Of course, the real question is whether calling a respected member of the media corps a "major-league asshole" is going to hurt Governor Bush at the polls. After all, we should be grown-up enough to know that when Middle America today imagines a journalist, they're not picturing Clark Kent, or even Robert Redford playing Bob Woodward. The scandal- and infotainment-driven media culture of the '90s has certainly diminished the standing of journalists in the eyes of the wider American community, and chances are that Bush's gaffe might actually improve his image. But coming as the election season enters home stretch, it's another potentially troubling signal that the congenial aura his handlers had so successfully constructed for the GOP convention may be showing cracks.
The remark, to say the least, was an unfortunate, unscripted window into the personality of Candidate Bush most damaging, perhaps, in that it suggests a tinge of anxiety. After all, whispering to a pal about "enemies" in the audience is the sort of thing a jumpy preppy might do moments before stepping up to the mike at a college debate. Governor Bush is at his most congenial when his ascension to power is assured, but the McCain challenge in the primaries showed that he's not exactly comfortable with spirited opposition. Politicians aren't expected to like journalists, but lashing out at them by name carries echoes of a certain Nixonesque paranoia. And that's not going to help the governor's efforts to cast himself as the custodian of a new civility.