This week's Newsweek contains a long cover story about President Bush's visit to the G8 summit and his response to the Mideast crisis. But for all the tick-tock details, the article offers very little insight, as Greg Sargent points out. More importantly, it mischaracterizes a major incident during Bush's trip -- his repartee with Vladimir Putin about Iraq's democracy:
Within minutes the two presidents are standing in a cramped hallway, awaiting their cue. Bush sees Putin clutching some notes, and leans over. "Are you sure you want to say that?" he quips. Putin looks up and glares, then gets the joke. Bush straightens his red tie and pats Putin on the back. "Have fun," he says as they walk into the cloud of camera flashes.
Bush doesn't know that Putin has been readying a joke of his own. When asked a predictable question about the state of Russia's democracy, Putin pounces: "We certainly would not want to have the same kind of democracy as they have in Iraq, I will tell you quite honestly." There are guffaws from the Russian media and gasps from American reporters. Struggling to hear the translation, Bush joins in the laughter before catching himself. "Just wait," he snaps back, and his smile fades.
This language suggests that the "predictable question about the state of Russia's democracy" went to Putin. But it actually went primarily to Bush, whose jab at Russia prompted Putin's reply -- here's the transcript:
Q President Bush, you said that you planned to raise, in a respectful way, your concerns about Russian democracy with President Putin. How did that conversation go? And I know you've already talked a lot about the U.S.-Russian relationship, but I'm wondering if both of you could elaborate on that, and how the differences of opinion over the democracy are affecting the relationship.
PRESIDENT BUSH: It's not the first time that Vladimir and I discussed our governing philosophies. I have shared with him my desires for our country, and he shared with me his desires for his. And I talked about my desire to promote institutional change in parts of the world like Iraq where there's a free press and free religion, and I told him that a lot of people in our country would hope that Russia would do the same thing.
I fully understand, however, that there will be a Russian-style democracy. I don't expect Russia to look like the United States. As Vladimir pointedly reminded me last night, we have a different history, different traditions. And I will let him describe to you his way forward, but he shared with me some very interesting thoughts that I think would surprise some of our citizens...
[Bush continues to speak for several more paragraphs.]
PRESIDENT PUTIN: We certainly would not want to have the same kind of democracy as they have in Iraq, I will tell you quite honestly. (Laughter.)
PRESIDENT BUSH: Just wait.
At the end of his question, the reporter did ask Putin to "elaborate" on "how the differences of opinion over the democracy are affecting the relationship," but the question was primarily directed to Bush, and Putin's response was a direct response to Bush's statement about Iraqi democracy.
What's the point of insider access if you can't describe major public events accurately?