By Jill Serjeant
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Former U.S. President
George W. Bush says his apparent lack of reaction to the first
news of the Sept. 11 2001 attacks was a conscious decision to
project an aura of calm in a crisis.
In a rare interview with the National Geographic Channel,
Bush reflects on what was going through his mind at the most
dramatic moment of his presidency when he was informed that a
second passenger jet had hit New York's World Trade Center.
Bush was visiting a Florida classroom and the incident,
which was caught on TV film, and has often been used by critics
to ridicule his apparently blank face.
"My first reaction was anger. Who the hell would do that to
America? Then I immediately focused on the children, and the
contrast between the attack and the innocence of children,"
Bush says in an excerpt of the interview shown to television
writers on Thursday.
Bush said he could see the news media at the back of the
classroom getting the news on their own cellphones "and it was
like watching a silent movie."
Bush said he quickly realized that a lot of people beyond
the classroom would be watching for his reaction.
"So I made the decision not to jump up immediately and
leave the classroom. I didn't want to rattle the kids. I wanted
to project a sense of calm," he said of his decision to remain
seated and silent.
"I had been in enough crises to know that the first thing a
leader has to do is to project calm," he added.
The National Geographic Channel will broadcast the
hour-long interview on Aug. 28 as part of a week of programs on
the cable network called "Remembering 9/11" that mark the 10th
anniversary of the attacks.
The interview was recorded over two days in May, without
any questions being submitted in advance, the channel said.
National Geographic said Bush gives "intimate details" of
his thoughts and feelings in a way never seen before. Most of
the interview is about the first minutes and hours of the day
that Islamic militants hijacked four planes and crashed into
the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Executive producer and director Peter Schnall said Bush,
who has adopted a low public profile since leaving office in
January 2009, brought no notes to the interview.
"What you hear is the personal story of a man who also
happened to be our president. Listening to him describe how he
grappled with a sense of anger and frustration coupled with his
personal mandate to lead our country through this devastating
attack was incredibly powerful," Schnall said.
U.S. television networks are planning a slew of specials
to mark the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11 attacks. Those on
National Geographic also include a documentary on the
continuing U.S. war on terror, and stories of ordinary people
on Sept, 11 2001 called "Where Were You?"
(Reporting by Jill Serjeant, editing by Anthony Boadle)
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