Bush Exploiting 9/11

Like many issues surrounding the Bush presidency the past six months -- no stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq, questions about his service record in the Texas Air National Guard and a skyrocketing deficit -- his new advertising campaign has caused a flurry of controversy, with criticism coming from a number of family members of those who died in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center.

As Team Bush's strategists were shaping up his re-election strategy, it was clear from the outset that the president's war on terrorism would take center stage. Despite early warnings that the president would use actual footage from Ground Zero to market his re-election, in early March when the first advertisements rolled out on television screen across the country, some family members of the victims of 9/11 were outraged by what they saw.

The ads, aimed at boosting the president's flagging poll ratings, began airing on national cable networks in 80 media markets in 18 states that Team Bush feels are "electoral battlegrounds." The New York Daily News reported that "Two ads, including a Spanish version, show fleeting images of the World Trade Center devastation. The 30-second spots include a poignant image of an American flag fluttering defiantly amid the WTC wreckage."

The use of the footage seemed insensitive to some family members, coming only a few weeks after the president finally gave in to pressure and agreed to extend by two months the time for the independent commission investigating 9/11 to complete its work. The fact that the president reluctantly agreed to testify before the commission, albeit in a closed door session with a few members that will be limited to one hour, also rankled some 9/11 families.

In addition, according to the Times of London, "the White House has also been accused by the commission of blocking its progress by being slow to produce Bush's intelligence briefings from before the September 11 attacks."

While the president hasn't appeared all that curious about getting to the bottom of how and why 9/11 occurred, he evidently has no compunctions about using 9/11 to enhance his re-election possibilities.

"It's a slap in the face of the murders of 3,000 people," Monica Gabrielle, whose husband died in the twin tower attacks, told the newspaper. "It is unconscionable."

"I would be less offended if he showed a picture of himself in front of the Statue of Liberty," said Tom Roger, whose daughter was a flight attendant on doomed American Airlines Flight 11. "But to show the horror of 9/11 in the background, that's just some advertising agency's attempt to grab people by the throat."

Firefighter Tommy Fee in Rescue Squad 270 in Queens was appalled. "It's as sick as people who stole things out of the place. The image of firefighters at Ground Zero should not be used for this stuff, for politics," Fee told the Daily News.

Mindy Kleinberg, another relative, said the image of remains being removed from the rubble was particularly offensive. "How heinous is that? That's somebody's loved one," she said.

According to the Daily News, the two thirty second "ads reinforce...Ground Zero imagery with frontal shots of two firefighters. Unlike the paid actors and actresses in most of the footage, they are not ringers, but their red headgear gives them away as non-New Yorkers. The Bush campaign declined to reveal where the burly smoke-eaters actually work."

As with the MoveOn.org anti-Bush advertisement rejected by CBS for airing on Super Bowl Sunday, the Bush ads received a great deal of attention from the cable news networks before they aired. However, unlike MoveOn's rejection, which generated a great deal of support for the organization, the Bush's ads were getting an immediate thumbs down from 9/11 families. The negative reactions of 9/11 family members put administration officials on the defensive and they were forced to take to the airwaves to defend the administration's strategy.

Bush campaign manager Ken Mehlman told reporters that using images of Ground Zero was fair game because "9/11 was the defining moment of these times. Because of that day, America is at war and still is."

"With all due respect, I just completely disagree [with the families], and I believe the vast majority of the American people will as well," Karen Hughes, a Bush campaign adviser said on CBS' "The Early Show."

"September 11th was not just a distant tragedy. It's a defining event for the future of our country....Obviously, all of us mourn and grieve for the victims of that terrible day, but September 11 fundamentally changed our public policy in many important ways, and I think it's vital that the next president recognize that."

Exploiting 9/11 is the centerpiece of the president's re-election campaign. That was made abundantly clear when the Republican Party decided upon New York City for the site of its national convention and scheduled it for the week before the tragedy's third anniversary.

In January 2003, President Bush was quoted by Associated Press saying that he had "no ambition whatsoever to use this [9/11] as a political issue." Just a few weeks ago, Newsday reported that Bush-Cheney spokesman Kevin Madden responded to charges that the White House has overtly politicized 9/11 by saying "I can't believe [they] said that. They are playing politics with national security."

MoveOn.org claims that Bush is doing precisely that. In an e-mail letter to its members MoveOn is suggesting that supporters write letters to the editor of their local newspapers expressing disappointment in the president's decision to exploit 9/11 for "partisan political gain."

The first series of Bush re-election advertisements doesn't mention Sen. John Kerry by name. However, according to ABC News, "The next round will not be so polite."

Information on September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows is available online.

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