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George W Bush's facetime at Facebook

Maggie Shiels | 11:12 UK time, Tuesday, 30 November 2010

The 43rd president of the United States of America and the 26-year-old upstart behind the world's biggest social network are destined to become a double act following their performance on Facebook.

George Bush's Facebook page


For nearly an hour George W Bush engaged in lively banter as he fielded questions from Mark Zuckerberg and those submitted by staff and Facebook users.

The antagonism among users on the live feed before Mr Bush took to the stage suggested that he might be in for a rough ride and that this could be a tough audience.

In the end the questions were ones he has been asked a thousand times, especially while punting his memoir Decision Points.

Over the last couple of weeks no prime-time stage - be it Oprah's or Jay Leno's - has been complete without an appearance from Mr Bush. His visit to Facebook's Palo Alto office was a brilliant coup by his wranglers, given the potential reach of more than 500 million users.

Mr Bush has an inside link with Facebook: the company's general counsel Ted Ullyot has strong ties to the Republican Party and worked as a White House lawyer.

However the appearance came about, it generated a lot of buzz; the site lit up with comments, praise and criticism.

From the get-go, Mr Bush was candid about the reasons for his social media volte-face:

"You got a lot of people paying attention to us and I'm trying to sell books.
"I've got over 600,000 friends on my Facebook page and I have watched your company grow. I love a country that enables somebody like you to have a dream and actually make it work and employ a lot of people and give them a chance to create wealth and create jobs.
"Plus the truth of the matter is I am shamelessly marketing. I hope people read my book. I have written this book because I recognise there is no such thing as short-term history and I want to give future historians a perspective - mine."

Even though Mr Bush referred to the social-networking service as "the Facebook" (as it was originally known), he insisted that he is not the Luddite many cast him as.

He told the audience he was the first "e-mail president" and that while he didn't want his name on any e-mails because they are all archived and could be misconstrued in years to come, his administration generated 170 million of them.

Mr Bush said that today he is a Blackberry person and an iPad person and gave his own view on subjects from the financial meltdown to management styles. Nothing seemed to be off the table. Many of the answers, however, didn't really delve deep despite the near-hour-long session.

Take Iraq, a subject that has divided this country and others: Mr Bush's answer was a tad long-winded, beginning with a description of the process which included bringing in new team members to move forward on the surge.

"I had to get everyone inside the administration on board because this is one of these decisions nobody was for at the time and any criticisms within the administration would have made it really hard to get funded in Congress.
"I hope people find it interesting [in terms of the] process. They may not agree with the decision but nevertheless it will give you a sense of what it was like to make a decision like this particularly since the country was against it.
"But what you didn't know at the time is I was deeply affected by many members of the military, particularly [by] the families who had lost a loved one. When they came to see me, and many did, they really wanted to know whether or not I was going to lead their child on the battlefield because of politics or whether or not I cared more about my standing politically or did I care really about completing the mission so that some point in time history would validate their loved one's sacrifice.
"Those words echoed in my mind all the time, just all the time."

Mr Zuckerberg shifted the issue of foreign relations to China, seen by companies like Facebook as a major growth area given the size of the population and the numbers set to come online. Again, Mr Bush offered an anecdote:

"I actually believe trade with China will change the Chinese system. I do believe in this case the markets will drive change. I think there is enormous freedom in the marketplace.
"When I first went to China to visit my dad, who was envoy there in 1975, everybody dressed the same. And I went back in 2001 the marketplace was flourishing. People had choice. That is freedom and it is the ultimate expression of freedom where a collection of consumers can demand product that then gets produced.
"A more effective way is for the marketplace to change, then the political system follows. One of the things I like to ask these leaders is 'What keeps you up at night?' And they said the creation of 25 million new jobs a year.
"To me it explains a lot about China. They are inward-looking. They are gluttonous for natural resources. It explains a lot of their Iranian policy and their Sudanese policy."

