Most people will easily remember where they were and what they were doing at September 11th . Not President Bush. At two Town Hall Meetings later that year, he was asked about his day. Both times he ended up telling untrue stories about how he learned of the WTC-attacks …
Some news can actually be planned ahead. The anniversary of September 11 is such a story. At my paper we (chief editor, two journalists and I) got together at lunch a month ago to work out what we would include in our special section about the attack.
I took it upon myself to tell the little story of ‘The President’s Day’. We all remembered something with George Bush flying/fleeing around the country, and I was supposed to draw the map and supply the timetable. Little story – hehe! I had no idea, what was waiting for me.
The facts for the map were easy enough to uncover from the main media and The White House itself: Florida – Louisiana – Nebraska – Washington. A job done and over with. But then I got caught up with some of the more obscure homepages of the net. When you google-search you’ll often come across some very interesting stories if you look through the first pages of results. Suddenly I had timelines that didn’t match. My journalistic nerve was hit, and I wanted to find out what was right and what was wrong. This soon proved impossible.
When I suddenly ended up with video-footage of Bush getting the tragic news in the classroom in Florida I was amazed. He just sat there! And he kept his seat for minutes – eventually he started joking around with the children. I almost couldn’t believe it. Now I knew I would transform my map-assignment into something more substantial.
Then I learned that Bush was aware of the first attack even before he entered the classroom! He had wasted so much time during this morning doing a photo-opportunity with cute black kids instead of acting like the commander-in-chief. At least he must think so himself as proved by more video-footage: This time Bush was telling people at Town Hall Meetings how he had experienced the day. – everyone at the meetings gave the man applause after applause. And he was not telling the truth! Here was my headline.
First I assumed some of the big US newspapers had done some hard-hitting stories on this subject. But I couldn’t find any. And so I went to my editor and told him our graphic presentation of Bush’s day would be special – it might even raise questions, which I couldn’t answer.
I proceeded to read all I could find about Bush and September 11th. And slowly I built a long text with lots of specific details and exact timetables. I had leads pointing in different directions, and something I had to give up about. Like any other journalist. I gave up about the whereabouts of Bush’s father. I tend to believe he was grounded in Milwaukee, but other sources say he was ‘by coincidence’ in Washington. I also never found out how Bush left the classroom; Did he pull himself together or did an advisor come to get him out for work?
Anyway, I only have a single page for use to this story, and being a graphics editor I want to do something visual too. So I decide to try my hand at sequential art – comics if you like. This means I have to cut my text very hard, although I still have to struggle with the length of it, when I do the final page of this infocomic.
Several sketches are laid out before deciding on the one presented here. A funny thing happens while I work. I sit in the middle of the newsroom and whenever people pass by they usually say something like ‘ah, you’re doing something on Bush – It looks good’. The next thing they’re caught up reading the story, and then something extraordinarily happens. People in the newsroom start to discuss the content of the graphic story before discussing the graphic design. They want to know more or even submit new information: Sources, theories, questions. Somehow we never come around to the normal talk on use of color, size etc.
No one here was aware of the points presented in this graphic: Why didn’t Bush tell the truth? Maybe Cheney is pulling the strings? I cannot give a definite answer, but I hope I’ll have readers starting to think it over and make up their own minds based on the material presented in this graphic and everything else they’ll read on the matter.
In Denmark a story about Bush’s day isn’t guaranteed many readers even with a provocative headline. By adding speech balloons, drawings and cutting the text into easily digested timetables I hope I’ll drag in some more readers to this interesting story. This is the very reason I do what I do. I believe a visual approach to the news will help more people understand complex matters and ask important questions.
(Article from the archives of VisualJournalism.com)