Nets Marvel at Bush's 'Unusual Burst of Candor,' 'Startling' and 'Remarkable' Regret

The Friday morning and evening broadcast networks shows pounced on how when asked, at the joint Thursday night Bush/Blair press conference, whether he had any regrets about the conduct of the war in Iraq, President Bush responded: “Saying, ‘bring it on.' Kind of tough talk you know that sent the wrong signal to people” and “some lessons about expressing myself maybe in a little more sophisticated manner. You know, ‘wanted dead or alive.'”

CBS Evening News anchor Bob Schieffer suggested Bush isn’t always so honest as he described it as “an unusual burst of candor from President Bush.” Schieffer soon called it an “extraordinary statement” and reporter Jim Axelrod agreed it was “startling.” NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams found Bush’s answer so important that he played a stand-alone clip of the “most interesting moment” and brought aboard Tim Russert who saw a “remarkable, remarkable admission." On her last night as anchor of World News Tonight, ABC’s Elizabeth Vargas asserted that “some of the bold talk we once heard from them is gone. Now they are voicing regrets and admitting mistakes.” Jake Tapper framed a story around how Bush and Blair “came together to project confidence in the new Iraqi government, but perhaps what came across strongest was regret." (Transcripts, and a brief look at the mornings shows, such as how NBC’s Today opened with “Admitting Mistakes” on screen, follow.)

With “Admitting Mistakes” on screen over video of Bush and Blair at their 7:30pm EDT joint Thursday press conference, Katie Couric opened Friday’s Today show by trumpeting:
"Good morning. Admitting mistakes. President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair open up about missteps made in Iraq in a very candid prime time news conference."
In her full story, reporter Norah O'Donnell maintained that the Thursday press conference showed Bush’s previous “bravado replaced by a rare public admission of error when asked what missteps he's made.” O'Donnell recalled: "In recent months the President acknowledged setbacks, but this was a high-profile setting for introspection. Much different from during election year 2004 when he would not offer the same candor."

Over on ABC’s Good Morning America, news reader Kate Snow introduced a story:
"President Bush is hosting Prime Minister Tony Blair for a second day after an extraordinary news conference in which both leaders admitted making mistakes. ABC's Jessica Yellin is at the White House."
And on CBS’s The Early Show, Bill Plante pointed out:
"The most extraordinary moment came when the President, who's not ordinarily much for public self-analysis, was asked which missteps and mistakes he most regretted."

Transcripts of the May 26 ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts:

ABC’s World News Tonight:
Anchor Elizabeth Vargas: “President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair have wrapped up two days of talks in Washington, mostly about Iraq. The political toll the war has taken on both men was clear. Some of the bold talk we once heard from them is gone. Now they are voicing regrets and admitting mistakes. ABC's Jake Tapper is at the White House.”

Tapper over video of Bush and Blair outside the West Wing: “One last walk for President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair on this visit. They came together to project confidence in the new Iraqi government, but perhaps what came across strongest was regret.”

President Bush at Thursday night Bush/Blair press conference: “Not everything since liberation has turned out as the way we had expected or hoped.”

Tapper: “The President was contrite about remarks he'd made, such as this from 2003.”

Bush in 2003: “My answer is ‘bring 'em on.’”

Bush Thursday night: “Saying ‘bring it on.’ Kind of tough talk, you know that sent the wrong signal to people. I learned some lessons about expressing myself maybe in a little more sophisticated manner.”

Tapper: “Ever since the war began, the President has been asked repeatedly about mistakes. And this has often been the answer.”

Bush at August 13, 2004 press conference: “I'm sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference, with all the pressure of trying to come up with that answer, but it hadn't yet.”

Tapper: “Mr. Bush has recently been more willing to acknowledge problems in Iraq, from failures to secure the borders to prisoner abuse.”

Bush Thursday night: “We've been paying for that for a long period of time.”

Tapper: “Prime Minister Blair acknowledged being overly optimistic about how easy democracy would take hold there.”

