Published on Friday, March 26, 2004 by the Guardian/UK
Bush Jokes About Search for WMD, But It's No Laughing Matter for Critics
by David Teather in New York
President George Bush sparked a political firestorm yesterday after making what many judged a tasteless and ill-judged joke about the failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
Mr Bush made the joke at a black-tie event for radio and television journalists in Washington on Wednesday night.
He narrated a slide show, described as the White House election year album, making hay of the administration's reputation for secrecy and strained relations with European allies. But it was the joke about the war in Iraq that drew attacks.
A slide showed Mr Bush in the Oval office, leaning to look under a piece of furniture. "Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be here somewhere," he told the audience, drawing applause.
Another slide showed him peering into another part of the office, "Nope, no weapons over there," he said, laughing. "Maybe under here," he said, as a third slide was shown.
John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who will fight Mr Bush for the White House said the joke displayed a "stunningly cavalier" attitude.
"If George Bush thinks his deceptive rationale for going to war is a laughing matter, then he's even more out of touch than we thought. Unfortunately for the president, this is not a joke."
He added: "585 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq in the last year, 3,354 have been wounded and there's no end in sight. George Bush sold us on going to war with Iraq based on the threat of weapons of mass destruction. But we still haven't found them, and now he thinks that's funny?"
The statement from Mr Kerry also included a comment from an Iraqi war veteran, Brad Owens.
"War is the single most serious event that a president or government can carry its people into," he said. "This cheapens the sacrifice that American soldiers and their families are dealing with every single day."
CNN viewers emailed the network to vent their anger at the joke. "How can a thinking, caring human being joke about the lies that led to body bags and broken young men and women? I was appalled," wrote one viewer. Another said: "It was tasteless and childish. It shows the true man - or child in his case."
The defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, later declined to give an opinion at a press conference. "To know what I would think, I would have to be there," he said.
Mr Bush's skit poked fun of members of the administration, including Mr Rumsfeld.
When he showed another slide, the president joked: "Oops, this photo wasn't supposed to be in here. This is the skull and bones secret signal."
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004