The Yawning Boy Sensation

By Dan Froomkin
Special to
Friday, April 2, 2004; 11:00 AM

The video showing 13-year-old Tyler Crotty yawning, fidgeting, stretching, and doing an I-gotta-pee jig right behind President Bush as he spoke to a campaign rally in Orlando last month has created quite the sensation.

Tyler will be a guest on CBS's "Late Show With David Letterman" tonight, which on Monday night first aired the edited series of clips.

And a tempest has erupted over why a CNN anchor announced that the White House had called to complain that the video was a fake. (CNN has since retracted, but not fully explained, that statement.)

In fact, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman smells something fishy.

All in all, though, it's certainly a lot funnier than White House press secretary Scott McClellan's lame April Fools Joke (see below).

The Video

You can watch the famous video right here, slightly cut up, courtesy of a news report from the "Local 6" news on WKMG-TV in Orlando. There are also clips of Tyler's dad, Richard, the chairman of the Orange County commission and a major Bush fundraiser.

There are other copies of the video flying around the Internet -- and I thank all of you who sent me URLs when I asked for them in yesterday's column -- but this is the only one I found that appeared to be up with CBS's permission.

The original video is not on Letterman's Web site, but a clip from last night's show is, where Letterman takes great glee in showing CNN's apology, in which anchor Daryn Kagan loosely blames her staff for the error.

"They had me come on here and tell you that the White House called and told us it was fake," Kagan tells CNN viewers. "Well, turns out, due to what we might say [is] a misunderstanding among the folks who are usually so fantastic behind me here in the newsroom, it turns out that was not true. The White House, it turns out, I guess never did call us about the tape."

In The Washington Post's TV Column, Lisa de Moraes notes that "CNN retracted that report Tuesday night, but only after Letterman had shown the clip of Kagan telling viewers that the White House said the tape was doctored, and only after Letterman had called the White House a bunch of liars. Twice."

Frazier Moore, writing for the Associated Press, fills out the story, which also included CNN anchor Kyra Phillips rerunning the tape later in the day Tuesday but cautioning viewers: "We're told that the kid was there at that event, but not necessarily standing behind the president."

Moore writes: "On his Tuesday telecast, Letterman aired Kagan's and Phillips' skeptical remarks and ranted: 'An out-and-out, 100 percent absolute lie. The kid absolutely was there and he absolutely was doing everything we pictured via the videotape. . . .

"'So when you cast your vote in November," he urged, "just remember that the White House was trying to make ME look like a DOPE.'"

The New York Daily News calls it "the yawn seen 'round the world!"

And columnist Paul Krugman is incensed.

"CNN backed down, but it told Mr. Letterman that Ms. Kagan 'misspoke,' that the White House was not the source of the false claim. (So who was? And if the claim didn't come from the White House, why did CNN run with it without checking?)

"In short, CNN passed along a smear that it attributed to the White House. When the smear backfired, it declared its previous statements inoperative and said the White House wasn't responsible. Sound familiar?"

Says Krugman: "A White House that thinks it's cute to have Mr. Bush make jokes about missing W.M.D. should be able to handle a little ribbing about boring speeches."

McClellan's April Fools Joke

The first question at yesterday's press briefing, as usual, came from Helen Thomas, the dean of the White House press corps.

"When is the President going to hold a news conference?" she asked. "He has not tackled any of these issues in an overall news conference, full-scale, since last December 15th. Isn't it about time that we had a time -- chance, that is, to question?"

McClellan brushed her off. "I appreciate your question, and I always try to work to accommodate your needs. . . . I will certainly take it into consideration." When she tried to follow up, he moved on.

Later, ABC's Terry Moran brought up the issue again.

"First, I just wanted to associate myself with Helen's request here. . . . "

Mclellan's response: "Anybody else? Anybody?" He takes a mock show of hands. "Okay. . . . Okay, we will do one later today. Oh, April Fool's, I'm sorry."

The transcript reflects "laughter" at this point. But on the video (fast forward to 7 minutes 30 seconds) it sounds more like grumbling to me.

Top Ten List

Not funny? Well, let's go back to Letterman, just for a minute. Here's his Top Ten list from last night: Top Ten Questions You're Afraid To Ask Condoleezza Rice.

Sit-Coms Against Bush

And speaking of funny -- or not.

Jim Rutenberg writes in the New York Times: "In recent weeks, characters in prime time have progressed beyond the typical Hollywood knocks against Washington politicians to calling out the president directly or questioning his policies, including the decision to go to war in Iraq, the support of the antiterrorism law and the backing of a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage.