Blair at Thursday press conference: “I'm afraid in the end, we're always going to have to be prepared for the fall of Saddam not to be the rise of democratic Iraq, that it was going to be a more difficult process.”

Tapper: “It was the 14th face-to-face meeting for the two men. Their alliance forged in the furnace of war and worldwide criticism. But now they are embattled leaders, largely because of that war and the way they pursued it. One last regret, Mr. Bush says he doesn't want Mr. Blair to resign next year as planned.”

Bush: “My attitude is, I want him to be here so long as I'm the President.”

Blair: “Well what more can I say? (laughter) Probably not wise to say anything more at all.”

Tapper: “Jack Tapper, ABC News, the White House.”



CBS Evening News:
Anchor Bob Schieffer: "Good evening. CBS News has learned that the United States is sending more troops to Iraq to help contain the violence there. That even as the top commander on the ground is talking about drawing forces down. This word comes one day after an unusual burst of candor from President Bush who said last night that some of his tough talk may have set the wrong tone for fighting the war in Iraq."

Jim Axelrod, after running through some other comments at the press conference: "The most memorable moment of Mr. Blair's visit had nothing to do with U.S. troop movements. It came last night when President Bush was asked if he had any regrets about the war in Iraq."

President Bush at Thursday night press conference with Prime Minister Blair: "Saying ‘bring it on.' Kind of tough talk, you know, that sent the wrong signal to people. I learned some lessons about expressing myself maybe in a little more sophisticated manner."

A few seconds later, Schieffer asked: "Jim, I want to go back to this extraordinary statement that the President made last night where he said he had set the wrong tone for fighting the war on terrorism. I've been watching this President a long time, I've never heard anything quite like that."

Axelrod: "Startling, wasn't it, Bob? He said it a couple times before although never in such a high-profile venue. He was once asked about it and he said he had no regrets and ever since then when asked he said this, the wrong tone, is his biggest regret. Bob?"


NBC Nightly News:
Anchor Brian Williams: “President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair quietly ended two days of talks on Iraq today with Mr. Blair saying it's time to move on from the debate about going to war and it's time for war critics to start supporting the idea of democracy in Iraq. A lot of those people who were watching the news conference those two leaders held last night thought the most interesting moment came in response to a question by a British journalist.”

Reporter at Thursday night Bush/Blair press conference: “Mr. President, you spoke about missteps and mistakes in Iraq. Could I ask both of you which missteps and which mistakes of your own you most regret?”

President Bush: “Saying, ‘bring it on.’ Kind of tough talk you know that sent the wrong signal to people. That, I learned some lessons about expressing myself maybe in a little more sophisticated manner. You know, ‘wanted dead or alive.’ That kind of talk. I think in certain parts of the world it was misinterpreted. And so I learned from that. And, you know, I think the biggest mistake that’s happened so far at least from our country's involvement in Iraq is Abu Ghraib.”

Williams: “Interesting response from the President last night and with us tonight for more on this, our Washington Bureau Chief, moderator of Meet the Press, Tim Russert with us from our Washington bureau and Tim, the President has had his chances in the past to talk about regrets, mistakes, he's turned them down until last night. Why now and why this change of heart or policy?”

Russert: “Well Brian, because the cloud of Iraq hovers over this presidency and the President knows it. The outlook in the midterm elections quite dismal unless things turn around. I talked to Democrats and Republicans all day and they were uniform in one opinion: This is a much different President, gone is the supreme confidence, the swagger. They saw someone last night who was acknowledging some of his words were not sophisticated, not presidential. It was remarkable, remarkable admission.”

Williams: “More than one analyst said, looking at the scene last night, these two leaders side-by-side, it looked like the end of an era. Do you concur?”

Russert: “It sure is. These two men invested their positions, the Prime Minister and the President, in a successful outcome in the war in Iraq. And that's very much in doubt. They're hoping for the best, there's a new Iraqi Prime Minister, they hope the country can be secure. They hope the troops can come home, but it's a lot of ifs and a lot of hopes.”
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center