Bush never said he wanted Bin Laden "Dead or Alive"
September 18, 2001 3:27 PM   Subscribe

Bush never said he wanted Bin Laden "Dead or Alive" All Dubya did was recollect about how in "the old west" there were wanted signs that said that - pretending that he lived in such a day. And when a reporter followed up with the point-blank question, "So are you saying that you want Bin Laden 'Dead or Alive,'" Bush pulled off one of those ridiculous sneers and re-iterated that in the Old Days there were such wanted posters. So my question is, how can so many newspapers and national tv networks make the leap with headlines that scream "Bush Wants Bin Laden Dead or Alive"? Isn't that irresponsible - and inaccurate reporting?
posted by tsarfan (27 comments total)
When you're the leader of the free world, you need to keep your mouth shut more often than not... and you should never -- if you'll pardon the pun -- shoot from the hips.

If it's a question of irresponsible, my vote is for Bush: he should know better than to prattle on when there're reporters around.
posted by silusGROK at 3:36 PM on September 18, 2001

On a side note... I saw a "Bin Ladin: Dead or Alive" poster in the rear window of an old pick-up truck _before_ Bush's comment. I wonder whether he was commenting on these posters?
posted by silusGROK at 3:38 PM on September 18, 2001

Asked if he wanted to see death for bin Laden, considered by Washington the prime suspect in the Sept. 11 hijacks, Bush said: "I want justice. And there's an old poster out West that says, 'Wanted: Dead or Alive.'''

I'm trying to figure out where in that statement Bush would not be talking about bin Laden when he equates "justice" with DOA. So, no, that's no irresponsible reporting. The dead or alive statement is straight from the Dubya's mouth.
posted by eyeballkid at 3:39 PM on September 18, 2001

Maybe Cheney and the gang oughta surgicaly place a V-Chip (South Park - the Movie) inside dubya's brain. hehe
posted by adnanbwp at 3:42 PM on September 18, 2001

I think this is really inaccurate reporting. What I think Bush wanted to say is "Terrorists wanted dead or alive".

Hold your triggers, I'm not saying Osama Bin Laden is not a dangerous person, maybe he's just a part of a much more complex mechanism that we call terrorism ; he's probably very guilty, but he needs to processed and eventually condemned to death penalty or to spend the rest of his life in a prison.

That's not a black hat / white hat cowboy Hollywood situation, in which the evildoer is clearly visible. Terrorist are the people who think that bombing and killing innocent people it's ok because they fail miserably at finding any other solution to their problems.

Along with terrorists we have fanatics, the ones that don't take some time to reason before they do something because they believe they're always completely right.

In the same league of evildoers I see racists.

What I'd really love to see dead is ignorance.
posted by elpapacito at 3:53 PM on September 18, 2001

tsarfan: the article you link to quotes Bush as saying “dead or alive,” which kind of weakens your argument. Perhaps a link to a transcript of the interview or an article with an excerpt showing the question and answer would have been better.

elpapcito: Your interpretation is plausible, but I think we need to know the exact wording of the question to say for sure. We know the answer, but we need to know the question. I saw Bush saying his answer, and my interpretation is the same as eyeballkid’s—that he meant bin Laden specifically—but I don’t remember the exact wording of the question. That’s why we need a transcript.

I do think the “dead or alive” talk is inappropriately folksy and unsuited to the gravity of the situation.
posted by kirkaracha at 4:15 PM on September 18, 2001

From the New York Post:

Print Out the Bin Laden Wanted Poster

Not that I liked the New York Post before, but this gives me permission to hate them more.
posted by Laurable at 4:21 PM on September 18, 2001

Well, I think it was irresponsible of Bush to make that statement, yes, but the media has been irresponsible in quoting it out of what little context the "Dead or alive" line had originally been in. Here's the exact exchange:

Q: Do you want bin Laden dead?

BUSH: I want justice. There's an old poster out west, as I recall, that said, "Wanted: Dead or Alive."

And here's how a typical article quoted it:

Administration officials gave no sign a military response was imminent, although Bush resorted to frontier-style language when he said he wanted Osama bin Laden, a chief suspect, "dead or alive."

