11 is often said to be the defining moment
in the Bush presidency, even of modern history.
How strange, therefore, that Bush's behavior
that moming-along with that of his Administration-is
almost never examined in any detail. This
is all the more incredible when one considers
the fact that 9/11 is among the most exhaustively
chronicled days in human history and Bush
among its most heavily covered individuals.
No less odd has been the media's willingness
to let the many inconsistencies in White House
stories pass unexamined. They seem content
instead to let Showtime tell the story, Leni
fateful morning, Bush was visiting the Emma
E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota. The
moment he learned of the attacks is a matter
of deep dispute. CIA chief George Tenet was
informed of the first crash almost immediately
and is reported to have remarked to his breakfast
companion, former Senator David Boren, "You
know, this has bin Laden's fingerprints all
over it." But the President's aides maintain
that he was not told about the attack for
more than fifteen minutes, well after viewers
saw the first building engulfed in smoke on
CNN, and even after he interrupted his schedule
to take a call from Condoleezza Rice upon
leaving his limousine, after the first crash
various accounts offered by the White House
are almost all inconsistent with one another.
On December 4, 2001, Bush was asked, "How
did you feel when you heard about the terrorist
attack?" Bush replied, "I was sitting
outside the classroom waiting to go in, and
I saw an airplane hit the tower-the TV was
obviously on. And I used to fly myself, and
I said, well, there's one terrible pilot.
I said, it must have been a horrible accident.
But I was whisked off there. I didn't have
much time to think about it ' " Bush
repeated the same story on January 5, 2002,
stating, "First of all, when we walked
into the classroom, I had seen this plane
fly into the first building. There was a TV
set on. And you know, I thought it was pilot
error, and I was amazed that anybody could
make such a terrible mistake ......
is false. Nobody saw the jetliner crash into
the first tower on television until a videotape
surfaced a day later. What's more, Bush's
memory not only contradicts every media report
of that morning, it also contradicts what
he said on the day of the attack. In his speech
to the nation that evening, Bush said, "Immediately
following the first attack, I implemented
our government's emergency response plans."
Again, this statement has never been satisfactorily
explained. No one besides Bush has ever spoken
of these "emergency plans;' and the mere
idea of their implementation is contradicted
by Bush's claim that at the time, he believed
the crash to have been a case of pilot error.
contradictions abound. Bush told an interviewer
that Chief of Staff Andrew Card had been the
first person to let him know of the crash.
Card was saying, Bush explained, "'Here's
what you're going to be doing: You're going
to meet so-and-so, such-and-such.'Then Andy
Card said, 'By the way, an aircraft flew into
the World Trade Center."' Ari Fleischer
repeated this story, claiming that Card had
told Bush about the crash "as the President
finished shaking hands in a hallway of school
officials." But other sources, including
Bob Woodward's allegedly authoritative account,
have Karl Rove telling Bush the news.
we do know is that Bush continued to read
to the children and pose for the cameras long
after the Federal Aviation Administration
(FAA), the North American Aerospace Defense
(NORAD), the National Military Command Center,
the Pentagon, the White House, the Secret
Service and Canada's Strategic Command were
all aware that three jetliners had been hijacked.
The President's entourage hung around a full
fifty minutes after CNN broadcast the news
of the first crash. Half an hour after the
first plane hit, Bush told the children, "Hoo!
These are great readers. Very impressive!
Thank you all so very much for showing me
your reading skills. I bet they practice,
too. Don't you? Reading more than they watch
TV? Anybody do that? Read more than you watch
TV? [Hands go up] Oh that's great! Very good.
Very important to practice! Thanks for having
me. I'm very impressed."
House staff members claimed that Bush remained
with the children so as not to "upset"
or "alarm' them. This is a truly bewildering
excuse. If the country was under attack, Bush
might be forgiven for upsetting a few schoolkids.
If the President's life was in danger, then
so was the life of every little child in that
room. At the time, fighter jets had been dispatched
to defend New York City. But according to
one of the fighter pilots, it would have done
no good to catch up to one of the hijacked
planes before it landed in a murderous explosion
at the next population center. The only person
with the authority to order the plane to be
shot down, noted the pilot, was the President,
who was still reading to schoolchildren.
panic motif runs through the rest of the President's
actions that day. While the presidential motorcade
did finally head for the airport, Bush is
alleged to have spoken on the phone to Cheney
and ordered all flights nationwide grounded.
Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta has
also tried to take credit for the order, but
according to Slate, this too is false, though
"FAA officials had begged [the reporter]
to maintain the fiction." In fact, according
to USA Today, it was FAA administrator Ben
Sliney who issued the order. Amazingly, Air
Force One took off with no military protection.
It remained unprotected in the sky for more
than an hour, though Florida is filled with
Air Force bases just minutes away with planes
that are supposed to be on twenty-four-hour
aides later offered, and retracted, the excuse
that he spent the day flying around the country
because of threats to Air Force One believed
to have been received at the White House.
What nobody has ever explained is this: If
you think Air Force One is to be attacked,
why go up in Air Force One?
don't have the answers to these questions.
But why is no one asking them?
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