Wash. Times headlines “jeers” for Obama's commencement address, but not for Bush's

The Washington Times headlined its article on President Obama's May 17 commencement address “Notre Dame cheers, jeers Obama.” The headlines of Times stories on commencement addresses by President Bush did not similarly highlight protesters at those events.

The Washington Times headlined its May 18 article on President Obama's May 17 commencement address “Notre Dame cheers, jeers Obama,” highlighting what the article described as “a few” attendees who “vocally protested” and “perhaps a dozen graduates” who engaged in “silent protest” of the university's decision to invite Obama to speak and receive an honorary degree. In headlines of its reports on commencement addresses by President Bush, the Times did not similarly highlight protesters at those events.

In the May 18 article, Washington Times staff writer Stephen Dinan wrote of the protests during Obama's commencement address:

Mr. Obama received a raucously enthusiastic greeting from graduates of America's leading Roman Catholic university even as protesters outside -- and a few inside -- vocally objected to his pro-choice views, which stand in contrast with Catholic teaching.


His 31-minute speech was interrupted early by a man shouting “abortion is murder,” but the student body shouted the man down, chanting Mr. Obama's campaign slogan, “Yes, we can.” A few other interruptions followed, but Mr. Obama talked through them.


And as Mr. Obama spoke, on the floor of the Joyce Center in front of him, perhaps a dozen graduates had put on the tops of their mortarboard hats an image of a yellow cross with yellow infants' feet on each side as a silent protest.

Other students put the iconic Obama campaign “O” on their mortarboards, or wrote slogans of support for the president. Keeping with tradition at Notre Dame, the architecture students had on their mortarboards elaborate models of buildings such as the Washington Monument, Leaning Tower of Pisa or the Empire State Building.

By contrast, the Times headlined its May 22, 2001, report (retrieved from the Nexis database) on Bush's commencement address at Yale University “Self-deprecating Bush tells graduates of his debt to Yale.” In the body of the article, the Times reported, “In a commencement speech to graduating seniors, some of whom booed him, Mr. Bush joked about his reputation as a partier and an intellectual lightweight,” and further reported, “While the president was speaking, dozens of seniors held up yellow signs expressing their disapproval.” The Associated Press reported that while Bush accepted an honorary degree, “hundreds of graduating students” were “booing and holding small protest signs.” Several other newspapers' May 22, 2001, reports on Bush's Yale commencement address used headlines that highlighted the protests. The Washington Post used the headline “Bush Embraces Yale In Graduation Speech; President Gets Cool Reception at Alma Mater,” USA Today used the headline “Yale crowd a tough one for Bush,” and The New York Times used the headline, “Bush Returns to Yale, but Welcome Is Not All Warm.”

Further, The Washington Times headlined a May 21, 2005, article on Bush's commencement address at the Christian-affiliated Calvin College “Bush praises faith-based activism.” As the Times reported in its article, Bush's Calvin address was also protested:

The president's visit to the liberal arts college became controversial when a third of the college's faculty signed a letter published yesterday in the Grand Rapids Press that said: “As Christians, we are called to be peacemakers and to initiate war only as a last resort. We believe your administration has launched an unjust and unjustified war in Iraq.”

Another letter signed by about 800 students, faculty and alumni ran Friday. It said: “In our view, the policies and actions of your administration, both domestically and internationally over the past four years, violate many deeply held principles of Calvin College.”

Only a handful of students showed up to protest the president's address at the 4,000-student school. The students had also planned to wear armbands -- yellow for peace, green for the environment and pink for tolerance -- but, in a survey of the 875 graduates as they accepted their diplomas, just a few sported the bands.

Indeed, on May 17, 2005, the Times ran an article on the commencement address headlined “College ad to protest Bush visit: Professors criticize policies of commencement speaker.”

Similarly, in a June 2, 2008, report, the Times published a portion of the Associated Press' write-up of Bush's commencement address at Furman University under the headline, “Bush sets goal for graduates.” The AP reported, “President Bush, ignoring faculty members who stood in silent protest of his commencement speech, acknowledged Saturday that when he left college, thinking about how to be a 'model citizen' was the furthest thing from his mind.” The AP added of the protesters:

Scores of Bush supporters lined his motorcade route and the crowd gave Bush a warm welcome as he strode into the university stadium for the outdoor commencement ceremony. But about 15 members of the faculty stood in silent protest during the president's speech. They wore white T-shirts emblazoned with “We Object” to show their opposition to Bush's policies on the Iraq war, global warming and other issues.

From the May 22, 2001, Washington Times article:

President Bush finally made his peace with Yale University yesterday, returning to this bastion of liberal elitism 33 years after graduating from the school where he never felt quite at home.

It was a bittersweet return for the president, whose conservatism is anathema to most of the Yale community, which cast more votes for Green Party candidate Ralph Nader than for Mr. Bush in November.

In a commencement speech to graduating seniors, some of whom booed him, Mr. Bush joked about his reputation as a partier and an intellectual lightweight. But there was also a reflective side to the speech, a sense that the president has reconciled himself to his alma mater after years of ambivalence.


While the president was speaking, dozens of seniors held up yellow signs expressing their disapproval. Some later said they preferred Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, who spoke at Yale on Sunday.

Yesterday's protest was organized in part by Jacob Remes, a 20-year-old junior who said Mr. Bush had not accomplished enough with his life to receive an honorary degree from Yale.

“He hasn't done very much,” Mr. Remes told a gaggle of White House correspondents on the grassy quad just before the graduation ceremony. “He's only been president for a matter of months. Before that, he certainly hasn't done much with his life.”

Mr. Remes added: “The things he has done, like repudiating Kyoto, like the energy plan, like the global gag rule on abortion, have been terrible. . . . I don't think that Yale should be honoring him.”

Mr. Bush made no mention of protesters sprinkled throughout the crowd, whose boos were largely drowned out by applause. In fact, he spent the first half of the speech poking fun at his own shortcomings.

“To those of you who received honors, awards and distinctions, I say well done,” said the president, dressed in a blue graduation gown with black stripes. “And to the C students, I say: You, too, can be president of the United States.”

One of his twin daughters, Barbara, just completed her freshman year at Yale. Yale President Richard C. Levin yesterday lauded the president's “commitment to inclusiveness, combined with your pragmatism and common sense.”

Mr. Bush became a bit emotional at the close of his speech.

“I hope that there will come a time for you to return to Yale,” he said, “and feel as I do today. And I hope you won't wait as long.”