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2004-03-26

Family of Slain Soldier Calls Bush WMD Jokes "Disgraceful"

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Stan Karp, An editor of the newspaper Rethinking Schools. He has been a school teacher for 28 years. He currently teaches at John F Kennedy High School in New Jersey.

Howard Fuller, The chair of the board of the Black Alliance for Educational Options. He is a Distinguished Professor of Education at Marquette University in Milwaukee and the former Superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools.

Bill Graves, Republican state legislator in Oklahoma who has opposed the No Child Left Behind Act.

Phil Wilayto, A freelance investigative journalist. He is author of "The Feeding Trough: The Bradley Foundation, the Bell Curve and the Real Story Behind Wisconsin’s National Model for Welfare Reform."

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At a media dinner Wednesday, President Bush joked about how no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq, eliciting laughter from many of the journalists in attendance. We get a reaction from a father and twin brother of a soldier killed in Iraq and we speak with The Nation’s David Corn who attended the dinner. [includes rush transcript]

While millions of people marked the first anniversary of the invasion of Iraq this week by protesting against war on Saturday, President Bush marked the event in a different way: joking about how no weapons of mass destruction were found.

At a black-tie dinner for Radio and Television Correspondents’ Association on Wednesday, Bush poked fun at himself and his administration for among other things not finding weapons in Iraq.

At one point Bush showed a photo of himself looking for something out a window in the Oval Office. He said: "Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere."

After a few more slides, there was a shot of Bush looking under furniture in the Oval Office. Bush said "Nope. No weapons over there." Then another picture of Bush searching in his office. He said "Maybe under here."

According to the Nation’s David Corn many of the journalists at the dinner laughed throughout the skit.

But the Daily News is reporting that the families of soldiers killed in Iraq are not laughing.

George Medina who lost his son in Iraq said, "This is disgraceful. He doesn’t think of all the families that are suffering. It’s unbelievable, how this guy runs the country."

Medina’s son, Special Irving Medina died at the age of 22 in Baghdad on November 14.

Senator John Kerry responded by saying, "585 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq in the last year, 3,354 have been wounded and there’s no end in sight. George Bush sold us on going to war with Iraq based on the threat of weapons of mass destruction. But we still haven’t found them, and now he thinks that’s funny?"

  • * David Corn*, Washington Editor of The Nation magazine. He is also author of The Lies of George W. Bush: Mastering the Politics of Deception.
  • George Medina, his 22-year-old son, Spec. Irving Medina, died Nov. 14 in Baghdad when an explosive device struck his convoy.
  • Ivan Medina, twin brother Spec. Irving Medina killed in Iraq.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go first to David Corn, who is editor of "The Nation" magazine. David was at the dinner in Washington. Can you describe the scene, David?

DAVID CORN: Well, yes. This is one of those typical dinners that happens. It’s an annual affair. The Radio and Television Correspondents’ Dinner. Probably about 2,000 or so people there all wearing formal wear, tuxes and gowns. It’s mainly media people, people you see on camera, people that do the hard work behind camera, bookers and editors and so on. And producers. It’s traditional to have the President appear and he gets toasted and it’s mostly a non-partisan display of support for the presidency, not the President. And it’s also a tradition that he give a funny speech. Bill Clinton used to love doing this stuff. I don’t think George Bush likes it as much, and he looks uncomfortable up there. So, after we finished eating, he gets — there’s some awards given out. He gets up there, and instead of — instead of giving a standup routine, which sometimes he does, he has this thing that he often does at shows like this — he does a slide show and takes pictures, and some of them are obviously taken for the event. Some are probably just candid shots taken by the White House photographer. You know, they have staff photographers there. They then come up with funny captions, too. They’re gigantic screens. This is in a cavenous ballroom. It’s almost a football field long. They flash it on the screen and he gives his comments. Generally, they tend to be kind of humorous and funny. And the whole bit was not about Weapons of mass destruction. He showed a picture of himself on the phone with his finger in the air. And have "for your sake, here I am talking to my European allies." Everybody laughs at that. They show pictures of Karl Rove and Andy Card wearing body armor saying, "I knew that this election was going to be tough when they came in wearing this." That was the first slide that got me a little bit unsettled because the first thing I thought about, of course, was the lack of body armor for, you know, the first eight months of the Iraq campaign for the soldiers there. So, I thought, hmm, these guys are not being too sensitive.

Then came a slide in which he’s gazing out a window of the Oval Office. Like he’s looking for something. Saying, "hmm, I wonder where those weapons of mass destruction are?" And it got, you know, a pretty good sized laugh from the crowd of people and then he did other things poking fun at Skull and Bones and John Kerry. And then he kept coming back to this theme, about weapons of mass destruction, and then he showed another slide of himself looking under the furniture, looking under the couch, looking under the chair, saying "no, not here, no, not here." And it became the running gag, maybe three or four slides out of, I don’t know, 15, became the running gag of the bit which all good standup routines tend to have. And each time, people would laugh. I was grimacing. The fellow next to me, a guy I liked, "come on, David this is funny." I felt like saying, 500 people were sent to their deaths, moreso, Americans were sent to their death to find weapons of mass destruction and literally countless Iraqis have been killed in this effort, whatever the merits might be on other grounds, and they’re actually making a joke about it. It really got to me and put me in kind of a foul mood.

