On Tonight Show, Gregory Impersonates Bush's Rejoinder to Him for Speaking French

As a guest on Friday's Tonight Show with Jay Leno, NBC News White House correspondent David Gregory, to illustrate how he's observed that during press conferences President George W. Bush “particularly likes to kind of pop your bubble or tweak you a little bit,” impersonated Bush as he recalled the President's reaction to him -- “as if I'd committed a war crime” -- switching to French to pose a question to French President Chirac. At the Sunday, May 26, 2002 joint press conference in Paris, Gregory had asked Chirac to also respond to the question he had just posed to Bush about why “there are such strong sentiments in Europe against you” and why “there's a view that you and your administration are trying to impose America's will on the rest of the world?” Chuckling, Bush quipped: “That's very good. The guy memorizes four words and he plays like he's intercontinental!” On the Tonight Show, interspersing his best impression of Bush -- which was pretty good -- Gregory spent about two minutes describing the event and how Bush, to the bafflement of Chirac and others, kidded him about it long afterward. (Video link follows to the 2002 exchange)

Video clip (2:20): Real (3.9 MB) or Windows Media (4.5 MB), plus MP3 audio (800 KB)

Back in 2002, an MRC CyberAlert addressed media reaction to the incident (condemnatory of Bush's attitude) and included video from MSNBC of the exchange between Gregory and Bush. To watch the 52 second video, click here, or go to the May 30, 2002 CyberAlert (clicking on the image to the right will not work). Either way, you'll see a fairly low-quality (45 kbps) streaming Real clip.

An excerpt from the Thursday, May 30, 2002 CyberAlert posting:
A “testy” outburst from President George W. Bush who had a “hissy fit” while responding with a voice “dripping with sarcasm”?

That’s the way some leading journalists characterized how President Bush reacted to NBC News reporter David Gregory, at a press conference on Sunday in France, briefly switching to French to ask President Chirac to also respond to the question he had just posed to Bush about why “there are such strong sentiments in Europe against you” and why “there's a view that you and your administration are trying to impose America's will on the rest of the world?”

In fact, a review of the tape shows that while Bush may have been a bit surprised by Gregory’s first time display of multi-lingualism, “testiness” or “hissy fit” are not accurate descriptions of his reaction. Chuckling, Bush quipped: “That's very good. The guy memorizes four words and he plays like he's intercontinental!” Bush laughed as the press corps in attendance also erupted in laughter. After six seconds of laughter from both the reporters and Bush, the President cracked: “I'm impressed. Que bueno. Now I'm literate in two languages.”

“Que bueno” is “how wonderful” in Spanish.

Bush did not display any outward sign of anger, yet on Wednesday’s Good Morning America Claire Shipman asserted that Bush got “testy at a colleague of mine.” In Tuesday’s New York Times, reporter David Sanger contended that Gregory “appeared to raise Mr. Bush's ire” as Bush responded in a “voice dripping with sarcasm.” Wednesday in the New York Times, columnist Maureen Dowd castigated Bush for having “a hissy fit” and “a petit fit.”

After CNN’s Judy Woodruff referred on Tuesday’s Inside Politics to how “President Bush showed a little testiness this week” at the press conference in France, Jeff Greenfield treated it as the latest example of a President lashing out in anger at the media. Greenfield used it as a launching pad to recall what truly were angry responses from previous Presidents, such as 41 with Dan Rather, Nixon with Rather and Clinton lecturing Brit Hume.

David Gregory thought Bush reacted with humor. Gregory told Don Imus on Tuesday morning: “He was very funny. He’s very quick with the one-liner. I just thought it was so funny given that he speaks Spanish so often that he would go after me for that.”

“He wasn’t as hacked off as I had heard from, had read about in the newspapers,” Fred Barnes observed on Tuesday’s Special Report with Brit Hume on FNC after seeing the actual exchange for the first time. Barnes thought, however, that Bush “seemed a little irritated. He’s obviously tired...”
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