Kurtz: Thomas's question at press conference allowed Bush "to show the country that he's up against a left-wing press corps"

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The Washington Post's Howard Kurtz wrote about President Bush's exchange with syndicated columnist Helen Thomas during Bush's March 21 news conference, in which he claimed that by calling on Thomas "for the first time in three years," Bush found "a useful foil" that allowed him "not only to punch back but to show the country that he's up against a left-wing press corps."

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In his March 22 Media Notes column, Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz wrote about an exchange President Bush had with Helen Thomas, a syndicated columnist with Hearst Newspapers, during Bush's March 21 White House news conference, in which he claimed that by calling on Thomas "for the first time in three years," Bush found "a useful foil" that allowed him "not only to punch back but to show the country that he's up against a left-wing press corps."

From Bush's March 21 White House news conference:

THOMAS: I'd like to ask you, Mr. President, your decision to invade Iraq has caused the deaths of thousands of Americans and Iraqis, wounds of Americans and Iraqis for a lifetime. Every reason given, publicly at least, has turned out not to be true. My question is: Why did you really want to go to war? From the moment you stepped into the White House, from your Cabinet -- your Cabinet officers, intelligence people, and so forth -- what was your real reason? You have said it wasn't oil -- quest for oil, it hasn't been Israel, or anything else. What was it?

BUSH: I think your premise -- in all due respect to your question and to you as a lifelong journalist -- is that, you know, I didn't want war. To assume I wanted war is just -- is just flat wrong, Helen, in all due respect --

THOMAS: Everything --

BUSH: Hold on for a second, please.

THOMAS: Everything I've heard --

BUSH: Let me -- excuse me, excuse me. No president wants war. Everything you may have heard is that, but it's just simply not true. I -- my attitude about the defense of this country changed on September the 11th. We -- when we got attacked, I vowed then and there to use every asset at my disposal to protect the American people. Our foreign policy changed on that day, Helen. You know, we used to think we were secure because of oceans and previous diplomacy. But we realized on September the 11th, 2001, that killers could destroy innocent life. And I'm never going to forget it. And I'm never going to forget the vow I made to the American people that we will do everything in our power to protect our people.

Part of that meant to make sure that we didn't allow people to provide safe haven to an enemy. And that's why I went into Iraq.

THOMAS: They didn't do anything to you, or to our country.

BUSH: Hold on for a second -- let me -- look -- excuse me for a second, please. Excuse me for a second. They did. The Taliban provided safe haven for Al Qaeda. That's where Al Qaeda trained, and --

THOMAS: I'm talking about Iraq.

BUSH: Helen, excuse me. That's where -- that's where -- Afghanistan provided safe haven for Al Qaeda. That's where they trained. That's where they plotted. That's where they planned the attacks that killed thousands of innocent Americans.

I also saw a threat in Iraq. I was hoping to solve this problem diplomatically. That's why I went to the [United Nations] Security Council; that's why it was important to pass [Security Council Resolution] 1441, which was unanimously passed. And the world said, "Disarm, disclose, or face serious consequences" --

THOMAS: -- go to war --

BUSH: -- and therefore, we worked with the world, we worked to make sure that Saddam Hussein heard the message of the world, and when he chose to deny inspectors, when he chose not to disclose, then I had the difficult decision to make to remove him, and we did. And the world is safer for it.

REPORTER: Thank you, sir. [Defense] Secretary [Donald H.] Rumsfeld --

THOMAS: Thank you.

BUSH: You're welcome. I didn't really regret it. I kind of semi-regretted it.

THOMAS: Let's have a debate.

BUSH: That's right. Anyway, your performance at the [March 11] Gridiron [Club political roast, where Thomas portrayed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) singing about her presidential ambitions] was just brilliant, unlike [Reuters America chief White House correspondent Steve] Holland's, which was a little weak, but --

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Howard Kurtz
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