By: E&P Staff
Even before becoming president in 2001, George W. Bush privately railed against press scrutiny and liberal bias, accusing the news media of a “campaign” against him, according to tapes secretly recorded by a friend. Bush talked of certain reporters as “pro-Bush” and called Time magazine “awful.” Referring to rumors about him that appeared in the press, he commented, “They just float sewer out there.”
Bush?s views, as recorded in conversations from 1998 to 2000, emerged Saturday in a lengthy New York Times report, based on a dozen tapes played for the newspaper by Doug Wead, an author and former aide to George H.W. Bush. The White House did not dispute the authenticity of the tapes, the Times said, or respond to their contents.
?Variously earnest, confident or prickly in those conversations, Mr. Bush weighs the political risks and benefits of his religious faith, discusses campaign strategy and comments on rivals,? the Times reveals. ?And in exchanges about his handling of media questions about his past, Mr. Bush appears to have acknowledged trying marijuana.?
Wead said he recorded the conversations because he knew that his friend, George W. Bush, then governor of Texas, would be an important figure. The Times notes, however, that as author of a new book on presidential childhoods, “The Raising of a President,” the release of the tapes might help Wead sell copies, although he denied that was his motive.
He agreed to play the tapes for the Times on the condition that the names of private citizens be withheld. The newspaper hired Tom Owen, an expert on audio authentication, who concluded the voice was that of the president.
Here is the section of the Times’ report that focuses on Bush and the press:
“Many of the taped conversations revolve around Mr. Bush’s handling of questions about his past behavior. In August 1998, he worried that the scandals of the Clinton administration had sharpened journalists’ determination to investigate the private lives of candidates. He even expressed a hint of sympathy for his Democratic predecessor.
“‘I don’t like it either,’ Mr. Bush said of the Clinton investigations. ‘But on the other hand, I think he has disgraced the nation.’
“When Mr. Wead warned that he had heard reporters talking about Mr. Bush’s ‘immature’ past, Mr. Bush said, ‘That’s part of my schtick, which is, look, we have all made mistakes.’
“He said he learned ‘a couple of really good lines’ from Mr. Robison, the Texas pastor: ‘What you need to say time and time again is not talk about the details of your transgressions but talk about what I have learned. I’ve sinned and I’ve learned.’
“By the summer of 1999, Mr. Bush was telling Mr. Wead his approach to such prying questions had evolved. ‘I think it is time for somebody to just draw the line and look people in the eye and say, I am not going to participate in ugly rumors about me, and blame my opponents, and hold the line, and stand up for a system that will not allow this kind of crap to go on.’
“Later, however, Mr. Bush worried that his refusal to answer questions about whether he had used illegal drugs in the past could prove costly, but he held out nonetheless. ‘I am just not going to answer those questions. And it might cost me the election,’ he told Mr. Wead.
“He complained repeatedly about the press scrutiny, accusing the news media of a ‘campaign’ against him. While he talked of certain reporters as ‘pro-Bush’ and commented favorably on some publications (U.S. News & World Report is ‘halfway decent,’ but Time magazine is ‘awful’), he vented frequently to Mr. Wead about what he considered the liberal bias and invasiveness of the news media in general.
“‘It’s unbelievable,’ Mr. Bush said, reciting various rumors about his past that his aides had picked up from reporters. ‘They just float sewer out there.’
“Mr. Bush bristled at even an implicit aspersion on his past behavior from Dan Quayle, the former vice president and a rival candidate.”