So Bush was trying to emphasize how emphatically the US wanted to capture bin Laden but did so using a regrettable analogy. But the way it's been reported has been equally bad, in my opinion.

And despite this exchange on Sunday:

MR. RUSSERT: Even if we take out Osama bin Laden, that will not stop terrorism.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: No. No. He's the target at the moment. But I don't want to convey the impression that somehow, you know, if we had his head on a platter today, that that would solve the problem. It won't ...
MR. RUSSERT: You wouldn't mind having his head on a platter.
VICE PRES. CHENEY: I would take it today.

You don't see CHENEY DEMANDS BIN LADEN'S 'HEAD ON A PLATTER' headlines. Thank goodness.
posted by Shadowkeeper at 4:25 PM on September 18, 2001

If he brought it up and then refused to clarify/deny it when directly asked, I think it's more than fair to proceed as though his meaning were clear.
posted by rushmc at 4:26 PM on September 18, 2001

Laurable, then why link to it? I'm sorry to say that you probably just propagated this poster further.
posted by msacheson at 4:27 PM on September 18, 2001

Shadowkeeper: If that's the question that was asked, then Bush's answer clearly means he wants bin Laden dead or alive, and it's not irresponsible to quote him as saying so.

And can I get a side of mushrooms with that head on a platter?
posted by kirkaracha at 4:29 PM on September 18, 2001

If President Bush doesn't want people to think he seeks Osama Bin Laden "dead or alive," he shouldn't use that term. I generally agree with his handling of the situation to date, but that was reckless of him to say, and his attempt to back out of it -- "And there's an old poster out West that says, 'Wanted: Dead or Alive.''' -- makes no sense at all.
posted by rcade at 4:32 PM on September 18, 2001

Not that I want to be in the position of defending Bush's intelligence, but he probably said exactly what he wanted to say: he can't directly call for bin Laden's death because the U.S. has a policy against assassinations, so he merely strongly implies that he would not be at all unhappy with that outcome.
posted by mcguirk at 4:43 PM on September 18, 2001

"And there's an old poster out West that says, 'Wanted: Dead or Alive.'" -- makes no sense at all.

Well, that's sort of my point: it makes no sense. It was an all-too-typical Bush attempt to dodge a tough question with a non sequitur. They ask him if he wants bin Laden dead, he turns around and says he wants justice. But, as seems to happen with all of Bush's usages of this gambit, he then rambles on in a train-of-though fashion: justice -> old west -> wanted posters -> 'dead or alive' . And that's taken as an answer to the original question. But by cutting out all the rambling and just going with "Dead or Alive", the media is making it sound like it was a Presidential Edict or something instead of just another one of his verbal boondoggels.
posted by Shadowkeeper at 4:54 PM on September 18, 2001

Hmm, controversial comment, I prefer this one:

"I’m not going to fire a $2 million missile at a $10 empty tent and hit a camel in the butt."

Right on! via MSNBC
posted by Mossy at 4:55 PM on September 18, 2001

eh, it's probably all just a conspiracy to promote Bon Jovi. I've had that bleeping song in my head all afternoon.
posted by mattpfeff at 5:26 PM on September 18, 2001

personally, i wouldn't care if Bush had said clearly that he wanted this man "dead or alive," i think he's a idiot.

but the press, i had assumed, actually paid attention in college. and to make the leap from non-specific fratboy machismo to six word headlines, i feel is completely irresponsible journalism - especially at this incredibly emotional time.

i can understand missing particular details in a story, but dont blow the headline.
posted by tsarfan at 6:26 PM on September 18, 2001

The rhetorical term is "apposition". And yes, to conflate it is lazy journalism, but that's the effect it's designed to produce. Bush and Quintilian, who'd-a thunk it?
posted by holgate at 7:11 PM on September 18, 2001

i think he's a idiot.

A most unfortunately ironic sentence.
posted by glenwood at 8:01 PM on September 18, 2001

irony is dead, remember?
posted by rebeccablood at 8:23 PM on September 18, 2001

Bush and Quintilian, who'd-a thunk it?

