Aug
24
2006

CBS, NBC Clean Up Bush's 'Happy' Talk

During his August 21 press conference, George W. Bush responded to a question about the Iraq War by saying that "sometimes I'm happy" about the conflict. But many readers and TV viewers never heard the remark, since journalists edited the statement to save Bush any possible embarrassment.

Bush's unedited comment was as follows:

Q: But are you frustrated, sir?

BUSH: Frustrated? Sometimes I'm frustrated. Rarely surprised. Sometimes I'm happy. This is -- but war is not a time of joy. These aren't joyous times. These are challenging times, and they're difficult times, and they're straining the psyche of our country. I understand that.

Viewers of CBS Evening News (8/21/06) saw a carefully edited version of that response—one better suited to presenting Bush as serious and concerned with the effects of the war. Reporter Bill Plante previewed the answer by saying that Bush "conceded that daily reports of death and destruction take a toll, both on the nation and on him." The edited quote that followed:

Frustrated? Sometimes I'm frustrated, rarely surprised. These aren't joyous times. These are challenging times, and they're difficult times. And they're straining the psyche of our country. I understand that.

CBS was not alone in massaging Bush's response—many outlets excised Bush's "happy" remark, or found other ways to clean up Bush's performance. NBC Nightly News (8/21/06) worked around Bush's awkward answer; reporter Kelly O'Donnell noted that Bush "offered an unusual glimpse into his thinking," but then proceeded to edit the comments to Bush's advantage:

BUSH: Frustrated? Sometimes I'm frustrated. Rarely surprised.

O'DONNELL: ...and acknowledged Iraq's weight on the nation.

BUSH: They're difficult times, and they're straining the psyche of our country. I understand that.

So instead of airing Bush's "happy" remark, NBC's reporter stressed the fact that Bush was serious about Iraq's "weight on the nation."

Print outlets also generally left out Bush's remark and praised his performance. The New York Times (8/22/06) interpreted Bush's "occasionally rocking back and forth" as a sign that he was "generally upbeat," while the Los Angeles Times was more effusive: "Bush's appearance suggested he was settling into a pattern of regular, wide-ranging interactions with reporters in which he can appear confident and presidential" (8/22/06).

Of course, Bush can only appear that way if the press decides to present his comments in the most flattering light. With the Iraq War widely unpopular with the public, many viewers may have found Bush saying that it sometimes made him "happy" jarring and distasteful. CBS and NBC apparently thought it was more appropriate to shield viewers from Bush's words—and, perhaps more importantly, shield the White House from that public response.

ACTION: Contact CBS and NBC and ask them why they decided that Bush's comments about the Iraq War making him "happy" should be excised from their reporting.

CONTACT:

CBS Evening News

evening@cbsnews.com

CBS Public Eye

publiceye@cbs.com

NBC Nightly News

nightly@nbc.com

NOTE: You can watch the CBS broadcast here:

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/02/24/iraq/main541815.shtml

Click on the segment labeled "Bush Holds Firm On Iraq"