Jewish World Review April 23, 2004/ 2 Iyar, 5764

Wesley Pruden

Wes Pruden
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The lesson missed in the graveyard | There's a little graveyard on the outskirts of Washington where, amongst rusting Prince Albert tobacco cans, Win With Willkie buttons and rotting hulks of '57 Edsels half-hidden in the weeds, the dreams and ambitions of hundreds of Republican politicians lie beneath the sod, unmourned in the cold, cold ground.

There's only one marble marker in the entire boneyard, a cenotaph with the inscription barely visible beneath years of moss and mould, but a visitor can make it out with a little effort: "Here lie the suckers who thought they could hustle The Washington Post."

It's a pity that President Bush, the original, did not take his boy out to the graveyard years ago to see it. He could have saved his son the president some aggravation and considerable grief over the past 10 days.

George W. no doubt thought Bob Woodward meant it with his assurance, on asking for an Oval Office interview, that he intended to write a fair and balanced book about the war to liberate Iraq, to get it first and to get it right. He would report and let the reader decide. The president felt secure in the knowledge that Mortuary Bob, famous for sod-breaking interviews with the dead and the near-dead, is a Yalie, and if not a Skull and Crossbonesman at least a man from Book and Snake. If he had seen that graveyard, where all the Republican dreams and ambitions lie rotting, he would have told Mortuary Bob to get his muddy boots off the Oval Office carpet, and take his shovel with him. The president had to learn the hard way that if you don't get it, you'll pay for it.

George W. has been trying hard for more than three years to make nice with The Post. It hasn't been easy, because he arrived in Washington with no excuse for illusions. I recall walking through the opening of his father's library at Texas A&M in 1999, counting the displays of front pages of newspapers reporting events of the first Gulf war. When I remarked to a friend at my side that I had counted four dramatic front pages of The Washington Times and only three (less dramatic ones) from The Post, a voice behind us piped up: "And that's three more than those [rectal apertures] deserve." I turned and the governor of Texas greeted us, grinning from ear to ear.

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But all was forgotten, and or least shoved aside. The president's first big social outing was to go to dinner at the home of the late Kay Graham in Georgetown (across the street from the big graveyard, not the little one where Republican dreams are buried). Many Republicans thought that was the signal they had dreamed of for lo, these many years, that The Post at last intended to play fair, party partisanship notwithstanding. When the president and the first lady hosted their first rare state dinners, they made it clear that media celebrities were not particularly welcome at their table - yet not one, not two, not even three, but four editors and reporters from The Post were invited to sup with a visiting head of state.

Almost anyone could have told the White House that even the full grovel, no matter how artfully performed, cuts very little ice with cold-hearted Democrats on the scent for election-year blood, even an editor who almost made Skull and Sawbones.

There's actually very little new in Mortuary Bob's new book; this one doesn't even have a deathbed interview, as did an earlier book quoting a comatose Bill Casey from a hospital room guarded against all intruders. But, in prose that often reads as if it had been buffed and polished by Walter Pincus, the poet of The Post newsroom, Mortuary Bob portrays the president and his men as rowdy schoolboys, eager to lob bombs at Iraqi innocents and throwing biscuits and stink bombs at each other for the honor of pushing the buttons to start a reckless and unnecessary war to assuage cowboy egos. Well, except for Colin Powell, who is determined to be the nicest of the Nice Republicans. Mortuary Bob portrays the secretary of state as the loyal laggard, the suspicious sluggard whose heart is really not in a war that he expects to be a catastrophe, who talks one way to the president and the other to muckraking authors.

In the end, Mortuary Bob's new book doesn't matter much, because the trash and trivia that mesmerizes Washington does not much interest voters in Toledo, Tuscaloosa and Tacoma, or even in Atchison, Topeka or Santa Fe.

What will matter is what the Bush administration should expect from The Washington Post as the campaign moves toward decision time. If the president and his men (and woman) don't like a lot of what they read, they'll probably have only themselves to blame. Trust is nice, but not when there's nothing to verify.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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