Certainly not I, though apposition was exactly what it was after. Obviously, actually seeing the video each time he makes a statement like this is helpful because he is a bad public speaker, so you have to watch him, note that aforementioned sneer, watch his body english, as he botches the delivery of what he means to say. He wanted to be sly, indicate what he/the administration wants to happen, while covering his/their/our ass(es) in case something does happen to bin Laden.

But, damn, that sneer is annoying. I live in the south so I get to see it on the faces of wasp executive-types all the time. Not that it's a particularly southern thing. And not that I'm bitter...
posted by sherman at 9:06 PM on September 18, 2001

I don't think there's anything irresponsible at all about the way the media reported it. He was asked specifically about bin Laden, and he used the phrase "Wanted: Dead or Alive" in his answer, referring to bin Laden. I don't think that there can be any doubt that the statement means that to Bush, he wants to bring bin Laden to justice whether bin Laden ends up dead or captured.

I think it would be far more irresponsible of the media to assume "that's not what he really meant." It takes a whole lot more semantic legerdemain to get to "it was just a verbal boondoggle" from that than it does to get to the headlines that actually came out of the statement.
posted by Chanther at 9:10 PM on September 18, 2001

Chanther, I agree. HOW DARE BUSH try and spin his way out of this. He should either stand by his comment or state that talking about "dead or alive" in relation to bin Laden was a mistake.

I actually saw Bush on TV making that comment, so I'm as sure as I can be that the media have reported his remarks correctly. As I recall, he said something like: "It's just like in the Old West, they used to have posters saying 'Wanted: Dead or Alive', and that's what I say to bin Laden."
posted by skylar at 5:01 AM on September 19, 2001

he can't directly call for bin Laden's death because the U.S. has a policy against assassinations, so he merely strongly implies that he would not be at all unhappy with that outcome.

Bill Clinton was interviewed on NBC News last night, and he said that the U.S. has a policy against assassinating heads of state. It would not apply to Osama bin Laden or any other terrorists who aren't leading a country.
posted by rcade at 6:54 AM on September 19, 2001

I think Bush was pretty clear on what he wants. As his spokesman put it during one his briefings:

Q Does he[Bush] want him[bin Laden] tried, or does he want him --

MR. FLEISCHER: As the President said, dead or alive.

Q Right, but this is not a hypothetical. I mean, he's under indictment in New York, currently. If he were to be produced, there's a real question, if you talk to former prosecutors, current prosecutors about the ability of the United States to even try such a person, to secure a courthouse, to be able to put somebody like that on trial --

MR. FLEISCHER: David, I hope the United States has to deal with this. I hope the United States has to face the fact that Osama bin Laden is found, either dead or alive, and then it's a question we will actively have to deal with. Until that time, I'm not going to speculate about any trials in the United States. I just refer you to the words of the President and the words of the Vice President on this very specific matter.

White House transcripts. What a country!
posted by haqspan at 8:16 AM on September 19, 2001

TV "reporters" are chosen based on their looks and ability to read the teleprompter, newspaper "reporters" are chosen based on their writing ability. Little else comes into play at all but the most respected media outlets. In other words, don't expect much from these people.
posted by Witold at 9:33 AM on September 19, 2001

The Prez could have helped himself greatly by providing helpful context instead of leaving it to his surrogates.

But as he's proven so often, verbal he ain't.

My question is, how much of the world, hanging on his every word, is willing to forgive his infelicities of speech?

To say, in essence, "Oh, that's just Dubya, he couldn't talk his way out of a wet paper bag. We know what he means, the U.S. already had bin Laden on its Top 10 Wanted list because of the embassy bombings and the USS Cole."

And how much of the world is saying: How nice that the President has declared bin Laden guilty. Now let's wait and see whether the 4,000-agent FBI investigation disagrees.
posted by sacre_bleu at 9:33 AM on September 19, 2001

« Older An invasion now could be more costly than Vietnam   |   Gephardt wants Congress to consider a national ID... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments