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Thursday, October 02, 2003

Bush's Puppeteers

Here's an excerpt (with some comments) of the transcript of the interview Jim mentions taken from The Volokh Conspiracy

HUME: How do you get your news?

BUSH: I get briefed by Andy Card and Condi in the morning. They come in and tell me: "In all due respect, you've got a beautiful face and everything." [UPDATE: Reader Dexter Angelike writes that he saw the program, and the "In all due respect" was actually Bush's aside to Brit Hume -- Bush wasn't joking that his advisers start out by flattering him, but rather was joking that no matter how handsome Hume (the "you" was Hume) might be, Bush is not going to spend time watching the TV news.]

I glance at the headlines just to kind of [get a] flavor for what's moving. I rarely read the stories, and get briefed by people who are ... probably read the news themselves. But like Condoleezza, in her case, the national security adviser is getting her news directly from the participants on the world stage.

HUME: Has that been your practice since day one, or is that a practice you've - -

BUSH: Practice since day one.

HUME: Really?

BUSH: Yes. You know, look, I have great respect for the media. I mean our society is a good, solid democracy because of a good, solid media. But I also understand that a lot of times there's opinions mixed in with the news. And I ...

HUME: I won't disagree with that, sir.

BUSH: I appreciate people's opinions, but I'm more interested in news. And the best way to get the news is from objective sources. And the most objective sources I have are people on my staff who tell me what's happening in the world.

So there are several different viewpoints I've now seen in regard to this one snippet. Bush may well be a puppet. It certainly isn't obvious to me that he's not. On the upside, if he is indeed stupid, then it's certainly better that he just listens to those around him, who are generally quite qualified and intelligent, whether or not you happen to agree with them.

The Volokh Conspiracy folks think the main thrust is that Bush doesn't trust the media ("a lot of times there's opinions mixed in with the news") and so doesn't bother reading it (this is rational if one thinks the news is BS). I think it's potentially even more straightforward than that. He does scan the headlines. Let's say he read an article. And let's say in his daily briefing they discussed the event the article was written about. Perhaps his staff and the article are in agreement. Then he wasted his time. Perhaps his staff and the article are in disagreement. Then who's he going to believe? Some reporter from the NY Times? Or Condi Rice who has a large staff dedicated to performing an analysis of the event? I personally would pick Condi. Assuming Bush would also pick Condi, then actually reading the article would be a waste of time. It seems to me Presidents are fairly busy people and time is precious.

I used to personally keep abreast of robotics research, scanning the web and visiting the major robotics universities websites to see what's new. Now that I have a staff, I've assigned them to do that and to keep me informed of new developments. Does that make me a puppet?

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