With many reporters skipping White House press briefings in these waning days of the Bush administration, journalists from some very obscure news outlets are moving up to the front row. The Washington Post's Dana Milbank thinks that's as it should be.
BOB GARFIELD: Not far from Beirut this week, another message was sent, this one to the Israeli Knesset by President Bush. PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: As we mark 60 years from Israel's founding, let us try to envision the region 60 years from now. This vision is not going to arrive easily overnight. It will encounter violent resistance. But if we and future presidents and future Knessets maintain our resolve and have faith in our ideals, here's the Middle East that we can see.
BOB GARFIELD: As The New York Times cheekily observed in its coverage of the speech, the President was so bereft of optimism for what remains of his administration's role in the peace process, he was forced to imagine six decades hence.
But if the administration is looking well beyond January 2009, so, too, it seems, is the White House Press Corps. As Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank observed in a recent column, the briefing room is feeling lately like something less than the center of the universe. The other day, in fact, it was half empty. DANA MILBANK: It was a little bit exaggerated on Monday because, as I had written, it was the deputy to the deputy to the substitute to the deputy to the original White House press secretary. So there was slightly less interest than usual, but it's kind of hard to measure, since there's almost no interest at any point anyway right now. It's basically one big nap room at this point. BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] And is that because there's other stuff going on, like the Democratic primaries, or is it because the President has been relegated to irrelevancy? DANA MILBANK: Yeah, there seems to be some sort of a presidential campaign going on and there's various traumas around the world. But the fact of the matter is people tend to be assuming that the President isn't playing a very large role in the life of the nation.
So it's not unique to this president. I remember the same sort of thing happening in the last year of the Clinton presidency when he was battling to be relevant. But it's particularly pronounced now. You know, when you have 28 percent support in the polls, they're not going to take you very seriously up on Capitol Hill and, you know, unless you're bombing Iran or something, where they’re not going to pay a lot of attention from the press corps either. BOB GARFIELD: Well, I want to come back to Iran in a second because I guess there's the risk that while the press is not paying attention we could end up in a war in yet a third country. But I want to come back to a character you had mentioned in one of our previous visits, and that's Raghubir Goyal. DANA MILBANK: Yes, he’s one of my favorites. BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] He's the representative of an Indian-American publication. And you had told us earlier that he is often called on by the President during a news conference when he wants to change the subject. On Monday, where was Goyal? DANA MILBANK: Well, the Goyal "Foil" is how he was - has typically been used. Goyal was speaking to us Monday from the seat of The New York Times. It was, I believe, Sheryl Stolberg's turn to be there that day. She might have had something else to do, like her laundry. So Goyal was resplendent in a sparkling silver jacket. He took over that chair. BOB GARFIELD: Like moving up to the box seats in the ninth inning of an 11 to 4 game. DANA MILBANK: It is something like that. You know, the interesting thing about Goyal is not even that he represents a small news outlet. It's not clear that that news outlet exists altogether - BOB GARFIELD: [LAUGHS] DANA MILBANK: - and many people have tried to find the hard copy or find it on the Web. He is apparently its sole employee, and apparently his main job is sitting in other people's chairs in the pressroom and asking questions. BOB GARFIELD: Okay now, I want to come back to what I was getting to earlier, which is the idea that although the President is a lame duck and he will leave office in late January, that's still eight months from now, and there's a lot that could happen. Is there a risk that the media, or at least the White House press corps, is taking its eye off the ball? DANA MILBANK: Well, I don't think so. I mean, let's consider what the President was doing that day. He had two events on his schedule. One was a Cinco de Mayo dinner and the other one was Cinco de Mayo entertainment. Following the dinner, he added in a late event. That was he met with the Beagle that had just won the Westminster Best in Show.
The press is very naturally responding to that. You're not going to be doing wall-to-wall coverage from the North Lawn of the White House if he's meeting with Uno the Beagle. BOB GARFIELD: All right, Dana. As always, thank you. DANA MILBANK: My pleasure, thanks. BOB GARFIELD: Dana Milbank is a reporter and columnist for The Washington Post.