Friday, May 27, 2005

What Bush is saying when he's talking

What Bush is saying when he's talking

President Bush, who held just 14 formal, solo news conferences between his 2001 inauguration and the 2004 election, has faced reporters' questions every month since his re-election last November.

The news conferences have usually come at the end of the month, and if that pattern holds, he's due for one.

White House reporter Judy Keen has covered Bush since 1997 and has watched him spar with journalists at scores of news events.

Keen combined her eight years of close observation with insights from former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer.

The result: a guide to help viewers interpret Bush's words.

Repeat offender

President Bush uses some phrases over and over:

What he saysWhen he says itWhy he says it
"I appreciate that question."Several times in every news conference, usually immediately after a complex or tricky question.This means he needs a second to collect his thoughts.
"Thank you for giving me a chance to come by and say hello."At the beginning or end of a news conference.He's signaling that, although this is part of his job, it isn't his favorite part.
"We're making progress."When he's pressed on difficult issues, such as overhauling Social Security or ending North Korea's nuclear program.He's saying that he's working on it.
"I look forward to working with (Congress, Democrats, Russians, Iraq's government, etc.)."In response to questions about the lack of progress on changes to Social Security, withdrawal of troops from Iraq, immigration laws, nuclear proliferation. Bush is suggesting that others aren't playing ball yet, but he'll get what he wants eventually.
"I'm going to continue to speak directly to the American people about this issue." Variations: "I'm going to continue to work on this issue" and "I'm going to continue reminding people."When he's asked what he can do to reduce gas prices, spur more democracy in Russia, change the partisan tone in Washington, end Iran and North Korea's nuclear programs, prompt action on his Social Security proposals.He wants people to know that he's on the case.
"Now is the time to act."When Social Security is the topic.He's signaling that he won't drop it.
"My job is to confront tough issues."When he's asked about slow progress on his proposals to change Social Security and immigration and medical malpractice laws.He's explaining that although it looks like nothing is happening, that's how politics works.

Leave them laughing

Aiming to disarm reporters, he tries teasing humor:

•Surprising a reporter by calling on him: "If you don't raise your hand, does that mean you don't have a question?"

•After he referred to a reporter's daughter when, in fact, the child is a boy: "Excuse me. I should have done the background check."

•Teasing a TV reporter: "He's a sensitive guy. Well-centered, though."

•Bidding farewell to reporters as he prepares to go to his Texas ranch for a holiday: "I look forward to not seeing you down there."

That's all folks

To connect with viewers, he tries folksy remarks:

•"In this job, you've got a lot on your plate. ... You don't have much time to sit around and wander, lonely, in the Oval Office, kind of asking different portraits, 'How do you think my standing (in history) will be?' "

•"I readily concede I'm out of my lane (discussing complex Medicare issues). I'm not pretending to be an actuary."

•"The Crawford Pirates are the (Texas) state 2A, Division II champs, and we look forward, don't we, to wave the championship banner above the Crawford High School."

•"The Oval Office is the kind of place where people ... walk in and get overwhelmed in the atmosphere, and they say, 'Man, you're looking pretty.' "