That Banner, That Ship. Remember?

"President Bush is well aware that the banner should have been much more specific," his spokesman now says. (By J. Scott Applewhite -- Associated Press)
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By Al Kamen
Friday, May 2, 2008

Antiwar folks and media critics were preparing all week for the annual Bush-bashing yesterday on the fifth anniversary of the president's appearance on the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln with that "Mission Accomplished" banner behind him.

White House press secretary Dana Perino was fully prepared as well, as she noted at Wednesday's briefing, for the rabid media "to play this up again, as they do every single year." (And, sure enough, they did yesterday, although Perino didn't show up.)

Equally prepared was Helen Thomas, still in the White House press corps after 47 years, though she was a bit stunned when Perino actually called on her to ask a question.

"Me?" Thomas asked before launching her fair and balanced inquiry. "How does the president intend to commemorate 'Mission Accomplished' after five years of death and destruction?"

"That's the anniversary of when that banner flew on that ship," Perino began. Then she gave the line the White House apparently has settled on after some false starts, including a lame effort to deny any involvement with the sign, which had been strategically placed for a perfect camera angle behind President Bush as he spoke.

"President Bush is well aware that the banner should have been much more specific," Perino continued, "and said mission accomplished for these sailors who are on this ship on their mission."

The problem, sources tell us, is that White House planners couldn't figure out how to get all that on the sign in letters large enough for people to read on television. The sign would have been so big that either the wind would have shredded it or the ship would have drifted erratically while Bush's pilot tried to land on the deck.

Another option would have been to simply put an asterisk after "mission," and then down below, in illegible print, say "just for these sailors on this particular ship on this one mission." Some thought that too tacky and warned it might prompt sailors returning on other ships to demand that Bush fly out to greet them.

So that's why the banner came out the way it did.

Perino didn't mention it, but we thought it only appropriate to note for the record that, in his speech to announce "the end of major combat operations in Iraq," Bush himself never used the phrase "mission accomplished."

That, Loop Fans may remember, was because, as reported in our colleague Bob Woodward's book "State of Denial," then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld took "mission accomplished" out of a draft of the speech. "And I fixed it and sent it back," Rumsfeld told Woodward. "They fixed the speech, but not the sign."

Maybe Bush should have said "end of major combat operations" for "these particular sailors who are on this ship on their mission"?

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