You're at a photo op, reading a book with schoolchildren and an aide suddenly whispers that a second plane has hit the World Trade Center. "America is under attack."
You're the president of the United States. What do you do?
There have been other moments like this in American history, when the chief executive was suddenly plunged into a crisis, but they weren't caught on videotape. George W. Bush was on camera in an elementary school in Sarasota, Fla. He could see the pagers of reporters and photographers going off, one by one. He was on the spot like few people have ever been.
From two different angles, Americans have new glimpses of that historic moment. One comes from rabble-rousing Michael Moore, whose Bush-eviscerating film "Fahrenheit 9/11" premieres next week, and includes an uninterrupted seven-minute segment showing Bush's reaction after hearing the news of the attack. He doesn't move.
Instead he continues to sit in the classroom, listening to children read aloud. Moore lets the tape roll as the minutes pass painfully by.
And now from a second angle: The staff of the 9/11 Commission this week released a report that summarizes Bush's closed-door testimony about his thoughts as he sat there.
"The President told us his instinct was to project calm, not to have the country see an excited reaction at a moment of crisis . . . The President felt he should project strength and calm until he could better understand what was happening."
This makes no sense whatsoever. If you're reading with a bunch of kids and the nation is attacked, what you do is excuse yourself from work, just like several million others did that morning, and go find out what the fuck is happening.
Bush's freakish behavior could represent cluelessness, fear, cowardice, second thoughts ("Dang, wasn't there that Presidential Daily Briefing a month ago...?") or even complicity, but nothing at all resembling leadership.