Photo by Doug Mills/The New York Times

You’d think they would try to refrain from bashing him as he goes
out. But it’s been played as either a melancholy swan song or a defiant
defense of the indefensible, depending on who you listened to in the
media.

How about listening to those who were there, in the words exchanged at the time.

First, note how Bush opened the press conference with his appreciation for the time and work of those present.

We have been through a lot together,

he began.

I have respected you. Sometimes didn’t like the stories
that you wrote or reported on. Sometimes you misunderestimated me. But
always the relationship I have felt has been professional. And I
appreciate it.

I appreciate — I do appreciate working with you. My friends say,
what is it like to deal with the press corps? I said, these are just
people trying to do the best they possibly can.

And so here at the last press conference, I’m interested in
answering some of your questions. But mostly I’m interested in saying
thank you for the job.

That says a lot about the person of the president.

So does this:

I’m not going to speculate about what [Obama’s] going to
do. It’s going to be — you know, he’s going to get in the Oval Office,
he’s going to analyze each situation, and he’s going to make the
decisions that he think is necessary. 

And the other thing is, when I get out of here, I’m getting off the
stage. I believe there ought to be, you know, one person in the klieg
lights at a time, and I’ve had my time in the klieg lights. You know,
I’m confident, you know, you’ll catch me opining on occasion, but I
wish him all the best.

When asked about handling the attacks of 9/11 and the response
later, his remarks were reasonable and largely untreated by media until
they came out in this way.

Do you remember what it was like right after September
the 11th around here? In press conferences and opinion pieces and in
stories — that sometimes were news stories and sometimes opinion pieces
— people were saying, how come they didn’t see it, how come they didn’t
connect the dots? Do you remember what the environment was like in
Washington? I do. When people were hauled up in front of Congress and
members of Congress were asking questions about, how come you didn’t
know this, that, or the other? And then we start putting policy in
place — legal policy in place to connect the dots, and all of a sudden
people were saying, how come you’re connecting the dots?

I remember when the New York Times blew the SWIFT program on the
front page and thus immediately halted that federal program to track
financial wire transfers of funding for terrorism. There were members
of the administration who wanted to sue the Times for treason.

And so it went, back and forth in a press conference that showed the
full breadth of President George W. Bush, as he reallyh is, open to all
questions.

Last question. Ann — since you’ve been there from day one.

Q Thank you — and I wanted to ask you about day one. You arrived
here wanting to be a uniter, not a divider. Do you think Barack Obama
can be a uniter, not a divider? Or is — with the challenges for any
President and the unpopular decisions, is it impossible for any
President to be uniter, not a divider?

THE PRESIDENT: I hope the tone is different for him than it has been
for me. I am disappointed by the tone in Washington, D.C. I tried to do
my part by not engaging in the name-calling and — and by the way,
needless name-calling. I have worked to be respectful of my opponents
on different issues.

He has been that, no matter what his detractors want to believe. He
has been respectful of them, and of the office of the presidency of the
United States. He wishes his successor well. And he wishes the testy
press corps well.

It has been a honor to work with you. I meant what I
said when I first got up here. I wish you all the very best. I wish you
and your families all the best. God bless you.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....