGE W. BUSH: No, I haven't seen it yet, but, you know, I guess politics never stops.
BOB GARFIELD: Politics, Larry? After the President stopped rambling about ethanol or whatever, couldn't you have brought up the Kyoto Treaty he won't sign? What about censoring NASA scientists who acknowledge global warming? Yeah, first questions are great, but journalism isn't about going down the list. It's about following up and getting answers. An hour with the President squandered this way is just so frustrating! The thing about a free press is either use it or lose it, a point made painfully clear when Larry raised the President's attack on The New York Times for informing the public about how private bank records are routinely tracked in the war on terror.
GEORGE W. BUSH: It doesn't make any sense to me to give the enemy, you know, our game plan on how we're going to deal with them. I just simply - [BOTH AT ONCE]
LARRY KING: Isn't that a ticklish line, though, free press? I mean, you just - [OVERTALK]
GEORGE W. BUSH: Uh, yeah, I mean, you know - [OVERTALK]
LARRY KING: - got to support a free press.
GEORGE W. BUSH: I do support a free press strongly, and I also want people to recognize that we're at war. And it's just, you know, it's just, I just don't understand. It just doesn't make any sense to me.
LARRY KING: Laura, we asked for e-mails, and one came in for you. I read that you were once a librarian.
BOB GARFIELD: Yes, Mrs. Bush, do tell. Inquiring minds want to know.