President Bush wanted his Baghdad trip to draw positive media attention to Iraq. He got a lot more publicity than he bargained for—and not exactly the kind he was seeking.
The reason was wholly unexpected—a bizarre incident at his news conference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki Sunday in which a Middle Eastern journalist threw his shoes at Bush as an insult. In the Mideast, displaying the soles of one's shoes to another person is considered offensive, and throwing a shoe at someone is extremely disrespectful. "This is a farewell kiss," shouted the man in Arabic. He was identified as Muntadar al-Zaidi, a reporter with the Cairo-based al-Baghdadia television network.
Bush ducked nimbly as the man threw one of his shoes, and then the other, at the president's head before security forces pounced on him. Neither Bush nor Maliki was hit. Bodyguards carried Zaidi off as he shouted that Bush was a "dog" who was responsible for the deaths of many innocent Iraqis. Later, Bush tried to make light of the incident. "All I can report is a size 10," the president quipped. He also told reporters, "I don't think you can take one guy throwing shoes and say this represents a broad movement in Iraq.... What he wanted you to do was to pay attention to him. And sure enough, you did."
News reports used the incident to highlight the continuing resentments harbored by some Iraqis over the U.S. presence in their country. This interpretation crowded out information concerning the improved security and political situations there, which Bush had hoped to underscore with his visit.
As recently as September, Bush told friends that he expected to get a public-relations lift in the waning weeks of his presidency as the media focused on improved conditions in Iraq. Instead, the big news has been about the financial meltdown and the growing recession, and Bush has been blamed by many for the downturn. Iraq has been pushed off the nightly news and the front pages—until the shoe-throwing drew so much attention to an incident that marred Bush's trip.
In addition, White House reporters are worried that the Secret Service and the Bush press office will now impose even more restrictions on correspondents and photographers in an effort to prevent such an incident from happening again. The journalists argue that it was not an American who caused the fuss, so Americans should not have to live with increased security precautions.
The concern is fueled among journalists because the press office misled reporters—and the country—by issuing a false schedule for Bush on Sunday as a way of keeping his intended trip to Iraq a secret.