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TECHNICAL GLITCHES WERE ONLY HIGHLIGHTS OF BUSH’S LAME TV NEWS CONFERENCE

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George Bush held his first prime-time presidential news conference June 8. There won't be a huge public clamor for him to have another one real soon.

Despite all the dramatic events in the news in recent days and weeks, Bush appeared passionless and dry. On the explosive matter of China, which dominated the questioning, Bush was hardly eloquent. "Let's not jump to conclusions" regarding the role of Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, Bush said.Asked later what he'd been "trying to say" with that answer, Bush said, "I was trying to say I don't know."

The United States has issued statements deploring the violence of Chinese troops that crushed the student rebellion. "Let's hope it does have an ameliorating effect on the situation," Bush said blandly. Asked if he had phoned any Chinese leaders, Bush said half-jokingly, "I tried today. Isn't that a coincidence that you'd ask that question? Line was busy. Couldn't get through."

Bush seemed cavalier one other time, when a black reporter asked whether he supported efforts to restore the minority hiring standards overturned by a recent Supreme Court ruling. "I wish I could tell you," was Bush's response. He said he and his staff hadn't thought enough about the ruling. "We're getting that analyzed."

Even so, Bush maintained a certain agreeable folksy demeanor, something that has been more in evidence during the freewheeling, impromptu daytime news conferences he's had in the White House press room since taking office. "Is this a follow-up question?" he asked one reporter teasingly. When UPI reporter Helen Thomas stood up to signal the end of the news conference, Bush said, "Time flies when you're having fun."

Asked if there were conflicts between campaign promises and his defense budget cuts, Bush abruptly told the reporter, "None whatsoever. None whatsoever," then asked him playfully, "Do you want to follow up?" When he couldn't hear a question from reporter Trude Feldman, Bush called out, "Can't hear ya, Trude!"

His tweaking of the reporters seemed good-natured, a little like John F. Kennedy's, though hardly as stylishly done. Twice he apologized for interrupting reporters' questions with a comment.

CBS was probably cheered that Bush made mention of Richard Roth, the correspondent who, with his cameraman Derek Williams, was detained for nearly 20 hours by Chinese authorities during the height of their brutal attack on the student demonstrators. In defense of keeping U.S. Ambassador James R. Lilley in China, Bush said Roth was "released partly because of" Lilley's intervention.

By and large, it was such a tame, lame press conference that two technical glitches became virtual highlights. At one point, as Bush spoke, it suddenly looked as though someone turned off all the lights in the East Room, plunging it into darkness. Later, during another response, Bush disappeared from view as the camera inexplicably panned down his lectern.

ABC was in charge of the pool coverage, and George Watson, ABC News bureau chief, said the brief darkness was probably caused by a malfunction in the AT&T phone lines that carried the signal from ABC's truck outside the White House to all the networks for transmission.

As for the downward pan of the lectern, that was caused by escaping nitrogen. Really. The pedestal of the camera is filled with cushioning nitrogen, and when it sprang a leak, the camera sank. "It's like having a flat tire," Watson explained.

The director cut to another shot and the sinking camera was reset manually.

Near the end of the session, a man identifying himself as a Polish journalist jumped up and shouted that Bush should answer a question about the elections in Poland. Bush handled the matter "adroitly," as ABC's Peter Jennings said afterward.

Ronald Reagan's press conferences were strangely festive and suspenseful events. He seemed to view the press as a persnickety nuisance that had to be humored.

More important, Reagan had a way of talking over reporters' heads. He played to the home audience, masterfully and entertainingly. With Bush, you feel you are watching someone speak to others, not experiencing someone speaking to you. It is inevitably less engaging.

Some of the presidential panoply that Reagan liked was merciful in its absence. Bush did not walk down a long hallway, on camera, to get to the East Room. He just popped out a doorway. And when the press conference was over, the guy was outta there. He didn't hang around cupping his ear while reporters shouted afterthought questions at him.

Bush wasn't awful, he wasn't great. He wasn't commandingly presidential, he was a trifle silly. Do you get the feeling that maybe what we really have now are two vice presidents, one eminently capable and the other Dan Quayle? You don't get that feeling? Well you might at any moment.

Rather introduced the press conference by hailing Bush as "one of the most accessible of modern American Presidents." As they watched Bush bob during the press conference, some people may have been asking themselves if accessibility is always such a terrific thing.