By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Unartful dodger

Sunday marked White House chief of staff Josh Bolten’s first appearance on “Meet the Press.” I suspect he won’t be back soon — and that when he does return, he’ll have a strategy other than stonewalling Tim Russert by repeating the same non-answer over and over again.

Russert is no Ted Koppel, but he is dogged, and he can get pretty riled up when someone simply refuses to answer his questions. He seemed especially put out by Bolten, who dodged him on Lebanon, Iraq and — most notably — whether President Bush believes that embryonic-stem-cell research involves “murder,” as White House spokesman Tony Snow claimed last week before Bush vetoed a federal funding measure.

Do read the whole interview, but here is an illuminating excerpt. (Note: All ellipses except the final one come straight from the MSNBC transcript.)

MR. RUSSERT: Then if the president believes it is human life, how can he allow private stem cell research to go forward, go forward, if, in fact, that is murder?

MR. BOLTEN: It’s a very, it’s a very difficult balance. I mean, the president recognizes that there are millions of Americans who don’t recognize that as a human life, and that the promise of that research for the saving of life is so important that they, that they want that to go forward. What the president has said is that as far as the federal policy is concerned, no federal funds, your tax dollars and my tax dollars, will go towards promoting the destruction of that human embryo.

MR. RUSSERT: But you’re using federal funds for existing lines, which were of embryos. So were those embryos that the federal government is experimenting on obtained by homicidal means?

MR. BOLTEN: Those, those embryos, those stem cell lines, were already — those embryos were already destroyed, and, and that’s where the president — the president’s policies draw the line. That is that our tax dollars, from the point that the president made his policy statement forward, our tax dollars are not going to go to further incent the destruction of those fertilized embryos. Let me, let me…

MR. RUSSERT: The logic, Mr. Bolten, as people are listening to this, the president is saying no, we can’t use embryos that are going to be discarded by in vitro clinics because, according to a spokesman, that’s murder. But we can use embryos that were existing before I became president, that’s OK. And if you have a private company and you want to use those embryos, that’s OK. Back to the central question: does the president agree with his spokesman, Tony Snow, that the research on the embryo in, in fact, to use that embryo is murder?

MR. BOLTEN: The president thinks that that embryo, that fertilized embryo, is a human life that deserves protection…

MR. RUSSERT: But does he accept or reject the use of the word “murder”?

MR. BOLTEN: I haven’t spoken to him about the use, the use of particular terminology…

Granted, no one answers a question if he doesn’t want to. But Bolten’s inability to dodge and shift gracefully, along with his obvious lack of preparation, are unusual for someone who has attained such power and influence.

His post-“MTP” conversation with Karl Rove couldn’t have been pleasant.

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  1. gyrfalcon

    Just FYI, Dan and everybody else, the stupid are the stupid, amgibuous way MSNBC and other cable news channels indicate an interruption, not an indication of something deleted.

  2. Dan Kennedy

    Gyrfalcon — Yes. They should use dashes to indicate pauses and interruptions, not ellipses. It’s a common mistake. Back in my copy-editing days, I was always changing ellipses to dashes.

  3. Michael Corcoran

    I couldn’t agree more about Bolten’s MTP performance. It was literally painful to watch him try to dodge the “murder” question over and over again.It appears the incompetence that has come to be equated with Bush seeps down into his senior officials: After all, it was Tony Snow — another part of the big shake-up earlier this year — that put Bolten in the unenviable position of answering that question.Bolten’s performance was laughable.

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