On The Lonely White House Beat In Crawford

Mark Knoller is a White House Correspondent for CBS News.
CRAWFORD, Texas – Maybe you can explain it. I can't.

In Denver, there are 15,000 members of the media covering the Democrats formally designating their candidate for president. Fair enough. It's a legitimate story – though a strong argument can be made that it's being way over-covered.

Meanwhile, 700 miles away here in Crawford, the media count of those covering President Bush is about 30 (of which barely 12 are reporters).

Sure, he's on vacation – though I've stopped using that word with respect to American presidents. The job is always with them. They can never escape the burdens and responsibilities of the office. And not just the current occupant of the job. The same could be said of President Clinton during his weeks-long summer stays on Martha's Vineyard or in Jackson Hole, Wyo.

The getaways give presidents a break from the routine, and yes, tedium of the White House. They get additional opportunities to recreate. But they can never turn off the phones or tell their aides not to bother them.

Since the days of Ronald Reagan's August respites at his ranch in the mountains above Santa Barbara, we've been assured that Presidents always have all the staff and communications capabilities they need to handle anything that comes up.

While here in Texas the last 10 days, President Bush has dealt with a number of crises, though you might not have heard.

  • He's conferred with top aides and foreign leaders about the showdown with Russia over its invasion of Georgia.
  • He had a secure video teleconference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to discuss the status of forces agreement about future U.S. troop levels in his country.
  • He issued emergency and disaster declarations to help Florida deal with the damage and suffering inflicted by Tropical Storm Fay.
  • He commiserated by phone with Pervez Musharraf who was forced to step down as president of Pakistan in order to avoid impeachment.
  • He left the ranch last Wednesday to give a foreign policy speech to the VFW Convention in Orlando. He also visited New Orleans and Gulfport, Miss., in advance of the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.

    Little of what he said or did got much press coverage.

    It was marginalized by the attention focused on who Barack Obama would choose as his running mate. An important story to be sure – but the wall-to-wall coverage seemed over-the-top. The irony is that even if Joe Biden becomes vice president, he'll never again get the avalanche of coverage as did his selection – unless he's linked to scandal, a health crisis or accidentally shoots a hunting buddy in the face.

    So there are hundreds of reporters in Denver and about 12 here in Crawford. It reminds me of Jerry Seinfeld's joke about why guys love their TV remote controls. He says we're less interested in what's on – than in what else is on.

    It seems the media is less interested in who's president, than in who might be President in five months.

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      Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent.