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George W. Bush Called Me a ‘Major League Asshole.’ Things Are Very Different Now for Chuck Todd—And the Rest of Us Too

3 minute read
Adam Clymer retired in 2002 as Chief Washington Correspondent of the New York Times.

Welcome to the club, Chuck.

It’s informal, with no secret handshake, but select. Not many folks get to be cussed out, by name, on national television by the President of the United States. The populations of whole continents with their primitive toilets, sure. But by name, wow!

Our public scoldings had some things in common. First, it’s not clear what sent Trump off about you. When George W. Bush called me a “major league asshole” at a rally on Labor Day in 2000, his staff had no idea why. I guess Trump’s staff doesn’t even try to explain his tirades..

It turned out that Bush, who had laughed off other critical articles, was soothing his vice presidential running mate. Two days before, I had written a story that made Dick Cheney look bad. It said that in the ten years since he left the Defense Department, Cheney and his wife had donated $209,842 to charity, or just over 1 percent of their adjusted gross income of $20,677,742. Cheney did not like the story and told Bush about it.

So when Bush, speaking into a microphone he has said he did not believe was live, pointed me out to Cheney as the bad guy from the New York Times, Cheney responded “Big Time.” That became his nickname inside the Bush-Cheney campaign.

In your case, it may not be one particular story, but just years of your tough reporting, perhaps underlined by his bizarre belief that NBC News should genuflect because “The Apprentice” made money for NBC. With Trump, who knows?

Another common thread to our adventures in presidential condemnation is that both presidents were chided by allies. Bush’s father urged him to apologize. Betsy DeVos, America’s education secretary, said Trump sets a bad example for children by using bad language.

But there are big differences, too. “Sleeping son of a bitch” Trump’s critique, is quoted everywhere. “Major league asshole” was often euphemized. The Times did not quote him directly.

That is probably because of an even greater difference, which enables me to cede the place of honor to you. A Times editor told me that such words would only be printed if used by a President. At the time, Bush was just a candidate

President Trump has steadily expanded the Times’ printable vocabulary. And he has given you a singular distinction. Just remember the Mark Twain story about the man who was tarred, feathered and ridden out of town on a rail..

Asked to comment, he said “If it weren’t for the honor of it I’d have sooner walked.”

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