Fact Check

Who Cares What You Think?

President Bush tells a spectator, 'Who cares what you think?'

Published Aug. 11, 2001


Claim:   After a spectator at a Fourth of July celebration in Philadelphia told President Bush that he was "disappointed" with his work, the President responded, "Who cares what you think?"

Status:   Undetermined.

Example:   [Collected on the Internet, 2001]

So when the President was here on July 4, I had the opportunity to shake his hand. I wasn't sure if that was a good idea or not but I did it anyway, and said to him, "Mr President, I hope you only serve four years. I'm very disappointed in your work so far."

He kept smiling and shaking my hand but answered, "who cares what you think?" His face stayed photo-op perfect but his eyes gave me a look that said, if we'd been drinking in some frat house in Texas, he'd've happily answered, "let's take it outside." A nasty little gleam. But he was (fortunately) constrained by presidential propriety.

But that was the end of it, until I turned away and started scribbling the quote down in my notepad, so as to remember The Gift forever. When he saw me do that he got excited and craned his neck over the rubberneckers to shout at me, "who are you with? Who are you with?" People started looking so he made a joke: "make sure you get it right." But he kept at it: "Who do you write for?" I told him I wasn't "with" anybody and pointed to one of his staff people, who knows me a little, and said, "ask him, he'll tell you." Then I split.

Half an hour later, my boss (who had helped organize the event we were at) came up to me and said, "did you really tell the President that he was doing a 'lousy f***ing job'?" No way, I said, I was very polite, I just told him what I thought. Fortunately, he believed me. He wasn't happy with me, but he believed me.

But anyway, if you ever wondered if the Prez really was kind of a jerk, I'm here to tell you, he is, and I got The Gift to prove it. I'm thinking of making up t-shirts so we can share The Gift with everyone:

"Who cares what you think?"
- President George W. Bush, July 4, 2001

Origins:   This missive began winging its way around the Internet shortly after the Fourth of July in 2001. It was penned by Bill Hangley, a Philadelphia-based free-lance writer, who wrote up his encounter with President Bush at a Philadelphia Fourth of July celebration as described above and mailed it out to a few dozen friends. As often happens, the message was forwarded outside the original recipient list and soon ended up in thousands and thousands of e-mailboxes. (Andrew Hudson, a spokesman for the mayor of Denver, is often misattributed as the writer of this piece because when he forwarded it on to others, his name, work title, and phone numbers were automatically appended to the end of the message, creating the appearance that he had drafted the message and mailed it out as an official


Of course, everyone wants to know, "Did it happen?" Mr. Hangley says it did. President Bush obviously isn't going to deign to confirm or deny the incident. We haven't seen any accounts from other spectators or presidential staff members who claim to have overhead the remark, so for now it's a toss-up: You believe Mr. Hangley, or you don't.

Why the fascination with this anecdote? Perhaps because of our very close, controversial election, this story offers something for everyone: To the half of the country who didn't vote for Bush, it reinforces their image of him as an uncouth, uncaring jerk; to the other half who did vote for him, it provides the satisfaction of seeing a rude non-supporter get his comeuppance. Or maybe members of the public — whoever they voted for — are just shocked or surprised to read about a president acting so very much like . . . a regular person. As Mr. Hangley alludes, presidential propriety is such that the President is never supposed to show irritation or anger in public, no matter what the provocation — a standard most of us would find very difficult to live up to.

Our opinion? There are plenty of traditional outlets for expressing dissatisfaction with the policies and actions of elected representatives, but walking up to the President at a public function and telling him he's doing a lousy job isn't one of them. Such behavior demonstrates a lack of respect for the office of President of the United States, an honor that should be maintained whether or not one respects the man who currently holds the office — just as the well-mannered citizen doesn't express his disagreement with the political views of a American-flag-carrying protester by spitting on the flag he bears, because that act displays a contempt for everything Old Glory symbolizes, not merely for the person carrying it. The President isn't above criticism, but freedom of speech isn't an excuse for ignoring the ordinary civilities of choosing an appropriate time, place, and manner for the expression of that criticism.

Last updated:   30 November 2007

  Sources Sources:

    Bartels, Lynn.   "Mayoral Aide Has Cyberspace Nightmare."

    [Denver] Rocky Mountain News.   21 July 2001.

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.