9/11 Images: Fair Game?

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, March 4, 2004; 10:52 AM

It would be impossible to tell the story of the Bush presidency without dwelling on the significance of the September 11 terror attacks.

But is it right to use imagery of the attacks in a campaign commercial?

That seems to be the issue of the day, as the Bush-Cheney campaign unleashes its first multi-million dollar barrage of television ads.

Watch them yourself. Then read on.

" STORM OVER BUSH 9/11 AD" screams the massive New York Daily News front-page headline that leads to a story by Maggie Haberman and Thomas M. DeFrank. They write: "Firefighter Tommy Fee in Rescue Squad 270 in Queens was appalled.

" 'It's as sick as people who stole things out of the place. The image of firefighters at Ground Zero should not be used for this stuff, for politics,' Fee said."

Judy Keen, Jim Drinkard and Mark Memmott in USA Today talked to "Monica Gabrielle, a member of the Family Steering Committee working with the federal commission that is investigating the attacks," who "called the Bush ads' use of the Trade Center ruins 'a total affront to the murder of my husband and 3,000 other victims.' "

Jim Rutenberg writes in the New York Times: "Bush campaign officials said their objective was for an upbeat, yet realistic feel-good depiction of the president. But the advertisements on Wednesday night drew criticism from some Democrats and the union representing firefighters, for, they said, exploiting tragedy in their stark use of imagery related to the Sept. 11 attacks. Three of the four commercials unveiled feature images of the smoldering and charred shell of the World Trade Center still standing; one also shows firefighters emerging from the wreckage carrying a stretcher draped with an American flag, presumably covering remains.

Rutenberg also dissects this ad.

Howard Kurtz and Dan Balz write in The Washington Post: "President Bush launched his general election advertising campaign yesterday with commercials that use images of terrorism and recession to depict him as a steady leader who is helping the country turn the corner. . . .

"Asked if the Bush team was exploiting Sept. 11, 2001, with images of the World Trade Center attack, campaign manager Ken Mehlman said it was 'the defining moment' of Bush's tenure. 'It's critical to who this president is,' he said."

Kurtz also dissects this ad.

But Nick Anderson writes in the Los Angeles Times that "Analysts who viewed the ads Wednesday gave them positive reviews.

" 'Two images I thought were effective,' said Kenneth Goldstein, a political ad expert at the University of Wisconsin. 'The shot of him sitting next to Laura Bush -- those are very helpful. With Laura Bush sitting there, it's sort of hard to hate him, right? And listen, they have to talk about 9/11, and I think they did it well.' "

Glen Johnson notes in the Boston Globe: "In each case, the ads draw on the power of the incumbency, either by framing their message against the distinctive arched windows in the White House residence or by showing the president striding in slow motion through the Colonnade outside the Oval Office."

William Douglas of Knight Ridder Newspapers writes about the alternative ads by MoveOn.org, the liberal group hitting 17 states with two ads of its own.

Those ads "paint a starker picture of America under Bush. The group's main spot shows a man coming home from a factory, inspecting a pile of mounting bills and kissing his child goodnight.

" 'Two million jobs lost. Jobs going overseas,' a voiceover in the 30-second piece says. 'And now no overtime pay. When it comes to choosing between corporate values and family values, face it, George Bush is not on our side.' "

Ralph Z. Hallow and Joseph Curl write in the Washington Times that "The Kerry camp issued an e-mail yesterday assailing the Bush ads.

" 'The only thing steady about this president is his steadily leading our country in the wrong direction,' the press release said.

"The Bush team fired back late last night in a signal that the planned positive phase of the campaign is not likely to last long.

" 'It's sad that less than 24 hours after the president called to congratulate Senator Kerry on an impressive victory, his campaign reverted to the negative attacks,' said Steve Schmidt of the National Republican Congressional Committee."

Those Network Know-It-Alls

On NBC, David Gregory says the White House message "won't stay positive for long."

In fact, the campaign is poring over Kerry's statements on the war on Iraq, Gregory says.

"The president himself is said to consider them 'meandering.' "

(Where does Gregory get all this insight into what Bush is thinking? Gosh, I don't know. Maybe yesterday's column holds some clues.)

On CBS, John Roberts seems to have a lot of insight, too.

"President Bush wants to wait until the summer before going full bore with his campaign, but the ferocity of the Democrats' dump-Bush movement has already forced him to come out early with ads," Roberts asserts.

"President Bush is preparing for a tough fight against a challenger he sees as 'articulate,' 'hard-charging' and vulnerable on what officials describe as a voting record that's 'all over the lot.' "

(And how does Roberts know all about Bush's innermost thoughts? Hmmm. Let me go look at yesterday's column again.)

Karen Hughes Watch

The Associated Press's Lisa Falkenberg reports from Dallas that Karen Hughes has been heard from. "President Bush's longtime adviser Karen Hughes on Wednesday took a pointed jab at Sen. John Kerry, saying the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee lacks Bush's 'message clarity.' . . .

"Hughes conceded the president's directness makes some people uncomfortable.

" 'You've all heard him. Good versus evil. With us or against us,' Hughes said. 'It's one of the things that I think makes Europe a little uncomfortable with him. It makes the Democrats a little uncomfortable, too. The Democrats' candidate for president has been having a little message clarity problem.'"

Hughes was also on CNN this morning, talking about the new ads.

"September 11th is not just some distant tragedy from the past. It really defined our future. I was at the White House when it happened and it changed forever our national public policy and it's important that the next president knows that and realizes we are still at war today because of that day. We are at war against terror," she said.

