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Profile: Larry McQuillan
Larry McQuillan was a participant or observer in the following events:
Laura Bush with Senators Edward Kennedy and Judd Gregg. [Source: CNN]First Lady Laura Bush, Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), and Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) appear before reporters and television cameras to announce that a planned Senate education committee hearing has been postponed, and to comment on the terrorist attacks in New York. [Associated Press, 9/11/2001; CNN, 9/11/2001; Bush, 2010, pp. 199] Bush was scheduled to testify before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, which Kennedy chairs, at 10:00 a.m. [USA Today, 9/10/2001; CNN, 9/12/2001] She now goes with Kennedy and Gregg to the Caucus Room in the Russell Senate Office Building, to tell reporters there that the hearing has been called off. [Time, 12/31/2001; Bush, 2010, pp. 199] The beginning of their appearance is shown live on CNN.
Hearing Has Been Postponed, Not Canceled - Kennedy starts by emphasizing that today’s hearing has been postponed, rather than canceled, and then says, “We are not going to see the business of America deferred because of terrorism, whether it’s in education or another area of public policy.” [Associated Press, 9/11/2001; CNN, 9/11/2001; CNN, 9/11/2001]
First Lady Becomes 'Comforter in Chief' - After Kennedy asks her if she would like to say anything, Bush says to the reporters: “Our hearts and our prayers go out to the victims of this act of terrorism and… our support goes to the rescue workers. And all of our prayers are with everyone there right now.” Then, as she and the senators turn to leave, Laurence McQuillan of USA Today says to her: “Children are kind of struck by all this. Is there a message you could tell to the nation’s…” Before he can finish the sentence, Bush replies, “Parents need to reassure their children everywhere in our country that they’re safe.” [CNN, 9/11/2002; Gerhart, 2004, pp. 163; Bush, 2010, pp. 199] With these words, journalist and author Ronald Kessler will later write, Bush “became the comforter in chief, calmly reassuring the nation and dispensing advice on how parents should deal with the tragedy.” [Kessler, 2006, pp. 136] Noelia Rodriguez, the first lady’s press secretary, will later comment that Bush’s response to McQuillan is “what people remember her for that day.” [National Journal, 8/31/2002] As Bush, Kennedy, and Gregg are leaving the room, Bush’s advance man will receive a call informing him of the attack at the Pentagon (see (9:45 a.m.-9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Bush, 2010, pp. 200]
Judd Gregg. [Source: US Congress]Laura Bush, the president’s wife, and her entourage stay in the office of Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH) as they wait for the Secret Service emergency response team to arrive and take them away from Capitol Hill. Bush and those with her in the Russell Senate Office Building headed to Gregg’s office after they learned of the attack on the Pentagon and Bush’s Secret Service agents told them to go to the basement (see (9:45 a.m.-9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Gregg’s office is on a lower floor of the building, though whether it is in the basement is unclear.)
First Lady Unable to Contact Daughters - From Gregg’s office, Bush tries calling her daughters, Barbara and Jenna, who are both at university. [Bush, 2010, pp. 200] She is unable to reach them at this time. According to journalist and author Christopher Andersen, she is told that “they had both already been hustled off to what the Secret Service called ‘secure locations.’” [Newsweek, 12/3/2001; Andersen, 2002, pp. 6]
First Lady and Senator Talk about Families - The first lady then sits with Gregg, who is a longtime Bush family friend, and, she will later recall, they talk “quietly about our families and our worries for them, and the overwhelming shock we both felt.” [New York Times, 10/4/2004; Bush, 2010, pp. 200] Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), who is also in Gregg’s office at this time, will recall, “We kept the television set off and simply talked for a while.” [Kennedy, 2009, pp. 492]
Reporters Cannot Travel with First Lady - Noelia Rodriguez, the first lady’s press secretary, is worried about the pool reporters who are with them. She will describe, “We put them all in a room,” but Bush’s Secret Service agents tell her, “We have to leave here and we can’t take [the pool reporters] with us.” Laurence McQuillan, of USA Today, reassures Rodriguez, telling her, “Don’t worry about us.” [National Journal, 8/31/2002] Bush remains in Gregg’s office until members of the Secret Service, including the emergency response team, collect her from there (see (Shortly After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Bush, 2010, pp. 200] She and her staff leave the Russell Senate Office Building at around 10:10 a.m., and are then driven to a “secure location” (see (10:10 a.m.-10:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [National Journal, 8/31/2002]
Several journalists question a recent White House press conference that was entirely scripted and orchestrated by the White House with the knowing complicity of the reporters present (see March 6, 2003). Journalist Russell Mokhiber, who attends the conference, later says it “might have been the most controlled presidential news conference in recent memory.… The president had a list of 17 reporters who he was going to call on. He didn’t take any questions from reporters raising their hands.” White House communications director Dan Bartlett later retorts, “If you have a message you’re trying to deliver, a news conference can go in a different direction.” However, “In this case, we know what the questions are going to be, and those are the ones we want to answer.” [PRWatch, 4/2003]
'Deferential Reporters' - ABC political reporter and commentator Sam Donaldson, a fixture of the White House press corps during the Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton administrations, later recalls “wincing” as he watched “deferential reporters” questioning President Bush during the “scripted” conference. Donaldson will say: “People ask me, ‘Do you wish you were back at the White House?’ And I say, ‘No, not really.’ [But] there are moments like Thursday night when—yeah—I want to be there!” Veteran White House reporter Larry McQuillan of USA Today says Bush’s “call sheet” of preselected reporters “demeaned the reporters who were called on as much as those who weren’t.” Another correspondent at the conference later says: “They completely played us. What’s the point of having a press conference if you’re not going to answer questions? It was calculated on so many different levels.” New York Observer commentator Michael Crowley notes that the press corps itself must share some of the blame: “Although some asked reasonably pointed questions, most did with a tone of extreme deference… that suggested a skittishness, to which they will admit, about being seen as unpatriotic or disrespectful of a commander in chief on the eve of war. Few made any effort to follow up their questions after Mr. Bush’s recitation of arguments that were more speech-like than extemporaneous: Saddam Hussein is a threat to America, Iraq has not disarmed, Sept. 11 must never happen again.… The press corps seemed mainly to serve as a prop, providing Mr. Bush with an opportunity to deliver another pro-war speech while appearing to bravely face the music.” ABC’s Terry Moran reflects that he and the rest of the press corps shirked their duty: “The point is to get [the president] to answer questions, not just to stand up there and use all the majesty of the presidency to amplify his image.” [New York Observer, 3/16/2003]
'Kabuki' Conference - Salon’s Eric Boehlert will later write: “The entire press conference performance was a farce—the staging, the seating, the questions, the order, and the answers. Nothing about it was real or truly informative. It was, nonetheless, unintentionally revealing. Not revealing about the war, Bush’s rationale, or about the bloody, sustained conflict that was about to be unleashed inside Iraq. Reporters helped shed virtually no light on those key issues. Instead, the calculated kabuki press conference, stage-managed by the White House employing the nation’s most elite reporters as high-profile extras, did reveal what viewers needed to know about the mind-set of the [mainstream media] on the eve of war.” [Salon, 5/4/2006]
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