BROOKE GLADSTONE: From WNYC in New York this is NPR's On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. The latest under-aged drinking incident involving presidential daughter Jenna Bush has created understandable unease in the White House, some of which has played out in the briefing room. Houston Chronicle reporter Bennett Roth was chastised by the administration for asking a question press secretary Ari Fleischer deemed off limits. The tempest began in a briefing following President Bush's discussion of parental roles in dealing with substance abuse. Ben Roth, what was the indelicate question?
BENNETT ROTH: Considering the president's, you know, urging this parental involvement I said has he talked to his own children about drugs and drinking, and then I said and considering his daughter was recently cited for underage drinking, isn't that a sign that sometimes parents can't have the influence that they, they may hope to have? Ari Fleischer then bristled; sort of dodged the question and said well I hope that, you know, the press doesn't go there and respects the privacy and, and then that was the end of the press conference and, and he left.
BOB GARFIELD: But it's what followed the press briefing that is particularly unsettling.
BENNETT ROTH:Yeah-- about maybe two hours later I got a call from Ari Fleischer and who immediately told me that he thought I was out of bounds in asking the question; that none of the other national press had gone there about the questioning of - you know - that the lives of the daughters and-- he said it had been in quote "noted in the building that I had asked the question."
BOB GARFIELD:Nobody else "went there." Is there anyone in the press corps who objects to asking questions about Jenna Bush's brushes with the law?
BENNETT ROTH: Well, I - there are some of my colleagues who I think are very uncomfortable with it, and I'm not totally comfortable with it myself. I mean, I mean it's always - you always feel a little bit, you know, squeamish about this, and there are some colleagues who do really feel that we shouldn't be, you know, getting involved in these daughters. I mean they didn't run for, for the office, and for the most part I agree with that. However you do have the, the issue that they were arrested. There was a citation, and that, I think that changes the issue.
BOB GARFIELD: You say that he told you it was-- your question "had been noted" in the White House. That's a not-so-veiled threat, isn't it?
BENNETT ROTH:I took it that way, and of everything he said that was the thing that bothered me the most. I mean that was a, that w-- that was a kind of a bullying tactic I thought was a little out of bounds on his part. I mean he has a perfect right not to like the question and call me and talk to me about it but to sort of say that well if you ask these kind of questions, we're, we're you know - keeping lists or things like that.
BOB GARFIELD: And c-- not to sic the IRS on you but maybe to freeze you out of-- reporting opportunities or something like that?
BENNETT ROTH:Well I mean that was the kind of funny thing and king of liberating thing about it. I mean the - this administration has not been-- very open or, or easy to get information from to begin with. They're pretty parsimonious with the information they parcel out, so you know there's not much they can really do to you, because they don't, they don't give you a whole lot.
BOB GARFIELD: How have your colleagues responded and is there anybody who's coming to your defense in the White House press corps?
BENNETT ROTH:A lot of people were coming to my defense. I would say most people. And, and other people have had similar incidents happen to them; it just didn't happen to get leaked to the, to the Washington Post, which I didn't do, but I mean it did get out and I think other people felt that they had, you know, suffered similar kind of-- tongue lashings from Ari and that they felt that, you know, this was a sign that maybe this was more of a pattern than they had thought. But most, it was mostly supportive! I mean there's this feeling that we should be able to ask any question we want, and you know, they don't have to answer it, but this idea that there's certain questions that are out of bounds I think strikes all of us as-- just not, not, not right.
BOB GARFIELD: Does the president have a nickname for you?
BENNETT ROTH: Not [LAUGHS] yet. I don't know if I'll get close enough to him [LAUGHS] these days for him to give me one.
BOB GARFIELD: Well, in that event, Slim, thank you for joining us.
BENNETT ROTH: Thanks!
BOB GARFIELD: Bennett Roth is the White House correspondent for the Houston Chronicle.