The Washington Post

Summer TV Press Tour 2011: Bush, student saw classroom differently on 9/11

Then President George W. Bush listens as White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card informs him of a second plane hitting the World Trade Center. (Win McNamee/REUTERS)

“The president he just sat there, and his face -- he just went dead,” says Jaimie, who was among the second graders in the classroom where President Bush learned of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

Jamie’s one of the kids featured in Nickelodeon’s Linda Ellerbee news special, “What Happened?: The story of September 11, 2001,” which debuts Sept. 1.

But, that president, George W. Bush, gets a few days jump on Jamie to defend his apparent facial blankness, on National Geographic Channel’s “George W. Bush: The 9/11 Interview,” premiering Aug. 28. It was, he says in that special, a conscious decision to project calmness.

The two shows are among a slew of programs across the TV landscape that will commemorate the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Towers and Pentagon. Ellerbee and Peter Schnall, producer of the Bush interview, came to Summer TV Press Tour 2011 to talk about their specials.

Bush’s reaction in the classroom on that day, when news of a second plane hitting the World Trade Center was whispered in his ear, was caught on videotape has been sometimes used to ridicule him. Jamie’s reaction to Bush’s expression is just one of the comments made by kids on the Nick special, including Sarah, whose sister was a passenger on hijacked United Airlines Flight 93, and another girl who says she heard 9/11 never happened.

“My first reaction was anger, -- who the hell would do that to America?” Bush said in the Nat Geo special, portions of which were shown to TV critics, reporters and bloggers at Press Tour.

“Then I immediately focused on the children, and the contrast between the attack and the innocence of children,” Bush continued. He described seeing reporters at the back of the room getting the news on their cell phones, which was “like watching a silent movie,” and knew they would be looking 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.”

“I had been in enough crises to know that the first thing a leader has to do is to project calm.”

Schnall told TV critics, reporters and bloggers that they did not submit questions to Bush in advance and he came with only an assistant who fact-checked details of some of his comments.


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