Libby, Miers, Iraq: Editors Weigh In

How are various parts of the nation reacting to President Bush's political woes? Debbie Elliott speaks with three newspaper editors — Kathy Obradovich, Des Moines Register; Keven Ann Willey, Dallas Morning News; and Patsy Brumfield, Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo. They discuss their readers' reaction to the Lewis Libby indictment, the Harriet Miers withdrawal and the mounting death toll in Iraq.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott.

All of Washington is abuzz with the news of the indictment of a senior White House official and the withdrawal of Harriet Miers' nomination to the Supreme Court. We've been wondering how the rest of the nation is looking at all this, so we've called three newspaper editors from around the country: Kathie Obradovich of The Des Moines Register, Keven Ann Willey of The Dallas Morning News and Patsy Brumfield of the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo.

Hello, ladies.

Ms. KEVEN ANN WILLEY (The Dallas Morning News): Hi, Debbie.

Ms. PATSY BRUMFIELD (Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal): Hello.

Ms. KATHIE OBRADOVICH (The Des Moines Register): Hello.

ELLIOTT: Let's start in the heart of the country. Kathie Obradovich in Des Moines, were you readers following this CIA leak investigation very closely, and how are they reacting to the news of the Lewis Libby indictment?

Ms. OBRADOVICH: Well, Debbie, I think that for the average reader, people who aren't really involved in politics, the indictment may have been the first thing to get their attention. Before that, I think people sort of thought it was a little bit confusing, it was hard to sort out who was telling the truth. It was sort of like the Swift Boat controversy during the election. You know, it took a while, I think, for things to sort of settle home. With the indictment, though, I think that people are finally starting to pay attention.

ELLIOTT: Keven Willey in Dallas, Harriet Miers' home town I should say, has the withdrawal of her nomination been a shock there?

Ms. WILLEY: I think it has been. As you might imagine, north Texans have closer knowledge of Harriet Miers and at least much of the establishment folks who have worked with her over the years or rubbed shoulders with her pretty unanimously recommended, you know, her in terms of her legal skills and that sort of thing. So I think that at least among the establishment the sense is that unfortunately she was never allowed to define herself. All the actions swirling around her and the comments about her by other people, many of whom did not know her at all, served to define her. I think one of the ironies in this situation is that most people who know Harriet Miers doubt very much that she sought this position in the first place. In fact, most kind of assume that the president had to personally persuade her to step into the spotlight since that's not been her practice in the past, and here if she was reticent to do it was persuaded to do it and then essentially forced out. You know, that's kind of an irony in an unfortunate circle of events.

ELLIOTT: Patsy Brumfield in Tupelo, President Bush has enjoyed strong support there in Mississippi, but this has not been a good week at all for him. Are your readers starting to question now how the president is running the country?

Ms. BRUMFIELD: I think our readers at this point are more upset that the Ol' Miss Rebels and the Mississippi State Bulldogs are having a terrible season. They are following what goes on in Washington because they can't avoid this 24-hour news cycle. I mean, we are just feeling exhausted from it, but I think clearly many people still believe in George Bush Two and, you know, we've got a lot of folks from our area who are in Iraq right now and sometimes it's hard for folks to separate the men and women on the ground, whom we all support with great gusto, from the politics behind it.

ELLIOTT: Patsy, how does that translates in the way people view the president and the way he is conducting the war in Iraq?

Ms. BRUMFIELD: I think many people really don't like anything about this war. I don't think that they get into that. We didn't find any weapons of mass destruction thing or is this connected to terrorism. I think that, you know, that's just all background chatter at times, but I just don't think they like it. I think they feel like we've gotten stuck in another Vietnam, we can't leave, we run too many times, what do we do. I think they just feel like they're in quicksand right now.

ELLIOTT: Kathie in Des Moines, what can you tell us about support for the war there in Iowa?