What kept Mr Bush up at night when he was in power?

"It seems kind of far-fetched probably, here in Palo Alto, this idyllic setting, that there would be another attack [like 9/11]. But I thought about it every night," said Mr Bush.

One question that was, oddly, presented as a foreign policy issue regarded U2's singer Bono, who appears in the book. Mr Bush joked about his chief of staff's concern about the extent of the president's musical knowledge:

"Josh Bolton says, before I meet Bono, he says 'You do know who Bono is?' I say 'Yeah, he is like an Irish rock star...'
"And Josh says 'You got it right.' And I said '...married to Cher.'"

Alongside the joke, Mr Bush said that at first he thought Bono was a "self-promoting rock star" but, after working with him, regarded him as a "friend" and "a really good guy".

Mr Bush was also candid about his feelings and imparted some sage words for fathers based on his own upbringing:

"If you are a father out there, my advice is to love your child unconditionally. I was given a great gift by George HW Bush and that is unconditional love. Life is full of risks and if you have the love of someone you admire, it mitigates risk.
"I tell people half-way jokingly that running for president is risky. You can run and lose and they can say 'what a pathetic candidate', or you can run and win and they can say 'what a pathetic president'.
"Either way it doesn't matter if you have the unconditional love of somebody you admire. And if you are fortunate enough to be a father my advice is: love your child with all your heart and soul."

Mr Bush denied that the book was his way of burnishing his image in the light of events like Iraq and the financial meltdown. Though he said he hoped to be remembered for the right reasons, it doesn't keep him up at night:

"A guy who protected the country and didn't sell his soul for the sake of politics. I am not worried about it. I am a comfortable guy. I have a great wife. My daughters are awesome. I am blessed.
"You've got to live life to the fullest. I didn't want it to be said I didn't seize that moment. I thought long and hard about running for president. I could have passed on it and ended up being governor, finished out my term and gone back to the private sector but I had an opportunity.
"Ultimately it boiled down to: I wanted to live life to the fullest. I wasn't going to let the moment pass and you have seized the moment here at Facebook and I congratulate you for living life to the fullest and going for it.
"Your life is not going to work out the way you expect. The unexpected will happen. You will get dealt a hand you didn't want to play. That is going to happen to all of us. The question is: how are you going to play it?"

Even though the fist-pump Mr Bush gave Mr Zuckerberg came across as trying too hard, it appears that his appearance was a success and one that other politicians will be only too eager to copy.

Mr Bush certainly hopes it won over a few more "friends" who will part with their cash and buy the book:

"This book is my way of letting you in on my life as president and that is it. I am not trying to shape any post president. If you see me in an airport I hope you wave with all five fingers, but if you don't, you won't be the first."


  • 1. At 12:43pm on 30 Nov 2010, DarkFox wrote:

    Good way to promote a book actually. Heavily vetted questions I fear which doesn't give us a true picture of GWB. I doubt his book will be much better at giving us agood insight into the truth of his presidency either.
    However well done to him for seizing a good marketing oppertunity and being honest that it was to sell copies.

    As a sideline note I looked back on most recent 10 entries on this blog and what they were about:

    Facebook + George Bush
    Google + Verizon and Net Neutrality
    FaceBook + Mark Zuckerberg
    Facebook +Google
    Online Privacy
    National Unfriend Day (Facebook focused)
    Blekko rivalling Google

    Does Maggie leave the office to do her job?

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  • 2. At 2:21pm on 30 Nov 2010, Pegsinho wrote:

    A look back at the last 10 of this blog's comments sections would probably* find the following:

    - Some relevant comments and discussion, some tired old complaints from the same posters
    - x 10

    10 recent blogs is probably long enough to find yourself a different source to check up on technology news if you don't like it. This blog has been going long enough to know what sort of thing that's going to be blogged about. Get a grip.

    *disclaimer: I haven't actually checked this because I have a life.