She also said: "These are optimistic ads because President Bush is an optimistic leader. You know, these ads are a reminder of the extraordinary three years that we've had. We've been through a lot. I tell friends that it's often hard to recognize history when you're living in the midst of it. We've been living in amazing times. The world is changing very dramatically. Our economy is changing. We've been through the tragedy of September 11th. We've been through a recession that President Bush inherited. We saw the corporate scandals and the stock market decline and the dot-com boom gone bust. So we've been through an extraordinary time together and these ads recognize that and also talk about the incredible resiliency of the American people and how despite all we've been through, we're coming back."

So Much for the Smalltalk

Still wondering why President Bush took the unusual step of calling John Kerry on Tuesday to congratulate him on his victories?

Maybe it was just to set up a punch line.

Here's Bush at yesterday's Bush-Cheney fundraiser in Los Angeles:

"Last night, I placed a call to Senator Kerry. I told him I was looking forward to a spirited campaign. I congratulated him on his victory. This should be an interesting debate on the issues. He spent two decades in Congress; he's built up quite a record.

"In fact, Senator Kerry has been in Washington long enough to take both sides on just about every issue."

Here's the text of his speech.

As Mike Allen writes in The Washington Post, "President Bush kicked off his general-election campaign on Wednesday by lighting into Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) by name for the first time and launching a two-day, $5 million fundraising spree in the nation's largest state."

Bush wrapped up his day with a "$25,000-a-person dinner that raised $3.5 million for Republican National Committee dinner at the home of A. Jerrold Perenchio, a billionaire sports promoter who was the beneficiary last year of a controversial merger decision by the administration."

Earlier in the day, Bush "addressed 1,200 ministers and other religious workers at a conference organized by the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.

"The faith-based initiative is one of the White House's primary outreaches to African Americans and Hispanics, and both groups were heavily represented in the audience at the Los Angeles convention center this afternoon. 'Let me put your mind at ease,' he said. 'We're talking about healing our nation. We're not talking politics.' "

Here's the text of that speech.

Is California in Reach?

Maura Reynolds writes in the Los Angeles Times that "Although the Democrats have easily carried California in recent presidential elections, [Gov. Arnold] Schwarzenegger's election in last year's recall vote has bolstered GOP hopes that Bush can be more competitive in the state this year. One way party leaders hope to make inroads is through religious organizations that share his conservatism on social issues and support for Israel."

Richard W. Stevenson of the New York Times writes that if that's the case, the campaign has its work cut out. "A Field Poll released last week showed that Mr. Bush's job approval rating in California had fallen to its lowest level since he became president, 43 percent. It showed him trailing Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, 53 percent to 41 percent, in a matchup."

But also in the New York Times, Glen Justice reminds us that Bush has about 10 times more campaign money than Kerry.

Poll Watch

And Hughes is dead on about how Bush plays overseas. Lucky for him he's not trying to get elected president of Europe. Or even Canada.

Will Lester of the Associated Press reports on an AP poll conducted by Ipsos, an international polling firm, in Britain, Canada, France, Italy, Germany, Mexico, Spain and the United States.

"People living in all the countries except the United States have an unfavorable view of the role that President Bush plays in world affairs. Only in the United States did a majority, 57 percent, have a positive view of the role played by the U.S. president.

"Just over half in Mexico and Italy had a negative view of Bush's role. In Britain, the closest U.S. ally in the war in Iraq, and in Canada, two-thirds have a negative view."

Here are more highlights.

Presidential Commission Watch

Alexander Bolton reports in the Hill: "Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is pushing the White House to give subpoena power to the independent commission President Bush created last month to investigate intelligence operations.

"The administration has turned him down, but the senator is refusing to take no for an answer."

Does Memogate Extend to the White House?

Lyle Denniston of the Boston Globe reports: "Four Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee are pressing the Bush administration to disclose any role government officials may have had in secret snooping by Republican aides on the computer files of Democratic committee members. . . .

"In a letter to Albert R. Gonzales, counsel to President Bush, the senators said 'questions arise as to whether anyone at the White House was involved or aware of these activities or made privy to information obtained through this course of conduct.' "

Here's the text of that letter.

"Gonzales, replying yesterday in a letter to Leahy, said he was aware of no 'credible allegation' of White House involvement in the incident, so no investigation has been made. He said he 'respectfully, but categorically, reject the statement in your letter' that administration actions contributed to the atmosphere around the files controversy."

Saber Rattling on North Korea

Glenn Kessler reports in The Washington Post: "After a Chinese request for greater flexibility during last week's six-nation talks on the North Korean nuclear crisis, President Bush instructed the U.S. delegation to make it clear that the administration's patience in diplomatically seeking North Korea's dismantling of its weapons program could run out, U.S. officials said.

"For months, Bush had said publicly he had no intention of attacking North Korea. Now, . . . [i]n diplomatic terms, the message was not subtle: The administration's goodwill could run out, and all options were still on the table."

Conspiracy Watch

New York Daily News columnist Lloyd Grove delves into the fact that "Both President Bush and his all-but-certain Democratic opponent, Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, were members of the elite and secretive club that meets in a windowless mausoleum on the Yale campus in New Haven."

The club: Skull and Bones.

"In what might be eerie coincidence or further disturbing evidence of a scheme for world domination, The Washington Post has assigned Bonesman Dana Milbank to chronicle the battle between Bush and Kerry.

" 'I have been assigned to monitor all secret hand signals during the debates,' Milbank told me -- half in jest but wholly in earnest?

" 'I have it on good information that if this one gets tied up in a recount, [late Supreme Court Justice and Bonesman] Potter Stewart will return from the grave to write the majority opinion.' "

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