After President Bush entered the classroom in Sarasota, Florida, his chief of staff, Andrew Card, whispered in his ear, reportedly saying: “A second plane hit the second Tower. America is under attack.” 
The Official Account
After getting this message from Card, President Bush, while remaining polite and doing nothing to frighten the children, left the room quickly.
- The President remained seated “only a matter of seconds,” Card told the San Francisco Chronicle, and then “excused himself very politely to the teacher and to the students and he left.” 
- The President “didn’t want to alarm the children,” Karl Rove told NBC. Knowing that “the drill was coming to a close … he waited for a few moments … not very long at all … and he came into the staff room.” 
- Sandra Kay Daniels, the teacher of the second grade class that Bush visited, told the Los Angeles Times: “I knew something was up when President Bush didn’t pick up the book and participate in the lesson … . He said, ‘Mrs. Daniels, I have to leave now. I am going to leave Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan here to do the speech for me.’ Looking at his face, you knew something was wrong. … He shook my hand and left.” 
The Best Evidence
Whereas all the stories quoted above were published in 2002 on or near the first anniversary of 9/11, there had been stories earlier that year that gave a very different account.
- In a Tampa Tribune article published September 1, 2002, reporter Jennifer Barrs said that after Card whispered in the President’s ear, Bush remained silent for about 30 seconds and then picked up his book and read with the children “for eight or nine minutes.” 
- The Tampa Tribune article, which came out 10 days before the article by Sandra Kay Daniels quoted above, had indicated that Daniels herself had read with the students “for eight or nine minutes.” It added that Daniels, having observed that Bush was so “lost in thought” that he “forgot about the book in his lap,” had been confronted with a difficult problem: “I couldn’t gently kick him. … I couldn’t say, ‘OK, Mr. President. Pick up your book, sir. The whole world is watching.’ ” 
- Various reports indicated that after the reading lesson was over, Bush continued to talk.  Bush was “openly stretching out the moment” and even “lingered until the press was gone,” wrote Bill Sammon (the White House correspondent for the Washington Times), who referred to Bush as “the dawdler in chief.” 
The fact that Bush had not left the room quickly was confirmed by a videotape of the classroom visit, which had been shot by the local cable-TV director and which became available on the Internet in June 2003. 
- The Wall Street Journal reported in March 2004 that this videotape showed that Bush “followed along for five minutes as children read aloud a story about a pet goat.” 
- This tape became more widely known when Michael Moore’s film “Fahrenheit 9/11,” which included it, appeared in June 2004.
- When the White House was contacted by the Wall Street Journal for its March 2004 article, spokesperson Dan Bartlett admitted that the President had remained in the classroom for at least seven minutes, explaining that Bush had not left immediately because his “instinct was not to frighten the children by rushing out of the room.” 
- However, even if this explanation were accepted, the real question, which the WSJ did not ask, was why, on the first anniversary of 9/11, the Bush White House started telling a lie about how long Bush had remained in the classroom.
Was this because the White House, having successfully portrayed Bush as a strong leader in response to the 9/11 attacks, wanted to conceal the fact that he had continued listening to children reading a story rather than taking immediate action as president and commander-in-chief? Was it because the Secret Service knew (as suggested in the Point about the President’s not being hustled away) that the country was not really “under attack” by foreign terrorists?
Whatever the motive, the Bush White House used the national media on the first anniversary of 9/11 to circulate a false story about the President.
References for Military Commands Point 2
- The 9/11 Commission Report (2004), 38 (pdf: 55).
- Andrew Card, “What If You Had to Tell the President?” San Francisco Chronicle, 11 September 2002. Likewise, Card had told NBC’s Brian Williams: “I pulled away from the president, and not that many seconds later, the president excused himself from the classroom, and we gathered in the holding room and talked about the situation,” NBC News, 9 September 2002. Card similarly told ABC News: “The president waited for a moment for the students to finish, then said, ‘Thank you all so very much for showing me your reading skills,’ and headed for the empty classroom next door,” in “Sept. 11’s Moments of Crisis: Part 1: Terror Hits the Towers,” ABC News, 14 September 2002.
- “9/11 Interview with Campbell Brown” (transcript), NBC News, 11 September 2002.
- Sandra Kay Daniels, “9/11: A Year After/Who We Are Now” (backup), Los Angeles Times, 11 September 2002.
- Jennifer Barrs, “From a Whisper to a Tear,” Tampa Tribune, 1 September 2002. On the importance of this story, plus the fact that it has become virtually unavailable on the Internet, see Elizabeth Woodworth, “President Bush at the Florida School: New Conflicting Testimonies,” 7 July 2007, 911Blogger.com.
- Barrs, “From a Whisper to a Tear.”
- Ibid.; Bill Adair and Stephen Hegarty, “The Drama in Sarasota,” St. Petersburg Times, September 8, 2002.
- Bill Sammon, “Fighting Back: The War on Terrorism: From Inside the Bush White House” (Washington: Regnery, 2002), 89-90.
- “5-Minute Video of George W. Bush on the Morning of 9/11,” (YouTube: Uncle Steve).
- Scot J. Paltrow, “Government Accounts of 9/11 Reveal Gaps, Inconsistencies,” Wall Street Journal, 22 March 2004.