- The Washington Times - Monday, May 27, 2002

PARIS President Bush yesterday derisively challenged press claims of widespread anti-Americanism in Europe and ridiculed an American TV correspondent for suggesting as much in English and French to him and French President Jacques Chirac.
"So you go to a protest and I drive through the streets of Berlin, seeing hundreds of people lining the road, waving," Mr. Bush muttered to NBC News White House correspondent David Gregory during a joint press conference with Mr. Chirac.
"I don't view hostility here," Mr. Bush said in the ornate Palais de l'Elysee. "I view the fact that we've got a lot of friends here."
He added: "And the fact that protesters show up that's good. I mean, I'm in a democracy."
Mr. Bush was responding to Mr. Gregory's question about anti-American demonstrations in Germany, Russia and France during the president's visits to these nations since Wednesday.
"I wonder why it is you think there are such strong sentiments in Europe against you and against this administration?" the reporter said. "Why, particularly, there's a view that you and your administration are trying to impose America's will on the rest of the world, particularly when it comes to the Middle East and where the war on terrorism goes next?"
Turning to Mr. Chirac, he added in French: "And, Mr. President, would you maybe comment on that?"
"Very good," Mr. Bush said sardonically. "The guy memorizes four words, and he plays like he's intercontinental."
"I can go on," Mr. Gregory offered.
"I'm impressed que bueno," said Mr. Bush, using the Spanish phrase for "how wonderful." He deadpanned: "Now I'm literate in two languages."
Roars of laughter filled both the press conference room and a press filing center elsewhere in the city, where many members of the White House press corps were watching the exchange on live television.
Turning serious, the president spoke of the strong bond between most Europeans and Americans.
"Look, the only thing I know to do is speak my mind, to talk about my values, to talk about our mutual love for freedom and the willingness to defend freedom," he said. "And, David, I think a lot of people on the continent of Europe appreciate that.
"There's a heck of a lot more that unites us than divides us. We share the same values; we trade $2 trillion a year," he added. "I feel very comfortable coming to Europe; I feel very comfortable coming to France. I've got a lot of friends here."
"Sir, if I could just follow," the reporter began.
"Thank you," Mr. Bush shot back dismissively.
Mr. Chirac then downplayed the significance of the demonstrators, who numbered 20,000 in Berlin, 4,500 in Paris and 300 in Moscow. There were no visible protests in St. Petersburg.
"These demonstrations are really marginal demonstrations," the French leader said. "You shouldn't give too much credit to these demonstrations. They do not reflect a so-called natural aversion of such-and-such a people in Europe to the president of the United States or to the U.S. people as a whole."
Mr. Chirac said the bond between America and Europe is "an increasingly important relationship, and it would be the sign of shortsightedness to refuse to acknowledge that."
After Mr. Chirac completed his answer, he concluded the press conference. As Mr. Bush stepped away from the podium, he called to Mr. Gregory: "As soon as you get in front of a camera, you start showing off."
It was an animated conclusion to a press conference that began amid signs the president was tired from his travels. He said he was "jet-lagged" and asked several reporters to restate some of the multiple questions they posed.
But Mr. Bush seemed to come alive over claims of anti-Americanism.
His dressing down of a high-profile correspondent in public was just the latest indication that the White House is unhappy with press coverage emphasizing splits between Europe and America.
For example, a senior administration official aboard Air Force One revealed that the president's speech to the German parliament Thursday was aimed in part at countering media "buzz."
"We were obviously aware that we were making a speech like this in a context of an enormous amount of speculative and occasionally insinuating op-eds from European and American chattering classes about the demise of or the deterioration of the trans-Atlantic alliance," the official said.
"Now, I personally consider that to be nothing but a cottage industry," the official continued as the plane flew from Berlin to Moscow.
"When you have nothing else to write, you write about trans-Atlantic difficulties, because there's always something to say. But we knew there was a buzz out there, and we needed a positive, strategic message."
In his speech to German lawmakers, the president drew applause when he said: "Those who exaggerate our differences play a shallow game and hold a simplistic view of our relationship."
"Where does that line come from?" a reporter asked the senior administration official hours later. "Who is it directed to? I mean, us?"
"No, certainly not," the official backpedaled. "Certainly not you. Certainly not present company. No, not the media."
"I won't be specific, but I talked about a cottage industry of people who sort of write on both sides of the Atlantic write op-eds."
Two days later, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell acknowledged that constant carping by the press is never far from the minds of Mr. Bush or Russian President Vladimir Putin. In fact, one of the reasons the leaders have such a strong personal rapport is that they can commiserate about such annoyances.
"They have a public opinion, just as we have a public opinion," Mr. Powell told reporters in St. Petersburg. "They have a news media and a Duma that's on them, just as we have a news media that is never on us, but a Congress that occasionally is."
The reporters chuckled at the deft diplomatic recovery.


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