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Did President Bush Really Tell Americans to 'Go Shopping' After 9/11?


Did President Bush Really Tell Americans to 'Go Shopping' After 9/11?

President Bush Tours World Trade Center Site on Sept. 14, 2001

The White House/Getty Images
Updated June 25, 2014

One of the most persistent claims about George W. Bush's response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, is that he urged Americans to simply "go shopping" as the nation headed into war.

"Bush did nothing to mobilize public opinion to accept the sacrifices that war implies - the first thing a leader would do," Ronald Spiers, a retired American diplomat, alleged in a 2003 op-ed in The New York Times.

"Tax cuts could go ahead as planned, and energy saving was dismissed out of hand. 'Go shopping' was the administration's message."

Related: 5 Wacky Myths About Obama

Thomas L. Friedman, a Times columnist, has made similar claims at least twice on the paper's editorial pages.

"They wanted to do something to strengthen the country they love. Instead, Bush told a few of us to go to war and the rest of us to go shopping," Friedman wrote in May of 2008.

The Times columnist followed up two months later: "After 9/11, Mr. Bush had the chance to summon the country to a great nation-building project focused on breaking our addiction to oil. Instead, he told us to go shopping."

The claim has been repeated so many times in the mainstream media, on blogs and across the airwaves that it's tough to keep an accurate count.

Even the 2008 presidential candidates, Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain, hammered Bush about it on the campaign trail.

"President Bush did some smart things at the outset, but one of the opportunities that was missed was, when he spoke to the American people, he said, 'Go out and shop,'" charged Obama, then a U.S. Senator from Illinois.

Here's TIME magazine in January 2009: "After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, President Bush didn't call for sacrifice. He called for shopping."

Allow us to clear up the confusion once and for all: President Bush never encouraged Americans to go out and mindlessly spend money following 9/11.

It just didn't happen.

What Bush Really Said After the Attacks

President Bush didn't call on Americans to run up their credit card bills.

He encouraged them go on living their lives as they were used to doing. And he expressed concern about a nation and an economy paralyzed by fear of terrorists.

"I ask your continued participation and confidence in the American economy," Bush said in an address to the nation on Sept. 20, 2001.

"Terrorists attacked a symbol of American prosperity. They did not touch its source. America is successful because of the hard work, and creativity, and enterprise of our people. These were the true strengths of our economy before September 11th, and they are our strengths today."

Bush did not, at any point, use the word "shop" in that momentous speech.

Nor did he ask anyone to "go shopping" in a speech one week later.

"When [the terrorists] struck, they wanted to create an atmosphere of fear," Bush said at a Sept. 27, 2001, speech at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. "And one of the great goals of this nation's war is to restore public confidence in the airline industry.

"It's to tell the traveling public: Get on board. Do your business around the country. Fly and enjoy America's great destination spots. Get down to Disney World in Florida. Take your families and enjoy life, the way we want it to be enjoyed."

One of the only references Bush made to shopping at the time was on Nov. 8, 2001, when he said he had seen signs of a courageous people in the aftermath of the attacks.

"This great nation will never be intimidated. People are going about their daily lives, working and shopping and playing, worshiping at churches and synagogues and mosques, going to movies and to baseball games," Bush said.

The word "shopping" also turns up one more time. On Sept. 17, 2001, Bush addressed the fear some Muslims had of a backlash.

"I've been told that some fear to leave; some don't want to go shopping for their families; some don't want to go about their ordinary daily routines because, by wearing cover, they're afraid they'll be intimidated," Bush said.

"That should not and that will not stand in America. Those who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take out their anger don't represent the best of America. They represent the worst of humankind. And they should be ashamed of that kind of behavior."

Where the Rumor Got Started

So if Bush didn't ask Americans to "go shopping," who did?

A guy named Frank Pellegrini. A writer for TIME magazine.

Referring to Bush's Sept. 20, 2001, speech asking Americans for "continued participation and confidence in the American economy," Pellegrini added his own commentary and translation: "And for God's sake keep shopping."

The rest, as they say, is history.

The false claim nags at former Bush administration officials.

In a scathing letter to the Times in June of 2010, former White House senior adviser Karl Rove wrote: "Suggesting Bush simply urged people 'to shop' is factually wrong - and may be intellectually dishonest."

Rove is right.

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