"On the NBC show 'Whoopi,' the hotelier played by Whoopi Goldberg delivered an anti-Bush screed when the president, played by a lookalike, appeared at her establishment to use the facilities. 'I can't believe he's in there doing to my bathroom what he's done to the economy!' she said."

Plame Watch

Back to the entirely serious stuff. Many readers have been asking me: What's up with the Valerie Plame investigation?

David Johnston and Richard W. Stevenson write in the New York Times today: "Prosecutors investigating whether someone in the Bush administration improperly disclosed the identity of a C.I.A. officer have expanded their inquiry to examine whether White House officials lied to investigators or mishandled classified information related to the case, lawyers involved in the case and government officials say. . . .

"The expansion of the inquiry's scope comes at a time when prosecutors, after a hiatus of about a month, appear to be preparing to seek additional testimony before a federal grand jury, lawyers with clients in the case said. It is not clear whether the renewed grand jury activity represents a concluding session or a prelude to an indictment.

"The broadened scope is a potentially significant development that represents exactly what allies of the Bush White House feared when Attorney General John Ashcroft removed himself from the case last December and turned it over to Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the United States attorney in Chicago."

9/11 Commission Watch

Dan Eggen and Dana Milbank write in The Washington Post: "The White House has not turned over thousands of pages of documents from the Clinton administration to a commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, even though the records are relevant to the panel's mission, one of Clinton's attorneys said yesterday. . . .

"White House spokesman Sean McCormack said documents that have not been turned over are not relevant to the inquiry. 'We're applying the same standards to documents from our administration and from the Clinton administration,' he said."

Philip Shenon and David E. Sanger write in the New York Times: "The disclosure that many Clinton administration files had been withheld took several of the members of the panel by surprise on Thursday.

"'If it did happen, it's an unintentional mistake or it's another intentional act of the White House that will backfire,' said Bob Kerrey, a former senator from Nebraska who is a Democratic member of the commission."

Shenon and Sanger also note that the "White House, in an effort to bolster Ms. Rice's credibility before the hearing, released some of the language of a presidential directive awaiting Mr. Bush's signature on Sept. 11, 2001. . . .

"The White House decision to release some of the wording of the classified September 2001 presidential directive on Al Qaeda and the Taliban was an opening volley in what is expected to be an aggressive public relations campaign on behalf of Ms. Rice in the days before her testimony next Thursday."

Steve Holland of Reuters has more on the newly-released documents.

Paul Colford writes in the New York Daily News that former counterterrorism czar turned administration critic Richard A. Clarke's book, "Against All Enemies," will debut at No. 1 on The Times best-seller list to be published April 11.

Funny? Not funny? Washington Post columnist Al Kamen notes this exchange between 9/11 commission Chairman Thomas H. Kean and a reporter.

"'Can you say why you would agree to have the vice president and the president testify at the same time?' New York Post reporter Vince Morris asked Kean. 'It seems . . . it might be to allow, you know, Mr. Cheney to help Mr. Bush with the answers. . . . It seems like it compromises your investigation to have them answer questions at the same time.'

"'Well, we recognize that Mr. Bush may help Mr. Cheney with some of the answers,' Kean said to 'scattered laughter,' according to a transcript."

Deaths Don't Dent Upbeat Message

David E. Sanger writes in the New York Times: "Hours after the gruesome pictures of an Iraqi mob mauling the charred corpses of four American contract workers sped around the world, President Bush swept into a huge ballroom in one of Washington's most affluent neighborhoods."

But rather than speak of the day's events, Bush's first mention of Iraq at the $2,000-a-plate campaign fundraiser was -- what else? -- part of a humorous crack against Kerry.

"In the Bush campaign, casualties are something to be alluded to obliquely, if at all. Mr. Bush's handlers, both in the White House and outside it, say they mourn every death," Sanger writes.

WMD Commission Watch

Those missing WMDs, the topic of a Bush joke a while back, are also, lest we forget, the subject of a presidential commission.

Douglas Jehl writes in the New York Times: "Nearly two months after President Bush named a bipartisan commission to look into intelligence failures on Iraq and weapons proliferation, the panel is only now beginning its work, a spokesman for the group said Thursday. . . .

"The 10-member commission, headed by Laurence H. Silberman, a federal judge, and Charles S. Robb, the former senator and governor from Virginia, held its first organizational meeting in Washington on Wednesday, the spokesman, Larry McQuillan, said."

Karen Hughes Watch

Bush confidante Karen Hughes was on CBS's Early Show with Harry Smith yesterday.

The write-up on notes: "Last weekend, Harry Smith points out, he got the sense Hughes had something to do with the decision about having Condoleezza Rice appear before the Sept. 11 commission.

