Several top former aides to President George W. Bush, including his 9/11-era press secretary and speechwriters, have told The Federalist that they have no recollection whatsoever of the president ever saying “Our God is the God who named the stars” in the days following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The alleged quote is at issue due to claims made by Neil deGrasse Tyson, a science communicator and TV personality who has repeatedly said Bush uttered the phrase in the wake of 9/11 as a way of dividing “we from they.”
Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer rejected that allegation.
“I never heard him say anything like that and I know that’s not how he thinks,” Fleischer, who worked in the White House from January of 2001 through July of 2003, told The Federalist. “He would not make a reference to God for the purpose of dividing people.”
“He often referred to God for the purpose of uniting people from various faiths,” Fleischer said.
A number of Bush’s former speechwriters also took exception to Tyson’s claims. Both Matthew Scully and John McConnell, who comprised two-thirds of the three-person team responsible for the president’s speeches immediately following 9/11, said they don’t recall Bush ever uttering the words attributed to him by Tyson.
“I recall no such words ever being used in connection with 9/11,” Scully told The Federalist. McConnell said his recollection was “identical” to Scully’s.
The Federalist reported last week that there is no evidence corroborating Tyson’s charge against Bush. Exhaustive searches of Google, Nexis, and the former president’s speeches did not reveal a single instance of Bush ever saying, “Our God is the God who named the stars.” Although the controversy surrounding Tyson’s charge has raged on for nearly a week, none of Tyson’s defenders has been able to produce a single original source citation of the quote that Tyson attributes to the 43rd president. In fact, there does not appear to be any record of that phrase before Tyson himself started using it in his presentations as a way to mock Bush.
The only similar quote came in February of 2003 after the crash of the space shuttle Columbia, when the president said, “The same Creator who names the stars also knows the names of the seven souls we mourn today.”
However, contrary to what Tyson has repeatedly claimed, the Columbia space shuttle comment — which was wholly different in purpose, content, and timing than the alleged 9/11 quote cited by Tyson — was meant to unite the nation following a horrible tragedy, not divide it based on religion. And contrary to Tyson’s claim that the alleged quote was loosely taken from Genesis, the actual quote was taken from the book of Isaiah. A similar verse can also be found in Psalm 147.
“That quote about naming the stars brings to mind the president’s remarks after the Columbia space-shuttle disaster,” Scully said. According to Scully, the phrase was “drawn from Scripture (Isaiah) at the suggestion of Karen Hughes.”
Michael Gerson, Bush’s chief speechwriter from 2001 through 2006 and currently a columnist for the Washington Post, also rejected Tyson’s notion that Bush would use religion to divide people.
The president “took considerable heat from evangelicals by asserting that the God of the Bible and Allah were the same God — something he said in a press conference with Tony Blair in November of 2003,” Gerson told The Federalist.
And the quote from the president’s Columbia statement?
“It had nothing to do with Islam or 9/11,” Gerson said.
David Frum, another speechwriter who worked for the president after 9/11, echoed Gerson’s comments that Bush went to great lengths to avoid dividing people based on religion.
“President Bush did everything in his power to make clear that the United States respects every faith and that Muslims are respected as full and equal members of the American community,” Frum told The Federalist. “President Bush visited mosques, welcomed Muslim leaders to the White House, and fiercely denounced the (gratifyingly extremely rare) instances of hate crimes” after the 2001 terrorist attack.
Tyson’s office did not respond to a request for comment. His next scheduled public appearance is on September 30 in Detroit.
[UPDATE: Several reporters, along with the Washington Post, have since weighed in on the fabricated quote.]