THE BUSH PRESS CONFERENCE….Ari Fleischer says the White House doesn’t like press conferences because “they include too much preening by reporters.” I don’t know about preening, but the Washington press corps sure is hopeless when it comes to actually asking questions.

I mean, how about this one: “Mr. President, do you worry, maybe in the wee small hours, that your critics might be right and you might be wrong?” That’s some tough questioning there!

On the other hand, there’s something to this preening business too. Why do so many of the reporters insist on asking long, two-part questions that make it childishly easy for Bush to ignore whichever parts he wants to ignore? And how come none of them ever follow up and insist that he actually answer the previous question?

Like this one, for example: What about the cost of war? “There’s also a cost to not going to war.” Yeah, OK, but what about the cost of war? No one bothered to follow up. About half an hour later somebody did finally ask again and Bush’s answer was, basically, “we don’t know, but as soon as we do you’ll be the first to know.”

Other lowlights:

  • “Is success contingent on capturing Saddam Hussein?” No answer. If we don’t capture him, will Bush refuse to ever speak his name again, the way he does with Osama?

  • How about those protesters? “Nobody likes war. I don’t like war.”

  • Are we going to ask for a UN vote even if it looks like we’ll lose? “No matter what the whip count is, we’ll call for a vote. It’s time for people to show their cards.” An actual answer! And actual news!

  • Is the UN important? “If we need to act, we’ll act. We don’t need the United Nations to do that….When it comes to our security, we really don’t need anybody’s permission.”

  • How about post-war Iraq? “The form of that government is up to the Iraqi people to choose. Anything they choose.” Sheesh. Glad to hear we’ve thought this through so carefully.

Pathetic. The only toss-up is whose performance was worse, Bush or the press.

UPDATE: So what was the press conference really like? The punditocracy speaks: “Somber.” Hmmm. “Aaron, was it as somber as it looked on TV?” Yes, somber. Bob Woodward? “Somber.” John Warner? “Somber.”

Oh, and stilted and scripted too. So there you have it: somber, stilted, and scripted.

UPDATE 2: Hmmm, Atrios wonders if the questions were pre-approved. It’s true that Bush was reading from a list when he called on the reporters, and most of the reporters seemed to be reading their questions off a card. But there’s no way the White House would force the press to submit questions beforehand, is there? Nah, Bush’s “scripted” remark probably referred to the order in which he called on reporters. Right?