It's not for nothing that Matt Yglesias seems to be nominating NBC Sports eminence grise Bob Costas for the Meet The Press chair. Last night's interview with President George W. Bush demonstrated that there's a world of difference between a reporter with chops, knowledge, and genuine curiosity and those who work for the empty calories of a "gotcha" moment. The ten-minute sit down included sufficient Olympics content to suit the occasion, but centered mainly on probing foreign policy questions from a superbly prepared Costas. The result was an interview that was neither softball nor pointlessly antagonistic.
I don't want to harp too much on Bush's responses, because he's fared a lot worse in interviews. Certainly, many a blogger has concentrated on Bush's "I don't see America having problems" remark. On the one hand, it's another instance of the President's trademark myopic optimism, but on the other hand, consider the setting: national optimism at the Olympics is akin to telling the students of Wellesley that their education has prepared them to compete in a male-dominated world. However, it was hard to miss Bush protesting that he could not "read [Hu Jintao's] mind" on a day where his inability to properly divine Vladimir Putin's soul was negatively impacting America's security abroad.
Also, there's this:
Q China is a nation that warmly received Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, who has since been indicted by the International Court on charges of genocide.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q Then this past week they revoked the visa of Joey Cheek, an exemplary Olympian who had planned to come here not to directly protest China's government, but to call attention to the humanitarian crisis in Darfur.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
Q What's your reaction?
THE PRESIDENT: My reaction is I'm sorry Joey Cheek didn't come, he's a good man. Joey Cheek has just got to know that I took the Sudanese message for him. My attitude is, is if you got relations with Mr. Bashir, think about helping to solve the humanitarian crisis in Darfur. That was my message to the Chinese government.
I'm not sure how effective Bush was at carrying Cheek's "message" when he's under the impression that Cheek "didn't come" of his own accord.
[WATCH.][Full transcript available via the White House.]