I mean, people did see me afterwards drinking at the after parties and having interesting conversations with people like Al Franken and David Kay, so I didn’t go home and pound the keyboard immediately, but I came in the next morning and put something up on "The Nation" website. I should plug it for my bosses’ happiness. www.thenation.com. And I was just amazed at the response that I have gotten. Because, that night, very few — I don’t recall it being about a source of conversation afterwards. People were talking about the Dick Clarke appearance, and politics and trivial matters. But, you know, no one was saying, hmm, what about that speech Bush gave on weapons of mass destruction. So I just put this up and the response on our website has just been overwhelming. Like when I wrote about the story of Valerie Plame. It really hit a nerve. People saw some of this at home, Fox News aired part of the slide show live, and it’s gotten some takeoff, and I mean, I thought to myself, what if you’re a family member who’s lost a loved one, a spouse, a child, a parent in Iraq and you heard the president joking about the reason they went to war? I thought, you know, it was really sort of a, what you call a Naked Lunch moment, that was the title of a William Burrows book, and Jack Kerouac came up with the title — and a Naked Lunch moment is when you see what’s really on the fork. This really showed these guys to be callous and arrogant and unconcerned with public appearances and tremendous amount of hubris that you could mislead the public. I’ve written a whole book saying they lied to the public about weapons of mass destruction and other matters, but at least you could be wrong about something important, and then come out there and joke about it and face no consequences. It’s quite harrowing when you think about it that way.

AMY GOODMAN: David Corn.

DAVID CORN: Very few people in the media seem to sort of get that initially.

AMY GOODMAN: David, I want to thank you for being with us. David Corn with "The Nation" magazine, author of "the lies of George W. Bush," describing the White House Correspondents’ Dinner on Wednesday night and what George W. Bush said. In fact, we do have Jorge Medina on. He lost his son, specialist Irving Medina, on November 14. Your response.

JORGE MEDINA: Well, I was that night in my house, and my wife told me about what the President — this man says.

AMY GOODMAN: This was your daughter who called you, who’s a Staff Sergeant?

JORGE MEDINA: Yes. Yes. She called me. She told me that, you know, she saw Mr. Bush joking about the weapons of mass destruction. And I think this is very distasteful for all of the families who lost a child or parent or relative in Iraq. You know, these men — are liars, bold-faced liars — and I believe that he doesn’t care about the soldiers, and he doesn’t care about the lives who are lost there. You know, I feel very upset with this man.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Mr. Medina, in talking with your daughter, what is your sense of the morale of the soldiers? I’m sure this is going to have a major impact on the troops in the field when they hear about the President’s joking about what they’re doing in Iraq?

JORGE MEDINA: Yeah. I can — my daughter, she can say nothing about that because she’s in enemy territory. She has to — she can’t say anything because she’s there. But my son Ivan, he was in the war, too. He was in Iraq. He got out of the military and he told me that the morale of the soldiers is going to be very, very low.

AMY GOODMAN: In fact, Jorge Medina, we have your son, Ivan Medina, on the line with us. The twin brother of Irving Medina, who was killed in Iraq. Ivan, your response? We’ll go to him in just a minute. Jorge, how did your son die?

JORGE MEDINA: My son was in a convoy and the bomb exploded and shrapnel went into his head and I think he died ten hours after — after that.

JUAN GONZALEZ: In other words, both your son Irving, your daughter, and his — and Irving’s twin brother, Ivan also served, right? We now have Ivan on the phone. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Ivan.

IVAN MEDINA: Thank you.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Could we ask for your reaction to what you’ve heard about President Bush’s jokes this week at the Correspondent’s Dinner in Washington?

IVAN MEDINA: President Bush chose to, what he has done is just taken a bad situation and made it worse. He has lied about the weapons of mass destruction, and to cover up his tracks he is trying to make jokes about it. It’s a disgrace to any soldier, and it’s definitely a disgrace to any family member that lost a loved one out there, because he’s making fun of something that he supposedly decided to go to war to, and he can’t even back up now his own story, so now he’s trying to make fun of it, saying oh, maybe it’s the best way. And It’s wrong. It’s wrong for the soldiers, we are not honoring the soldiers that way. We’re making fun of why they died. It’s just — it just shows that we need a new President and new Commander in Chief that will honor the soldiers, and that will care about what we do and why we go to war.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Ivan, you served in Iraq? Could you tell us a little bit about your experience there?

IVAN MEDINA: My experience is I left when President Bush said, "I gave them all the tools to go to war with Iraq." The bottom line is my experience was really horrible. I had a really different experience than many people really think. We barely got enough water and food to eat. We were running low on many things, and the President decided not to give all of the soldiers flak vests or bullet proof vests, only the soldiers that were up in the front lines, what he called the front lines were given those. He did not give us the tools to go to war with. He decided to go to war for other reasons than what he had said. And my question to the President — how you can guarantee that I did the right thing or how can you guarantee that my twin brother didn’t die in vain? I know what the truth is, that no soldier died in vain. We fight for the American people. We fight for the freedoms. We fight to defend them, and of course, no soldiers died in vain, but the reason that we went to war are not the true reasons why we actually fought that war.

AMY GOODMAN: Ivan Medina, and your father, Jorge Medina, we want to thank you very much for being with us. Ivan’s twin brother, Irving Medina, died in Iraq on November 14 as they respond to the President’s joking this week at a Correspondents’ Dinner in Washington, about not being able to find weapons of mass destruction.

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