Reuters Says Bush Photo Not 'Malicious,' Reports Wide Interest at Home and Abroad
NEW YORK With confirmation that an accidental photo of President Bush at the United Nations on Wednesday, writing a note to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice about a “bathroom break,” was indeed real, newspapers around the U.S. and abroad are now planning to run it widely. But many, it seems, will treat it as something more than a joke.
A source at the Washington Post tells E&P that the paper is considering it for prominent play, in the context that, at least in some minds, it raises questions about overall perception of the U.S. at the United Nations, right or wrong. Reuters reports extremely strong interest in the photo today.
The fact is, according to Reuters -- and this has not been widely reported -- President Bush did indeed take a bathroom break after passing the note to Rice.
This apparently raised some eyebrows around the room, because American representatives (among others) have a reputation for suddenly bolting, though normally for a far different reason than this latest one. Fair or not, the European press has already had a field day with the photo, often centering on the notion that Bush had to ask Rice for permission, or warning of a "leak at the U.N."
The Times of London, for example, ran no less than three separate articles about it on its Web site, one at the top of its front page. (It's a Murdoch paper.) One headline reads: "Excuse me Condi, can I go to the bathroom?" Another story, believe it or not, opens: "The need to relieve oneself diplomatically has on occasion determined the fate of nations." The third discusses the sordid history of the particulatar lavatory in question, and contains this passage: "Medical experts said that the 59-year-old President was wise not to wait any longer."
The headline at the BBC news site suggested that Bush had been "caught short" at the U.N. summit. From The Sun: "I fear a leak, Condi." The Irish Examiner headline? "To Pee or Not to Pee, That is the Question." Der Spiegel in Germany translated "a bathroom break" as "eine Toiletten-Pause."
And, of course, it made The Daily Show back in the U.S. late Thursday night. On Friday morning, Newsday chortled: "Photographer leaks Bush potty idea." The Minneapolis Star-Tribune headlined: "Bush note inspires bathroom humor."
Gary Hershorn, news editor-photos for the Americas at Reuters, told E&P today that the photographer, Rick Wilking, informed him yesterday afternoon that he had observed Bush pass the note to Rice, and a little later, rise from his seat, leave the room, and then return.
And while some have suggested that Wilking, a well-known photographer just back from taking some of the most gripping images in New Orleans, was out to embarrass the president, Hershorn said that the photojournalist had no idea what Bush was writing on the paper. Wilking assumed the president was taking notes on what some other official was saying.
“Rick had no idea what he was shooting, or what Bush was writing,” Hershorn said. “If Rick knew what he was writing we'd have 25 pictures of this, not two.”
The photo was taken at 12:08 p.m. and it was Hershorn, about three hours later, who took the trouble to examine the photo closely. It was only then that he noticed the writing and decided to put it on the wire after 4:00.
The photo, as E&P observed Wednesday night in the first story about the incident, shows Bush scribbling in pencil on a note that already holds the words: "I think I may need a bathroom break? Is this possible." Wilking is a veteran Washington photographer who has long covered Bush campaigns and the White House.
As for transmitting the photo, Hershorn says, "There was no malicious intent. That's not what we do."
There's a simple explanation, even a serious one, for all of this, he adds. Bush, he points out, is not used to attending meetings at the U.N. and probably did not know what the protocol was for exiting a room and returning. His question to Rice was “proper” and not all that surprising, “asking someone with more experience there about protocol,” he said.
Wilking told Gelf magazine today that he has not yet heard from the president—whom he says he knows very well—about the note. “I’m curious to know what the White House thinks,” Wilking said.
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