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Context of 'September 22, 2003 and After: Bush Does Not Read News, Relies on Briefings from Two Advisers'

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Former President Bush secretly invites two people to his Kennebunkport, Maine, compound: his son George W. Bush, and Condoleezza Rice, a longtime protege of his close friend and colleague Brent Scowcroft. Rice had been the elder Bush’s assistant on Soviet affairs from 1989 to 1991, and later became provost of Stanford University. Rice and the younger Bush spend many hours discussing foreign affairs, with Rice attempting to tutor him about the fundamentals of US relations with a host of other countries and regions. “We talked a lot about America’s role in the world,” Rice will recall. Bush “was doing due diligence on whether or not to run for president.” Rice will become “foreign policy coordinator” to the nascent Bush campaign. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 117; Unger, 2007, pp. 160]

Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice, George Herbert Walker Bush, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: US International Relations

President Bush learns that the Pentagon has been attacked while he is being driven to Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, during a phone call with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 39; Bush, 2010, pp. 128] Bush and his entourage left the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, at around 9:35 a.m. to be taken to Air Force One (see (9:34 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001; Bloomberg, 6/17/2004] As the president’s limousine is speeding toward the airport, Bush and Andrew Card, his chief of staff, talk on the phone with colleagues at the White House. [White House, 8/16/2002; St. Petersburg Times, 9/8/2002] In a call with Rice, Bush is told that there has been a third plane crash, this one at the Pentagon. [Bush, 2010, pp. 128] The attack took place at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 10] Rice, who is in the White House Situation Room, learned about it when she saw it being reported on television. [White House, 10/24/2001; O, the Oprah Magazine, 2/1/2002]
Bush Appears 'Preternaturally Calm' - After Rice tells him about the attack, Bush “sat back in my seat and absorbed her words,” he will later recall. “My thoughts clarified,” he will write, adding: “The first plane could have been an accident. The second was definitely an attack. The third was a declaration of war.” In response to the news, he will recall, his “blood [is] boiling” and he thinks, “We [are] going to find out who did this and kick their ass.” [Bush, 2010, pp. 128] Bush, though, is able to maintain his composure, according to Karl Rove, his senior adviser, who is with him in the limousine. “I was aghast at the news [of the attack on the Pentagon] and probably seemed anxious,” Rove will comment, but “he seemed preternaturally calm.” [Rove, 2010, pp. 252]
Accounts Will Conflict over Who Makes the Call - Bush will claim that he makes the call to Rice. [Bush, 2010, pp. 128] Rice, though, will say that she makes it (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [BBC Radio 4, 8/1/2002 pdf file; MSNBC, 9/11/2002; New York Times, 9/11/2002] Bush will also state that he talks to Rice using the secure phone in his limousine. [Bush, 2010, pp. 128] However, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the secure telephone lines are currently down and so he has to contact Washington, DC, using a borrowed cell phone (see (9:34 a.m.-9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 9/10/2006]

Entity Tags: Andrew Card, George W. Bush, Karl C. Rove, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Brent Scowcroft, a Bush foreign affairs adviser who has been marginalized and scorned by administration neoconservatives (see October 16, 2001 and March 2002), appears on CBS’s “Face the Nation” to make his case that the US should not invade Iraq. Scowcroft, with the blessing of his friend and patron George H. W. Bush, is in the midst of a one-man media blitz, having already appeared on Fox News and the BBC to argue his position (see September 1998). The administration’s other high-profile centrists, Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, have refused to publicly disagree with the administration’s push for war. [Unger, 2007, pp. 242-243] Scowcroft warns that a unilateral invasion of Iraq could destabilize the Middle East and undermine efforts to defeat international anti-American militant groups. He says: “It’s a matter of setting your priorities. There’s no question that Saddam is a problem. He has already launched two wars and spent all the resources he can working on his military. But the president has announced that terrorism is our number one focus. Saddam [Hussein] is a problem, but he’s not a problem because of terrorism. I think we could have an explosion in the Middle East. It could turn the whole region into a cauldron and destroy the war on terror.” [London Times, 8/5/2002]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Brent Scowcroft, Saddam Hussein, George Herbert Walker Bush

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

In an interview with Fox News’s Brit Hume, President Bush admits that he does not read news articles himself. Instead, he gets briefings from staff members. “I get briefed by Andy Card and Condi [Rice] in the morning. They come in and tell me.… I glance at the headlines just to kind of a flavor for what’s moving. I rarely read the stories, and get briefed by people who are probably read [sic] the news themselves. But like Condoleezza, in her case, the national security adviser is getting her news directly from the participants on the world stage.” It has been his “[p]ractice since day one,” he says.
His Staffers Best Source for 'Objective' News - “You know, look, I have great respect for the media. I mean, our society is a good, solid democracy because of a good, solid media. But I also understand that a lot of times there’s opinions mixed in with news. And I… I appreciate people’s opinions, but I’m more interested in news. And the best way to get the news is from objective sources. And the most objective sources I have are people on my staff who tell me what’s happening in the world.” [Fox News, 9/22/2003]
'Filtered or Unfiltered' - The reaction from the media is quite critical. Slate’s Michael Kinsley writes: “To President Bush, the news is like a cigarette. You can get it filtered or unfiltered.… When he is trying to send a message to the public, Bush prefers to have it go out unfiltered. But when he is on the receiving end, Bush prefers his news heavily filtered.… George W. Bush doesn’t really want people to get the news unfiltered. He wants people to get the news filtered by George W. Bush. Or rather, he wants everyone to get the news filtered by the same people who apparently filter it for him. It’s an interesting epistemological question how our president knows what he thinks he knows and why he thinks it is less distorted than what the rest of us know or think we know. Every president lives in a cocoon of advisers who filter reality for him, but it’s stunning that this president actually seems to prefer getting his take on reality that way.” [Slate, 10/16/2003]
'Sugar Coating' the News - Washington institution Helen Thomas, a long-time critic of the Bush administration, writes: “Bush is spoon-fed the relevant news from his staff. Top aides usually know the buttons not to push when it comes to bad news. More often they will tell the president what he wants to hear—the good news if there is any. Or they may just sugar coat the news that is tougher to swallow.” [Hearst Newspapers, 10/15/2003]

Entity Tags: Brit Hume, Andrew Card, Fox News, George W. Bush, Michael Kinsley, Helen Thomas, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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