Everybody leads with President-elect George W. Bush’s appointments yesterday of Condoleezza Rice (to be national security adviser), Alberto Gonzales (chief White House lawyer), and Karen Hughes (White House counselor).
All of the leads except the New York Times’ go high with the demographics of these appointments taken together with yesterday’s designation of Colin Powell to be secretary of state. (The NYT holds off until the middle of its story.) USA Today, in the first sentence of its lead, says that the picks “signaled that diversity will be a top priority.” Everybody has the answer Bush gave when a reporter asked him if he was sending a message: “You bet: that people that work hard and make the right decisions in life can achieve anything they want in America.” Among the four new appointees, the Los Angeles Times finds five important people: “two women, a Latino and two African Americans.”
Both the Washington Post and LAT say yesterday’s staff announcements reflect Bush’s determination to avoid the “chaotic start” (the LAT’s words) of Bill Clinton’s first term, when Cabinet selection was emphasized more. The NYT, LAT, and WP report that Bush said that Rice will not have Cabinet rank. The Post has Bush saying Rice will be invited to all Cabinet meetings and that he and Rice will be spending “an inordinate amount of time with each other.” Neither of the Times ventures an explanation of what non-Cabinet status means or of why Bush went for it. The WP says it suggests that Bush seemed concerned about preventing the National Security Council (which Rice will head, the Post doesn’t tell us) from acquiring too much independent power, which is often cited as contributing to the Iran-Contra affair, but the paper doesn’t say boo about how denying Cabinet status to Rice but giving her max presidential face-time (the ultimate source of White House power) will prevent this. Nobody says whether or not the current national security adviser has Cabinet rank.
USAT, the WP, and the NYT have Bush’s comment yesterday that, even in the face of some recent congressional misgivings, he’s not backing down from his campaign pledge of a $1.3 trillion across-the-board tax cut: “It doesn’t seem to make much sense for people to be drawing lines in the sands until we’ve had a chance to discuss things.”
The LAT lead says that according to Bush aides, the president-elect has traveled abroad far more extensively than has been previously reported. The paper says there have been more than a dozen business and personal trips to Guatemala, France, Bermuda, Italy, Israel, Egypt, Gambia, England, and Scotland. And, adds the paper, it has learned that Bush has visited Mexico and Canada “many, many times.”
The NYT lead introduces Rice as Bush’s foreign policy “tutor.” Two of the leads find a way to include a mention of drunken driving. The NYT says that Hughes “was also one of very few Bush aides who knew before it was publicly revealed that Mr. Bush had once been arrested for drunken driving.” The Post chooses an even more indirect, almost subliminal route. When explaining what Gonzales’ responsibilities will be, the paper immediately adds, “In 1996, Gonzales helped get Bush excused from jury duty in a drunk-driving case on the grounds that as governor he might eventually be asked to consider pardoning the suspect.”
The WP off-lead reports that a new poll shows “overwhelming majorities” of Americans support a major overhaul of election rules and practices, including a uniform national poll-closing time and standardized ballots and recounting rules. And they would like the federal government to be in charge of enacting these reforms. About six in 10 would like to do away with the Electoral College. Despite all this interest in reform, the survey respondents also remain very confident that the U.S. still has “the best system of government in the world.”
With the five-week election overtime period, the papers have been running a serious breathless personality coverage deficit. But today, they break out in a big puffy way regarding Rice, who we learn came from poor Southern roots, is an accomplished classically trained pianist, was a competitive ice skater, graduated from college at age 19, lifts weights, and speaks fluent Russian. The NYT front-page Rice profile says that in high school she often got up at 4:30 a.m. and went to bed at 3 a.m. The LAT does what it can for the other appointees, noting that Gonzales “grew up in a large family in a two-bedroom house” and that Hughes “said she is the granddaughter of a coal miner.”