President Bush's wristwatch goes missing in friendly Albanian crowd
Update: NBC video shows watch not stolen
Tuesday night NBC News featured a video which showed the president, from behind, as he appears to slip off his watch, and put in his pocket, as the White House had claimed happened.
Video of the NBC News report can be found at this link.
Although President Bush was met by chilly welcomes and even riots in most countries on his recent trip to Europe, he received a "hero's welcome" in the small Balkan nation of Albania, which for many decades was ruled by an oppressive Stalinist dictatorship.
However, as reported by the Times Online, one of those friendly Albanians may have been more interested in reaching out to touch the president's watch than to welcome Bush.
Video footage from Albanian television, widely distributed on YouTube, shows a watch clearly visible on Bush's wrist as he greets the crowd. But about a minute in, his arms are grasped by a sea of hands -- and when he waves again after that, the watch is gone.
According to the Times, "A White House spokeswoman denied today that that the President had been robbed. ... Instead the spokeswoman said that Mr Bush had removed it himself. 'He took it off,' she said. When challenged that this did not seem to happen during the footage shown on YouTube, the spokeswoman said: 'I'm not going to change what I'm saying.'"
Later today, at the White House press briefing, spokesman Tony Snow said that "the president put [the watch] in his pocket, and it returned safely home."
One journalist asked if there was concerns on whether or not the president was ever in danger when meeting the crowd: "I'm not questioning the passions or the euphoria. The president's head was in a guy's arms. And it looked like if it was the wrong guy, then you could have had a problem."
"Well, you know what?" said Snow. "If there was a problem, Secret Service would have dealt with it. Trust me."
Snow was mockingly asked, "Will we get that kind of stuff on the Hill today?"
"A little noogie action!" Snow joked back.
Excerpts from White House press briefing:
Q Tony, was the president's watch lifted, in Albania, off his wrist?
MR. SNOW: No, it was not. It was placed in his pocket. And I believe your network has actually looked through the tape carefully and has ascertained the same. But no, the president put it in his pocket, and it returned safely home.
Q Tony, can I follow up on that? Was it -- we've seen the pictures in Albania. This is quite a reception. Was the Secret Service -- were all procedures followed? Were you worried at any point that it was getting a little dangerous as he waded through the crowd?
MR. SNOW: I wasn't there, and I have heard -- look, what the president -- it's interesting. So your story is whether we're worried about or concerned about the president's safety. And what you had was an example of what happens when captive nations come free. And they understand the role that the United States has played over the decade, sometimes taking unpopular moves, whether you go back to taking a look at missile deployments in Europe or pursuing a strategic defense initiative at a time when it was unpopular in Europe but in fact became the bulwark for bringing down a communist empire and liberating countries like Albania and Bulgaria, where people are euphoric because we helped make them free.
Q I'm not questioning the passions or the euphoria. The president's head was in a guy's arms. And it looked like if it was the wrong guy, then you could have had a problem.
MR. SNOW: Well, you know what? If there was a problem, Secret Service would have dealt with it. Trust me.
Q Tony, back on immigration --
Q Will we get that kind of stuff on the Hill today? (Laughter.)
MR. SNOW: A little noogie action! (Laughs.)