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FROM THIS EPISODE

Bursting the Bubble

For KCRW, this is Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun with Minding the Media.

In the last few days, President Bush, who usually hates dealing with pesky questions from reporters, has made himself extremely accessible. He sat down for interviews with three TV networks. He invited cameras into the Oval Office for his weekly radio address. Yesterday, he held a press conference -- a rare event. And he let on that he "occasionally" tunes in to what's going on in the news.

"Every morning I look at the newspaper," he told NBC's Brian Williams, who had brought along a copy of Newsweek's cover story about Bush being in a bubble, out of touch with the real world.

"I definitely know what's in the news," said Bush, who once said he never reads newspapers and that he gets all the objective news he needs from his trusted aides.

The subtext may have been the President's growing awareness that his credibility on Iraq has plummeted. Bush told Brit Hume on Fox News that his administration was "punching back when we're being treated unfairly."

Unfortunately for the President, his media blitz was overshadowed by a New York Times scoop about his decision, three years ago, to authorize hundreds of wiretaps in this country without court authorization, as the law requires. At first, Bush refused to discuss the revelation, telling Jim Lehrer on PBS that it didn't merit being called the story of the day. But the clamor was such that within a few hours Bush admitted he had approved the snooping to combat terrorism and that he intends to keep approving it.

Suddenly, Bush wasn't being so friendly to reporters. He said that because of the Times' "shameful" story, "our enemies have learned information they should not have."

In an editorial on Sunday, The Times shot back.

"This White House has cried wolf so many times on the urgency of national security threats that it has lost all credibility," the paper said. "Illegal government spying on Americans is a violation of individual liberties, whether conditions are troubled or not."

Jonathan Alter, in Newsweek, revealed that on December 6, Bush summoned Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger and executive editor Bill Keller to the Oval Office in a futile attempt to talk them out of running the story. "The problem was not that the disclosures would compromise national security, as Bush claimed at his press conference," Alter wrote. No, Bush was desperate to keep the Times from running the story "because he knew that it would reveal him as a law-breaker."

The Times said it had known about the wiretaps for a year and had held off on publishing its story at the administration's request. When it did go to press, The Times said it omitted "some information that administration officials argued could be useful to terrorists."

The St. Petersburg Times said the wiretaps were part of Bush's "imperial presidency."

"The administration has imprisoned people for years without charge, captured suspects and put them in secret overseas prisons, and engaged in interrogation techniques that violate domestic law and international treaties," the paper said.

In the Chicago Tribune, Phil Rosenthal took a lighter view. In his column, he referred to Bush's claim that the main story of the day was not the wiretap storybut the Iraqi election.

"Who knew the commander-in-chief longed to be an editor-in-chief?" Rosenthal asked. "Maybe President Bush should buy a newspaper... Wouldn't that be great? We would get the news he thinks we need told the way he's sure we need it. There would be no more need to pay to influence columnists; the administration would have its own staff. The Pentagon wouldn't have to plant stories in Iraqi papers; it could just distribute an international edition."

This is Nick Madigan of The Baltimore Sun, Minding the Media on KCRW.

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