Conservative Talk Radio Hosts See New Side of Bush

By Matt Purple | July 7, 2008 | 8:32 PM EDT

( - Ten conservative talk radio hosts met last week with President Bush, a man they have frequently admired yet also recently criticized.

To shore-up support among his conservative base, President Bush invited Glenn Beck, Bill Bennett, Neal Boortz, Scott Hennon, Laura Ingraham, Lars Larson, Mark Levin, Michael Medved, Janet Parshall, and Hugh Hewitt to the White House for a discussion, most of which focused on his Iraq policy. Sean Hannity was rumored to be there, although he reportedly arrived later than the other hosts.

The meeting was "off the record," meaning the guests could not quote the president. But they could give their general impressions of the conversation and paraphrase what was said. Their reactions seemed generally positive.

"I am confident about the course of the war and about the momentum in Iraq, as well as the president's absolute commitment to doing right by the troops and his concern for every for every lost and wounded soldier and their families," wrote Hugh Hewitt on his blog after the meeting. "President Bush's command of the details and his broad view of the conflict is [sic] reassuring."

Hewitt said he recommended to the president that he engage in longer and more substantive interviews to improve his image with the American people and demonstrate his commitment to the war in Iraq.

Glenn Beck called the conversation with Bush "shockingly frank," adding that the president had performed completely differently than he usually does on television or when behind a podium.

"The power of this man is incredible, the clarity shocking," he said. "The frankness that he spoke to us with was refreshing. The true love that he has for every member of the military is overwhelming. They're like family to him. It is overwhelming what he does that you will never know about.

"He's not the guy you see on TV. ... He's amazing," said Beck. "The only time I'd seen him like that was when he was with the bullhorn on the fire truck [on 9/11]."

Beck had particular praise for Bush over his respect for the military.

Little political impact?

But while the talk radio hosts seemed to have regarded the meeting favorably, Talkers' Magazine Editor Michael Harrison told Cybercast News Service that its political impact will likely to be negligible.

"I don't think this changes anything," said Harrison.

"I would think that a first-hand meeting with the president can result in having a little bit more of a favorable disposition towards the president's policies. But unless the president told them top-secret information that no one else in the world knows, I think the hosts at this time will have their opinions already set," he added.

Harrison emphasized that the discussion was more of a boon for the radio hosts, for whom meeting the president was a huge notch on their belts.

"The hosts go because it's a kick to meet the president," said Harrison. "I think it also shows their audiences and their colleagues that they're important players in the business. From an industrial standpoint, being called to the White House to meet the president gives you a certain level of credibility and standing."

And because the central topic of the discussion was Iraq, Bush seemed to put little emphasis on immigration, a subject that had turned many of the talkers into critics of his administration. When asked about Bush's stance on immigration by Cybercast News Service in June, Laura Ingraham said it was the "last straw."

But Harrison said that Bush's biggest mistake was only inviting pundits who agreed with him, rather than casting a wider political net.

"If Bush were smart, he would bring in people of all political persuasions and reach out to them and give them his position," Harrison said. "He has nothing to lose because they already don't like him."

The Left responds

Reaction to the meeting among liberal blogs ranged from cool to hostile.

Media Matters for America, a watchdog group that monitors the media for conservative bias, published the news among a raft of inflammatory and controversial remarks that several of the hosts had made in the past.

Media Matters could not be reached for comment.

"Meetings like this certainly raise a lot of questions," wrote Dave Nalle at, an online magazine. "Is this kind of meeting inappropriate? Is it just a higher-level way of distributing talking points to media loyalists?"

The blog blatherWatch was less friendly.

Bush has no credibility with anyone these days except these true believers who, (with the exception of Boortz, Ingraham and Larsen who have been critical) carry his miserable water day in and day out on the radie-yo [sic]," went a recent post. "Talk radio's credibility and listenership has never been lower ...."

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