It's the talk of the late-night television shows, a hit on the Internet, a touchy but powerful topic in the Middle Eastern media, and the latest issue to be endlessly dissected by the American punditocracy. And much as they would like to put the incident behind them, President Bush and his aides feel they have no choice but to take a lighthearted approach to the bizarre episode in which Iraqi journalist Muntadhar al-Zaidi threw two shoes at the president at his news conference with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Baghdad Sunday.
"The president just thinks it was just a—it was just a shoe," said White House Press Secretary Dana Perino in response to questions from reporters on Tuesday. "People express themselves in lots of different ways. Obviously, he [Zaidi] was very angry. I can't think, I don't, I can't tell you exactly what the shoe-thrower was thinking, but I can tell what the president thought was that he was fine. And he said immediately—you saw his reaction was, don't worry about it; it was OK. So, we hold no hard feelings about it."
Perino added that Bush is still satisfied with his level of protection by the Secret Service. Widely shown videos of the incident show Bush nimbly ducking to avoid the flying shoes while his bodyguards stand off to the side.
Asked if the shoe-thrower's anger at Bush reflects a broader anger among Iraqis toward the president or the United States, Perino said, "I don't think that you can take one guy throwing his shoe as representative of the people of Iraq."
For his part, Bush told CNN Tuesday that the journalist was "looking for notoriety" and said local authorities shouldn't "overreact" in dealing with him.
"First of all," Bush added, "it's got to be one of the most weird moments of my presidency. Here I am, getting ready to answer questions from a free press in a democratic Iraq, and a guy stands up and throws his shoe. And it was bizarre, and it was an interesting way for a person to express himself."
Despite Bush's magnanimity, the late-night jokes continue. "We finally found something the president is good at," said NBC's Jay Leno. "Dodgeball."
- Read more on the Iraqi journalist who threw a shoe at President Bush.
- Read more about the origins of the shoe insult.
- Read more by Kenneth T. Walsh.