BOB GARFIELD: Joining me now is Bob Deans, White House correspondent for the Cox Newspapers and president of the White House Correspondents Association. Whether or not confrontation with the sitting administration has historical inevitability, he's faced with the day to day realities of the beat such as being a pool reporter, given access to major events as a representative for the entire print press corps only to shout questions at a smiling, waving, mute president. It's frustrating, Deans says, although somehow still important.
BOB DEANS: The value of this, Bob, to the public is that it gives the American people a chance to look the-- look at the president for themselves, make their own judgments about things like how comfortable he is, what does he project? It's the very same reason that in the world of instant communications and the internet, businessmen still get on an airplane and fly halfway around the world to meet with their partners and look at 'em in the face across a table and, and assess things.
BOB GARFIELD:All right, now -- serving that function as pool reporter recently in Canada you've covered the G-8 Summit and you were not a happy camper. I'm going to read the lead of the report that you gave to the other members of the press on the trip. No, this was not the lead of your story in the newspaper the next day, but this is what you told your colleagues. "It was only a matter of time, perhaps, but what passes for White House coverage these days has finally devolved into a Lewis Carroll absurdity in which White House correspondents can travel on a 3-day foreign trip and never once lay eyes on the president, not even if they draw a 12 hour pool assignment."
BOB DEANS: We did certainly expect to have the one lone writer representing the entire press corps able to get into the G-8 working session, and the fact that we weren't able to do that struck me as a new low. Now in fairness Ari Fleischer, the White House press spokesman, came out later that day and apologized to the press corps.
BOB GARFIELD: Just curious -- did Fleischer's apology come before or after you had filed your pool report?
BOB DEANS: It came after the pool report was filed, but I, I don't know whether it -- one precipitated the other.
BOB GARFIELD:Has stonewalling become simply the status quo in the Bush White House and, and is it any worse than, for example, the Clinton White House was?
BOB DEANS: These comparisons are tricky. I will say this: as far as pool access goes, even in the darkest days of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, we still had pool access to President Clinton. Now you could ask a question and he wouldn't answer a question about any subject. I can remember asking him once about the Pakistani nuclear program and he wouldn't answer, because he knew that if he answered that, the next question out of somebody's mouth was going to have to do with Monica Lewinsky. So he wouldn't answer those questions. But he had to in essence gauge the price he was going to pay for the public's seeing him not asking [sic]--answering legitimate questions.
BOB GARFIELD:And a piece in the National Journal, Carl Cannon [sp?], suggested that it's in the White House' interest to keep the American people informed and that if they don't keep the American people informed that it becomes a political liability for the White House. Do you think that it's, it's ever in the interest of the White House to say more as opposed to less?
BOB DEANS: One of the things that can't be overlooked is the fact that this president has a --depending on which poll -- Gallup last week, 73 percent; New York Times/CBS News this week 70 percent job approval rating. So-- one wonders what, when a senior staffer in a meeting says doggone it, we've got to be more responsive to these journalists and-- another senior staffer looks across the table and says "Well we've got 7 out of 10 Americans on our side. Tell me what we're going to get by going your route," one can only imagine the response. What I argue is that it's in their interest to explain more, not less, about why they're doing what they're doing, the why's and the wherefores behind the policies, and here's why it's important. Every time you leave unanswered questions on the table, you sow the seeds of suspicion that can ultimately erode even the most noble of national objectives. To build support for your objectives you need to explain them. And ultimately this shouldn't come down to a us-versus-them. The health of the democracy is based on an informed electorate. It's our job as journalists to provide that information. When we fail, we fail the nation. And that's something we can't afford to do.
BOB GARFIELD: Bob Deans, thank you very much.
BOB DEANS: Thank you for having me, Bob.
BOB GARFIELD: Bob Deans is the White House correspondent for the Cox Newspapers and president of the White House Correspondents Association.