January 21, 2005

Inauguration Coverage: The "Really, Really Wonderful" Laura Bush

If you’ve been following the BAG, you know that my main beat is analyzing images.  Words, however, form pictures too (which is where my main training comes from). 

When we read the news, we mostly attend to content.  As such, a lot of the more nuanced stuff flies right by.  However, this is a problem in a biographical sketch or a personality profile.  In the presentation of self, especially in a political interview, almost everything is nuanced.  And, if the person has psychological baggage at all, there will also be contradictions. 

Yesterday, as part of the NYTimes Inauguration coverage, the paper ran a front page story titled: “A More Relaxed Laura Bush Shows Complexity Under Calm.”    Referring to someone as “complex” actually says very little, except to suggest that there’s more to a person than meets the eye.  From this forty-five minute interview, it sounds like Laura Bush’s demure surface actually covers up someone with a lot harder edges.


If the account of the interview is chronological (and it reads like it is), it seems like this “book on the night table” question is where the conversation started: 


The double “really” and the “gentle liberal” sound either a little too warm and fuzzy, or even a bit patronizing.  When called upon for a real opinion, however, Laura qualifies her interpretation with the possibility it might be meaningless.  True to her neutral veneer, the impression she does offer is also ambiguous.  For example, you can’t tell if she feels disposed to the liberal because his ideology has a gentleness to it, or she appreciates it because he’s not troubling anyone over it.

From that point, it sounds like the interview got a little tense. (Or, we might say, the true not so conforming Laura started coming through.)



After reading this sequence, it seems that the “complexity” the Times speaks of might have something to do with contempt. 

Laura seems to take offense to most everything, including the question about not keep a diary; the fact Karl Rove might have had a disproportionate role in George’s reelection; and the impression people have that Dubya doesn’t read.  The article also depicts her as confrontational (fixing a stare at the reporter over a question she didn’t like) and sarcastic (“I think I could write a diary that wouldn’t be subpoenaed.”).  I would add that, if Laura did use the word “hate,” that’s a pretty strong term.

In reading this account, perhaps the main question is: Where is the antagonism coming from?  Of course, it’s no secret George Bush and his family have been openly antagonistic to the press.  Given the fact, maybe the Times reporter came into the interview with a chip on his shoulder.  Even so, Mrs. Bush still seems more thin skinned than she would have people believe.  (Otherwise, she would have handled this interview –no matter what attitude the reporter brought along — with a little more grace.)

It looks like things started to slide with the answer to the mother-in-law question.  Maybe Laura was just mimicking Barbara Bush.  Or maybe (which is a hypothesis I’m interested in), Laura’s personality is a lot closer to Barbara’s than people realize.  In any event, Laura certainly had the opportunity to give a nuanced answer.  Instead, she insult the reporter by disparaging his profession, and also revealed a passion for indiscriminate venting.

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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