One of the unattractive distinctions of President Bush's first term was his inaccessibility to reporters. Through his re-election last November, Mr. Bush met the press for full-scale, solo news conferences just 15 times. During one journalistic dry spell in 2003, the president went five months without holding a solo news conference. White House officials argued that Mr. Bush disdained the formal news conference, with its self-promoting reporters and "gotcha" mentality, and they said he was available to reporters in other venues, answering news-of-the-day questions in quick encounters or holding mini-news conferences. But these are inadequate, watered-down alternatives -- Question Time Lite -- and in any event these sessions, too, were often scarce.
We write, though, not to criticize Mr. Bush's performance during his first term but to praise that of his second. Tuesday the president held his seventh news conference in as many months (and that doesn't count a session with newspaper editors in April at which Mr. Bush answered questions).
The scoffers will say that these once-a-month events haven't yielded much in the way of news: One news service led its account of Tuesday's session by quoting Mr. Bush as saying, "I feel comfortable in my role"; another had him saying the Iraqi government was "plenty capable" of defeating the insurgents; a third touted Mr. Bush's assessment that the U.S. economy is thriving. The scoffers will say, too, that Mr. Bush is making himself available only because -- take your pick -- he no longer has to worry about being re-elected, or he finds his agenda floundering so badly he has no choice but to submit to the indignity of a news conference.
To be honest, we don't care. Neither Mr. Bush's motives nor the headlines he generates matters much. The point is that in a democratic society, leaders ought to make themselves regularly available for sustained questioning. On that score, Mr. Bush doesn't approach the performance of his father, who held 83 solo news conferences in his single term. But the second Bush term represents a dramatic improvement from the first in terms of presidential accessibility. That, in itself, may be the headline.
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