BOB GARFIELD: We’re back with On the Media. I’m Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I’m Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I’m Bob Garfield. For a recent New York Times Magazine piece, writer DT DANIEL MAX spent days with White House speechwriters as they prepared for President Bush’s rousing address before the joint session of Congress. The resulting article was a fascinating peak into the construction of presidential image, and also a glimpse at the verbal idiosyncrasies of our notoriously un-glib president. We spoke to
DANIEL MAX: recently, mainly to inquire about “women of cover” - a term that popped up twice in a subsequent news conference. But while we were at it, we wanted to know about the provenance of other Bush-isms. The Evil One. Smoke them out of their hole. Make no mistake. Were these the formulations of image-makers, or of the president himself?
DANIEL MAX:: It really depends on the phrase. If you watch these things closely, you can at some times trace certain kinds of phrases to certain people in the White House. “Crusade” I think was the president himself, I think it was just something that came out of his mouth. So was “make no mistake”. I mean I think it’s one of those situations where he perhaps is even thinking I’m not going to say “make no mistake” again and then whoop. Out it pops. The other kinds of phrases, I mean the idea of evil was almost an example of group-think from the administration his counselor Karen Hughes, his chief speech writer Mike Gerson - they all kind of think very much in these terms - they believed even before the attacks that America had a purpose in the world that was a moral purpose - I think that’s where we got the idea of the day of remembrance and prayer that came after the attacks.
BOB GARFIELD: In the prime time news conference that he gave, he referred to women of cover: BUSH: (tape) I was struck by this that many cities when Christian and Jewish women learn that Muslim women, women of cover, were afraid of going out of there homes alone, that they went shopping with them that they showed true friendship and support. BOB GARFIELD: First I thought he had misspoken, he was trying to say “women of color” but no he had clearly on the second time said “women of cover” to refer to Muslim women who wear various kinds of garments to cover their faces and their skin to varying degrees. Do you have any idea where that came from?
DANIEL MAX:: There are a couple of schools on this. One is that it’s along the lines of a “return to normalcy.” That is to say we’ve got a new coinage that may become more popular than previous ways of referring to Muslim women. Another possibility is that it just popped out of his mouth. There are a number of ways one can imagine him coming to this, a number of verbal tics that might have been involved . Maybe he was thinking of as you say women of color maybe it was women of valor - maybe it was cover girls. I have absolutely no idea - that’s a stretch, but - in a certain way it’s a kind of wonderful attempt - my editor has described it as Karen Hughes by way of Lani Guinier. I think the Ford Foundation might have had a hand in that phrase too. It’s kind of wonderfully modern and we all suspect that somewhere there exists somewhere a thesis with that in the title. BOB GARFIELD: In the very same news conference he talked about coughing up bin Laden. Do you think back behind the curtain Karen Hughes and company were wincing or exchanging high-fives?
DANIEL MAX:: I think there is a division in the administration and has been since the attacks over whether the president should sound like he just rode into dodge or like he’s speaking to the UN. So that on the one hand he’ll say we’re going to smoke bin Laden out of his cave or we want him dead or alive and then he’ll speak about the rights of man in the next moment. It’s an oddity. BOB GARFIELD: So do you believe the American public wants our president to speak presidentially or do you think they want to see the real guy, the genuine article?
DANIEL MAX:: I think we all got very nervous . I think we were all scared - whatever else may be true the president has the power to destroy the world. I don’t think we want him caught up in his emotions and I don’t think we as Americans want him as the sheriff. I think we’re more comfortable over all presiding over the enormous national security and military structure that he does in fact preside over. We want him - we want bin Laden smoked out of his hole, but we don’t want the president going in by hand and doing it. BOB GARFIELD: Daniel
DANIEL MAX:, thank you very much.
DANIEL MAX:: Thank you. BOB GARFIELD: Daniel D.T.
DANIEL MAX: is a frequent contributor to the New York times Magazine