Covering Cindy Sheehan

Mark Knoller is a White House Correspondent for CBS News.

(AP)
I remember the day Cindy Sheehan first arrived in the President's hometown in Crawford, Texas in early August 2005.

It was a blistering hot Saturday and she and a small band of supporters got off a dilapidated bus that pulled up in front of the Crawford Peace House – home of a resident anti-war activist.

I was there with a CBS News camera crew and conducted the first interview with Sheehan.

She said her son Casey was a U.S. Army soldier killed in Iraq a year earlier and she blamed President Bush for his death. She bitterly resented his recent statement that Americans like her son had died in "a noble cause."

"We all know by now that that's not true," she told me that day, "and I want to ask George Bush why did my son die? What was the noble cause that he died for?"

Of course, time and again, the President had said that bringing democracy and liberty to the people of Iraq was the noble cause, but Sheehan didn't buy it.

She had fallen into an abyss of bitterness about and resentment of the President's policy.

"He took something away from me that's irreplaceable," she said that first day in Crawford. "He's going on a five-week vacation when we're in the middle of war and I'm never going to be able to enjoy another vacation – because he killed my oldest son. And he better come out and talk to me."

For the better part of the next two years, Sheehan repeatedly demanded a face-to-face meeting with the President, but never got it.

On that first day, the White House tried to defuse her protest by dispatching National Security Advisor Steve Hadley and Deputy Chief of Staff Joe Hagin to meet with her at the makeshift campsite she set up along Prairie Chapel Road – the main thoroughfare to the President's ranch. She said later the meeting didn't satisfy her and she would continue to demand a meeting with the president for as long as it takes.

Actually, she had met a year earlier with him at Fort Lewis in Washington, as one of a number of families of fallen U.S. military personnel. She said she felt patronized and wanted another chance to tell him so.

For a time, she became the poster girl of the anti-war movement in America. She did frequent live interviews on the network morning shows and the cable news channels.

She drew the attention of the White House press corps who often had little else to cover in Crawford when President Bush was at his ranch.

Other anti-war activists rallied to her side providing financial and moral support – including a public relations firm. And she drew the wrath and condemnations of those who supported the president's policy in Iraq.

With a bullhorn in her hand, Sheehan would deliver blistering tirades against the president. In quiet moments, she was a mother grieving for the loss of her son.

The irony is that her decision to withdraw from the public stage is the result of her frustration with Democrats in Congress. They agree with her call for a pullout from Iraq – but didn't force the president to do it.
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    Mark Knoller is a CBS News White House correspondent.

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