The Democrats tell me they tend to want to read what I’ve written because it gives them the best idea of where Republicans, particularly conservatives, want to go and what their strategy is.
I came to The Times when Anne Crutcher, the first editorial page editor, invited me to be her deputy when the newspaper started. I was on the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board, and before that at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. After a while, Smith Hempstone asked if I’d help strengthen economic coverage, and I said sure. So I did that on the business desk for a while and then was asked to move over to the national desk to do politics.
The elder George Bush, when I was covering his campaign for the Republican nomination in 1988, gave me a fake karate chop the first time I boarded the plane. I turned to The Post reporter and asked, “What … was that all about?” He said: “He didn’t like today’s story.” Bush often thought I was hard on him. I presume he thought that was somewhat unfair because The Times — a conservative and Republican newspaper, in his view — should be kind to him. I tried not to let him get away with nonsense, pulling the wool over people’s eyes. If a policy he proposed, or his speeches, didn’t track with conservative principles he espoused, I’d seek out other people in his party to comment candidly. That irked him.
Just before President Bush left office in January 1993, some of his taped diaries as vice president were made public. Seems that every paper had the story on Page One, with his 1986 entry about this “horrible fellow” from The Washington Times named Ralph Hallow — misspelled as “Hallo” — and he basically said: “He was the first to call me on Iran-Contra, but he wrote a fair story.” I was on a trip to California at the time, but when I got back, Wes Pruden had pasted a sign, set in 72-point headline type, on my computer in the newsroom: “Horrible fellow.”
The president’s son, George W. Bush, declared his candidacy for the job in June 1999, and I went out on the official launch trip. The Bush people finally invited me down at the end of the summer to the governor’s mansion in Austin for a private, sit-down interview. I think that was the first one that he did. I spent about an hour and a half with him.
I’d known George W. Bush for years, because he always traveled with his father’s campaigns, but I’d never really sat down and talked. I didn’t think he knew much about international and foreign affairs, or was much of a policy guy. I was blown away by the way he handled the interview. He had no note cards. He laid out for the first time positions that he stuck with throughout the campaign — and as president — on China, Russia, economic policy. We published a transcript and did a long story on Page One.
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