So, as I’m sure you’ve heard: This weekend, while President Bush and Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki gave a joint press conference during the American president’s surprise trip to Baghdad, an Iraqi journalist rose to his feet during the proceedings and declared, “This is a gift from the Iraqis; this is the farewell kiss, you dog!”
The journalist then hurled his shoe at the American president. Bush ducked. The journalist then hurled the other.
Now, granted, under normal circumstances, the whole shoe-hurled-at-a-world-leader thing would indeed be pretty amusing. But “normal,” meaning “not currently engaged in an occupation that has led to the brutal deaths of an untold number of people.” The U.S. president visiting Iraq, nearly six years after the U.S. invasion, is not normal circumstances.
The shoe-throwing incident—”soles of shoes are considered the ultimate insult in Arab culture,” AFP noted—isn’t funny so much as it’s incredibly sad. Sad that this is what the Iraqi/American relationship has come to; sad that the offending journalist, Muntadar al-Zaidi, was taken outside the conference hall and beaten for his stunt until “he was crying like a woman.” Sad all around. And, in that, perhaps, a fitting symbol for President Bush’s ostensibly final diplomatic trip to Iraq, a reminder that, whatever the White House claims about the matter, the wounds we’ll be leaving in Iraq are deep and raw and personal.
The major papers get it. Their stories about the shoe-throwing today frame the incident in the broader context—and the broader ironies—of Bush’s oddly triumphal visit to Iraq. Here’s the lede of today’s New York Times print story on the incident:
President Bush made a valedictory visit on Sunday to Iraq, the country that will largely define his legacy, but the trip will more likely be remembered for the unscripted moment when an Iraqi journalist hurled his shoes at Mr. Bush’s head and denounced him on live television as a “dog” who had delivered death and sorrow here from nearly six years of war.
And the lede of today’s front-page Washington Post treatment:
Arriving here on Sunday for a surprise farewell visit, President Bush staunchly defended a war that has taken far more time, money and lives than anticipated, but he received a taste of local resentment toward his policies when an Iraqi journalist hurled two shoes at him at a news conference.
Good summaries, both. Each captures the irony of the shoe-throwing situation in a way that’s appropriately somber (read: blissfully free of puns and jokes and all manner of glee).
And then…there’s TV news. The major cable networks, in discussing the shoe-throwing, generally managed to convey not the sad ironies of the event, but rather the notion that shoes are funny and throwing them is funny and throwing them at someone is, you know, really funny. To wit, some of the teehee treatments of the shoe incident said networks treated us to this morning:
“The shoe wasn’t on the other foot; it was actually in the air. What President Bush is saying about a bizarre shoe hurling incident at a news conference in Iraq.” (teaser, Headline News)
“Every time I see it I bust out laughing. I don’t mean to. It could have been a very serious security situation. We saw what happened afterwards.” (Heidi Collins, CNN)
“President Bush joked he is used to dodging reporters’ questions, but in Iraq this weekend he was dodging shoes. You’ve probably seen the video now. Tamron Hall with more on what the president calls a ‘bizarre incident.’” (teaser, MSNBC)