The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Sunday, February 23, 2003  

A Great Big Sphincter Smooch for the Bush Family
Liberal Media, My Ass -- Or Theirs

Whatever happened to the Washington Post? Once a sleepy company-town rag, the paper exploded upon the national scene during the 1970s, continuing throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s to set the pace for imitators and aspirants nationwide. The Post raised the bar for its peers and published some of the best journalism not only of its own history but of American history as well.

Times change. Oh, do times change. The Post is not the newspaper it briefly was, not by a long shot. Now it's just a vehicle for Bush family propaganda. Liberal media, my ass.

The latest evidence: "The Patience of Jeb," by Mark Leibovich, in today's edition of the Post.

Reading this piece I scarcely know whether to laugh or cry, so I'll do both. I know one thing: The American media truly reached an all-time low today.

Here's a choice quote from the early portion of this 4,000-word onanistic tribute to one of the lesser lights of the collection of dim bulbs that make up the Bush family:

He [Gov. John Ellis Bush (R-Fla.)] is the Bush with the angst gene, who seems to labor through even his pinnacle moments. His capacity for public tears is impressive even by the weepy standards of the Bush family. He cried four times at his inaugural events last month -- one fewer than he did during "Forrest Gump."

Touching. Really touching.

Here's another:

It is, or should be, such a sweet scene. America's Little Brother, decisively reelected, gets sworn in on the same Bible his brother and father used in Washington. George and Bar sit point-'n'-waving at the front of the stage. Four F-15s scream overhead, and a National Guard unit fires 19 cannon blasts. George P. Bush, Jeb's 26-year-old son and the program's master of ceremonies, talks like he's already in Congress. The 41st president introduces Jeb. The 43rd president couldn't make it, but he's a busy man.

"George and Bar"?! Gee whiz, Mark, can you spread their cheeks any farther apart?

And I love this: "The 43rd president" -- that would be George W. Bush for those of you playing with the trading cards at home -- "couldn't make it." That's no doubt a phrase that will ring strangely familiar to those men who served in the National Guard -- without going A.W.O.L. or deserting the U.S. armed forces -- during the Vietnam War.

And just when you thought your disgust-triggered episode of vomiting had come to an end, Leibovich offers this emetic observation:

He is a shy public man who seems destined to suffer in the open. He is the Bush who has acknowledged marital strife, who cries while discussing his daughter's drug problems on the "Today" show -- the same show that repeatedly broadcast her mug shot after her arrest on drug charges -- whose wife's [Ed: Columba Bush] ill-fated Paris shopping spree made her a [Jay] Leno punchline and whose handsome oldest son is a People magazine idol. And this doesn't include the famous family Jeb Bush was born into -- or, for that matter, the infamous election he was thrust into.

Wait! He's not done. Try this:

In the Bush family shorthand, Jeb was the anointed one: the driven big-thinker who started kindergarten a year early and graduated from the University of Texas in 2 1/2 years.

Wow! Some kind of genius, no doubt.

Oh, what the hell, I've already pissed you off, so I'll give you some more of Leibovich's bunghole cleaning:

Jeb Bush can be warm and approachable. But compared with the Georges, he keeps a discernible distance. He almost never grants face-to-face interviews and has particular disdain for the national media. They focus, inevitably, on his daughter, his wife, his brother, his father, 2000 or 2008.

Or worse, what Jeb deplores as "navel-gazing" themes, a powerful allergy in the Bush family. . . .

He declined to be interviewed for this article, though a spokesman suggested questions by e-mail, the governor's preferred medium -- Bush gives out his Internet address to crowds ( and invites citizens to write.

In dealing with the media, e-mail suits the governor's need for control. He picks what he wants to answer, can edit freely and "cc" whom he wishes. E-mail is also easy to ignore.

Watch, now, as Leibovich falls for the lamest -- and most obvious -- spin in American political history:

The Washington Post's trial e-mail to Bush concerns e-mail itself: When did he start using it? How often does he use it? What kinds of business does he use it for? It seems a harmless way to open a conversation. And Bush answers within an hour.

