Ever since talk radio host Les Kinsolving got the brush-off from White House Press Secretary Tony Snow last week on his question as to whether the President would see "The DaVinci Code" or not, I have been increasingly curious myself: why is it that Mr. Bush, who has frequently let the press know what movies he has seen or plans to see, won’t say he will or won’t see what is the most controversial motion picture in America? Kinsolving’s question came after the President was asked at a town hall meeting if he planned to see Al Gore’s new film "Earth in the Balance" and replied with a laugh: "Doubt it."
At this morning’s off-camera "gaggle" press briefing at the White House, Snow told reporters how the President had watched "United 93" with families of passengers killed in the tragic flight on 9/11. He volunteered that there were tears and that there was not a lot of talk when the closing credits ran. The screening, according to Snow, was "a moving event" and "it was impossible not to be moved."
Since he was volunteering a film the President has seen and was moved by, I asked Snow, and he has in the past let reporters know movies he has seen ("Thirteen Days" about the Cuban Missile Crisis, which Bush watched with Senator Edward Kennedy and his family, and Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ," for example), would he say whether or not he plans to see "The DaVinci Code?"
"If I asked the President that," snapped Snow, "he would say ‘Snow, that’s a stupid question,’" and repeated his remarks last week about Mr. Bush’s aversion to "doing movie reviews." I shot back that it wasn’t stupid, given the President’s past record of letting the press know which movies he has seen and which he didn’t intend to see.
NBC-TV’s Kelly O’Donnell stepped in and, referring to me, "he makes a good point" and recalled that the President lets people know the movies he sees "when it serves his agenda." Finally, a clearly exasperated Snow said he "will go ahead and make an inquiry" — but not, he added with a laugh, before he asks about Iran.
"Why should anyone care what movies a President sees?" colleague and UPI White House correspondent Rick Tompkins asked me after the gaggle. Fair enough — except Presidents commenting on movies is almost as old as the motion picture industry itself. Woodrow Wilson’s watching "Birth of a Nation" in the White House and praising it as "written in lightning" was widely reported; Franklin D. Roosevelt not only saw "Gabriel Over the White House" several times but invited star Walter Huston to the White House for drinks ("Gabriel" is about a President who declares martial law and rules as a benevolent dictator); John F. Kennedy saw the movie "Advise and Consent," (the Pulitizer Prize-winning book JFK had read while a candidate in 1960) and asked brother-in-law Peter Lawford whether his character of skirt-chasing Sen. Lafe Smith was based on him.
So how about it, Mr. President? "DaVinci Code" or "Doubt it?"
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