Journalism Needs More Dog Stories—a Puppy Might Make the President More Popular, Too

Golden Retrievers have that hair color the president likes.

Some mornings I wish the Washington Post was an afternoon paper so I could have a stiff drink before reading it. Headlines on today’s page one:

Risk of shutdown rises over mistrust
Inside the tense, vulgar meeting on immigration
A warning to asylum seekers
Metro derails again
Shrinking Medicaid

Headlines on the editorial page:

Mr. Trump’s toxic influence
An overtaxed IRS
Change for the worse

On the op-ed page:

The GOP chooses Trump’s racism
The coup that succeeded
The President is a racist

At the Washingtonian we did a lot of serious journalism but the story that got the most good news coverage in my 40 years there was a dog story. How it happened:

One morning in June 1989, before going to work, I was walking Lindy, our Golden Retriever.  I stopped to talk with a neighbor who was walking her Springer Spaniel. When I said something nice about her dog, she began to talk about the virtues of Springer Spaniels and said her dog was a lot better looking than Millie, the president’s dog. I’m not sure she called Millie ugly but she didn’t think Millie was a good representative of the breed.

When I got to the Washingtonian office, our art director showed me her idea for that July’s Best & Worst cover—it was mostly type with the cover art a picture of a gold crown.

Best and worst, a generic gold crown, boring.

How about Millie as Washington’s worst dog? No, the art director said, the gold crown would be much classier.

No, the editor said, we’re putting Millie on the cover and we’re calling her Washington’s ugliest dog.

About ten days later, the July issue hit the newsstands: One story about what happened:

President Doggedly Defends Millie
By David Lauter | Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — You can criticize his arms control plans, oppose his flag burning amendment or even argue in favor of higher taxes, but don’t mess with the President’s dog.

“I know you guys don’t write the editorials, but our dog was named ugliest dog in Washington by the Washingtonian magazine,” President Bush told three reporters from The Times at the end of an Oval Office interview Wednesday, referring to Millie, the family’s springer spaniel. “I’d like some defense on the West Coast. Imagine picking on a guy’s dog.”

A few minutes later, the telephone rang at the offices of Washingtonian:

“I’d like to know who did the ‘Best and Worst’ ” article, the caller asked. “I’d like to know how you picked the ugliest dog,” the caller continued. Receptionist Felicia Stovall said that the editor who had prepared the piece was tied up and asked the caller’s name. “President George Bush,” the caller responded.

The follow-up stories got the Washingtonian more good ink and talk than any story we ever published.

The Washington Post—and journalism in general—could use some lightening up. Find some good feature writers to show how life goes on despite all the page one day-to-day drama.

As for a politician who needs some stories and pictures that might make people feel better, President Trump should get a dog. His predecessor, President Obama, knew the power of good photo-ops—he was often pictured on the White House lawn with his cute daughters and Bo, the family’s Portuguese water dog. President George W. Bush had Barney, a lovable Scottish Terrier. President Clinton had Buddy, a chocolate-colored Labrador Retriever.

President Richard Nixon, as calculating a politician as Washington has ever seen, had King Timahoe, a handsome Irish setter. What kind of coverage did he get? NBC News on January 9, 1974, featured King Timahoe sneaking a piece of the cake during a surprise party for Nixon’s 61st birthday.

Every president before Trump has understood how a dog can humanize the White House and give people a reason to smile. Another plus: An affectionate, well-behaved dog often can calm people who are easily agitated.

Comments

  1. BARNARD COLLIER says:

    Dear Jack,

    There is no worthwhile dog I’ve ever known, and I’ve known many, including both Barney and Millie, who would not bite the hand off a malicious and uncaring “master” such as occupies the White House today.

    President Woodrow Wilson said it best:

    “If a dog will not come to you after having looked you in the face, you should go home and examine your conscience.”

    No good dog that looks into Donald Trump’s eyes would ever come to him.

    Ivana, the first wife, insisted on keeping a dog, a poodle named Chappy, who barked menacingly every time Trump came near.

    The only pet that might tolerate him may be a parrot, and if the parrot perfectly mimicked his language, he’d probably accuse it of lying.

    BTW, Millie was NOT ugly at all. Just strongly opinionated.

    Perhaps the best relationship between president and dogs was with President Lyndon Johnson, who could sing with his dogs, and they loved to sing with him.

    They once performed a duet in the Oval Office, and reports are that the stiff and formal British ambassador laughed so hard that he later admitted that he wet his trousers.

    • Phil Semas says:

      But LBJ also got in trouble for lifting his dogs by their ears.

      • BARNARD COLLIER says:

        The trouble came only from an uninformed media and a few absurd PETA folk who know nothing about long-eared hounds, who don’t mind being lifted by their ears. LBJ was a dog whisperer.

    • Yes, Millie was definitely NOT ugly. And she was also a New York Times best-selling author, as well as being a good mother!

      Millie is credited as the author of Millie’s Book: As Dictated to Barbara Bush, which was released in August 1990 and reached #1 on the New York Times bestseller nonfiction list that same year. In 1989, Millie gave birth to a litter of six puppies.

  2. BARNARD COLLIER says:

    In the privately published book “Kneecap Level ~The True Canine Adventures of Barney Bush, 338th White House First Dog” by Barney Bush, he fondly recalls Millie and her wisdom and perspicacity:

    “Although we were taught olfactory diplomacy by the private journals of Millie Bush, who was Spot’s dear mother, we also developed poker tails.

    “Mama Millie made snap decisions about which humans she liked or disliked, based entirely on her nose. One sniff at a woman’s toes or a single whiff of a man’s crotch made up Mama’s mind. Her tail wagged whenever she approved of somebody, and she turned her regal head away and her tail was wag-less for anybody she thought smelled suspicious or spurious.

    “Several heads of state who visited at Kennebunkport or the White House took immediate notice of this, and eventually the State Department found out. Thereafter, Mama Millie was sequestered from many State visitors.

    “In her unpublished journal Millie confesses:

    ” ‘I never learned to have a poker tail. I just couldn’t wag for everybody like the other Bushes have learned to do. If the person smells of uncleanliness or duplicity, I won’t wag my tail for all the roast beef in London. I believe that this unenviable trait is shared by my mistress and co-author [Barbara Bush], who couldn’t master the diplomatic art, and never learned to fake it.*

    ” ‘I take heart from the fact that I am not alone among First Dogs to display this inability to wag falsely. Woodrow Wilson did not keep a dog at the White House. He kept an old ram and some sheep instead, and they served to nibble smooth the South Lawn. But President Wilson completely understood the character of canines.’ ”

    The first President Bush felt deep affection and admiration for Millie. Speaking of Bill Clinton and Al Gore during the 1992 presidential campaign: He said:

    “My dog Millie knows more about foreign policy than those two bozos. . . . “

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