Thank you for writing. I started using email post 1994 but have been an active user since then. I use it now to keep me connected to friends and constituents. I learn from email from folks. I discount the organized email campaigns but I am respectful of the cause. I don't let the press go around our process (once anda while journalists get around them :) ) It is a huge productivity tool that allows me to be focused on the little things that are important all the while I stayed focused on my larger agenda. Happy New Year.

Jeb Bush

In three follow-up e-mails (which Bush also answers promptly), the governor reveals: He has three e-mail accounts, receives 200 to 300 a day on and reads most of them. He guesses that 25 percent of the e-mails come from colleagues, 50 percent from constituents, 10 percent from family and friends and 15 percent from junk mail and list mail. The risk, he says, is in relying too much on e-mail, at the expense of face-to-face nuance. "There is always [the] threat of invading family time!" he writes.

He likes talking about e-mail. But when questions veer into other areas, the door closes. "I am skipping all of the questions," he writes. "I apologize." National attention, he reiterates, is a distraction. "My interest is Florida, Florida, Florida," he writes, and the e-mail proceeds in one long paragraph that concludes:

If you want to write an article about career service reform, I can lend a hand so long as it is not about me. If you are interested in how a state can reduce drug use, I am interested. You might be interested in how governments are embarking on major technology projects, in which case you might want to look at what we are doing. Did you know that we are the first state to outsource the hr function of government? No profiles.

Jeb Bush

That little computer smiley face is just too precious, isn't it? A real man of the people.

Oh, and get this! Jeb is a devoted family man, so rare in American politics today, don't you know? Jeb even loves . . . his mother!:

George W. calls Jeb my "big little brother" during appearances (Jeb is five inches taller), and Jeb dutifully plays the goofy sidekick. He introduces George as "my older, smarter and wiser brother."

Like George W., Jeb loves to tout his admiration for his mother -- which is also smart politics, given her popularity -- but in a way that can occasionally be treacly. At his inaugural prayer breakfast, Jeb turns to his mother, shakes his head and lowers his voice. "When I came into the world and woke up, there I was, lying right next to Barbara Bush."

He was not as mischievous as George W., but could be bold and unpredictable. "Jebby is going to need some help I am sure," his father wrote in 1971. "He is a free and independent spirit and I don't want him to get totally out of touch with the family."


There is one word for Leibovich's performance and the Post's enabling thereof: A disgrace. If he's not embarrassed by this article, then I'll be embarrassed for him.

I wonder if Leibovich and his bosses know that the entire Bush clan, and their despicable minions in Congress, the Republican Party, and the conservative media writ large are laughing their asses off at his gullible little show.

We are living in what I have begun calling the Age of Unseriousness. Americans wake up and every day read "news" written by clowns who either don't know, or don't care, that they are being used and treated as such by lawmakers at every level of government.

Worse, too many Americans have swallowed -- hook, line, and sinker -- the pervasive lie that the media is populated by radical, left-wing, anti-American zealots intent upon destroying the heart and soul of this country. With once-great newspapers sinking into still deeper depths of obsequiousness, we all lose, and we lose much, including those who are ignorantly unwilling or unable to see the degradation -- the debasement and defiling -- of democracy that is occurring all around us, and with alarming frequency and intensity.

I once thought the phrase "free press" referred to the media's central role in supporting democracy through an adversarial relationship with lawmakers -- with power -- that enabled the particularly well informed and well positioned to ask the kinds of questions -- and demand answers to them -- that if posed by the average citizen would be ignored or dishonestly answered.

No, I don't mean that the media must cynically and cruelly criticize everyone and everything. But are we as citizens of a free republic well served by newspapers and broadcasters and cable networks run and populated by people who think the term "free press" means "a free ride"? I don't think so. And I've had enough.

[Post-publication addendum (February 26): A reader writes suggesting I've missed Leibovich's joke; i.e., that the article was written "tongue in cheek." What do you think?]

[Post-publication addendum (February 28): By the way, have you bought your copy of Eric Alterman's What Liberal Media?. No? What the hell are you waiting for?]

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |