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Bill Press is a syndicated columnist, CNN political commentator and author of the newly-published book Spin This!

Bill Press: Bush puts Sept. 11 up for sale

By Bill Press
Tribune Media Services

Is nothing sacred anymore?

Apparently not now that President Bush has put 9/11 up for sale to Republican donors.

After raking in $33 million from GOP fat cats in Washington this week, the Republican National Committee is now trying to squeeze a few million more from small donors across the country. Their fundraising vehicle: a letter from Vice President Dick Cheney asking people to send checks and offering a special deal.

For $150, donors will receive a framed set of three photos of President Bush in action: One, taking the oath of office. Two, addressing a joint session of Congress. Three, aboard Air Force One, talking on the phone to Dick Cheney on the morning of Sept. 11 (and probably asking Cheney's permission to return to Washington). The White House admits that President Bush gave the RNC permission to use all three photos as a pitch for campaign dough.

Now, asking for money is often seedy. Who can forget the Buddhist temple? Or the Lincoln Bedroom? But Bush's selling of that third photo, taken on September 11, sets a new, disgusting low in political fund-raising.

September 11 was a day unique in history. We suffered the worst terrorist attacks ever on American soil. And we responded by pulling together as a people like never before. From that day forward, we were no longer liberals or conservatives, Democrats or Republicans. We were Americans all: hurting, grieving, but also angry and determined to avenge our losses.

As President Bush repeated often: "September 11 is a day that unites us all." But now he's using that memorable day to divide us. September 11 no longer belongs to all Americans. From now on, it only belongs to those Republicans willing to shell out $150 for a souvenir. How tacky. It's not illegal. It's just gross. It's also a huge insult to the victims of 9/11 who died never knowing they were helping raise big bucks for the Republican party.

This is the same George Bush who attacked Bill Clinton for selling the White House. Now he's doing the very same thing!

Of course, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer was quick to defend the photo sale. Republicans are not trying to exploit September 11, he insists; they are just offering a photo of the president doing his job. And besides, he says, there's a big difference between selling photos and selling the Lincoln Bedroom. Take it from me. I wrote a book on it. That's pure spin.

If Republicans are not trying to exploit September 11, why don't they show a photo of Bush doing his job on September 9? Or August. 15? It's not hard to get a photograph of Bush talking on the phone. He's on the phone for hours every day. The truth is, they used that particular photo of Bush talking to Cheney from Air Force One on September 11 because they wanted to turn a national tragedy into cash.

ABC's Ann Compton reported that they even flipped the photo. In the original, Bush is looking out the window to his left; the marketed photo shows Bush looking to his right, so it would look better on the page.

Bush can no longer pretend to be purer than his predecessor. Bill Clinton was offering White House coffees for sale. George Bush is offering White House photos for sale. What's the difference? They're both selling the White House. The only difference is that selling September 11 along with the White House is even worse.

The whole sordid episode was beautifully summed up in an editorial cartoon by Mike Smith in USA Today's May 16 edition. The first frame shows the White House with a big sign out front: "For Sale: The Lincoln Bedroom." A woman driving by turns to her husband and says: "Man, you can't get more disrespectful than that." The second frame shows the White House with a different sign out front: "Get Your George Bush 9/11 Photos Here."

As the French say, the more things change, the more they stay the same. George Bush hasn't restored dignity to the White House. He's debased it even further.




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