The Magazine

The White House at War

Woodward and Sammon on Bush as war president.

Dec 2, 2002, Vol. 8, No. 12 • By FRED BARNES
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I DON'T MEAN to give Sammon's "Fighting Back" short shrift. Sammon, the White House correspondent for the Washington Times and a wonderful political writer, doesn't have Woodward's breadth of sources or access to CIA and State Department officials (and their leaks). But the book is highly readable and filled with telling anecdotes. Sammon returned to Florida to interview the schoolteacher in whose class Bush was sitting when he learned a second plane had flown into the World Trade Center. When Bush's session with her students was over, he took the teacher, Gwendolyn Tose-Rigell, aside and said he was sorry he couldn't deliver a planned speech at the school. As they talked, "she sensed that a transformation had taken place." She was "astonished by his heartfelt sincerity, especially since Bush hadn't had any private time to gather his wits." The point here is that Bush was calm and composed from the start of his war presidency.

One of the episodes in "Fighting Back" brings back the sorrow of September 11. When Bush landed by helicopter to visit ground zero on September 14, he walked over to greet some firefighters. "When he got to the fourth one--a big, burly guy--the president stopped in his tracks," Sammon writes. "Two enormous tears were rolling down the brute's cheeks. Bush reached up and cupped the fireman's face in his hand. The scene prompted a number of grown men to break down." It would have been hard not to.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.