John Kerry and George W. Bush, the Democrat and Republican who will compete this November for the presidency, both attended similar New England preparatory schools, both graduated from Yale, and both received advanced degrees from prestigious east coast colleges. But, somewhere along the way, they developed dramatically different reading habits.
Where Bush says he does not read newspapers, Kerry says he cannot get enough of them. And that distinction, Kerry suggested when he sat down with this reporter for a rare extended interview on media issues this week, sums up a radically different vision of how a president should gather and process information they must use to make fundamental decisions about the direction of the nation and the world.
“I read four or five papers a day if I can,” said Kerry, when asked about his newspaper reading habits. “It depends obviously on where I am and what I’m doing. I always pick up a local paper in the hotel I’m staying at, or two depending on what the city is. And I try to get the Washington Post, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, papers like that. I try to read as much as I can.”
Those patterns are similar to most former presidents. Dwight Eisenhower read nine papers daily, Ronald Reagan was such an avid consumer of newspapers that his ex-wife Jane Wyman complained about his print media obsessions, and Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton were known to go through stacks of papers each day. But Kerry’s penchant for the papers clearly distinguishes him from the current President Bush.
When asked last fall by Fox News anchor Brit Hume how he gets his news, Bush said he asks an aide, “What’s in the newspapers worth worrying about?” The president added that, “I glance at the headlines just to kind of (get) a flavor of what’s moving. I rarely the stories…”
Instead of gathering information himself, Bush said he prefers to “get briefed by people who probably read the news themselves” and “people on my staff who tell me what’s happening in the world.”
Kerry shook his head in disagreement as Bush’s comments were recounted to him.
“I can’t imagine being president and not reading as much as I can about what people are saying,” explained Kerry. “I don’t want (information) varnished by staff. I don’t want it filtered by staff. I want it the way it is. And I think you get a much better sense of what’s going in the country (when you gather information yourself). I think one of the reasons we have some problems today is that we have an administration that’s out of touch with the problems of average people. They don’t know how people are struggling. They don’t know what’s happening with health care, employment. They don’t know, or they don’t care, that’s their choice.”
As a constant consumer of news, Kerry says he spends a good deal of time thinking about the role of media in a democratic society. And he gets frustrated when television networks fail to live up to the responsibility that should go with a license to use the people’s airwaves.