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President Doggedly Defends Millie

June 29, 1989|DAVID LAUTER | 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, the capital's slick city magazine.

"I'd like to know who did the 'Best and Worst' " article, the caller asked, referring to the piece in which Millie was labeled as ugly. "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.

White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater denies that Bush made the call. The President was in a meeting with representatives of Polish-American groups at the time, he said. But at the Washingtonian--where Stovall told reporters that the caller certainly sounded like the President--reporters and editors spent the day in frenzied calls to newspaper offices around the capital, repeating the story.

It was, everyone seemed to agree, certainly the sort of thing George Bush might do. Millie and Barbara Bush are the two things no one makes jokes about in the White House, one aide quipped. And Millie's tennis ball, slightly chewed, lay on a window sill near the floor behind Bush's desk as he spoke to The Times' reporters.

Spontaneous, humorous, relaxed and fond of his dog, too--these are qualities that have helped boost Bush's popularity and are even more on display in small-group meetings than in the more public speeches and press conferences.

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