So, was it an apology?

The online community digests the White House statement on China.

By Anthony York

Published April 11, 2001 5:41PM (EDT)

Weblines "Ari Fleischer Finally Says Something Meaningful: Our 'Detained' Crew Will Be Released"
American Politics Journal: "Slouching Tirade, Smirking Moron"
Drudge Report: "'Very Sorry' but No Daoqian"
Andrew Sullivan: "Puritanism Alert"
Jonah Goldberg: "Don't Kowtow Now"

Big buzz

Will Bush's effort to bring the boys and girls back home cost him on the home front? That's the question of the day as journalists, online denizens and others dissect and analyze the White House apology, or expression of sorrow, or whatever.

Here's the report from the Associated Press' Ron Fournier: "As part of the deal, Bush expressed 'sorrow' for the death of a Chinese pilot whose fighter jet collided with the Navy EP-3E surveillance plane April 1, Chinese time. A letter to China, approved by Bush, said the United States also was 'very sorry' that the spy plane was forced to land without permission on Chinese soil."

So what does it all mean? The jury is as undecided as a kid in the cereal aisle. Gary Bauer told the AP, "I think that for 10 days ... we have acted powerless, unduly passive and in the process I think we are emboldening the worst elements of the bureaucracy in Beijing while demoralizing our allies in Asia. When you allow somebody to save face you are humiliated. The United States of America is humiliated."

The analysis was much more partisan in the online communities. Witness this post on Table Talk: "Bottom line is this: Had this occurred under Clinton's watch, with the exact same circumstances and resolution, we'd be hearing loud screams from the hate radio brigade and the Freepers about the administration being 'traitors' who had just 'sold their country out to the Chicoms.' The Beltway Blowhards on TV would recite a similar line, perhaps insinuating that the reason the administration bent over for the Chicoms and issued that apology was to keep those illegal campaign contributions coming in. And of course, by now Dan Burton would've scheduled hearings."

Table Talkers were typically critical of Bush and of the spin coming from the White House that the statement was not really an apology. "I had my fingers crossed when I said it," mocks one Table Talker. "Neener, neener."

Over at, they have more American flags flying than a Jim Baker press conference in Tallahassee, Fla. And the response is, for the most part, glossed in partisan tones.

"George W. Bush, contrary to popular opinion, did NOT cave in to the Chinese demands," writes one Lucianne poster. "Let the record so note."

"Once again, Bush wins and confounds his enemies. HA HA HA!" adds another.

And, of course, what thread dedicated to politics would be complete without this, also from "This administration has adults in charge, unlike the previous felons who fondle interns, solicit sexual favors, and obstruct justice in the workplace."

One of the most surprising posts is a pro-Bush offering at, of all places. "Actually, I think the way they handled the China incident is one of the very few positive things I've seen with the Bush boys. Even though they started with the tough, we're-the-greatest, show-of-strength, big bully approach, towards the end they showed reason and restraint, and came up with a formula that was short of a full apology while still allowing China some degree of face-saving. This shows signs of good diplomacy, so I'll have to give them credit for that."

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Anthony York

Anthony York is Salon's Washington correspondent.

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