Account of Iraq War Protestor’s Meeting With Bush Draws Scrutiny

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By: Greg Mitchell and Joe Strupp

A year-old article in a small California newspaper suddenly became a hot media/blog story today, generating wildly different interpretations from supporters and detractors of the Iraq war. Monday afternoon, the newspaper posted a story on its Web site, along with its original story, which may only add fuel to the fire.

The dispute is inspired by the ongoing protest vigil by Cindy Sheehan, whose son was killed in Sadr City, Iraq in April 2004. Sheehan, whose son Casey was an Army specialist, remains camped out near President Bush’ ranch in Crawford, Texas, determined to get a meeting with the commander-in-chief.

Today, at a press briefing aboard Air Force One en route to New Mexico, reporters asked repeatedly about Sheehan’s request. White House spokesman Trent Duffy suggested the meeting would never happen, saying the president met with her last year. “And he was glad to meet with her at that time,” Duffy said. “We always mourn the loss of every life.”

But it is Sheehan’s meeting with Bush last summer in Seattle–and an alleged change in her opinion of it–that sparked controversy earlier today.

At the time of her meeting with Bush in June 2004, Sheehan’s hometown paper, the Vacaville Reporter, covered her reaction.

As charges flew this afternoon, David Henson, author of the original story, told E&P, ?I stand by my full report as an accurate reflection of the Sheehans at the time of the interview. I wouldn’t want to speculate about Ms. Sheehan’s point of view. My article accurately reflected her position at the time.?

For months, Sheehan has strongly criticized the president on the war, adding that she was disappointed in his demeanor — he allegedly acted like he was at a party — and comments during her 10-minute meeting with him. This morning, The Drudge Report published quotes from Henson’s Vacaville story (which at that time was no longer on the paper’s site). This, Drudge suggested, showed that Sheehan had changed her account of that meeting radically.

Drudge quoted Sheehan saying at that time about Bush, ?I now know he’s sincere about wanting freedom for the Iraqis. I know he’s sorry and feels some pain for our loss. And I know he’s a man of faith.?

He also noted that Sheehan had taken comfort from meeting. ?That was the gift the president gave us, the gift of happiness, of being together,? Sheehan said, referring to the benefit to her family.

But liberal Web sites, led by Raw Story, quickly pointed out that the original story also revealed that Sheehan and her husband, Patrick, had debated before the meeting whether to ask pointed questions about the war and whether to vent frustration over their son’s sacrifice. Ultimately, the Sheehans decided not to criticize Bush in the meeting.

“We haven’t been happy with the way the war has been handled,” Cindy said at that time. “The president has changed his reasons for being over there every time a reason is proven false or an objective reached.” (Other newspapers, after her son’s death, noted her antiwar views.)

In re-posting the original story on the paper’s Web site, Editor Diane Barney said: “It’s important that readers see the full context of the story, instead of just selected portions. We stand by the story as an accurate reflection of the Sheehan’s take on the meeting at the time it was published.’?

UPDATE: On Tuesday, Barney filed a column on the paper’s Web site, declaring that Sheehan’s antiwar positon was “not new,” adding: “We don’t think there has been a dramatic turnaround.” She noted , “Clearly, Cindy Sheehan’s outrage was festering” even back when she met Bush.

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