While the nation titters over the president being caught uttering a barnyard epithet over an open mic, a larger point is being missed. President Bush and Tony Blair, prime minister of Great Britain, were having the sort of conversation that world leaders only conduct when they think nobody is listening. The topic–the outbreak of war between Israel and the Hezbollah faction in Lebanon–was extremely significant. Ordinarily we’d have to wait at least a decade or two for the National Security Archive to retrieve through the Freedom of Information Act whatever imperfect record existed of this sort of conversation. But thanks to the miracle of satellite feeds, we may eavesdrop on history in real time.
Transcripts of the overheard Bush-Blair conversation thus far have a somewhat tentative quality; different news organizations have produced divergent texts of what was actually said. I decided to go with the BBC’s, because it seemed the most plausible and because I assume the BBC has more transcribing experience than do other news organizations. In the footnotes below (to read them, roll your mouse over the portions highlighted in yellow) I offer where I think relevant alternate readings (from transcripts by CNN and the London Independent, which conducted a similar footnoting exercise) on what Bush and Blair said. No doubt there will be much arguing over whose transcription is most accurate, so I can hardly claim to be definitive. Nor can I claim that my version is the most complete. The Independent’s transcription starts at an earlier point in the conversation, and covers a brief, vague, and not terribly exciting discussion about trade. The most interesting part is the characteristically adolescent way that President Bush addressed his fellow statesman: “Yo, Blair.” Disappointly, Blair failed to respond, “Yo, yourself.”
I’d like to extend thanks to James Bennet, former Jerusalem bureau chief of the New York Times (and current editor-in-chief of the Atlantic), and Slate’s chief political correspondent, John Dickerson, for helping me puzzle out a coherent interpretation of what was said. Any misinterpretations are entirely their fault.
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