A week ago, I quipped that some reporter should ask Scott McClellan about Bush's reported meeting with Michael Crichton during the press gaggle. Well, it happened today. Here's the relevant exchange, which took place aboard Air Force One:
MR. McCLELLAN: The United States is leading the way in investing in the kind of technologies to help us address greenhouse gas emissions. That's something we -- remember, we're on track to meet the President's goal of reducing greenhouse gas intensity that he outlined. And we also have joined in partnerships around the world to invest in research and development when it comes to climate change. It's an issue that the President takes seriously, and we announced the Asia Pacific Partnership, remember, and that is an initiative to help lead the way to address some of these issues associated with climate change.
Q Do you take Michael Crichton on the issue seriously?
MR. McCLELLAN: What's your question?
Q There's a story --
MR. McCLELLAN: I think what I can point to -- I'm not going to get into talking about private meetings he's had, but look at the initiatives we've outlined, look at the leadership the President is providing to address the challenges of climate change. It is an issue that we take seriously, and that's why we've been investing billions in research and development to better understand the science of climate change. That's why we've initiated partnerships, like the Asia Pacific Partnership, to address these issues, as well.
Q But Michael Crichton as an expert or a novelist the President enjoys reading?
MR. McCLELLAN: The President read his book, and he was glad to have the opportunity to visit with him.
Q -- believes as expert opinion?
MR. McCLELLAN: I think you should look at what we outlined, Jessica. If you want to ask the President about it, you are -- you're welcome to do that at some point. But I'm not going to get into talking about private meetings that he has.
Thanks. If Scott McClellan was a Dickens character, he would surely be named the Artful Dodger. But his dubious attempt to preserve the president's "private" space on this matter cannot be allowed to stand.
First of all, Bush's reading list is often made public. So why have we not heard until now that he read Crichton's State of Fear? What are the criteria by which it is decided what parts of Bush's reading list are made public and what parts remain "private"?
Moreover, like it or hate it, State of Fear is inarguably a very ideological book. So it is a political statement, and not merely a private affair, for a president to read such a book and then meet with its author. That the White House never made this meeting public, reportedly for fear of outraging environmentalists, underscores that very fact.
In short, there was nothing "private" about Bush's meeting with Crichton, or about his reading of State of Fear. Such intellectual activity, on the part of the president, is a perfectly legitimate subject for reporters to ask about. McClellan is blocking public access to politically relevant information -- information to which we are very much entitled.