President Bush on 9/11: Why He Stayed in That Classroom

President Bush on 9/11 (Photo: National Geographic Channel)

President Bush on 9/11 (Photo: National Geographic Channel)

Former President George W. Bush sets the record straight – or at least tries to – about what he did on Sept. 11, 2001, in a National Geographic Special premiering Sunday night.

The show – titled “George W. Bush: The 9/11 Interview” – figures to be the only 9/11 special (in a sea of specials cropping up in the days to come in commemoration of the 9/11 10th anniversary) in which the President of the United States at the time of the attacks is to be interviewed about them. Or, at least, that’s how NatGeo is billing this show.

In the one-hour show, the former prez retraces his whereabouts from the morning of the attacks, when he learned about them while visiting an elementary school classroom in Florida, to the “flight to nowhere” in Air Force One, which remained airborne for a great deal of the day as his aides tried to determine if it was safe for him to return to Washington.

Both scenes are still sticking points for his critics who believe he lingered too long in that classroom before taking decisive action, and that the “flight to nowhere” demonstrated an unsettling confusion at the highest levels of government in the face of a national emergency.

In “The 9/11 Interview,” President Bush addresses both of those issues, and also discusses how the rest of that day unfolded for him, and what he did in the days that followed. Here’s what he had to say:

On the classroom delay: My first reaction was anger. Who the hell . . . would do that to America? And then I immediately focused on the children. And the contrast between the notion of an attack and the innocence of children clarified my job. And that’s to protect people. Instantly after that, the press corps started getting the calls. And it was like watching a silent movie. In the back of the room, reporters were on their cell phones. They were getting the same message I got. Which meant that a lot of people would be watching my reactions to these crises. And so I made the decision not to jump up immediately. I didn’t want to [jump up] and leave the classroom . . . I didn’t want to rattle the kids. I wanted to project a sense of calm.”

On the flight to nowhere: “The head of the Secret Service came and said, ‘You’re not going back to Washington.’ I said, ‘What the hell you talking about, man? I’m the President of the United States. We’re going back. I need to be there.’ I wasn’t happy about it. I told them, I said, ‘We’re going to Washington.’ And then, they held their ground. Because they felt it would be irresponsible for me to head back into a city that had just been attacked when in fact we didn’t know what else might come. [Hours later, however] I made the decision; I’m going back to Washington, over the objections of just about everybody else. I’d had it. I said, ‘I need to get home’.”

The ex-prez has plenty else to say about 9/11 and its aftermath in this show, which premieres Sunday, Aug.28, a 10/9c on National Geographic Channel.

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