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A Little Needling From Bush, and Then a Call of Regret

Published: June 16, 2006

WASHINGTON, June 15 — Every once in awhile, at a news briefing, President Bush will poke fun at the reporters who cover him. And, every once in awhile, he will cause a little heartburn for his staff, and the White House press corps, in the process.

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Joshua Roberts/Reuters

President Bush teased a reporter, Peter Wallsten, Wednesday about his sunglasses but later apologized.

So it was during a Rose Garden press briefing Wednesday when Mr. Bush called upon a reporter for The Los Angeles Times, Peter Wallsten, and promptly commented on his inquisitor's sunglasses: "Are you going to ask that question with shades on?"

Mr. Wallsten offered to take them off, but the president said, "I'm interested in the shade look, seriously," and Mr. Wallsten did not.

Undaunted, he went on to ask Mr. Bush whether he had "any work to do to rebuild credibility that might have been lost" in the C.I.A. leak investigation. (Mr. Bush said a prosecutor's decision this week not to indict the president's deputy chief of staff, Karl Rove, "speaks for itself.")

Afterward, staff members told Mr. Bush that Mr. Wallsten was not wearing the sunglasses to look hip, but for health reasons. Mr. Wallsten has Stargardt's disease, a degenerative condition that causes blindness and can be painfully exacerbated by sunlight.

By late afternoon Mr. Bush called Mr. Wallsten to apologize. Mr. Wallsten said the call came without warning, on his cellphone, which listed the presidential phone number as "unknown."

"He said, 'I needle you guys out of affection,' and I said, 'Now that you know about this, don't treat me any different than you would ordinarily,' " Mr. Wallsten said. "He said, 'I won't.' "

Mr. Wallsten said he invited the president to "needle away," to which Mr. Bush replied, "I will, but next time I'll just use a different needle."

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