President George W. Bush, Beer Lover ?
On the June 8th evening newscast of [state-owned]France2 TV, there was a taped segment about the G8 summit. As the reporter recounted in voiceover the news from the summit, viewers were treated to images of the tie-less world leaders walking casually at the German seaside. One showed George Bush at an outdoor table, seated with Angela Merkel and Tony Blair. We watch as George Bush pours what looks to be beer into a glass, which promptly overflows. The narration for the segment noted the « decontraction parfois maladroite d’un George Bush amateur de biere [the occasionally awkward relaxedness of a George Bush, beer lover] ».
Whoa, whoa, whoa. Rewind the tape, please. George Bush cannot be drinking a beer because it is well know than he abused alcohol until the age of 40 and has been a teetotaler ever since.
All this is to say that we are seeing a kind of media disconnect. For this French news broadcast team, it is entirely reasonable to have a world leader drinking a beer. The report was actually lightly mocking Bush for his maladroit tendencies. An American news outlet, aware that Bush does not drink alcohol, would probably have noted in the same breath that this was non-alcoholic beer, with or without proof. Indeed, at least three English-language news outlets have written about the moment, all three British. The Times, The Daily Telegraph and the BBC’s website. And they all hedge their bets.
The italics are mine : The Telegraph : « Last night Mr. Bush was photographed looking relaxed and cheerful as he had a beer, believed to be non-alcoholic... »
The Times : « Yesterday afternoon Mr Bush was photographed sipping something that resembled beer, while sitting around a picnic table... »
BBC.com : « As to suspicions that he was doing a “Boris Yeltsin” - US officials insist that was a non alcoholic beer he was seen drinking last night. »
All three have qualifiers in their statements because despite what it looks like, they « know » that Bush can’t possibly be drinking what he appears to be. The first two assume that it can’t be an alcoholic beverage—all evidence to the contrary—simply because Bush is a non-drinker, so the only possible explanation they have is that it is non-alcoholic beer. The label on the bottle is not clear enough to identify ; perhaps it is a well-known non-alcoholic German beer.
Of course none of this has anything to do with the important issues of geopolitics. And yet I think this raises two points : First, about public relations, because his is an administration that is so « message-disciplined » that that usually do everything to avoid any impression of behavior that would be unbecoming to the president. Add to that the fact that Bush was ill the following day and met with President Sarkozy in his private quarters instead of publicly, well, it probably raises suspicions (alluded to in the BBC report) about what was in that bottle.
Secondly, even if Bush weren’t a teetotaler, he most likely wouldn’t be filmed drinking beer anyway.
Alas, it seems that alcohol consumption, like facial hair and atheism, are dealbreakers for the occupier of the Oval Office. Because, I suppose the logic goes, an American president must convey the image of being clear-headed and sober at all moments. Even a sip of wine at a state dinner would break that image, which is why I think press secretaries have made efforts to keep photos of American presidents consuming alcohol very limited. It’s a far cry from the photos of Chirac, Blair and other Europeans in years past, big steins of beer in hand, enjoying a « cold frosty one, » and endless bottles of wine or champagne at myriad occasions. And here we arrive at yet another difference between western cultures.
Yet surprisingly, I can find no references at all in American media (yet) to this moment of the summit, nor have they reported on the British media talking about it. Had Bush been at an American celebration at the White House with the same drink, something tells me it would have been a very significant story in the American press, whether or not it was alcohol.
Wait a minute, Sarkozy’s a teetotaler too. Ah, but in France he’s breaking precedent. That’s another story.
Late Update : Another UK paper, The Sun, has also reported on Bush’s drink and further implies a connection between that and his falling ill. It also has a higher-resolution photo of the bottle that is still hard to see, and states matter-of-factly in the text that it is « alcohol-free, » while the capture to the photo simply says he’s sipping beer.
► Can German readers of Rue89 confirm the brand on the bottle, and whether it is identifiably alcohol-free ?
UPDATE 06/10/07, 13 : 25. Thanks to a reader, it’s seems confirmed that Pres. Bush was indeed drinking a non-alcoholic beer, a Buckler. What a relief !
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