One certainly can't accuse White House reporter Elisabeth Bumiller of giving Laura Bush "typical" first lady soft-soap coverage. First Bumiller implied  Ms. Bush was off the reservation on matters of White House security. Then, in Monday's "The First Lady's Mideast Sandstorm," Bumiller tries to make a gaffe out of a comment Laura Bush made about Egyptian democracy while in the country two weeks ago (yes, two weeks ago).
"For more than four years now, Laura Bush has been the popular and uncontroversial first lady, the one who reads to schoolchildren, plants environmentally correct native grasses and shores up her husband with 'Desperate Housewives' jokes. But two weeks ago, the first lady was on a good-will trip in the Middle East when she stepped into one of the Bush administration's trickiest problems - pushing for democracy in the region without angering strategic allies like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, both of them far from democratic.To some Egyptian critics, Mrs. Bush did not know what she was talking about. To others, she knew precisely what she was talking about, which they termed the essence of the problem. Her words, they said, reflected the two contradictory stances of the administration's policy in the Middle East."
As she did recently with Bush's remarks  about Yalta, Bumiller speculates about the scheming behind Ms. Bush's statement: "At this point, it remains unclear why Mrs. Bush said what she said, even as some Egyptians have not ruled out graciousness to her hostess, Suzanne Mubarak, the wife of the Egyptian president. Mrs. Bush did echo much of her husband's positive encouragement to Mr. Mubarak, and the White House position is that her comments were not as out of step with her husband's as her critics have said."
For the full Bumiller, click here: 
"The Bully-Boy Blogosphere"
In Sunday's "Land of the Free, Home of the Blog," business writer Melanie Warner talks of the "bully-boy blogosphere," which is apparently just teeming with knee-jerk overzealous hyper-patriots: "As PepsiCo's president and chief financial officer, Indra K. Nooyi has given all sorts of speeches. None, though, fired up passions like the one she gave last month at the Columbia Business School. In trying to extol the benefits of cultural sensitivity when doing business abroad, Ms. Nooyi employed the metaphor of a hand and compared America's reputation to that of the middle finger. 'If used inappropriately - just like the U.S. itself - the middle finger can convey a negative image,' she said."Warner describes the bloggers and blog commenters this way: "Sensing an attack on America, the bully-boy blogosphere went into overdrive. One posting by a Columbia student set off dozens of others. Many challenged her patriotism. Others suggested she return to India, where she was born. Some made the knee-jerk threat of a product boycott."
The Times prefers to gets its story ideas  from the left wing of the Web, where apparently no "bully-boys" abound and not a harsh word is aired.
The full remarks from Nooyi can be read here. 
For the rest of Warner on Nooyi, click here: 
An "Ann Coulterish Sensibility" on the Necessity of Torture
In her Sunday review of the TV season just past, Alessandra Stanley writes about her disappointment with "24," the action hit starring Kiefer Sutherland: "The season's only innovation was the Ann Coulterish sensibility veining the plot: that nice middle-class Muslim family turned out to be a sleeper cell of terrorist moles, and torture was a post-Sept. 11 necessity that only pantywaist Washington bureaucrats found objectionable."
To read the rest of Stanley, click here: 
Shakespeare Saves "Conservative Milieu" from Sex Fears
A cloying atmosphere of liberal self-congratulation invades the Sunday Arts & Leisure section in Ada Calhoun's dispatch from the Texas Shakespeare Festival, "Don't Mess With Shakespeare."
"This spring, when Raymond Caldwell, the elegant artistic director of the Texas Shakespeare Festival, staged 'The Laramie Project,' a play about the murder of a young gay teenager, a surprising thing happened: no one complained. That may not strike outsiders as unusual, but in Kilgore, where the festival's production of 'Angels in America' in 1999 stirred up furious antigay demonstrations, death threats and the withdrawal of $50,000 in county funds, the calm is worth noting.
"'No, Kilgore is not seen as a bastion of cutting-edge artistic proliferation,' said William Holda, the president of Kilgore College. But the festival has ever so slowly helped make East Texas more sophisticated, he believes, especially about sex and sexuality. There is 'a lack of ease out there in the community on that subject,' Mr. Holda continued. 'Shakespeare has a way of being bawdy that lets people see a new way of talking about these things.' Who would have thought that Shakespeare could be an agent for change in a conservative milieu like this one?"
The text box reads: "Can a bawdy bard have made an East Texas town less vexed about sex?"
For more of Calhoun from Texas, click here: 
"Bush's Poodle" Returns
Richard Stevenson anticipates British PM Tony Blair's meeting today with President Bush: "Since signing on to back the White House over Iraq, Mr. Blair has at times been portrayed at home as Mr. Bush's 'poodle,' an eager follower whose loyalty is never really rewarded."
The paper never gets tired of repeating  that insult, to the point where you suspect it rather likes it. Former London bureau chief Warren Hoge bluntly stated  in October 2003: "Mr. Blair's close alliance with an American president who is deeply unpopular in Britain has left him appearing the way cartoonists see him-as the slavering lapdog of George W. Bush."
For the rest of Stevenson on Bush, click here: