IN ONE OF the rare unscripted moments of this campaign, George W. Bush has called a reporter a name that, how to say, would be familiar territory to a proctologist.
I like it that Mr. Bush hasn't apologized. Forget the explanations that it was a "private" remark to his running mate and that he didn't know the microphone was on. Mr. Bush should announce he meant what he said and would say it again if he believes it to be true. Now that is "straight talk."
No one ever got into trouble with the public for dissing the press. It even worked to President George Bush's advantage when he once stood up to Dan Rather and challenged the CBS News anchor for walking off the set to protest coverage of a tennis match that ran long and deprived him of precious air time.
The press likes to think it is above reproach in its reporting and beyond accountability for its bias and errors. If a president or a candidate doesn't like a reporter, he ought to be free to say so and tell why. How else can the public hope to keep members of the press honest? Reporters get to say and do whatever they wish. Only their editors can hold them accountable and how likely is that, given that editors, like the reporters, are mostly liberal and vote Democrat.
Adam Clymer, the New York Times reporter Mr. Bush compared to a human orifice, reportedly unleashed a string of profanities at a Capitol Hill police officer in 1997 after the officer denied him access to a roped-off area near the Senate floor. He has been a major booster in print of Sen. Edward Kennedy and three years ago was the reporter who used an illegally recorded cell-phone conversation he obtained from the office of Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Wash., in an attempt to undermine then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.
Even the liberal-leaning Web page slate.com carries a comment in which Mickey Kaus calls a Clymer critique of Bush campaign ads "heavily biased against Bush."
Two weeks ago, while I traveled with Mr. Bush, NBC's David Gregory got into an argument with Bush communications director Karen Hughes. Mr. Gregory virtually called Ms. Hughes a liar as they debated what Mr. Bush had agreed to about debates. Ms. Hughes stormed back into the Bush cabin and told Mr. Bush what had happened.
"I'm not going to let him question my credibility," she told the candidate. Mr. Bush seemed eager to go back and take Mr. Gregory on, but tape would have rolled and the media would have portrayed him as having lost his temper and then questioned his "fitness" for office. That's the way they play the game in media-land. They think a GOP candidate should swallow biased coverage and like it. If he doesn't, he's labeled "mean-spirited" and "uncivil." Democrats are labeled "passionate" and "principled" when they get angry at Republicans.
Writing in the New York Post, columnist Steve Dunleavy reminds us about a truly great insulter, Harry Truman, who told off a newspaperman for writing a bad review of daughter Margaret's piano playing. Truman threatened to punch him in the nose and in a far more sensitive place for males. The public loved it.
Most voters don't know that much about policy and budgets. What they want to know is whether a president is like them. Does he get angry when he has a right to? Can he occasionally let fly with an expletive, even if he a regular churchgoer? Or is he, like Al Gore, such a scripted and programmed machine that all he can do is spout the poll-tested, focus-grouped, class-envy cliches associated with the Democratic candidate?
So, go, George, go. Tell it like it is. Sock it to 'em. Take no prisoners and offer no apologies for saying what you think. And if some reporters resemble what a proctologist sees in the office, the public will thank you for pointing that out.
Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist.