Bumiller takes a stand on Matthews panel debate: "I am here to tell you [Bush] reads the newspapers"

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During a panel debate on the December 4 broadcast of NBC's syndicated The Chris Matthews Show about whether President Bush reads newspapers, New York Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller said the claim that he doesn't is "crazy." She made this assertion despite Bush's own statement in 2003 that he "rarely read[s] the stories" and relies instead on briefings by members of his staff.

Discussing Bush's appetite for information, host Chris Matthews wondered about the similarity between Bush and "guys who won't ask directions when they drive somewhere." BBC News host Katty Kay responded: "The telling moment for me in his presidency was when he came out and said ... 'I prefer to get my news and my information from objective sources, and those are the people around me,' rather than from anything external."

Kay's observation prompted Bumiller to reply, "Katty -- he reads the papers. Please, you know, I -- this is crazy. Whenever I say this, people don't believe me. He reads the newspapers. I am here to tell you he reads the newspapers."

When Matthews asked Bumiller to elaborate on her claim, she modified it by saying, "[H]e reads the papers like a very busy person reads the papers -- you read the headlines, you read the first three [para]graphs." Bumiller continued, "[H]is wife reads the papers -- that I can tell you."

Commentator and former New Republic editor Andrew Sullivan countered, "The only pages in the newspapers that he reads religiously are the sports pages." Matthews challenged Sullivan, asking, "How do you know that?" Sullivan replied, "I've actually been told that by a member of his own family." Matthews did not ask Bumiller to similarly back up her claim.

According to the Fox News transcript of an hour-long September 22, 2003, interview with the cable channel's Washington managing editor, Brit Hume, Bush said, "I glance at the headlines just to kind of [get] a flavor for what's moving. I rarely read the stories, and get briefed by people who are [sic] probably read the news themselves. But like Condoleezza [Rice], in her case, the national security adviser is getting her news directly from the participants on the world stage."

Bush continued, "I have great respect for the media. I mean, our society is a good, solid democracy because of a good, solid media. But I also understand that a lot of times there's opinions mixed in with news. ... I appreciate people's opinions, but I'm more interested in news. And the best way to get the news is from objective sources. And the most objective sources I have are people on my staff who tell me what's happening in the world."

In a September 25, 2003, editorial that referenced the Hume interview, The New York Times wrote, "Mr. Bush and his aides also seem to go to great lengths to underline the degree to which the president closes himself off from the news media. ... But it is worrisome when one of the most incurious men ever to occupy the White House takes pains to insist that he gets his information on what the world is saying only in predigested bits from his appointees."

From the December 4 broadcast of NBC's syndicated The Chris Matthews Show:

MATTHEWS: You know how guys won't ask directions when they drive somewhere? You know, "Don't tell me where to go I'll get there." Right? Is he like that?

KAY: The telling moment for me in his presidency was when he came out and said, "I feel that it's better --

MATTHEWS: Are you laughing about this, Elisabeth? Cause it's true of a lot of us but I meant him.

KAY: -- "that I get, I prefer to get my news and my information from objective sources, and those are the people around me," rather than from anything external.

BUMILLER: Katty -- he reads the papers. Please, you know, I -- this is crazy. Whenever I say this people don't believe me. He reads the newspapers. I am here to tell you he reads the newspapers.

MATTHEWS: He reads you?

BUMILLER: I can tell he reads the papers from the complaints that I get.

MATTHEWS: So can you tell his mood based upon his reaction to the things that you've written, other people have written?

BUMILLER: Well I mean, he reads the papers like a very busy person reads the papers -- you read the headlines, you read the first three [para]graphs. He reads the papers like a well-informed person, and I can tell you what he complains about and what his staff complains about and his -- or, his wife reads the papers -- that I can tell you.

MATTHEWS: So the lights are on, and somebody's home. That's your message.

BUMILLER: Yes.

MATTHEWS: Your message is --

KAY: Reading the papers is different from deciding, "I am going to look at all the information available and then make my conclusions." He seems to have a conclusion and then choose the facts which fit that conclusion.

SULLIVAN: The only pages in the newspapers that he reads religiously are the sports pages.

MATTHEWS: How do you know that?

SULLIVAN: I've actually been told that by a member of his own family.

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