An International Embarrassment

From Holden:

That’s your president. Today he held a joint press conference with Vladimir Putin.

First, can somebody please explain to me what this means? Is this a Gannon reference?

Our mil-to-mil exchanges are very positive, and I appreciate that. You and I talked about that a couple years ago. I think they’re coming to fruition, which is a very important to make sure we understand each other better.

We agreed upon new efforts to fight the war on terror, to combat MANPADS and improvised explosive devices.

Now, on to the question and answer period.

Good question/rock-stupid answer, Part I: Irony places a plastic grocery bag over her head.

QUESTION (THROUGH TRANSLATOR):The regimes in place in Russia and the U.S. cannot be considered fully democratic, especially when compared to some other countries of Europe, for example; for example, the Netherlands. It seems to me that, as far as Russia is concerned, everything is clear more or less. But as far as the U.S. is concerned, we could probably talk at length.

I’m referring to the great powers that have been assumed by the security services due to which the private lives of citizens are now being monitored by the state. This could be explained away by the consequences of September 11th, but this has nothing to do with democratic values.

How could you comment on this?

BUSH: I live in a transparent country. I live in a country where decisions made by government are wide open and people are able to call people to me to account, which many out here do on a regular basis.

Our laws and the reasons why we have laws on the books are perfectly explained to people. Every decision we have made is within the Constitution of the United States. We have a constitution that we uphold.

And if there’s a question as to whether or not a law meets that constitution, we have an independent court system through which that law is reviewed.

So I’m perfectly comfortable in telling you, our country is one that safeguards human rights and human dignity, and we resolve our disputes in a peaceful way.

Good question/rock-stupid answer, Part II: Sacks of hammers worldwide puff out their chests in pride.

QUESTION (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): To follow up on the issue of democratic institutions, President Bush recently stated that the press in Russia is not free. What is this lack of freedom all about?


What about — why don’t you talk a lot about violation of rights of journalists in the United States, about the fact that some journalists have been fired or do you prefer to discuss this in private with your American colleague?

BUSH: I don’t know what journalists you’re referring to. Do any of you all still have your jobs? ook, I think it’s important any viable democracy has got a free and active press.

Obviously, if you’re a member of the Russian press, you feel like the press is free. Feel that way? That’s good.

But I’ve talked to Vladimir about that. And he wanted to know about our press. It’s a nice bunch of folks.


But a free press is important. And it is an important part of any democracy.

If you’re a member of the press corps and you feel comfortable with the press in Russia, I think that’s a pretty interesting observation for those of us who don’t live in Russia to listen to.

But no question, whether it be in America or anywhere else, the sign of a healthy and vibrant society is one where there’s an active press corps.

Obviously there’s got to be constraints. I mean, there’s got to be truth. People’ve got to tell the truth. And if somebody violates the truth — and those who own a particular newspaper or those who are in charge of a particular electronic station need to hold people to account. The press, the capacity of the press to hold people to account also depends on their willingness to self-examine at times when they’re wrong.

And that happens on occasion in America. And that’s an important part of maintaining a proper relationship between government and press.

I can assure you that the folks here are constantly trying to hold me to account for decisions I make and how I make decisions. I’m comfortable with that. It’s part of the checks and balances of a democracy.

And so I’m glad to hear your editorial comments, so to speak, on your comfort with the situation of the press corps in the Federation of Russia.