- PARIS - President Bush yesterday
derisively challenged press claims of widespread anti-Americanism in Europe
and ridiculed an American TV correspondent for suggesting as much ó
in English and French ó to him and French President Jacques Chirac.
- "So you go to a protest and I drive through the
streets of Berlin, seeing hundreds of people lining the road, waving,"
Mr. Bush muttered to NBC News White House correspondent David Gregory during
a joint press conference with Mr. Chirac.
- "I don't view hostility here," Mr. Bush said
in the ornate Palais de l'Elysee. "I view the fact that we've got
a lot of friends here."
- He added: "And the fact that protesters show up
ó that's good. I mean, I'm in a democracy."
- Mr. Bush was responding to Mr. Gregory's question about
anti-American demonstrations in Germany, Russia and France during the president's
visits to these nations since Wednesday.
- "I wonder why it is you think there are such strong
sentiments in Europe against you and against this administration?"
the reporter said. "Why, particularly, there's a view that you and
your administration are trying to impose America's will on the rest of
the world, particularly when it comes to the Middle East and where the
war on terrorism goes next?" Turning to Mr. Chirac, he added in French:
"And, Mr. President, would you maybe comment on that?"
- "Very good," Mr. Bush said sardonically. "The
guy memorizes four words, and he plays like he's intercontinental."
- "I can go on," Mr. Gregory offered. "I'm
impressed - que bueno," said Mr. Bush, using the Spanish phrase for
"how wonderful." He deadpanned: "Now I'm literate in two
- Roars of laughter filled both the press conference room
and a press filing center elsewhere in the city, where many members of
the White House press corps were watching the exchange on live television.
- Turning serious, the president spoke of the strong bond
between most Europeans and Americans.
- "Look, the only thing I know to do is speak my mind,
to talk about my values, to talk about our mutual love for freedom and
the willingness to defend freedom," he said. "And, David, I think
a lot of people on the continent of Europe appreciate that.
- "There's a heck of a lot more that unites us than
divides us. We share the same values; we trade $2 trillion a year,"
he added. "I feel very comfortable coming to Europe; I feel very comfortable
coming to France. I've got a lot of friends here."
- "Sir, if I could just follow," the reporter
- "Thank you," Mr. Bush shot back dismissively.
- Mr. Chirac then downplayed the significance of the demonstrators,
who numbered 20,000 in Berlin, 4,500 in Paris and 300 in Moscow. There
were no visible protests in St. Petersburg.
- "These demonstrations are really marginal demonstrations,"
the French leader said. "You shouldn't give too much credit to these
demonstrations. They do not reflect a so-called natural aversion of such-and-such
a people in Europe to the president of the United States or to the U.S.
people as a whole."
- Mr. Chirac said the bond between America and Europe is
"an increasingly important relationship, and it would be the sign
of shortsightedness to refuse to acknowledge that."
- After Mr. Chirac completed his answer, he concluded the
press conference. As Mr. Bush stepped away from the podium, he called to
Mr. Gregory: "As soon as you get in front of a camera, you start showing
- It was an animated conclusion to a press conference that
began amid signs the president was tired from his travels. He said he was
"jet-lagged" and asked several reporters to restate some of the
multiple questions they posed.
- But Mr. Bush seemed to come alive over claims of anti-Americanism.
- His dressing down of a high-profile correspondent in
public was just the latest indication that the White House is unhappy with
press coverage emphasizing splits between Europe and America.
- For example, a senior administration official aboard
Air Force One revealed that the president's speech to the German parliament
Thursday was aimed in part at countering media "buzz."
- "We were obviously aware that we were making a speech
like this in a context of an enormous amount of speculative and occasionally
insinuating op-eds from European and American chattering classes about
the demise of ó or the deterioration of ó the trans-Atlantic
alliance," the official said.
- "Now, I personally consider that to be nothing but
a cottage industry," the official continued as the plane flew from
Berlin to Moscow.
- "When you have nothing else to write, you write
about trans-Atlantic difficulties, because there's always something to
say. But we knew there was a buzz out there, and we needed a positive,
- In his speech to German lawmakers, the president drew
applause when he said: "Those who exaggerate our differences play
a shallow game and hold a simplistic view of our relationship."
- "Where does that line come from?" a reporter
asked the senior administration official hours later. "Who is it directed
to? I mean, us?"
- "No, certainly not," the official backpedaled.
"Certainly not you. Certainly not present company. No, not the media."
- "I won't be specific, but I talked about a cottage
industry of people who sort of write ó on both sides of the Atlantic
ó write op-eds."
- Two days later, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell acknowledged
that constant carping by the press is never far from the minds of Mr. Bush
or Russian President Vladimir Putin. In fact, one of the reasons the leaders
have such a strong personal rapport is that they can commiserate about
- "They have a public opinion, just as we have a public
opinion," Mr. Powell told reporters in St. Petersburg. "They
have a news media and a Duma that's on them, just as we have a news media
that is never on us, but a Congress that occasionally is."
- The reporters chuckled at the deft diplomatic recovery.
- Copyright © 2002 News World Communications, Inc.
All rights reserved.