Elisabeth Bumiller, the White House correspondent for the New York Times, discussed her experience covering the Bush campaign and her thoughts regarding the election’s outcome at a Law School talk Wednesday.
Addressing a packed room in the Yale Law School in an event sponsored by Americans for Informed Democracy, Bumiller described her three month stint as a campaign reporter as a cross-country tour colored by story deadlines and conflicting reports from both parties. During the talk, Bumiller also offered an explanation why Sen. John Kerry ’66 lost to President George W. Bush ’68.
“It’s quite amazing to see this election work,” Bumiller said. “At the end of the day, it’s really just two men putting themselves out.”
In her speech, Bumiller highlighted the difficulties of handling the constant deadline pressure and covering presidential speeches that were often repetitive. Bumiller said she trailed the president from one event to another, writing articles en route.
“My stories were written on the run and sometimes read like that,” she said, later noting that in the heat of the moment she might overlook the significance of the moment. “I was right there when Bush jumped on the charred remains of ground zero and grabbed the bull horn. That was an iconic moment, but I wasn’t aware. I was mostly obsessed with the mechanics of getting my story out.”
Bumiller said she chiefly covered the Bush campaign but briefly covered the Kerry campaign for four days in late September, as part of the New York Times’ tradition for campaign reporters. But despite her experience with Kerry, Bumiller said because she was “encapsulated” in the Bush campaign it was challenging to determine a front-runner, especially when she received conflicting information from both parties. Both campaigns had operatives in Washington whose entire purpose was to phone the media. Bumiller said they would call her “more than my husband did.”
“It was very hard to know what was actually going on because everywhere we went Bush was treated like a rockstar,” she said. “I was only as good as the last person who spun me.”
Reflecting on Bush’s win, Bumiller attributed the victory to the Republicans’ skilled campaigning and centralized grass roots efforts. Bumiller said the Republicans were effective in creating a passionate base of volunteers with a “burning desire to do something.”
“The basic fact was that in this election, the Republicans for the first time in history got as many Republicans to the polls as the Democrats,” she said.
Bumiller said Bush’s concise campaign rhetoric was more motivating than Kerry’s. Bush provided good sound bytes for the media, Bumiller said.
During her talk, Bumiller defended journalists against allegations of subjectivity, attributing what most people believe is bias to “human error.”
“We aren’t rooting for one side for one reason or another,” she said.
When asked after her talk about her opinion on Bush, Bumiller characterized the president as “a very smart man, but not articulate,” and not as “right-wing as people say.”
David Kasten ’08 said he was pleased with the event.
“I’d say it’s one of the best conversations I’ve been to at Yale,” Kasten said. “I think she very eloquently and very elegantly gave us an actual insight into the reporting process.”