Even as he talked about North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and other weighty matters, President Bush on Wednesday returned to his occasional role as fashion critic to the White House press corps.
“If I might say, that is a beautiful suit.... And I can’t see anybody else that even comes close,” the president told NBC’s Kevin Corke, who was wearing pinstripes, in the course of a Rose Garden news conference that focused on North Korea-related diplomacy and the Iraq war.
Corke responded that he would convey the president’s comments to his tailor. “I’ll be happy to pass along my tailor’s number if you’d like that, sir,” he also offered.
Soon after, the president asserted that CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux was the “first best-dressed person here.”
By the time Bush called on Jim Axelrod of CBS, the reporter felt compelled to start with a defensive comment: “My best suit’s in the cleaners,” Axelrod explained to the president.
“That’s not even a suit,” Bush retorted, eyeing Axelrod’s sport coat and slacks.
Bush, who has suits made by Georges de Paris, the tailor to presidents since Lyndon Johnson’s time, has teased reporters about their appearance in the past. In June, he poked fun at CNN’s David Gregory for his loud pocket scarf.
“Gregory, fine-looking scarf -- not scarf, what do you call that thing?” said Bush. “It’s strong.”
In August, while discussing the war in Lebanon, Bush took note of a suit worn by Ken Herman of Cox Newspapers, saying: “By the way, seersucker is coming back.” Later in the news conference, Bush again referred to the suit, calling it “that just ridiculous-looking outfit.”
Asked about the president’s commentary, White House Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino called Bush “a personable man,” saying that “although he’s president and that’s a serious job, he does like to reach out to others in friendly ways.”
Some who study presidential news conferences attached no great meaning to the byplay.
“I think this is probably the way he deals with people in social encounters,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. “It may make him feel more comfortable.”
Herman, the reporter in seersucker, was amused when a media dust-up followed Bush’s comments on his suit. “If there’s anything reporters know better than math, it’s fashion,” he joked.
Herman said he considered the banter just part of Bush’s social mannerisms. “I’ve been covering him since 1993 in Texas,” Herman said. “That’s the way he likes to make connections. He still has some frat boy in him. He likes to tease people.”