White House Critical Of "B"-Word Use

Mark Knoller is a White House Correspondent for CBS News.
To hear the White House tell it, one factor in the House vote yesterday against the administration's bailout plan – was the word "bailout."

"It's really unfortunate shorthand for a very complicated issue." says White House deputy press secretary Tony Fratto.

He says the administration plan to rescue the financial markets is "not a bailout for Wall Street" and "certainly not a bailout for Wall Street CEOs."

Okay then – what should we call it?

"It's an effort to fix this problem of a frozen asset class that has implications over our entire economy," said Fratto at the daily White House press briefing.

That certainly rolls off the tongue: "an effort to fix the problem of a frozen asset class."

If so, that means all of today's headlines are off the mark. It's not "House Rejects Bailout." It should be "House Rejects Effort To Fix Problem Of Frozen Asset Class." That'll sell a lot of newspapers.

Fratto says he's not one to bash the media, but he says reporters are using the language of the plan's critics when we call it a "bailout."

You may have noticed, President Bush is careful not to say "bailout." In his statement to reporters this morning, he said he wants "legislation that decisively addresses the troubled assets now clogging the financial system."

He avoids the "B" word because he's on record saying "bailouts" are bad.

At his news conference on July 15, he was asked if he would take government action to help a company or industry crucial to the economy?

"If your question is, should the government bail out private enterprise, the answer is, no, it shouldn't," he replied.

"And by the way, the decisions on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – I hear some say 'bailout.' I don't think it's a bailout. The shareholders still own the company," Mr. Bush said.

Of course, now the government is the principal shareholder.

A year earlier, in announcing steps to help homeowners unable to pay their mortgages, Mr. Bush decried the idea of a "bailout." He said "a federal bailout of lenders would only encourage a recurrence of the problem."

"It's not the government's job to bail out speculators, or those who made the decision to buy a home they knew they could never afford," he said with conviction.

And that mirrors the view of many of the House members who voted against the bailout plan yesterday – reflecting the wishes of their constituents.

So based on his tough words about bailouts, President Bush could hardly be advocating one for the financial markets.

Instead, he's trying to fix the problem of a "frozen asset class."

Remember that the next time you discuss the "B"-word.
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    Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent.

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