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Jewish World Review June 8, 2001/ 18 Sivan, 5761


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Leave the twins alone -- PRESIDENT BUSH'S press secretary Ari Fleischer clearly needs a long weekend in Bermuda. How else to explain his shameless suck-up to the White House media last Thursday afternoon? Matt Drudge was quick to post Fleischer's imitation of Clinton lackey Joe Lockhart-by far the most disreputable spokesman of the past administration-when, on Friday, he noted a question asked by CNN's Major Garrett about Jenna Bush's underage drinking citation in Austin last week.

Fleischer said: "Major, I am not going to deem to tell the press at this juncture what the press should or shouldn't do. I think that's why you're here. You're here to make those judgments and you're the White House press corps, and I think you're set apart from most press corps in America in terms of exercising that judgment. You're not the Internet."

If Fleischer doesn't know by now that the mainstream media is no friend of his boss, and that gratuitous slurs on non-Beltway news-gatherers are counterproductive, he ought to go work for Terry McAuliffe. Ari, here's the secret: Of course there's a double-standard in the media regarding the private lives of the president and vice president. Get used to it.

The Democrats and their journalistic sycophants are using Bush's family to get at him, since apparently he won't provide the philandering fodder (to be charitable) of Bill Clinton. The recent smear on Gov. Jeb Bush is one example; the excessive coverage of Jenna and Barbara Bush's underage drinking is another.

I'm glad that Jenna's fake ID dust-up in Austin-and it was dumb of the University of Texas student to think she could get away with such a ruse in a liberal town where not only is she well-known, but there are countless people who'd like to create bad publicity for her father-was blown out of proportion by all of the media, regardless of ideology. When the New York Post has a cover headline "Jenna and Tonic" and Drudge runs an item about UT students possessing a videotape that shows Jenna "feeling no pain," there can be no spin about how the conservative media is covering up for the Bush clan.

Last year, Al Gore's kids got a better break from the press. His son and namesake got off easy when he was arrested in North Carolina for a speeding violation (not to mention for other unreported misdeeds that aren't a secret to any Washington insider). I'm aware of a much bigger story than the Bush twins' margarita-sipping-hard evidence-about a Gore child that was blacked out during the presidential campaign. You know it was serious, otherwise Gore would've exploited it to his advantage, just like Tipper's well-timed confession of depression, an episode that was hailed as a larger-than-herself moment meant solely to help other Americans with the same problem.

Linda Stasi, writing in last Sunday's New York Post, stands out for her juvenile finger-wagging at the Bush family. She wrote: "Now the White House has the nerve to be unnerved that the media is covering their 'private life.' Sorry, but a private life stops being private when there are more pictures of your kids with numbers under their chins than there are yearbook photos of them. You don't have to be Dr. Spock to figure out that the twins are carrying out their parents' worst nightmares. Mom was involved in a fatal car accident when she was 17, and Dad was a hard-drinking party boy. Time for a serious smackdown for these two college brats-and I don't mean another trip to the WWF."


But leave it to MSNBC's Eric Alterman to equate President Bush's ill-advised concealment of his DUI arrest a generation ago-which, when revealed under shady circumstances in the last week of the campaign, cost him a lot of votes-with Clinton's admitted perjury. Alterman downgrades Clinton's behavior to mere adultery, ignoring the fact that he lied repeatedly to the country about the Lewinsky affair and was impeached for obstruction of justice. Alterman claims in his May 31 column that Bush's arrest in the 70s is somehow as damning as Clinton's actions while president. Bush has nothing to be proud of in that incident, but the comparison is a red herring, except as an example of bad political judgment. Clinton was president when his law-breaking occurred, and his concealment of the truth not only humiliated his family but put his aides in hock to lawyers while they defended him. Time columnist Margaret Carlson was more rational, telling The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz for his June 1 column: "It's much easier for me to write about George Bush despoiling the environment than George Bush as a parent who's got a problem. The instinct of all of us who are parents is, if we can let this pass, let it pass."

Newsweek's Evan Thomas and Martha Brant, in a piece dated June 11, went down into the gutter in their take on the Bush family's private matters. This excerpt is particularly dignified: "While charming and ebullient, Jenna is a little 'spacey,' say her friends, and prone to pratfalls. At the Inaugural ball, her strapless dress slipped down while she was dancing with her father." Nice touch, Evan: going from a well-received biography of Robert F. Kennedy to reporting on a first daughter's strapless dress.

Kurtz, who's clearly in need of a year-long sabbatical, given his nonstop typing-without-thinking, misrepresented the Boston Herald's Margery Eagan's take on Jenna-slake in the following snippet of her May 31 column. Kurtz: "'Certainly our DWI president has set a very, very bad example for his impressionable girls... The apples have not fallen from the tree.'"

In fact, Eagan was being sarcastic, as her conclusion proves: "Maybe some courageous grownup could even say: You know what? Barbara and Jenna Bush are 19 years old, living on their own. They should be able to drink at home or in bars or restaurants. Tens of millions of 19-year-olds have done it for years, with fake IDs, too, including those of us from the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll generation who've somehow turned into hysterical, hypocritical Cotton Mathers. But none of that will happen. We'll do what we always do: wring our hands and decry the evils of demon rum, while kids just roll their eyes and reach for another cold one."

WHILE George W. Bush is an infinite improvement over Bill Clinton as chief executive-and has the opportunity, with the right combination of shrewdness, honesty and luck, to become a first-tier president-he's got a number of blind spots. His opposition to abortion-unlike his father, he's a true pro-lifer-is one of them, as is his devotion to the fruitless, and costly, "war on drugs." Politics, of course, enters into the calculation, but it's pretty clear that Bush has so nailed down the conservative element of his party-where are they going to go?-that he could open his mind to some instances where less government interference is a better course of action.


Appearing on Capital Gang last Saturday night, two-term New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson spoke eloquently about the common sense of legalizing marijuana. Johnson, 48, is no Woodstock throwback: he's a successful construction entrepreneur, is against price caps on electricity and doesn't drink, smoke or use drugs. But his controversial views on the marijuana issue have made him a pariah in right-wing circles, testament that conservatives can be as clueless as liberals like Teddy Kennedy and Dick Gephardt are on issues like tax-cutting and tort reform.

Capital Gang panelist Al Hunt interviewed Johnson and asked the Governor if his belief that marijuana ought to be treated the same as alcohol wasn't "a surrender to the drug culture."

Johnson: "Absolutely notů Again, fundamentally: Don't do drugs. But fundamentally, do you belong in jail for smoking marijuana in the confines of your own home, doing no harm to anybody, arguably, other than yourself? I say no. We cannot continue to arrest and incarcerate this country. We're arresting 1.6 million people a year in this country on drug-related crime. We need to arrest people that do drugs and do harm to other individuals... So let's draw a line. You know, smoke marijuana, get in a car, drive the car; you know what, you probably just crossed over the line to unacceptable behavior, similar to drinking.

Drinking is okay as long as you don't have too many drinks and get in a car or have too many drinks and go do harm to somebody else. That's what should be criminal."

JWR contributor "Mugger" -- aka Russ Smith -- is the editor-in-chief and CEO of New York Press ( Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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© 2001, Russ Smith