Ms. OBRADOVICH: Support for the war in Iowa, as most political issues, is pretty divided. Iowa is a very divided state when it comes to political affiliation and political questions, but we also have a very large proportion of people serving in the war, lots of National Guard soldiers serving. And so people, as they are in Mississippi, I think, feel a little bit torn. We just recently had one of our columnists spend a month in Iraq with Iowa troops, and while I had heard from people that they were sort of letting the world news from Iraq sort of swirl around their heads, they really did hone in and read all these stories about the Iowa troops who were there and felt a little bit more like they were involved in what was going on.

ELLIOTT: Keven in Dallas, after all the troubles that you mentioned, there's the war, the new indictment, the Miers debacle, the response to Hurricane Katrina even, did Texas have a sense of what they would like to see the president do now in the midst of all of this?

Ms. WILLEY: Well, I do think that there is a sense that he needs to pick his administration up and set things on a more positive track. We have an editorial in this morning's newspaper suggesting that it might be time for him to clean house in his staff. A lot of these things have happened under a fairly stable staffing situation, and you cited just a few of the difficulties. This has just really corroded much of the political capital that the president had had previous to these events, and surely, you know, he needs to really refocus and demonstrate, I think, to the American public that he's not taking these developments lightly.

Ms. BRUMFIELD: Debbie, it's Patsy in Tupelo. I think that a lot of folks really feel like the president is sort of like the boy in the bubble and he needs to get out of there and perhaps pick up a few germs to learn something about what's going on, that he's just been insulated so much by everyone that he's--you know, he bristles at any hint of criticism. You know, if you don't have the proper DNA, you don't ever get close enough to him to tell him anything, and I think the public really feels like this guy needs somebody real to talk to.

ELLIOTT: I'd like to know from all of you, I mean, are you hearing that from your readers? Do your readers, do the average citizens in the United States want a president to air his dirty laundry, to say, `These are mistakes. I'm going to fix it. You know, this is what I've done wrong and whatever,' or do they want a president who is saying, `I'm staying the course'?

Ms. WILLEY: This is Keven in Dallas. I think we've published some letters to the editor from people who say they want an honest appraisal of what's happening. I don't think they need a litany of, you know, him running down a list of everything that's gone wrong, but I think that many American people are waiting for the president to say, `OK. Here's what's gone wrong today, what hasn't been up to expectation. Here's what I'm doing about it. Here's how we're going to fix it and get back on track.'

ELLIOTT: Kathie.

Ms. OBRADOVICH: Yes, we were talking to Republicans yesterday and they're a little depressed here in Iowa about all the trouble that the Bush administration's had. But one lady remarked that, `If they just take care of the mistakes and move on rather than prolonging things with arrogance or denial,' you know. People are, you know, looking ahead now to the 2006 election cycle.' And in Iowa, we've already started the 2008 election cycle with the caucuses, and so I think what Republicans here are looking at is the need for this president to acknowledge what was wrong, find the people who were causing the problem, get them out of there and move on.

ELLIOTT: What are any of you hearing from rank-in-file Democrats?

Ms. BRUMFIELD: Debbie, it's Patsy in Tupelo. I think the rank-in-file Democrats wonder where their people are. I mean, there is a conspicuous absence of effective speakers on behalf of the Democratic Party. I realize there are some speakers, but I don't think they're very credible with people down here and they start to look like a bunch of whiners without any good ideas. Now once somebody can ever come up with an agenda, I think they get traction, but until then, they're just floundering around in the soup of politics at this point.

Ms. OBRADOVICH: This is Kathie in Des Moines. Democrats here in some ways feel like if they don't do anything at all that the Bush administration is just going to implode all by itself, but, I mean, I think when we get to the other side of the dust storm, there's those who are arguing that there needs to be leadership to step up, and offer alternatives is not going to be enough to just let the Bush team fumble. Somebody has to be there to recover.

ELLIOTT: We've been speaking with editors Kathie Obradovich of The Des Moines Register, Keven Ann Willey of The Dallas Morning News and Patsy Brumfield of the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal. Thank you all.

Ms. WILLEY: Thank you.

Ms. OBRADOVICH: My pleasure, Debbie.

Ms. BRUMFIELD: Thank you.

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