Major newspapers ignored Bush's deception on treasury secretary's departure

››› ››› ROB MORLINO

Following President Bush's nomination of Henry M. Paulson Jr. to replace Treasury Secretary John Snow, major newspapers largely ignored a deceptive -- at best -- answer Bush gave last week about whether Snow would be leaving the administration. When asked during a May 25 press conference whether Snow "had given [Bush] any indication that he intends to leave his job any time soon," Bush responded: "No, he has not talked to me about resignation. I think he's doing a fine job." Yet press secretary Tony Snow told reporters that Bush had already selected John Snow's replacement by May 21.

Following President Bush's May 30 nomination of Henry M. Paulson Jr., CEO of Goldman Sachs Group Inc., to replace Treasury Secretary John Snow, major newspapers largely ignored a deceptive -- at best -- answer Bush gave last week about whether Snow would be leaving the administration. During a May 25 press conference -- five days before Bush nominated Paulson -- the president was asked whether Snow "had given [Bush] any indication that he intends to leave his job any time soon." Bush responded: "No, he has not talked to me about resignation. I think he's doing a fine job." Yet during a May 30 White House press briefing, press secretary Tony Snow told reporters that Bush had already selected John Snow's replacement by May 21. The weblog Think Progress posted video of Bush speaking at the press conference, highlighting the misleading statement. Of seven major newspaper and wire reports, only two -- in The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times -- noted that Bush had given the impression on May 25 that no decision had been made on John Snow's departure. Even those two newspapers, however, glossed over Bush's misleading May 25 statement and uncritically printed the administration's explanation. News reports in The Washington Post, USA Today, The Washington Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the Associated Press made no mention of it at all.

The Los Angeles Times noted Bush's May 25 statement and repeated the administration's explanation that "[n]o public announcement was made because Paulson was still undergoing background checks," without explicitly reporting Bush's deception. The New York Times adopted the administration's characterization of Bush's response as "an artful attempt to keep the move secret," rather than a deliberate deception or outright falsehood.

From Bush's May 25 press conference:

QUESTION: Has Treasury Secretary Snow given you any indication that he intends to leave his job any time soon?

BUSH: Secretary of Treasury Snow?

QUESTION: Has he given you any indication he intends to leave his job any time soon? And related to that, Americans -- macroeconomic numbers are indeed good, but many Americans are concerned, increasingly concerned about rising health-care costs, costs of gasoline. And does that make it hard for your administration, Treasury Secretary Snow, and everyone else to continue to talk up the economy?

BUSH: No, he has not talked to me about resignation. I think he's doing a fine job.

From the May 30 White House press briefing in which Tony Snow told reporters that Paulson had agreed to be nominated on May 21, and responded to a question about Bush's May 25 statement:

QUESTION: So we're talking more than a week ago. The president last week, when he was asked if he was -- how he was going to deal with Mr. Snow, said, well, I guess -- he said, he's going to offer his resignation to me, and then went on to say he's a -- good job. This was something that was in play obviously before that, so in terms of its filling a vacancy, which is how you characterized it a minute ago, it wasn't a vacancy, it was switching a person, wasn't it?

SNOW: No, he said, "He's not talked to me about resignation." That does not mean that there were not other discussions. I mean, it was artfully worded. But on the other hand, the one thing you do not want to do in a situation like this is to start speculating about changes before the changes are ready to be made. Those do have impacts on markets, and you have to be responsible and cautious in the way you deal with them. Again, at that point, Hank Paulson -- you've got to make sure that you've got all the clearances taken care of.

From the May 31 edition of The New York Times:

The courtship included an invitation to Mr. Paulson and his wife, Wendy, to lunch at the White House last month with President Hu Jintao of China, and culminated in a weekend meeting with Mr. Bush at the White House residence two Saturdays ago.

Mr. Paulson formally accepted the job the next day, May 21, a fact Mr. Bush hid when asked at a news conference four days later whether he had any indication that Mr. Snow intended to leave soon.

''No, he has not talked to me about resignation,'' Mr. Bush replied then, resorting to what the White House acknowledged Tuesday was an artful attempt to keep the move secret.

From the May 31 edition of the Los Angeles Times:

Bush said as recently as Thursday that he had not talked with Snow about his departure.

"No, he has not talked to me about resignation. I think he's doing a fine job," Bush said then, during a press conference.

As it turned out, Paulson had accepted the Treasury job four days earlier, said Tony Snow, the White House spokesman. No public announcement was made because Paulson was still undergoing background checks.

From the May 31 edition of The Washington Post:

According to sources familiar with the events who spoke on the condition of anonymity because conversations were confidential, Paulson had long planned to pursue his passion for the environment when he retired. Even when Bolten called him in mid-May and urged him to reconsider after rebuffing the original White House overtures, Paulson rejected a request that he meet with Bush, saying he did not want to waste the president's time.

Bolten persisted, and Paulson eventually agreed to meet with Bush. During his long White House session May 20, Paulson "wanted to make sure that he would get access to the president, and he wanted to make sure he understood how the president viewed the job, and he was satisfied with the answers," a source said.

From the May 31 edition of USA Today:

If confirmed by the Senate, Paulson would replace John Snow, who announced his resignation Tuesday.

It's the latest move in a personnel shakeup led by new chief of staff -- and Goldman Sachs alumnus -- Joshua Bolten. He is trying to fashion a new team and reinvigorate the White House agenda just months before November elections in which Republicans try to hold their majorities in Congress.

From the May 31 edition of The Washington Times:

The nomination of Mr. Paulson illustrates not only the president's desire to revamp his second-term team but also the power of new White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten. When former press secretary Scott McClellan stepped down last month, Mr. Bush tapped Fox News commentator Tony Snow, a longtime friend of Mr. Bolten's.

Mr. Bolten is also a former Goldman Sachs executive who had worked with Mr. Paulson and led the effort to find a replacement. In addition, Mr. Bolten brought along his top OMB deputy when he replaced former Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr.

From the May 30 Associated Press report by Jeannine Aversa:

Speculation that Paulson would take over from Snow increased after Joshua Bolten, a former Goldman Sachs executive who had worked with Paulson and was leading the effort to find a replacement, became the new White House chief of staff.

Snow, meanwhile, plans to attend the June 9-10 meeting in Russia of finance ministers from the Group of Eight major industrial countries. That meeting will help prepare the agenda for this year's G-8 summit which is being held in July in St. Petersburg.

From the May 31 edition of The Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Bush has been looking for months outside his circle but has had trouble finding someone who wanted the post so late in his term and in such an embattled administration.

Mr. Paulson accepted an invitation to have dinner with Mr. Bush in mid-April but then cancelled because he didn't want to lead the president to believe he would take the job, according to a person close to him. Among his concerns was that Treasury secretaries in this administration have had relatively little power. Mr. Bolten then made another run at him. Mr. Bush and Mr. Paulson met at the White House on Saturday, May 20. Mr. Paulson was still reluctant -- but relented the next day.

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