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  • 3. At 12:59pm on 01 Dec 2010, DarkFox wrote:

    @ Pegsinho

    I will do my best here to be civil despite your insulting, and somewhat troll like, tone.

    The reason there are so many complaints such as mine in the comments is this is a person we are forced to pay the wages of via our license fee. Other blogs are ad funded and can be as biased, or as lazy as they wish as I do not have to pay anything to them if I do not wish to.
    Another point to note is while I can and do look at other technology sites and blogs at home, at work the BBC is one of the few sites not blocked from being accessed (and this is becoming a more common occurance in some sectors). Therefor I tend to visit the BBC website during my break to read news and also to dare to read the tech section and it's blogs. And yes I dare to comment in a way that so offends you, if unintentionally. Unlike newspaper websites it is supposed to be unbiased, it at least contains less mistruths than many newspaper sites I could mention.

    If you will note on my orignal comment I also managed to find something relevant to say about the actual blog. Something you have failed to do yourself in your haste to attack someone for expressing a concern in a place that maybe Ms Shiels may see.

    To end, along with all the comments you so dislike and the consistant lack of much aside facebook, Google etc on the blog there are always comments from people like yourself annoyed that anyone would dare to express dismay at how their license fee is spent. As annoying for some as I, perhaps, am to you.
    Just something to consider.

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  • 4. At 8:56pm on 03 Dec 2010, Pegsinho wrote:

    The licence fee argument is a non starter for me though. By the same token then you are happy with the entire BBC television schedule? You would quite happily sit down and watch anything that they put out on TV or listen to anything on the Radio and don't think any programs might not be worthy of your fee?

    There is a lot of stuff on TV that I would question why it needs to have money thrown at it but I'm not going to phone in to Points Of View to complain because I appreciate that there is a lot of stuff that I will watch/listen to/read that I'm sure more than warrants my (lets be honest, not that expensive) fee.

    I apologise for coming across in my post as a bit offensive (reading back you are right it was) but I am from the 'if you don't like it, don't read it' school of thought and I just don't get the sheer amount of people who come on here and other BBC blogs to complain. So each to their own I suppose.

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  • 5. At 5:50pm on 04 Dec 2010, pjagoe wrote:

    I actually believe that there has to be something more interesting or innovative or even worthy of publishing than an article on George Bush's Book marketing, there is really nothing "tech" about this subject, furthermore it's another opportunity for a man to get the limelight when ultimately this man should not be allowed FaceTime, facebook time, primetime or any other time involving him trying to build his legacy from the ivory tower he resides in, this guy should have been impeached, is a primary root cause of the economic crisis culminating in 2008, rendition..., hello!, not to mention that he should be prosecuted for war crimes.
    That being said, how about publishing a "tech" article on, well something tech.

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  • 6. At 08:02am on 05 Dec 2010, osuagwu wrote:

    It is great to see GW Bush on the facebook. Facebook is afterall for everybody.He probably avoided the facebook while in office due to some security limitations now he can use it just like any other person. As an ardent follower of GW Bush I believe that he is a special president that appeared in the world stage the very time the world needed somebody like him to deal with the special issues of the time. I would like to see more of my beloved Bush on the facebook.

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  • 7. At 10:12am on 07 Dec 2010, JunkkMale wrote:

    'I am from the 'if you don't like it, don't read it' school of thought'

    And a honest one it is too. But, ignoring the unique funding aspects that can complicate such things, there is also the related suspicion that it is one that gets invoked and/or applied selectively depending on what is agreed with. Or not.

    Blogs seldom exist, or function as mechanism of uncritical support. Especially when other stakeholders may have views on the management of their investment. And slavish devotion in the face of tendencies to stray has, historically, lead to poor outcomes.

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  • 8. At 12:41pm on 07 Dec 2010, calmandhope wrote:

    osuagwu, while I am with you in believing that Dubya was a special president, I belive we are using a different definition of the word special...

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