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The day I made President Bush cry

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Andy Nelson/The Christian Science Monitor/file

(Read caption) In the Oval Office, President Bush is moved to tears by a question from The Christian Science Monitor on Sept. 13, 2001. It was the first time the president had shown public emotion since the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

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Two days after 9/11, President Bush was in the Oval Office, on the phone with New York Gov. George Pataki and Mayor Rudy Giuliani. The president had called to tell them he would be visiting ground zero.

I stood just a few feet in front of his massive desk, part of the "pool" of White House reporters assigned to cover Mr. Bush that day. It's not possible for a media army to follow the president everywhere he goes, and so reporters take turns as part of a small group that acts as the eyes and ears for colleagues.

Before being admitted to the Oval Office that morning, the pool had assembled in the outdoor colonnade leading to the office door. It was a sunny day, almost as brilliant as the cloudless day of the attacks. I thought about what to ask when it came to my turn. In the official pecking order of questioning, reporters for television and the wire agencies go first. The print pooler – that was me – comes later, if the questioning even gets that far.

That line-up meant I had to think strategically. I wanted to ask a question that would generate news, but it couldn't be so spot-on that it was likely to be asked by the reporters ahead of me. I thought forward to the next day, which the president had set aside as a national day of prayer and remembrance. He was scheduled to address the nation from the National Cathedral in that role which no president voluntarily seeks, pastor-in-chief.

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