|Bush reveals first thought: There's one terrible pilot
Matthew Engel in Washington
Wednesday December 5, 2001
Original Link: http://www.guardian.co.uk/bush/story/0,7369,612355,00.html
President George Bush added a new and bizarre twist last night to the folklore surrounding September 11 when he revealed his initial reaction to the first plane hitting the World Trade Centre. In answer to a question from an eight-year-old in Florida, he said his first thought was: "There's one terrible pilot."
Mr Bush was back in the state where he spent that fateful morning, before being flown off on a zig-zag cross-country journey which finally took him back to Washington. This is not considered his finest hour, and the latest comment seems to be further evidence about the sluggishness of his immediate response.
Mr Bush got the news outside a school classroom before going in to talk to the kids about a reading programme. He went in as planned but then Andrew Card, his chief of staff, came in and whispered the news of the second plane hitting the twin towers.
He said yesterday: "I saw an airplane hit the tower - the TV was obviously on - and I used to fly myself, and I said, 'There's one terrible pilot.' And I said, 'It must have been a horrible accident.'"
Of the second strike, Mr Bush told the youngster: "I wasn't sure what to think at first. You know, I grew up in a period of time where the idea of America being under attack never entered my mind - just like your daddy and mother's mind probably. And I started thinking hard in that very brief period of time about what it meant to be under attack. I knew that when I got all the facts, there would be hell to pay for attacking America."
The story that he was watching TV contradicts reports from correspondents at the time that he got the news in a phone call from his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice. It also adds further puzzles: why he was being made to wait; why he did not at least delay his entry into the classroom; and why is it obvious that an elementary school would have a TV set in the corridor?
Mr Bush has done much in the past three months to erase his reputation for being gaffe-prone, a hereditary disorder among President Bushes. However, if this is a gaffe, his popularity is now such it may hardly matter; a crowd of 7,000 in Orlando cheered him rapturously.