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Old March 27, 2004, 01:54 AM
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Default Final Search of WMD

President Bush appears to search the Oval Office for weapons of mass destruction

Bush criticized for gags about weapons search
Democratic critics and some family members of soldiers serving in Iraq took President Bush to task Thursday for his jokes at a black-tie dinner about the fruitless search for weapons of mass destruction.

The jokes came at Wednesday night's annual Radio and Television Correspondents Association dinner. In a 10-minute, mostly puckish, self-deprecating speech, the president presented a slide show he called "an election year, White House photo album."

In several photos, he appeared to be searching the Oval Office. A photo of Bush looking under a piece of furniture was flashed on the large projection screens in the ballroom.

"Those weapons of mass destruction got to be here somewhere," Bush said in his narration, drawing laughter from the audience of journalists, politicians, government workers and other guests.

Another photo showed him looking through a window. "Nope, no weapons over there," the president said.

"I'm appalled," said Larry Syverson of Richmond, Va., who has a son serving with the Army in Iraq and another who recently returned after serving in the Tikrit area. Syverson read news accounts of the event.

"I think it's in extremely poor taste," he said. "I think he owes an apology to those families who have lost loved ones there and those of us that are going through the dread every day having a son or daughter in Iraq."

Syverson recalled the displeasure many military families felt with Bush after he appeared last year to be daring Iraqi insurgents to attack U.S. troops by saying "Bring it on."

"Now he pokes fun at the reason that he told us [soldiers] went over there. I think it's extremely callous."

White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan defended the president. "There is no question about the seriousness about which the president approaches this issue" of the Iraq war, she said.

At such dinners, mainstays of the Washington social circuit, presidents traditionally poke fun at themselves and that's all Bush was doing, she said.

She added that the president ended his speech on a serious note with a "very moving tribute to the men and women of the military in which he expressed appreciation for their keeping our nation safe."

But Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who watched the dinner on television, echoed other critics when he said he wasn't amused.

"I didn't see the humor in it," Durbin said. "I don't think there's anything humorous about the American people being misled about the reasons for going to war."

Asked if Bush should apologize, Durbin said he need not go that far. But the joke "was in bad taste," he said.

Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts, the presumptive Democratic nominee, also took Bush to task.

"If George Bush thinks his deceptive rationale for going to war is a laughing matter, then he's even more out of touch than we thought," his campaign said in a statement.

Questions about the propriety of Bush's comedy routine were even raised Thursday at a Pentagon (news - web sites) briefing. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was asked whether the president and many of the journalists at the dinner erred by treating the issue of weapons of mass destruction so lightly.

"So my question," a reporter said, "... both for the president, with respect, and for the news media--is it appropriate to make a joke ... about the hunt for weapons of mass destruction, when both [the president and Rumsfeld] were involved in the difficult issue of sending troops to war for that hunt? And did the news media also blow it by sitting there and laughing?"

Rumsfeld replied: "I wasn't there . . . and I just am not in a position to be judgmental about that."

Source: Chicago Tribune
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