It was a first in my more than 22 years on the White House beat: coverage of a presidential latrine inspection.
It happened yesterday at Fort Bragg, N.C., where President Bush checked out military "facilities" at the home of the famed 82nd Airborne Division. The unusual visit was provoked after an Army paratrooper's dad shot a video that revealed shoddy conditions at a Fort Bragg barracks. The images posted on You Tube showed peeling paint, mold and sewage on a bathroom floor.
An Army statement said all repairs were completed within 72 hours of the posting of the April 24 video. But once on the Web, the disgusting images triggered a broad inspection of conditions at Army barracks. A Fort Bragg spokesman called the incident "embarrassing and shocking." He admitted it was "awful and never should have happened." The White House obviously couldn't agree more. The army made sure the latrine was squeaky clean when the president arrived for what obviously was NOT a surprise inspection as he visited the base to salute troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Pool reporter Steven Lee Myers of the New York Times described a restroom that was "as shiny as a new dime" when the commander-in-chief stepped on to the tile floor. Referring to the Army's plan to renovate and replace old barracks, Mr. Bush said, "these old buildings are coming down."
The administration clearly wants to avoid a repeat of the outrage that followed last year's revelations of dilapidated buildings at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. The Fort Bragg and Walter Reed stories are vivid contradictions of President Bush's frequent promises that the government will do everything possible for the nation's veterans and active duty forces.