BROOKE GLADSTONE: We're back with On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. In a recent press conference President Bush seems to be caught flat-footed by repeated questions about his role as a private sector board member with the Harken Energy Company. It was as if the advantages of being a popular war time president took a holiday, and Bush was suddenly subjected to the media's pitiless badgering. But according to Martha Kumar, professor of political science at Towson [sp?] University, the scene simply marked the natural progression from the president's and the press corps' honeymoon -- or as she terms it, "the period of alliance."
MARTHA KUMAR: That's basically an expository period in a presidency where the White House and the press have similar views of what's the story. The story's about the new president, his family, his appointees, his goals and his plans. Later on, as the critics come up, then the weather changes.
BOB GARFIELD: President Clinton. His period of alliance seemed to have lasted about 5 minutes. [LAUGHTER] There was gays in the military-- [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
MARTHA KUMAR: I think it was less than that.
BOB GARFIELD:-- Whitewater and the health care proposal, all of which put the White House under tremendous scrutiny and at odds with many, many critics in the press and outside of it.
MARTHA KUMAR: But I think that in Clinton's case the period of good will just almost never was there; that on election night Senator Dole said that he was certainly not going to give him a pass, and that he had won by a very small margin, and therefore he was not going to stay back in his criticism.
BOB GARFIELD: All right, so what happens after the period of alliance ends?
MARTHA KUMAR:After alliance you come into a period of competition. You have the White House and news organizations disagreeing on what makes up a good story.
BOB GARFIELD:Now at the moment I suppose that the White House is interested in getting more coverage on the new Department of Homeland Security --the press is very interested in corporate scandal, which has brought the White House and the press to some conflict. Predictable?
MARTHA KUMAR: Oh, it is very predictable, and one of the things that happens in summer is scandal. It really has a resonance in summer, usually in the, in the early parts of administrations, presidents are unwilling to take the advice that their staff often will give them which is to take all of the information related to the issue and simply give it to reporters.
BOB GARFIELD: All right, at some point according to your theory the competitive period gives way to a third phase.
MARTHA KUMAR:The third phase is the period of detachment, the time in a presidency when, when the president himself is going to spend a lot less time in direct dealing with reporters. They have far fewer press conferences and are going to spend less time in personal interviews with reporters. The White House communications apparatus, though, is going to still provide the daily information.
BOB GARFIELD:In the case of President Bush, even had there not been a war early in his administration, it strikes me that he was disengaged from the press pretty much from the beginning. We've seen very little of him. Did the Bush presidency begin in the detachment phase?
MARTHA KUMAR: No, it certainly is-- no I don't think it is in a detachment phase now. I mean there is always going to be an interest of the president's staff in trying to present him in situations where his vulnerability is limited. Looking at the Bush White House you can see that they have not had many press conferences; they are reluctant to put him out, and I'm sure there are a variety of reasons for doing so, but I do think the staff generally are conservative, and they don't know what kind of response he will have to particular questions.
BOB GARFIELD:Martha Kumar is a professor of political science at Towson University; she co-wrote Portraying the President: The White House and the News Media. Thank you so much.