George W. Bush said in an interview that his apparent lack of reaction to the initial news of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks was a conscious decision to project an aura of calm in a crisis.
In a rare interview about the attacks, the former president told the National Geographic Channel what was going through his mind when he was informed that a second passenger jet had hit New York’s World Trade Center.
Bush was visiting a Florida classroom, and the incident, which was caught on videotape, has often been used by critics to ridicule his apparently blank face.
“My first reaction was anger. Who the hell would do that to America? Then I immediately focused on the children, and the contrast between the attack and the innocence of children,” Bush says in an excerpt of the interview shown to television writers in Los Angeles on Thursday.
Bush said he saw reporters at the back of the room getting the news on their cellphones “and it was like watching a silent movie.” He said he realized a lot of people beyond that classroom would be watching for his reaction.
“So I made the decision not to jump up immediately and leave the classroom. I didn’t want to rattle the kids. I wanted to project a sense of calm,” he said of deciding to remain seated and silent. “I had been in enough crises to know that the first thing a leader has to do is to project calm,” he added.
The National Geographic Channel will broadcast the hour-long interview on Aug. 28 as part of a week of programs on the cable network that mark the 10th anniversary of the attacks.
The interview was recorded over two days in May, without any questions being submitted in advance, the channel said.