When Jeb Bush Met the Press

What does the former governor's inbox say about a 2016 media strategy?

Florida Governor Jeb Bush speaks to reporters after meeting with the Florida State Cabinet at the Florida State Capitol Building November 16, 2000 in Tallahassee, FL.

Florida Governor Jeb Bush speaks to reporters after meeting with the Florida State Cabinet at the Florida State Capitol Building November 16, 2000 in Tallahassee, FL.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Details from thousands of Jeb Bush’s Florida government e-mails have trickled out in recent days, depicting the potential 2016 presidential candidate as not only addicted to his BlackBerry while governor, but willing to engage with just about anybody who took the time to write him. 

Among them: a hoard of a local and national journalists who peppered him with questions and interview requests during his two terms in office.

When it came to media, the tone of Bush's messages, released last week by the Democratic opposition-research group American Bridge, ranges from cynical to contentious to chummy—sometimes all in a single exchange—and offers perhaps the clearest glimpse yet of how the GOP frontrunner may interact with press during a presidential run.

(Bush plans to release his own batch of e-mails early next year, and has long shown awareness that outsiders could obtain the messages through open-records requests, as many news organizations and American Bridge have done. Without confirming or denying the authenticity of the e-mails in the Democratic trove specifically, Bush spokeswoman Kristy Campbell said in an e-mail Saturday that “generally, we would dispute the veracity of anything American Bridge does or says.”)

As governor from 1999 to 2007, Bush largely avoided national interviews, calling them a distraction from his work in the Sunshine State. But his messages contain a slew of candid conversations with local Florida reporters in which Bush frequently responded to their questions from his personal e-mail account. And he was hardly shy when he felt like his positions were being misrepresented. 

“In all honesty, I think you have a tendency to focus on the minutia which is your right as a journalist but the bigger picture is sometimes more important,” he wrote in 2001 to Peter Wallsten, who was then working for the Miami Herald.  

“While I am used to journalists ascribing motives without any knowledge of the facts, it usually yields a poorer quality journalism,” he wrote in 2006, criticizing a different columnist after reading that morning’s newspaper.

In 2003, Bush received an early-morning message from someone praising his decision to ban a state newspaper from his annual end-of-year interview with reporters in Tallahassee. In his reply 12 minutes later, Bush pushed back against the notion that it was because of negative reporting on his education policies, adding, “They are not allowed to the meeting since their bureau chief is rude and abusive to my team. It has nothing to do with vouchers. Merry Christmas!!!!!”

For the most part, however, direct interactions Bush had with reporters appeared cordial, if not friendly, as journalists expressed surprise at the speed with which he answered their inquiries. In one instance during his first term, a reporter at the St. Petersburg Times asked for permission to fix Bush’s grammar in a quote he was going to use. 

Bush replied, “you have done good with that the change.”

The use of technology and climate of news coverage has changed dramatically in the decade since Bush’s last campaign, but as he appears to be gearing up for a White House bid, the former governor is now stepping onto a national stage that he spent years avoiding.

“I am not a big fan of the national limelight,” Bush wrote to Barbara Walters in 2000, declining an interview right after his brother was confirmed as president-elect, despite Walter's assurances that the interview could focus on topics he preferred.

A year later, in an e-mail exchange with Connie Chung of ABC, Bush framed his view of the press this way: “Your trade has changed for the worse.”

Greg Giroux contributed to this report.

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