Published on Friday, October 18, 2002 in the Orlando Sentinel
A Parent Asks: Why Was Jeb Not at Hearing?
by Mike Thomas
So why wasn't Jeb Bush standing with his daughter when the bailiffs slapped the cuffs on her and led her off to prison?
Jeb says he didn't want to turn the court hearing into a media circus. He didn't want to make it look like the governor was trying to intimidate the judge into a more lenient sentence.
I'd rather believe this than that he couldn't fit her into his schedule, or that he feared the politically embarrassing video on the evening news.
But even when I accept his explanation, I instinctively put myself in his place as a parent, which is about the only way most of us can relate to someone in his position. And when I do that, I would be at my daughter's side, holding her hand.
Is this fair? Probably not.
I don't know the Bush family dynamic. I don't know how many times Jeb has had to deal with Noelle's drug problem, how many sleepless nights it has cost him, how many treatment programs she has been through, how much family turmoil this has caused.
It could well be that Jeb did what he thought was in his daughter's best interest. Maybe it is time for Noelle, at the age of 25, to understand that her future is a jail cell if she doesn't change, and even the governor can't stop that.
This makes sense to me.
But I still think most parents will go with their gut on this -- I'd be there with my kid. And if I think of her having to face a dozen reporters as well as the judge, I'd want to be there even more, since those reporters really are there because of me.
If this episode hurts Jeb, this will be why. It is not that Noelle has a drug problem; it's that her dad was not there. When Noelle stood before the judge Thursday, it was with her aunt, Jeb's sister.
Is this fair? No, but politics isn't fair.
Is Noelle's plight even news? Her behavior has nothing to do with her dad's job. For that matter, his role as dad has little to do with his ability to set policy and pass legislation.
Bush, as might be expected, has continually asked the media to respect the family's privacy.
In fact, reporters have long known about Noelle's drug dependency, but stayed away from it until she was arrested in Tallahassee in January for calling in a phony prescription for an anxiety drug.
Even at that, the Sentinel didn't splash it on the front page.
It was put at the bottom of the Local & State section.
Noelle only made the front page when Jeb brought her up in a tearful, public speech when the media was present. He did so again in a tearful campaign appearance at the Hispanic Christian Church Association of Central Florida, also attended by the media.
This week, he talked about her on the Today show.
It looks like he wants the media to back off when the news is embarrassing while he reserves the right to bring up Noelle when it portrays him in the sympathetic light of a grieving parent.
When he does that, he has to expect the question: Well, then, where were you yesterday?
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