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(Shortly After 9:07 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Press Secretary Fleischer Holds Up a Message, Instructing President Bush to Say Nothing about the Attacks

Ari Fleischer.Ari Fleischer. [Source: Publicity photo]White House press secretary Ari Fleischer holds up a message instructing President Bush to not say anything yet about the terrorist attacks in New York after Bush is informed about the second crash at the World Trade Center in the middle of a public event. [Washington Times, 10/7/2002; Fleischer, 2005, pp. 139-140] Bush has been listening to a reading demonstration at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida. [ABC News, 9/11/2002; Washington Times, 10/8/2002]
Fleischer Received a Pager Message about the Second Crash - Fleischer, who is at the back of the classroom where the demonstration is taking place, learned about the second crash when he received a message on his pager alerting him to it. The message, which was sent by a colleague in Washington, DC, stated simply, “Second tower hit.” [Sammon, 2002, pp. 84; White House, 8/6/2002; Sioux City Journal, 10/5/2009] “Immediately [after reading the message] I thought: ‘This must be terrorism. There cannot be any other explanation,’” Fleischer will later recall. He instructed the president’s advance team to get members of the press out of the room as soon as the reading demonstration ended, so they wouldn’t ask Bush about the events in New York before the president was told a second plane had hit the WTC. He started writing a message for the president on the back of his legal pad. But then Andrew Card, Bush’s chief of staff, came into the room, and told the president a second plane had crashed into the WTC and America was under attack (see (9:07 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Bush Sees Fleischer's Message - Fleischer now moves in front of the president, with his back to the members of the press in the room, and holds up his pad so Bush can see the message on it. [White House, 8/6/2002; White House, 8/8/2002; Fleischer, 2005, pp. 139-140] Bush notices Fleischer trying to catch his attention and then reads the message, written in large block letters, which states: “DON’T SAY ANYTHING YET.” The message means, “Fleischer didn’t want him talking to the press about the World Trade Center,” according to journalist and author Bill Sammon. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 86-87; Washington Times, 10/7/2002] “Until he could get a better briefing, I didn’t think it would be wise for him to address what surely now was a nation riveted to television sets, eager for news,” Fleischer will comment. [Fleischer, 2005, pp. 140] “I thought the most important thing was… to ascertain all the information, all the facts, before speaking,” he will say. [White House, 8/8/2002] Regarding Fleischer’s message, Bush will comment that he “didn’t plan to” say anything yet. “I had settled on a plan of action,” he will write, adding, “When the lesson ended, I would leave the classroom calmly, gather the facts, and speak to the nation.” [Bush, 2010, pp. 127] After seeing Fleischer’s message, Bush will continue listening to the children reading for several minutes, despite now being aware that America is under attack (see (9:08 a.m.-9:13 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Times, 10/7/2002; Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2004 pdf file]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Ari Fleischer

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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