May the road rise to meet you, smug barking cow

So Elisabeth Bumiller is leaving the White House beat for the New York Times. I’d like to mark this sad occasion by recalling my tribute to her from eighteen months ago.

• • •

I’ve had a crush on Bumiller for some time, but she truly won my heart when she explained why reporters asked Bush no hard questions at his press conference just before the invasion of Iraq. You see, they’re cowards:

ELISABETH BUMILLER: I think we were very deferential, because in the East Room press conference, it’s live. It’s very intense. It’s frightening to stand up there… You are standing up on prime time live television, asking the president of the United States a question when the country is about to go to war.

There are several entertaining things about this:

1. I’m sure it’s scary to ask the president a question on live national TV just before a war. But…

(a) If you can’t handle it, maybe you should get another job. It’s also “intense” to be an NFL quarterback and, whenever you drop back to pass, have six men weighing a collective ton trying to crush you. But if this makes you stay at home in bed on Superbowl Sunday, perhaps professional football is not for you.

(b) As scary as it may be to ask the president a question just before a war, I’ve heard tell it’s even scarier to FIGHT IN A WAR. It may be scarier still to be in a country about to invaded by the most powerful military in human history, and know you and your family may soon be converted into scraps of red, wet flesh. Perhaps Bumiller could think of this at such times and fucking get ahold of herself.

2. The New York Times has been owned by the same family for 108 years. When they bought it, the new publisher Adolph Ochs wrote a famous front page editorial:

It will be my earnest aim that The New York Times… give the news impartially, without fear or favor

“Without fear or favor” is so much a part of the Times self-image that it was used as the title of an authorized history of the paper. Yet Bumiller explicitly acknowledges giving the news with fear. And we can throw in favor too, because “favor” is quite close to “deference,” as thesauruses will tell you.

So Bumiller very publicly whizzed all over her employers’ founding credo. For this, she retains one of the New York Times’ highest profile and most prestigious positions. But I guess this makes sense in a country where you can only be Attorney General if you hate the Constitution.

“LOOKED LIKE A SMUG, BARKING COW”: This was Matt Taibbi’s characterization of Bumiller when when he crowned her winner of 2004’s Wimblehack competition.

AND SERIOUSLY: I do respect Bumiller for being honest about the fear felt by reporters like herself. The Bush administration and its lovely friends certainly do try to generate this fear, and I’d far rather have journalists speak openly of it than continue their standard pose of being courageous crusaders for truth.