Eggnog, Mr. President?

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During the holiday season, George W. Bush is not only commander in chief, he is entertainer in chief. Before escaping to Camp David for Christmas later this week, President and Mrs. Bush will have welcomed 9,500 guests to the White House for 26 parties spread over 21 days.

The events vary in tone and size. For intimacy and prestige, it's hard to top the small dinner for Bush family members and close friends. Legislators are feted at a black tie congressional ball. Gatherings are held for White House staff, Secret Service, and generous political supporters.

As if to test their holiday spirit, the president and Mrs. Bush also host a party for the press. ...

The brief moments with the president offer some humanizing context, clearly one reason this White House - and others before it - entertain the press. Franklin Roosevelt was the first president to invite reporters to social events. Before that, "reporters were always there to cover, not to be on the guest list," says Donald Ritchie, associate historian of the US Senate.

Presidents vary, of course, in their enthusiasm for such encounters. Richard Nixon skipped a Christmas party during Watergate, while Gerald Ford was something of a bon vivant: He even liked to dance with guests.

All this chumminess, however, makes some media watchdogs uncomfortable. Bob Steele, a journalism ethicist at the Poynter Institute, says the press "should not be accepting special favors that are offered to us because we are journalists."

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