Moments When Life Went Off-Script


Bush Reads ‘The Pet Goat’


There is likely some truth to the official explanation that, on Sept. 11, 2001, when George W. Bush was told of the attacks on America, while reading to a class of Florida schoolchildren, he did not want to alarm the kids. There is likely more truth to the human side. The distant expression I saw on the president’s face as I entered that classroom was of someone who knew we were at war, and was still absorbing how it was about to drastically change his presidency. What made it different from similar presidential moments was that it was captured on video camera. The reason ‘The Pet Goat’ moment is significant is because of the extraordinary number of viewers who have watched it on YouTube. Most Americans paid it little attention, shrugging it off or dismissing it entirely. But in Washington, where power and governing are never-ending partisan battles, the moment is a reminder of the Internet’s uninhibited ability to give greater voice to small minorities of the electorate and potentially sway public opinion. Hopefully, the public will correctly discern what is worthy of their attention and what is not.

McClellan is the former press secretary to George W. Bush and the author of What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception.