Bush himself says he is now trying to think of shoe jokes, but I am concerned that journalists all over the world will henceforth be made to remove their shoes before attending press conferences…
I also wonder how many will “defend until death” this journalist’s right to express his opinion about outgoing U.S. President George Bush’s invasion and on-going military occupation of Iraq? And how many will instead denounce the behavior — judging that the way that this journalist expressed himself that was wrong, impolite, futile, stupid, and/or violent?
A dear friend here in Jerusalem has just told me that she wished that all the journalists present at that press conference in Baghdad had also taken off their shoes and thrown them at Bush, in solidarity with al-Zeidi’s gesture.
But, many of the journalists’ actual responses were very different — rather more careerist. The NYTimes reported that “Like many Iraqi reporters at the news conference, Mr. Nassar [Haider Nassar, who worked with him at Baghdadia] said he did not think this was an effective way for Mr. Zaidi to make his points. ‘This is so silly; it’s just the behavior of an individual’, Mr. Nassar said. ‘He destroyed his future’.”
An AP story from Baghdad reported another journalistic colleague also criticizing Al-Zeidi: “‘He was very boastful, arrogant and always showing off’, said Zanko Ahmed, a Kurdish journalist who attended a journalism training course with al-Zeidi in Lebanon. ‘He tried to raise topics to show that nobody is as smart as he is’ … ‘Regrettably, he didn’t learn anything from the course in Lebanon, where we were taught ethics of journalism and how to be detached and neutral’, Ahmed said”.
This same AP story added that “Al-Zeidi was held Monday in Iraqi custody for investigation and could face charges of insulting a foreign leader and the Iraqi prime minister, who was standing next to Bush. Conviction carries a sentence of up to two years in prison or a small fine — although it’s unlikely he would face the maximum penalty given his newfound cult status in the Arab world”. The full AP report can be read here.
Yet another AP report said that “many in the Mideast saw the act by an Iraqi journalist as heroic, expressing the deep, personal contempt many feel for the American leader they blame for years of bloodshed, chaos and the suffering of civilians. Images of Bush ducking the fast-flying shoes at a Baghdad press conference, aired repeatedly on Arab satellite TV networks, were cathartic for many in the Middle East, who have for years felt their own leaders kowtow to the American president. So the sight of an average Arab standing up and making a public show of resentment was stunning. The pride, joy and bitterness it uncorked showed how many Arabs place their anger on Bush personally for what they see as a litany of crimes — chief among them the turmoil in Iraq and tens of thousands of Iraqi deaths since the 2003 U.S. invasion”. This AP story can be seen in full here .
In its story, the NY Times reported that “The Iraqi journalist, Muntader al-Zaidi, 28, a correspondent for Al Baghdadia, an independent Iraqi television station, stood up about 12 feet from Mr. Bush and shouted in Arabic: ‘This is a gift from the Iraqis; this is the farewell kiss, you dog!’ He then threw a shoe at Mr. Bush, who ducked and narrowly avoided it. As stunned security agents and guards, officials and journalists watched, Mr. Zaidi then threw his other shoe, shouting in Arabic, ‘This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq!’ That shoe also narrowly missed Mr. Bush as Prime Minister Maliki stuck a hand in front of the president’s face to help shield him. Mr. Maliki’s security agents jumped on the man, wrestled him to the floor and hustled him out of the room. They kicked him and beat him until ‘he was crying like a woman’, said Mohammed Taher, a reporter for Afaq, a television station owned by the Dawa Party, which is led by Mr. Maliki. [This sexist language is revolting]Mr. Zaidi was then detained on unspecified charges … In the chaos, Dana M. Perino, the White House press secretary, who was visibly distraught, was struck in the eye by a microphone stand.” This NYTimes story can be read in full here.
AP reported that “The crowd [does this mean also the other journalists sitting near Mr. Zaidi, some of whom reportedly offered words of apology to Bush for the incident?] descended on al-Zeidi, who works for Al-Baghdadia television, an Iraqi-owned station based in Cairo, Egypt. He was wrestled to the ground by security officials and then hauled away, moaning as they departed the room. Later, a trail of fresh blood could be seen on the carpet, although the source was not known … …Al-Baghdadia’s Baghdad manager told the AP he had no idea what prompted his reporter to go on the attack. ‘I am trying to reach Muntadar since the incident, but in vain’, said Fityan Mohammed. ‘His phone is switched off’. The station issued a statement on the air Sunday night asking the Iraqi government to release al-Zeidi ‘to spare his life’…” The AP story can be read in full here
What if the shoe had actually hit Bush?
(You did notice the agile move of the President ducking the first shoe, right? But the second shoe somehow caught Bush by surprise, and he winced and flinched as it was thrown, drawing his head down into his collar, as beside him Iraqi PM Maliki reflexively thrust his hand — with open palm facing the journalists and fingers rather ineffectively widespread — somewhere in the general direction of Bush’s face, like a fan trying to catch a wide shot from the bleachers of a baseball game…)
The AP “Reporter’s Notebook” story added that “When Bush met with reporters later aboard Air Force One, he had a joke prepared: ‘I didn’t know what the guy said but I saw his “sole”.’ Later, he said: ‘I’m going to be thinking of shoe jokes for a long time. I haven’t heard any good ones yet’.”
The AP story also reported that Bush said, as the room erupted into chaos, “Don’t worry about it”, and added that “Iraqi reporters started shouting what Bush later explained were apologies for the incident”. And, AP, added, Bush said: ” ‘So what if the guy threw a shoe at me?’ … comparing the action to political protests in the United States”.