There was a post yesterday by Toby Harnden in Washington on his Telegraph blog. The title was “Bush slams rude British reporters”. The gist was that the President has finally lost patience with the refusal of some of the British press corps to stand when he enters the room – apparently the only contingent not to do so.
Here’s a link to a YouTube video of his allegedly getting irate with a question from Nick Robinson of the BBC
Well, watch it for yourself, although it's quite long.
(Click on the green link above , then be patient: it takes a few seconds for the video to get moving)
The pictures above are a couple of freeze-frames that I captured from the site.
Here's the latest of three comments that I've placed on Toby's blog. As you will see, I am profoundly sceptical about Bush's response, long and emotional though it was, being linked to discourtesy on the part of our Washington media scrum, deplorable though it is (in my view) that they remain seated.
Run that past me again
I have just watched a replay of Bush's answer to Nick Robinson of the BBC. Angry response ? That's not how I would have described it. An initially startled, gob-smacked, rabbit-in headlights response, maybe, and then an emotional, back-to-the-wall posture. But there was no obvious personal rancour, and certainly no reference, or even hint, of chagrin against those journalists who failed to stand up.Sorry, can't see what all the fuss is about (unless Toby *Harnden's report is coloured or influenced by what he might subsequently have heard from the White House Press Corps).
Colin Berry at 14 Dec 2006 10:42
* Apologies, by the way, for misspelling as "Tony". There's a lot of distracting (roof repair) activity going on around me as I write !
The two earlier posts in the thread were to point out (casting modesty to the winds) that it had been yours truly who had first raised the matter of our journalists' conduct at White House press briefings. That was back in August, when Alec Russell was the Telegraph's man in Washington.
He had posted on the subject of the 2008 Presidential elections. Feeling that some of the current jockeying and polemics might look somewhat irrelevant in 2 years time, I wrote the following:
Boring and boorish
I can't imagine that a London-based journalist for the Washington Post would be salivating at the prospect of a UK General Election that was two years away. Yet Alec Russell seems here to be in the throes of a bad case of the local Potomac fever. Meanwhile, back here on Planet Earth, attention is fixed on the tragic events in Lebanon. I could forgive Alec and his fellow band of UK journalists in Washington if there were some consistency in their fixation with wannabee US Presidents. The US President is, after all, a Head of State, a position comparable to the Queen, though far more powerful because it's not above politics. So why does the UK press contingent refuse to stand when the President enters the briefing room at the White House ? I know they don't stand for the PM at home, but Tony Blair, despite his posturing on the world stage, is merely the head of a Government, not Head of State, and is not elected directly. I'm sure Alec Russell would stand if the Queen entered the room. But what happened anyway to the old dictum, "When in Rome ....". It seems to me boorish and discourteous in the extreme for a few to remain seated, drawing attention to themselves, when everyone else is standing. Don't misunderstand me - this is not about abject submission to a superpower, it's about elementary courtesy and good manners. If you think I'm someone who kowtows to George W Bush or to the USA, then open a thread, Alec, on the so-called "special relationship", and prepare for a broadside, all guns blazing.
Colin Berry at 08 Aug 2006 08:31
So imagine my (pleasant) surprise when Alec took this subject as the topic for his very next blog. Here's what he wrote:
In answer to the criticism of one Colin Berry who asks why British journalists stay seated when President George W Bush enters a press conference, I have to say I share his irritation.
The White House press corps can be a touch too self-important and grand. But to stand up when the head of state enters a room is not to compromise your objectivity, it is merely good manners.
If Colin had looked carefully at the footage of the last Bush-Blair press coverage or indeed the Bush-al-Maliki press conference a few days earlier he would have seen The Daily Telegraph’s correspondent upstanding.
So is this something to do with working for a newspaper of a traditional hue? I don’t think so. At least it appears that the Number Ten press corps is divided on the issue and not down ideological lines.
The other day when the two amigos strode into the East Room more than half the British press corps stood, the rest shuffled in their seat and stared defiantly ahead.
So when Toby posted yesterday, I reminded him of the provenance of this topic. Here's what I said, and his immediate reply.
Been there, done it ....
This debate induces a strong sense of déjà vu. Remember Alec Russell, erstwhile Washington correspondent for the Telegraph, who used to blog here ? He posted back in August on the subject of that despicable British-bum-on-seat brigade.
How do I know ? Because I was the one who was first to give our discourteous fellow countrymen a ticking off: they more than anyone should know that the office of US President is more comparable to that of our monarch, as distinct from prime minister, and thus RISE TO THE OCCASION !
Colin Berry at 13 Dec 2006 17:10
Here's Toby Harnden's immediate reply:
Thanks for that Colin. It appears that Telegraph correspondents old and new think alike! Alec was my foreign editor for several years so maybe he helped instill the good manners in me (as well as my parents, of course). The new development I find particularly interesting is that Bush is personally annoyed by this. Also, it seems that views within the British press corps have hardened because virtually all the Brits remained seated last week. At the last joint press conference in May, as I recall, it was only a handful. And, according to Alec, in August it was split down the middle. At this rate, maybe the British ambassador will be remaining seated by the end of 2008!
Toby Harnden at 13 Dec 2006 18:02
Considering in retrospect that I came close to accusing Toby of plagiarism (which was certainly not my intention) then that's a very friendly and courteous reply. A worthy successor, wouldn't you say, to the breezy and congenial Alec Russell ?
Re Alec: one hopes fortune will soon smile upon him, if it has not done so already, given the shabby way that he, Colin Randall and others were treated by their bosses at Telegraph Head Office.
This post has to be somewhat "telegraphic" too, for reasons already mentioned.
Postcript added 15th Dec: received a friendly email yesterday from Toby Harnden. He concludes with the following welcome news re Alec Russell: "Alec is going to Johannesburg for the Financial Times so he has very much landed on his feet."