"About that, Hughes says, 'That may give me too much credit. I did agree with the decision. I was asked what I thought about it and I agreed if it were possible to come up with a way to balance that important principle -- I see the struggle the White House has. These aren't easy issues. We all took an oath to defend the Constitution. I thought if they could come up with a way to balance the important constitutional principle with allowing Dr. Rice to testify publicly, that I wanted it the American people to hear from her, and the president wants the American people to know the facts. That wasn't coming through in all the process debate.'"

Note: That may give her too much credit.

Hughes also shared her feelings on those other books about Bush with Rob Roberts of the Johnson County Sun in Kansas, who separately explains what Hughes is doing talking to him: She will be at a Kansas City bookstore on Monday.

Yes, Missouri is a swing state.

Closer to some of us, Hughes will be at the Borders Books in downtown Washington today at 12:30 p.m.

Here's the rest of her book tour calendar.

Energy Task Force Watch

Carol Leonnig writes in The Washington Post: "A federal judge yesterday ordered several federal government agencies to release documents concerning their work on Vice President Cheney's energy task force or provide a legal reason for withholding them. . . .

"The judge's order, which requires release of documents by June 1, could potentially open a new window into the workings of Cheney's task force. In a related 2001 case, the Justice Department has four times appealed federal court rulings that the vice president release task force records. That case, in which Cheney claims his office has executive privilege, is now pending before the Supreme Court."

Here's the ruling, and more background on the Energy Task Force cases from Findlaw.

Executive Privilege Watch

Sheryl Gay Stolberg writes in the New York Times: "A senior White House official and the former Medicare administrator, central figures in a controversy over the cost of the new prescription drug law, declined to appear before a House committee Thursday, defying Democrats who had sought their testimony.

"Citing executive privilege, the White House refused to send Doug Badger, special assistant to the president for health policy, to testify before the House Ways and Means Committee. . . .

"Democrats then tried to persuade the committee to subpoena them, but those motions failed along party lines, by votes of 23 to 16."

Revolving Door Watch

The New York Times reports: "Anna Perez, who recently directed communications at the National Security Council, will become chief communications executive for NBC, the network announced yesterday."

Today's Calendar

Pete Yost of the Associated Press writes: "President Bush is promoting his message of an improving economy in West Virginia, a state he narrowly won in 2000 and where Democrats are taking him to task for lost jobs.

"He is to appear on a college campus for the second time in the past week-and-a-half to promote his 'Jobs for the 21st Century' program."

After West Virginia, "Bush heads to Georgia to thank some of his biggest campaign donors."

Poll Watch

In another story out of the Los Angeles Times Poll, Jonathan Peterson writes: "Asked to name the candidate who would be 'best at protecting the financial security of the average American,' 47% named Kerry, while 34% picked Bush. . . .

"Those polled also view the Bush White House as much more aligned with business interests than the interests of ordinary workers, and they express widespread doubts about the integrity of corporate America."

Also in the Los Angeles Times, Lisa Getter describes how hundreds of volunteers "have helped Bush's reelection campaign amass more than $175 million in nine months, the most ever collected in a presidential race."

Cheney's Week

In the Wall Street Journal's snappy Washington Wire column, Jackie Calmes writes: "CHENEY'S ASIA TRIP next week reflects election-year foreign policy challenges. Hitting China, Japan and South Korea on just his third overseas foray, Cheney seeks to spur stalled talks on shutting down North Korea's nuclear program. An adviser says the focus will be on 'relationship building.' A key issue is whether South Korean troops in Iraq can be used for offensive operations there."

Yesterday's Bill-Signing

Amy Goldstein writes in The Washington Post: "President Bush yesterday signed legislation, sought by social conservatives for years, that elevates the rights of fetuses by making it a separate offense to harm an 'unborn child' while committing a violent federal crime against a pregnant woman.

"The law is entangled in the politics of abortion, but Bush sidestepped the larger controversy, portraying the hard-fought measure as a matter of criminal justice. 'As of today, the law of our nation will acknowledge the plain fact that crimes of violence against a pregnant woman often have two victims,' the president said.

Here is the text of his remarks at the signing.

Yesterday's Fundraiser

Here's Bush's speech at last night's National Republican Congressional Committee dinner.

The Associated Press reports: "President Bush said Thursday that 'the country is better off' with Republicans in control of the House and voiced confidence that their majority would be expanded in the November elections."

And we'll end with some Bush humor from last night:

"As a former House candidate -- (laughter) -- I have tremendous respect for anybody who runs for the Congress. My campaign back in 1978 in the 19th congressional district didn't turn out the way I hoped. As a matter of fact, walking in here, I saw the guy who beat me. (Laughter.) There he is. (Laughter.)...

"I put my political career on hold for about 15 years, but I like to think things worked out all right. (Applause.)"

© 2004