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August 10, 2008


I wasn't surprised at the substantive Costas interview. You may be too young to remember it, but starting twenty years ago and continuing for half a dozen years, Costas had a half-hour interview show on NBC following the Letterman show. He's an intelligent guy with broad interests, and he knows how to conduct a good interview.

If the White House press corps was taking notes, I hope they recognized that even though Costas is a self-described liberal, his questions to Bush were not snide or "gotcha" or freighted with Costas's point of view. That may be why Bush responded thoughtfully and articulately. There's a lesson in that for the White House regulars (if, that is, they were more interested in getting intelligent responses than trying to show Bush up--which of course they're not).

Speaking of NBC's coverage of the Olympics, did you notice how during the start of their opening ceremony coverage, they peppered their script with phrases like "great leap" and "long march" that have enormous resonance in recent Chinese history, but used the phrases utterly out of their historical context? So now we know (1) the Olympics are not just a small step for China, they're a great leap, (2) it's been a long march for China to these Olympics, and (3) NBC's writers are brainless hacks. Only the last of these is an insight that's likely to stay with us.

Brendan, I don't think there's a 'traditional softball Olympic interview.' It has been mentioned that Bush is the first sitting President to attend the Olympic games on foreign soil, which means that interviews of the President at the Olympics have surely been rare in past years (as it would only happen when the US hosted the Olympics). I would have expected the interview to be a softball based on the situation, but I don't think I'd call it 'traditional.'

"That may be why Bush responded thoughtfully and articulately"

Holy crap Batman. Dude are you from Mars? There was absolutely nothing substantial in his answers to warrant him as such. The dude was so freaking lost in his own rhetoric that I wanted to puke.

And how does a guy in that position have the balls to comment on a military conflict in another country, when his own current mess in Iraq is a joke to the world?????

At first I laughed because I thought you were being sarcastic. Then I started thinking you might be serious. You really call it a substantive interview when Costas lets Bush get away with something like "I don't think America has problems," doesn't mention the irony of our involvement in Iraq when Bush discusses Georgia, and doesn't question his multiple bizarre religious references (keeping in mind Bush is supposed to be the leader of the free world representing all people and he exposes his real agenda as a crusader)? That wasn't softball; it was cotton ball.
Please, tell me you're joking.

Overall, it seemed a pretty bizarre interview. I credit Costas as being a solid sports reporter, but he is not Walter Cronkite or even Tim Russert. Likewise, I know that expecting the Olympics to be separate from politics is overly naive, but I'm not sure the sports desk is the place to mix them up. Frankly, while I have little respect for his politics, I do understand GWB to be a genuine and knowledgeable sports fan--I'd have appreciated actually hearing what he thought about the Olympic "games", not a misplaced, half-baked foreign policy interview by a glorified play-by-play guy.

Per J's comment above, I revised the post to make the more general claim that interviews of the president by sportscasters are generally fluff.

First, in defense of Costas, he did not get the president to agree to all of those questions. Costas saw an opportunity to put Bush on the spot and ran with it. You could tell Bush wasn't prepared because of the dirty looks he kept giving Costas with each new question. Kudos to Costas for pressing him as long as he could.

Second, just because an interviewer does not follow up with a skeptical "but what about...", it does not mean he/she is throwing softballs. Sometimes candor is more important to the interview than "gotcha". If he had pressed Bush anymore than he did, Bush's handlers would have ended things much faster than they did. And sometimes a poor first response is all one needs to hear in order to understand what someone is thinking.

As for Bush, it was not his answers that appalled me, but his demeanor. Yes it's the Olympics and the president should be a cheerleader, but there's a reason Putin went home. What's happening in Georgia is really, really important. The reaction of the US, Europe and NATO in general will be interpreted by both Russia and smaller developing nations all over the world that feel pressured by Russia and/or China. Georgia is a sovereign, (mostly) democratic ally of the United States - not to mention the rest of Europe - and they have been invaded by a much larger power that seeks to, in the words of the Russian foreign minister, “Make a change in Georgian leadership”. Is this something to be relaxed about?

The Georgians are using US military equipment and training. They have come out and plainly asked NATO to assist in defending its borders. What are we going to do about it? Is Bush looking for insight at the swim meet?

One could argue that Russia was not entirely out of bounds in siding with the separatists in S. Osettia, but now that they have not only crossed into Georgian territory and are currently sacking Georgian cities and issuing ultimatums of surrender, they have crossed an important line. Bush’s father rallied the world to war for a power/land grab very similar to this. After all, make no mistake about Russian intentions here. They want to scuttle any hope of running a pipeline through Georgia that would give it some degree of control over the flow of the oil and gas in the region. Putin and his cronies have become very, very rich by establishing an energy monopoly and they are simply cracking down on an uppity neighbor that refuses to play ball.

Is Bush so relaxed because he thinks he'll be gone before he'll have to deal with the consequences? Or did he foolishly look into Putin’s eyes again at the Olympics…

My favorite part of the interview was when Bob told the President he was "dismissed".

Given the level of control this administration exercises over its public face, it's a lot easier to think we were watching a staged political event, rather than a traditional interview. Whether or not W was giving Costas dirty looks, his answers were remarkably lucid. Bush sounded as presidential as I can remember him these past 7 (gad!) years. And because he sounded so much better than I'm used to after all this time, my internal skeptic alarms are telling me that this perfectly-timed-for-maximum-prime-time-viewership event was something less than spontaneous. I mean, what are the chances that this White House is going to let W sit down in front of an audience of possibly 80 million without knowing the questions and having the answers down cold? My vote is for scripted and rehearsed. There were even a couple of camera cuts that made me think "pre-taped and edited", but I'd have to watch it again more closely to make that determination.


Actually Iraq and Afghanistan are military masterpieces, historically speaking; compare them to any relatively major war in US history. If you want to see military failure look at Lincoln's Civil War and FDR's WWII (including his allowing Japan and Germany - rearming in violation of treaty - to sneak up on us). More men died per year in Carter's 4 years and he was fighting ... inflation ... and losing. In the meanwhile, we've slowly and relatively casualty-free, conquered two countries' militaries and are occupying them while being assailed by nihilists fighting asymetrical warfare and content to kill far more of their own then ours. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Gaters ... Brilliant!


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