Did Cokie Roberts Ever Use Cocaine?

Don’t get Chatterbox wrong. Chatterbox believes there are legitimate “character issues” to raise about George W. Bush. Even though most readers found Chatterbox’s curiosity about the racial covenant on Bush’s former residence to be prurient and irresponsible, Chatterbox continues to desire a fuller explanation from the candidate about it. (See “Mister Bush’s Neighborhood.”) Chatterbox has also been brooding a bit about Bush’s mocking remarks to Talk’s Tucker Carlson about pleas for clemency from Karla Faye Tucker, the Texas axe-murderess who was executed last year. (See “Puff Patrol” in Ballot Box for the ugly details.)

But Chatterbox thinks the media swarm surrounding George W. Bush’s refusal to say whether he’s ever used cocaine is ridiculous and irresponsible. As Chatterbox wrote recently in the New Republic (tragically, the article isn’t online), Chatterbox believes the sensible reportorial response to Bush’s selective silence should be: 1) Yes, Bush probably used cocaine sometime in his life; and 2) who cares? Yet the question keeps coming up–increasingly, swathed in dispassionate meta-analysis by reporters and political analysts. Today’s Washington Post brings Howard Kurtz pondering the media angle: The New York Daily News last week sent a questionnaire to 12 presidential candidates asking whether they’d used cocaine. (Why didn’t they just send a questionnaire saying, “Is your name George W. Bush?”) Eleven denied they’d ever used cocaine. The 12th (heh, heh) refused to answer.

Chatterbox decided the time had come to conduct a poll of his own, asking various political writers and commentators who had written about this question, or (more typically) had written or commented publicly about writing or commenting publicly about this question, whether they’d ever used cocaine. Here are the results:

Howie Kurtz, reporter, Washington Post: “It would be hard for me to claim to have a drug-free college education, but I’m not going to go into the sordid details.”

Chatterbox concludes: Probable yes.

Timothy Burger, reporter, New York Daily News : “No.”

Chatterbox concludes: Probable no.

Tom DeFrank, bureau chief, New York Daily News : No. I went to Texas A&M, don’t forget. I went to Texas A&M when it was all male and all military.”

Chatterbox concludes: Almost certain no. (Full disclosure: Chatterbox used to work with DeFrank at Newsweek.)

Ellen Joan Pollock, reporter, the Wall Street Journal : “You know what? I am not gonna answer that question … but I’m amused.” (She said this very good-naturedly.)

Chatterbox concludes: Probable yes. (Full disclosure: Chatterbox used to work with Pollock at the Wall Street Journal.)

Susan Estrich, former campaign manager, Dukakis ‘88: “I think I’ll pass on this one–I go back to the Doug Ginsburg days, and I passed then, on the theory that we shouldn’t be asking these questions … and if we don’t ask them, we don’t have to answer them.” (Ginsberg is the judge whose Supreme Court appointment cratered after he admitted to having used marijuana long ago.)

Chatterbox concludes: Probable yes. (Full disclosure: Chatterbox has never met Estrich.)

George Stephanopoulos, pundit, ABC News: “No.”

Chatterbox concludes: Almost certain no. (This admission dents his glamorous image. Besides, he got asked the same thing by the FBI when he went to work at the White House, and if he were lying now he’d have to fear being ratted out by a disgruntled G-man.)

Karen Brown, news director, WMUR: “No, I’ve not.”

Chatterbox concludes: Probable no.

Cokie Roberts, pundit, ABC News: [Didn’t return Chatterbox’s phone call.]

Chatterbox concludes: As the daughter of a House leader and a nice Catholic girl, almost certainly not.

Lois Romano, reporter, Washington Post;George Lardner, reporter, Washington Post ; Bill Kristol, editor, the Weekly Standard: [Also didn’t return Chatterbox’s phone calls.]

Chatterbox concludes: No idea. None of them appear to have been at their offices today.

William Saletan, writer, Slate : “No.”

Chatterbox concludes: Probable no.

David Plotz, writer, Slate: “No.”

Chatterbox concludes: Probable no.

Jeffrey Stern, Chatterbox’s college roommate: “Yeah you big goofball. But I did it with you! (Don’t tell my kids.)”

Chatterbox concludes: Definitely lying.

OK, OK, Stern isn’t lying. Chatterbox tried cocaine twice about 20 years ago. It was so wonderful that Chatterbox resolved never to try it again, and he never has. The jurisdiction is none of your business.

Photograph of cocaine user on the Slate Table of Contents by Corbis/Roger Ressmeyer.