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The Woman Bush Fears Most

by Steve Young

Steve Young columns

The single word that strikes the most fear in the heart of Scott McClellan, especially when it emanates directly from his own mouth: "Helen..."

Because the next voice he'll hear is Helen's -- as in, Helen Thomas.

You have to give Scotty a bit of credit for some nerve. His boss doesn't seem to have any, because he won't dare call on the Dean of the White House Press Corps.

In a time when we are beginning to see members of the press rediscovering their spine, it remains Helen Thomas, one who never lost touch with hers, leading the way. Even if, every so often, this president and his spokepeople "forget" to call on her.

So this week Helen Thomas, who's presently writing a book "bashing the press for falling down on the job on the run up to the war," dropped by my radio show (at L.A. KTLK) to explain what was behind the correspondents' change of heart.

"9/11 has made reporters fearful of being called unpatriotic if they asked tough questions.

Then, when we were in the war, if you asked tough questions you would be accused of jeopardizing the troops. At the same time you had some of the corporate (owners) breathing down their necks to not rock the boat."

Thomas has no question that we went to war without good reason. "It's clear that nothing was proved and you just don't send people to die without (absolutes). It's very clear this president wanted to go to war."

Then it all hit the press briefing fan.

"The Karl Rove thing has rubbed (the press) the wrong way," contends Thomas. "They're coming out of their coma. The White House is so practiced with their spin, no matter what you ask they give you the same answer. The press finally realized that when answers don't stack up, if you follow up, pile can shake them up."

Does the White House believe that the public is stupid enough to buy their evasions? Or is just that America isn't paying attention?

Thomas is very hopeful. "There's a grand awakening (or maybe it's just wishful thinking). When this administration came in, everything they said was believed." But there has been a change: "Not a sea change yet, but there is one on the shoreline. More and more people are asking, 'Why aren't they answering these questions?' I think the American people realize now that they've been had."

Thomas has never held back asking a question, but this White House has froze her out like none other. Since the War President doesn't seem to want to go to battle with Helen, j'ever wonder what she might ask if she had the chance?

"I would ask him how he could go to war without cause," she says, obviously at the ready with the question. "How could you go to war without provocation? Of course, that's why he doesn't call on me."

And after the president evaded the question, what would be her followup?

"How could you? Don't you know what war is?" Nailed, Thomas style.

"The press is the last line of defense. If we don't ask the questions, this president could rule like a dictator. All presidents should be sassed. Who are they? We don't have to worship at their shrine. They're public officials. We pay them. They have to answer to us."

Which brings me to this White House and this President who doesn't seem to think that he has to answer to us. But it does seem okay to talk about it with those who, how should I say, aren't us.

This past Thursday on Sean Hannity's radio show, Mary Matalin was introduced as senior advisor for Vice President Cheney. Sean was a bit off current resume so Mary corrected her intro by explaining that her position at the White House was "stealth" -- that she "does whatever the White House wants her to." Despite the fact that Scott McClellan has told us the no one working with the White House can talk about the "matter under investigation," because it is ...under investigation, Stealth Mary went on to say that "the Joe Wilson thing, he was such a liar from the very beginning. And we spent so much time on it. So much energy. Such a frenzy over it. But in this case I think people understand."

What this people doesn't understand is how the White House can't tell us, but can tell Sean Hannity. Now I may not understand the legal innuendos under which you can evade answering reporter's questions, but it would seem to me that if Matalin does the White House's bidding she too is working for the White House, paid or not, stealth or right in front of our eyes.

Perhaps -- and I'm only perhaps'ing here -- if the question is asked, not by a legitimate news person, but someone who works for Fox News, the matter under investigation can be talked about.

And now...I can't wait until Helen asks Scott for a White House clarification.

Steve Young is the author of "Great Failures of the Extremely Successful" and can be heard on L.A.'s KTLK AM1150 (Sat 1-4PM) and read every Sunday in the L.A. Daily News Oped page (right next to Bill O'Reilly).

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Albion Monitor July 24, 2005 (

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