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President Bush Talks to Young Reporter in the Oval Office

Tom and Jack Kelly stand with their mom at the White House.
Tom and Jack Kelly stand with their mom at the White House.

Reporter Tom Kelly is a second-grader at the Stanley Elementary School in Swampscott, Massachusetts. His father, Michael Kelly, was covering the Iraqi war for the Atlantic Monthly and the Washington Post when he became the first journalist to die there, in April 2003. The President invited Tom and his brother, Jack, to come visit him at the White House. Tom asked if he could interview the President for his school newspaper, the Stanley Chronicle, for which Tom is a regular reporter. The answer was yes. Tom's report, written exclusively for his school newspaper and Scholastic News Online, follows.


An Interview With the President of the United States
by Tom Kelly, 8, Massachusetts

I was born in Washington, D.C., and I usually go there for holidays. But this time, I was going to interview the President of the United States.

I started in the White House briefing room where I waited with my mother and brother, Jack, for the President's airplane to land at Andrews Air Force Base. The President then flew by helicopter—along with decoys that look like his helicopter but aren't—to the White House.

When the President's helicopter was on its way, we were rushed outside with the press to stake out his arrival. A presidential aide then rushed the three of us to the west wing, where the President works. Then they brought us into the Oval Office, where we met President Bush.

We got autographed baseballs (by him), and in return we gave him an autographed book (by us). The book was Things Worth Fighting For, which was written by my dad. We saw Barney (his dog), and pictures of the President's family and his other dog, which died during Bush's presidency.

Then the interview began. The President said I was the youngest person to interview him, but then my 4-year-old brother asked a question, so maybe he is.

Here is a transcript of the interview:

Tom Kelly, age 8: What do you remember most about second grade?
President Bush: I remember learning how to be a good reader. I think that's the most important part about early grades, is to become a good reader. That way, when you get older, you're a better reader.

Tom: What is your least and most favorite part about being President?
President Bush: Let's see. My most favorite part about being President is making decisions that make the world more free and more peaceful. My least favorite part of the presidency is that I can't just walk out the front door of where I live and go for a walk by myself.

Tom: Why can't you?
President Bush: You can't walk out the front door of wherever you are when you're the President, because there's a lot of Secret Service people. There's a fear that some people might want to harm the President. Therefore, wherever I go, there are people surrounding me.

Tom: What did you learn about being President from your father?
President Bush: I learned that you can't please everybody all the time, and so the best thing to do is make decisions based upon what you think are the right decisions.

Tom: How does it feel to be the most important person in the country?
President Bush: First of all, being an important person requires . . . it brings a certain sense of responsibility. It's gotta be a responsible person. But, you know, I try to not think of myself as the most important person, but just as a person serving my country.

Tom: How did you feel when you got elected President?
President Bush: Well, it took awhile. If you remember, they counted and counted and counted and counted it. I was honored when I was sworn in as President. It was a very dramatic moment for me, made very special by the fact that my wife and two daughters were standing right by my side.

Tom: Actually, I do remember that. It was really hard to tell whether you or Gore won.
President Bush: Yes. It was very difficult to tell who was gonna win.

Tom (talking to his mom): Can I tell him what his name is scrambled?
President Bush: Sure.
Tom's Mom: Yes.
Tom: It is "He bugs Gore," which is true!
President Bush: (laughs)
Tom: I got an e-mail that said that, from my grandmother.
President Bush: OK. When you take all my letters and spell it out that way, huh? Very good.
Tom: I've tried to do it, and it's worked.

Tom: OK. What is the hardest decision you had to make during your presidency?
President Bush: To send people to war.

Tom: How do you make those decisions, and how do you choose how many to send?
President Bush: First, I make the decision by listening to a lot of advisers. A President must surround himself by very smart and capable people, and I listen to their opinions. Second, in terms of how many troops to send, those are decisions made by the military people, not the President.

Tom: Is there anything scary about being President?
President Bush: Nope. I'm not scared being President.

Tom: Why is that?
President Bush: Well, I feel very safe because there are people working hard to protect me. Plus, I am comfortable in the role of having to make decisions. The reasons why I'm comfortable is because I've got very smart, capable people here in the White House and in the Defense Department or the State Department who give me their honest advice, and I listen to it and make my mind up.

Tom: When did you decide you wanted to be President?
President Bush: I didn't really start thinking about it until after I won re-election as Governor in (Texas in) 1998, and then I had to go through a legislative session. I was the Governor and had to be involved in the legislative session that ended in spring of '99, and it was during this legislative session that I thought long and hard about it, and made up my mind. So I would say early '99.

Tom: What was the worst thing that happened to you since you were President?
President Bush: The worst thing that happened to me—you know, there were sad moments when I've been President. It was a sad moment when I learned your daddy had died. That's hard—for you, but, you know, I don't view the world in terms of bad moments and good moments. I really am a fortunate person because of my religious faith and my family, which means that the hard times are not bad. They're hard, but not bad. So there've been plenty of hard times, but I can't think of any bad times. I've really enjoyed it—my job—a lot.

Tom's brother, Jack Kelly, age 4: Ummmm—
President Bush: You got a question, Jack?

Jack: What about the scary thing about choosing to do war?
President Bush: Well, what's scary about it is, people will lose their lives. That's the scary thing. That's what's hard about it.

Tom and Jack's mom: That's a great question, Jack.
President Bush: It sure was, Jack. You're a smart guy, like your brother, Tom—I call him Tommy.

Tom and Jack's mom: Jack also wanted to know, what's your favorite candy?
President Bush: Chocolate. What's yours, Jack?
Jack: Same thing.
President Bush: You're a chocolate man, too? You looked like a chocolate guy when you came in here. I said to myself, there's Jack—he likes chocolate. Well, listen guys, thanks for coming. Listen, thank you for the book.

Tom: By the way, one more question. How many rooms do you have in the White House?
President Bush: There are a lot. Too many. You'd better ask someone else that question. I don't want you to have a bad fact.
Tom: I know someone to ask—the blueprints!!
President Bush: You know where to find them? The Internet! Your mom said to ask questions you couldn't find on the Internet. There's a question for you.

(end of interview transcript)

I was surprised he didn't talk about September 11, when I asked him about the worst thing that happened when he was President.

I liked when he talked about chocolate.

Interviewing the President made me feel safe, nervous, and important. It was a great and once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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