Bush Skips ASNE Again — Look For Spike Lee and a Supreme Court Justice

By: Joe Strupp

It’s no surprise that President Bush would want to avoid a room full of newspaper editors these days. With various investigations into his administration, his decision to skip the annual American Society of Newspaper Editors conference next week is almost expected.

And with a program that will delve into everything from reporter subpoenas to coverage of poor medical treatment for Iraq veterans, the president may well have reason to stay away.

ASNE Executive Director Scott Bosley said the White House usually sends its regrets weeks before the yearly confab in Washington, D.C., but noted that conference organizers did not get a firm ‘no’ until last week. The convention is set for March 27-30.

“He has come three times in his six years as president, so that is pretty good,” says Bosley. “Reagan came only three times in his eight years; Clinton appeared at least six times.”

Bush’s last appearance was in 2005, the last time the convention was in Washington. D.C. Last year’s gathering was held in Seattle. ASNE holds the convention outside of Washington every three years.

Also backing out within the past few days is U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who had tentatively agreed to appear on the morning of Friday, March 30, the last day of the conference. “He had never said no until last week, he had said he would do it,” Bosley explained. “But his staff said he was going to be out of town.”

Still, ASNE leaders say they have a broad program of events, spanning national security coverage and First Amendment rights. The guest list ranges from filmmaker Spike Lee to Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, both of whom will speak during luncheon events. “There is a lot of concentration on First Amendment and the future of the business,” Bosley said.

On the opening day, a panel discussing subpoenas and freedom of the press will include Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams of the San Francisco Chronicle, who were threatened with jail time for their disclosure of confidential grand jury testimony in the BALCO case.

Changes in the industry, from new owners to online expansion, will be discussed in different panels that include Arianna Huffington, Philadelphia Inquirer Publisher and co-owner Brian Tierney and Chris Harte, chairman of Avista Capital Partners, which recently purchased the Star-Tribune in Minneapolis.

Three of the most powerful men in professional sports, Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig; Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, and NBA Commissioner David Stern, will discuss sports online, while a political discussion moderated by Washington Post columnist David Broder will include some as yet unnamed political veterans.

Finally, on Friday, a three-part program focused on military issues will be held, looking at coverage of Iraq, national security reporting, and coverage of medical treatment of military veterans.

The last session is a replacement for Gates’ appearance and is expected to include Anne Hull of The Washington Post, who co-wrote the series on troubles at Walter Reed Hospital; Lisa Chedekel of the Hartford Courant, which has won a slew of prizes for her co-written series on mentally ill soldiers; and McClatchy Investigative Editor James Asher. Veteran military columnist Joe Galloway of McClatchy will moderate.

A complete agenda is available at www.asne.org.

Bosley said attendance is expected to run well above 500 people, about the same as the 2005 Washington conference. Last year’s attendance was below 500, which is expected for an out-of-town event.

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