Are Bush Re-Election Ads Insensitive?

This is a partial transcript of The Big Story With John Gibson, March 4, 2004, that has been edited for clarity.


PRESIDENT GEORGE BUSH: I'm George W. Bush, and I approve this message.


JOHN GIBSON, HOST: That is an ad from President Bush. And president Bush's people say it's completely appropriate to evoke September 11 in his campaign ads (search). After all, the war on terror is a central part of his presidency, but some say the commercials are cynical and insulting to the memory of the victims. We'll hear from a supporter and a detractor of the ads both of whom lost loved ones on 9/11.

First, Patty Casazza. Her husband died in the attacks, and she thinks the ad is wrong. Patty, the big question, what makes the Bush campaign ad to you so inappropriate?

PATTY CASAZZA, 9/11 WIDOW: Well, I feel that 9/11 was the president's biggest failure. A failure to prevent attacks which the president and his intelligence agencies had clear warnings about the method and who would be perpetrating the crime towards the end of the summer and early part of the fall.

GIBSON: Well, by that reasoning, so did the previous administration. But, nonetheless, it did happen on the president's watch, for better or worse. Maybe people will blame him that he couldn't prevent it, but the response to it and what -- the destruction of Al Qaeda, the destruction of the Taliban, the invasion of Saddam Hussein. Do you think he doesn't have a right to remind people why we did all that?

CASAZZA: Well, it would be one thing to remind people of what he's done in the war on Al Qaeda and such. If you looked at the attacks in New York, he didn't thwart the investigation into those very same attacks. I am one of the family members ...

GIBSON: He didn't support the investigation?

CASAZZA: No, he did not. I am one of the family members who had to fight for a year for the investigation to be even instituted. And then since the inception of the investigation, President Bush and his administration have done just about everything in their power to thwart the investigation from going forward.

GIBSON: Well, I mean, a lot of people may agree with you. A lot of people may argue with you on that point, but if you look at the last couple of administrations who have been dealing with Al Qaeda, you would have to conclude that President Bush has done more about Al Qaeda than the previous one. There have been two embassy attacks, an attack on the Cole. You could argue that the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 was an Iraqi attack. It was an Iraqi agent who did it. Why would you place so much blame on President Bush?

CASAZZA: I'm sorry. He was the man in charge on 9/11, and I do not excuse President Clinton either from his responsibilities prior to 9/11. But, as I understand it, Sandy Berger, the national security adviser, under Clinton, handed over information to the Bush administration, Condoleezza Rice, and indicated to her over several meetings that Al Qaeda would be the sole focus of their administration going forward. He wanted to impress upon this administration how much Al Qaeda was to be feared. That this terror was coming towards the United States and would be in the United States if we didn't do something about them.

GIBSON: All right. Patty Casazza, thank you very much. I appreciate it.

Meantime, Patricia Riley is here with me. She lost her sister in the September 11th attack. She has no problem with the Bush campaign ad. Patricia, the big question, why do you support the president's ad campaign?

PATRICIA REILLY, MEMBER, 9/11 COALITION: I support it because I've been very disturbed during the primaries when I'm hearing that the American people are not focusing on the war on terror and the protection and national security of our country. And I think that that is the issue that faces us most as we go to the polls in November.

GIBSON: Your view is that these ads are a reminder?

REILLY: Well, I feel that it's appropriate that the president point to 9/11 and the leadership that he showed at that time because, I agreed and I supported his position and the acts that he took after the attacks. So I think that it's appropriate for him to remind us of that leadership.

GIBSON: Patricia, Patty Casazza is sitting here, believes the president is essentially responsible for the attacks because his administration didn't do anything to stop them and have stood in the way of the investigation. Do you agree?

REILLY: Well, no, I don't agree. I agree that there are a lot of people who are responsible for the attacks, and the president was in charge on the day of the attacks, but he had only been in office for eight months. And I believe that a lot of the failures that you mentioned, the attack on the Cole, the 1993 attack of the World Trade Center was treated more like a criminal offense than an act of war against the United States. When President Bush after we were attacked on 9/11 said this is an act of war and he treated it in that way, he had my full support. I wish ...

GIBSON: Now, when you see these ads, and I realize you may have only seen them once or twice, does it make you feel like that's a good thing to remind the American people of what happened and remind them, for better or worse, whether it's your view or Patty's, that the president was in charge on that day?

REILLY: I think it's the most important problem facing America today, so I think that it is appropriate that the American people be reminded of September 11th. We are going to be selecting a leader who is going to be taking us in the future in this very, very critical time in our existence. And I think that it's appropriate for the campaign -- both campaigns to tell us what they plan on doing to protecting us as a country. I look for the president's leadership on border control as well. I wish that he would show the leadership that he has shown after the attacks of September 11th in protecting our borders as well as in the fight that we're now having at Ground Zero to preserve the historic relics of the first battle in the war on terror.

GIBSON: Patricia Reilly lost a sister in the September 11th attacks, and, of course, thank Patty Casazza for being with us here too.

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