By: Greg Mitchell
At this time of year, “Banner-gate” returns: the controversy over the White House’s shifting explanations for the now-infamous “Mission Accomplished” banner on the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln that President Bush stood before in a media sensation exactly five years ago on Thursday.
Knowing what’s coming, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said today, “President Bush is well aware that the banner should have been much more specific and said ‘mission accomplished’ for these sailors who are on this ship on their mission. And we have certainly paid a price for not being more specific on that banner. And I recognize that the media is going to play this up again tomorrow, as they do every single year.”
She said what is important now is “how the president would describe the fight today. It’s been a very tough month in Iraq, but we are taking the fight to the enemy.” At least 49 U.S. troops died in Iraq in April, making it the deadliest month since September.
Here’s how “Banner-gate” went down:
— First the White House claimed that the banner was the Navy’s idea, it had nothing to do with it — the sailors just wanted to celebrate their own homecoming, no more than that.
— When word emerged that the White House had actually made the banner, a spokesman explained, well, the Navy was not cut out for that sort of thing so we produced it — but it was still all the sailors’ idea!
— OK, the White House admitted, we not only made it, we hoisted it — but still, it was for the sailors!
— “Even that explanation didn’t sit well with some long-time Bush aides,” Time magazine later reported, quoting one: “They (the White House) put up banners at every event that look just like that and we’re supposed to believe that at this one it was the Navy that requested one?” Other insiders recalled staffers boasting about how the president had been specifically positioned during his speech so that the banner would be captured by cameras.
And so “Bannergate” was born — along with the image of the president spiking the ball on the five-yard line before scoring a real touchdown.
“He blamed the sailors for something that his advance team staged,” said Gen. Wesley Clark. “I guess that next thing we are going to hear is that the sailors told him to wear the flight suit and prance around on the aircraft carrier. This is a president who does not want to take accountability.”
Well, some things never change.
Greg Mitchell’s new book is So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits — and the President — Failed on Iraq.