George W. Bush on the presidential campaign trail in New Mexico with
Diana Washington Valdez, then a reporter for the El Paso Times. Photo by
Ruben Ramirez, circa August 2000.
Mesilla, N.M. - I can't help but recall each time I visit Old Mesilla the encounter I had with George W. Bush during an interview with him while he was campaigning for president in 2000. Bush, the Republican Party's nominee, was governor of Texas at the time.
The interview included only a handful of journalists: myself, El Paso Times Photographer Ruben Ramirez, and two other reporters from New Mexico newspapers and their photographers.
Dick Cheney, the vice presidential nominee, was with and sat next to me at the table. It truly was a privileged opportunity as far as interviews with powerful people go. Several years before this, I was at the White House for a Hispanic journalists' round table with the younger Bush's father, George H. Bush.
Knowing ahead of time that Ruben and I might actually get this close to George W. Bush, I asked a senior editor for permission to ask questions about information related to some of the controversies that were "out there." Everything else we could talk about would be predictable, along with the responses. He paused briefly, and then said OK.
This was not necessarily to broach subjects about which we would write about and publish; it was a chance to get their (Bush and Cheney's) views about certain matters. If the opportunity presented itself, I would approach Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in the same manner.
Later on, I will provide more details in this blog about the encounter that led Bush to stand up and point his finger at me and threaten to sue me if I ever published 'any of that.' One of the questions I asked was directed at Cheney and had to do with the Halliburton controversy. Cheney also got upset. As a result of Bush standing to scold me, he in inadvertently caused my tape recorder to fall to the floor.
Ruben told me after the encounter that the Bush staffers standing against the wall began walking toward me when Bush stood to talk at me. Ruben did not wish to revisit this meeting for many years. He was probably smarter and more sensible than I was about this incident. His view was that you don't mess with powerful people. The tape recording of that brief session with Bush and Cheney will be transcribed in the future here.
There were lessons to be learned, and in some respects, I believe that editors could take time out to explain to reporters and photographers that some of the information that is "out there," these days on the internet, is mere propaganda. Political rivals engage in information wars, at times mixing facts with bizarre and outrageous narratives.
Then again, if someone, whether known or unknown to me, was circulating wild stories about me, and I was running for office, I would appreciate the opportunity from the press to set the record straight. Or, I would address the wild stories through my campaign staff and or websites.
Needless to say, as a result of this encounter, I was blacklisted by the White House press office. No one ever returned my phone calls again from that office during the two Bush terms. Fortunately, I was not assigned to the White House press corps, where access is essential.
I'm thankful to Ruben for watching our backs. He can breathe easy now. Hopefully, I can, too.
More on this later ...
Diana Washington Valdez is a veteran journalist and Digie Zone Properties publisher. She is a member of Investigative Reporters & Editors (IRE), the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ), the International Association of Religion Journalists (IARJ) and the Journalism and Women Symposium (JAWS).The Digie Zone principals are based in Albuquerque and Las Cruces, New Mexico, El Paso, Texas, and Juarez, Mexico.