Media Buzz

Jeb's Dilemma: Why the media are engaging in family therapy

April 25, 2013: Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and his wife Columba arrive at the dedication ceremony for the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas.

April 25, 2013: Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and his wife Columba arrive at the dedication ceremony for the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas.  (reuters)


N.Y. Times vs. Jill Abramson

Jeb's Dilemma: Why the Media Are Engaging in Family Therapy

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about Jeb Bush’s family.

The press hasn’t left me much choice.

When the media aren’t worrying about Alec Baldwin’s arrest or Beyonce's sister's fight with Jay-Z, they are speculating about Jeb getting into the presidential campaign. In fact, I think this is more than mere chatter: there’s a drumbeat that almost seems designed to encourage him to run.

And that has brought us to members of the Bush clan.

Since the former Florida governor hasn’t said much lately, the media therapists are focusing on his family.

The early wave of coverage examined whether Bush would be handicapped by his last name, eight years after his brother left the White House, and whether he is insufficiently conservative for today’s GOP.

But now, as Jeb tries to make up his mind, we’re increasingly hearing that his relatives are relevant—much more so than for the average candidate who goes through the motions of “consulting” his family.

The Washington Post kicked off the latest round by looking at Bush’s reticent and Mexican-born wife:

“Columba’s intense distaste for the public arena is one of the issues weighing most heavily on the former Florida governor as he grapples with whether to run for the White House in 2016, according to interviews with friends, former staffers and GOP donors close to the family. These people said Columba may be willing to take on the burdens of a campaign, yet even then the couple would need to find a way to craft a comfortable role for her…

“During her husband’s first year in office, she was briefly detained by U.S. Customs agents at the Atlanta airport after falsely stating that she had bought only $500 in clothes on a five-day Paris shopping trip. She had in fact purchased about $19,000 in clothing and jewelry, an embarrassing episode that would likely be revisited during a presidential campaign. ‘I did not ask to join a famous family,’ she said while apologizing at the time. ‘I simply wanted to marry the man I loved.’”

Another factor for Columba is, what if he wins? Does she want the spotlight and scrutiny of being first lady?

The Post also cites another Bush family member:

“In addition to Columba’s reluctance, he must consider their 36-year-old daughter, Noelle. Her struggles with drug addiction burst into the headlines 12 years ago when she was arrested, but she has since dropped almost entirely from public view.”

Politico then went through the family roster, one by one:

“George W. Bush has said he hopes his brother will run for president. But he hardly sounds like a one-man drafting committee. Several operatives and donors said in interviews that they sense that the former president has some ambivalence about his brother running… The relationship between George W. and Jeb has never been deeply close.” Of course, maybe there is brotherly concern that Jeb could get beat up, in part because of George’s record, and still lose. A W. spokesman said he is fully supportive of Jeb.

Jeb’s father, the 41st president, is described as fully supportive, and “Jeb allies insisted in interviews that the ‘Barbara stuff’ isn’t a big factor for him, he has seemed stung by his mother’s comments made over the past year — ones she repeated at a recent George W. Bush Presidential Library event, where she declared there had been ‘enough Bushes’ for the country…

“Jeb’s eldest son, 38-year-old George P. Bush, is the most outspoken family advocate for his father to run.”

As for Columba, Politico says: “She may not love the thought of a presidential race, but if she were flatly opposed, he also wouldn’t be considering it as seriously as he is.”

National Review’s Jonah Goldberg doesn’t think Jeb is going to jump into the 2016 arena, and not because of family concerns:.

“The main source of Jeb Bush's trouble. Contrary to a lot of pseudo-psychological analysis, Republicans don't go for the guy whose ‘turn’ it is because they are hard-wired to be hierarchical and orderly. They do it because the guy who came in second last time spends the next four years wooing the conservative base…

“And that's Jeb Bush's problem. He's antagonized the base on hot-button issues such as immigration and the Common Core curriculum, without trying to persuade anyone he's conservative enough. He even presented Clinton with an award on the eve of the first anniversary of the Benghazi attack.

“Reasonable people can debate his stances, but trust me when I say the base feels decidedly unwooed. His brother and his father understood that the GOP is a conservative party, and they maneuvered accordingly. Jeb Bush doesn't seem to care.”

Of course, Columba and George W. and George H.W. and George P. aside, Jeb has to make a hard-headed calculation on whether he can get the nomination—and that includes whether he can win over enough of the party’s  base.

But that’s a more complicated argument. So the press is, for the moment, enjoying its latest soap opera: Waiting for Columba.  

N.Y. Times vs. Jill Abramson

The framing of Jill Abramson’s firing—that it was in part related to her demand that she be paid as much as her predecessor—has been a PR nightmare for the New York Times.

Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. is determined to shut down that narrative, details of which were first reported by the New Yorker.

The paper sent me a memo he had sent to the staff, saying he is “concerned about the misinformation that has been widely circulating in the media…

It is simply not true that Jill’s compensation was significantly less than her predecessors.  Her pay is comparable to that of earlier executive editors.  In fact, in 2013, her last full year in the role, her total compensation package was more than 10% higher than that of her predecessor, Bill Keller, in his last full year as Executive Editor, which was 2010.  It was also higher than his total compensation in any previous year.”

Abramson’s pension may not be as large, but that’s because the former Wall Street Journal reporter hasn’t worked at the Times as long as some of her predecessors, Sulzberger said. And the Times is disputing reports that Abramson’s compensation was adjusted after she complained to management. Sulzberger says pointedly she was dismissed because of “concerns I had about some aspects of Jill’s management of our newsroom, which I had previously made clear to her, both face-to-face and in my annual assessment”—challenging the out-of-the-blue perception.

I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest there's a pretty good chance that her successor, Dean Baquet, a popular figure in the newsroom, may find a qualified woman to be his deputy.

Abramson, for her part, is embracing her pugilistic image. Her daughter posted an Instagram photo of the former executive editor in boxing gloves.

Ironically, as the Times published yesterday’s piece about Abramson’s ouster, there was a story about another female editor being forced out.

Le Monde Editor Natalie Nougayrède resigned in the face of a “newsroom revolt,” and “had been criticized by her staff for a top-down management style and an inability to build consensus.”

Sound familiar?

But her comment was decidedly French: “I no longer have the means to run it with all the necessary peace and serenity that is required.” 

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Howard Kurtz is a Fox News analyst and the host of "MediaBuzz" (Sundays 11 a.m.). He is the author of five books and is based in Washington. Follow him at @HowardKurtz. Click here for more information on Howard Kurtz.