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Robert MacMillan's Random Access

Bush: The E-Mail Stops Here

By Robert MacMillan
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Friday, April 15, 2005;

If you get an e-mail message from President George W. Bush, it's probably spam.

"I don't e-mail," Bush said. "And there's a reason. I don't want you reading my personal stuff."

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Bush made these remarks yesterday after speaking at the American Society of Newspaper Editors conference in Washington, D.C. He said that people are "entitled to know how I make decisions, and you're entitled to... ask questions which I answer." But the Commander in Chief draws the line at personal communications: "I don't think you're entitled to be able to read my mail between my daughters and me."

It's strange to imagine a president whose relationship with technology is so pre-1990s, but Bush has a point. Lots of privacy types say you shouldn't send anything in an e-mail that you don't want the whole world to see.

And to be fair to the president, he's no relic from the stone age. Before he was president, he used e-mail. But when he moved into the Oval Office, his top staff decided against it, said White House spokesman David Almacy.

After all, that crazy Freedom of Information Act creates the possibility that a hastily written e-mail to Laura and the twins could become part of the public record. "If he wanted to write it down and it were personal, it would have to be handed over," Almacy said. Imagine your legacy being that you were the first president to use emoticons. The American people would be ROTFL ... ;P

I don't mean to say that the Bush administration is shy about technology. The Whitehouse.gov Web site occasionally runs live chat discussions with administration officials. The chats aren't terribly exciting, but they're one more way to try to bring the government a little bit closer to the people. The White House Office of Management and Budget and other government agencies also have been working overtime and under budget on the tedious but essential task of making federal government services easier for the public to reach online.

Bush, after several years of silence on broadband, said that affordable high-speed Internet access should be available to all Americans by 2007. And the Bush-Cheney campaign went nuts with the Internet during the last campaign. While the Kerry-Edwards team often languished in the turnaround time it took to respond to the Bush campaign's potshots, Republican staffers ran a slick, streamlined Internet operation that was fearsome to behold. The Bush-Cheney minions used every Internet resource that they could to blackjack the other guys -- repeatedly.

But Bush's personal relationship with technology is mixed. He won praise from some techies when he was spotted in his first term riding a Segway, the high-tech electric scooter, even though he fell off, proving himself more of a bike man. (For the definitive column on this incident, read Kevin Maney's wild take.)

The president has had more success with the Apple iPod, the 21st century's answer to the Walkman. But Bush barely calls the shots on what he listens to, never mind actually controlling the machine. For that he has a personal assistant. We concede that, like many other Americans, he's familiar with operating vehicles like cars and trucks. And no one should dismiss his military service, where he learned how to pilot a jet fighter.

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