White House Watch tackles a critical issue

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Julie Mason’s White House Watch explores the nail-biting question of whether or not President Bush gave the press corps “the finger”:

A second term may produce a certain nonchalance on the part of the incumbent, but questions were raised last week as to whether President Bush had taken the attitude to extremes.

The president visited the Capitol to speak privately with Republicans. Exiting the Wednesday meeting after about an hour, Bush gestured grandly with his hand at a clutch of reporters gathered outside.

The gesture was replayed during Jay Leno’s Tonight Show monologue, where videotape was shown of the president, to gales of laughter from a studio audience that thought it was a well-known, silent put-down.

The next day, the true nature of the gesture was probed at the White House, where Ken Herman of Cox Newspapers asked spokesman Scott McClellan to explain it:

McClellan, testy as he battled a head cold, responded, “Ken, I’m not even going to dignify that with much of a response. But if someone is misportraying something, that’s unfortunate.”

Herman pressed on, asking whether the gesture was in fact “a finger of hostility.”

McClellan said he was there when it happened and should know.

“I mean, I haven’t seen the video that you’re talking about, but I know the way the president acts. And if someone is misportraying it, that’s unfortunate,” McClellan said.

For the record, that was not a denial. And if McClellan indeed knows the way the president acts, he surely remembers a widely circulated videotape from Bush’s second term as Texas governor, in which he playfully addresses the camera with an unambiguous middle finger.

“That’s the one-finger victory salute,” Bush said then.

Still, it remains unclear whether the same gesture was indeed made by an older and presumably wiser Bush at the Capitol. Repeated viewing of the tape, and further clarification from McClellan, suggests the raised digit was possibly a thumb.

Good grief! Slow news week, eh?

Strangely, Julie Mason and the Chronicle didn’t provide a link to the tape. You can see it here and decide for yourself. Also note that reporters who were present think the President raised his thumb.

So…what is the point of White House Watch, anyway? Is it an opportunity to print up the latest gossip, or is it to offer up some tidbits of White House news that might not otherwise have received much press attention? It would be helpful if that was clarified.

KEVIN WHITED ADDS: May I answer that one?

My best guess is it’s an attempt to cover up the fact that the newspaper doesn’t have the access in D.C. that a Texas newspaper should, and therefore has to come up with something to justify its continued existence. It goes something like “we don’t ever break important stories or get good quotes from Texas pols and aides, BUT here’s a column that shows we exist!”

Readers are welcome, as always, to share their answers!

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Anne Linehan is a co-founder of blogHOUSTON.