Presidential foot in mouth

LA Times reporter Peter Wallsten has found a way to get the ever elusive President Bush to pay attention: guilt.

In his inimitable “aw shucks” kind of way, W is famous for poking fun at reporters. Some people might even say that has something to do with the fact that reporters seemed to just like him more than other, more serious candidates, who ran against him in 2000 and 2004. But sometimes it can backfire, as the New York Times told us today:

So it was during a Rose Garden press briefing Wednesday when Mr. Bush called upon a reporter for The Los Angeles Times, Peter Wallsten, and promptly commented on his inquisitor’s sunglasses: “Are you going to ask that question with shades on?”

Mr. Wallsten offered to take them off, but the president said, “I’m interested in the shade look, seriously,” and Mr. Wallsten did not.

Afterward, staff members told Mr. Bush that Mr. Wallsten was not wearing the sunglasses to look hip, but for health reasons. Mr. Wallsten has Stargardt’s disease, a degenerative condition that causes blindness and can be painfully exacerbated by sunlight.

By late afternoon Mr. Bush called Mr. Wallsten to apologize. Mr. Wallsten said the call came without warning, on his cellphone, which listed the presidential phone number as “unknown.”

“He said, ‘I needle you guys out of affection,’ and I said, ‘Now that you know about this, don’t treat me any different than you would ordinarily,’ ” Mr. Wallsten said. “He said, ‘I won’t.'”

Mr. Wallsten said he invited the president to “needle away,” to which Mr. Bush replied, “I will, but next time I’ll just use a different needle.”

It’s all good and well to know that President Bush has a conscience. But when you have to provide details like that the Presidential phone number doesn’t show up on a cell phone (we would hope not), that may be a sign that this particular piece of media navel gazing is really a stretch to turn into a full news article.

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