White House tapped interns to fill seats after few reporters show up for Bush
John Byrne
Published: Tuesday January 13, 2009


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Various television personalities -- from Anderson Cooper to Campbell Brown -- expressed dismay or outright shock at President George W. Bush's final press conference, particularly his responses regarding Hurricane Katrina. Bush took umbrage with a reporter's question: Why did the government take so long to respond?

But perhaps the most significant measure of Bush's diminished media earning power was the lack of reporters who actually showed up for the event.

According to a story by former Washington Post White House correspondent Dana Milbank, who now writes a snarky tongue-in-cheek column, the White House ordered interns to fill two rows of empty seats in the press briefing room.

"With seven days left until he surrenders power, Bush will have to do a heck of a sales job to convince the nation of this," Milbank wrote. "Further complicating his last-minute legacy rehabilitation: Nobody seems to be paying attention. The White House had high expectations for yesterday's final, historic news conference. 'ONE CORRESPONDENT PER ORGANIZATION,' proclaimed the bulletin sent to reporters. 'STANDING ROOM ONLY FOR NON-SEAT HOLDERS.' But when the appointed hour of 9:15 a.m. arrived, the last two rows in the seven-row briefing room were empty, and a press aide told White House interns to fill those seats."

"In his own way, the outgoing president acknowledged that the past five years have, by many measures, been one long pratfall," Milbank wrote. "But he spoke as though he were an innocent bystander, watching the mishaps rather than having any culpability for them. To Bush, they were not mistakes -- just disappointments. 'Abu Ghraib obviously was a huge disappointment during the presidency,' he said. 'Not having weapons of mass destruction was a significant disappointment -- I don't know if you want to call those mistakes or not, but, they were -- things didn't go according to plan, let's put it that way.'"

Speaking Monday night, CNN's Anderson Cooper and analyst David Gergen appeared flummoxed by Bush's claim during his press conference that his Administration had reacted appropriately in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

"It's sort of a red herring to talk about the flyover," Cooper said. "To talk about what the Coast Guard did, which was valiant and courageous and brilliant, and totally forget about ... on Friday, days after the storm had passed, not even remembering people in the convention center -- it just boggles the mind."

Analyst David Gergen agreed, calling Bush's response on Katrina "the most stunning thing, I think, that happened in the press conference."

"I thought maybe that people would have some sense of warmth about George Bush as he leaves office," Gergen continued. "I think I was wrong. ... I don't think we've had a time since Richard Nixon left office ... when people were so relieved to see the end of a presidency."

Watch the video of Cooper and Gergen here.

 
 


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