News of the day
White House Press Secretary J. Carny opened the press conference with a brief statement.
Mr. Carny: First and foremost, the President and the First Lady would like to join all Americans in extending their deepest sympathies to the families of the passengers who died yesterday on the Lusitania. Tragic incidents like this one clearly demonstrate the need for improved iceberg reporting in the Atlantic shipping lanes. It is the President’s hope that Congress will appropriate the funds necessary for the Coast Guard to expand its iceberg patrols so that incidents like this one can never happen again. All right, first question. Helen?
Miss Thomas, AP: Thank you, Jay. Let me see if I have this straight: it is the Administration’s position that the Lusitania was struck by an iceberg?
Mr. Carny: Yes it is. All the intelligence we have right now points to this being a tragic accident. We have no information that says otherwise.
Miss Thomas: Then what are we to make of the reports in the British press that claim that a German U-boat sank the Lusitania?
Mr. Carny: We’ve seen those reports as well. First, I would point out that the British are hardly neutral observers here. They are at war with Germany, so if the British can make the Germans look bad then so much the better for them. This is part and parcel of that effort. The President is not going to allow this sort of bump in the road negatively impact American foreign policy. Second, an iceberg is an iceberg, simple as that. As far as we know, the iceberg had no political allegiance to either side in the European war. It was an entirely random act of God. Mr. Duranty?
Mr. Duranty, New York Times: Jay, how can the Administration be so sure that the iceberg was not working for one side or the other? The British obviously want us to come in on their side. Could they have put the iceberg up to this in order to create a casus belli?
Mr. Carny: That’s an interesting hypothesis, Walt, but the Office of Naval Intelligence has already investigated that possibility and they tell the Administration that neither the Allied powers nor the Central Powers have an iceberg capability. As far as we are concerned, this was a lone iceberg.
Mr. Duranty: Just a quick follow-up, Jay. How do you account for some of the survivors’ claims that they saw a torpedo’s wake in the water just moments before the iceberg allegedly struck the ship?
Mr. Carny: Whales.
Mr. Duranty: I beg your pardon?
Mr. Carny: What those people saw were whales creating a bubble net to catch fish with. There’s a very interesting article in this month’s National Geographic magazine about the phenomenon, complete with a colored Autochrome insert of the whales and the bubble net. Fascinating stuff.
Mr. Duranty: Are you serious?
Mr. Carny: Totally. Look, Walt, the people who claimed they saw torpedo wakes in the water aren’t naval officers. I doubt they would know what a torpedo’s wake looked like if it came up to them on the street and knocked their hats off. Let’s face reality here: being on a ship that strikes an iceberg and sinks is a highly stressful experience. You’re tired, you’re overwrought, you’re cold, you’re under more pressure than you’ve ever been in your entire life. As any good lawyer can tell you, those conditions do not make for reliable eyewitness testimony. On the psychological aspect of this tragedy, I should point out that our Embassy in London will be providing grief counseling and psychological services for any American survivor who feels they need the help. Mr. Matthews?
Chris Matthews, Washington Daily Tingle: Jay, let’s get down to brass tacks here. There’s more than a little speculation here and in London that the reason the President is sticking to this iceberg story is that he intends to run for President next year on the platform of he kept us out of the war and so he’ll do whatever it takes to keep us out of the war, including ignoring the deaths of 124 Americans on the Lusitania. Anything to that?
Mr. Carny: I don’t think that that deserves an answer. The idea that the President of the United States would use a disaster like this to advance his re-election campaign next year is just too cynical for words, even by Washington standards.
Mr. Matthews: Then why would this iceberg go after the Lusitania?
Mr. Carny: We don’t have all the facts yet, but according to the Office of Naval Intelligence this iceberg objected to a movie about the Titanic sinking now showing in New York. The iceberg apparently found the depiction of icebergs in that film demeaning and offensive. The Attorney General is looking into the matter now.
Mr. Matthews: Looking into the matter how?
Mr. Carny: The United States Marshals have brought the producer of the film so we can question him and find out what his motivations were in making this film. And we have also asked the Mayor of New York to close down any theater showing this film.
Mr. Matthews: What about the First Amendment?
Mr. Carny: What about the First Amendment? It’s a movie about the Titanic, Chris. It’s not as if the producer was making a movie with Charlie Chaplin doing something for laughs like cooking pork chops over a stack of burning Korans, after all. We have to be sensitive to the emotional context here.
Mr. Matthews: Hey, works for me.
Mr. Carny: Thanks, Chris. Miss Mitchell?
Miss Mitchell, National Biscuit Company: Jay, this iceberg attack took place off the southern coast of Ireland. Will the Attorney General be looking at the possibility of Fenian involvement?
Mr. Carny: At this point, Andrea, nothing is off the table, but I can’t go further into the details at this point as the Attorney General’s investigation is ongoing.
Miss Mitchell: Will the Attorney General be asking for any cooperation from the British government?
Mr. Carny: We will be, that’s obvious. The Lusitania was a British ship and it sank in international waters off the coast of Ireland. So cooperation is, almost by definition, a given in this case. I should point out, however, that this cooperation does not mean that the United States is taking a position on the outcome of the European war. This is purely a police matter. No one should read anything more into this cooperation than that.
Miss Mitchell: So this should not be seen as an attempt to influence the Irish and/or the German vote next year?
Mr. Carny: Absolutely not. Okay, who’s next? Jorge?
Jorge Ramos, El Excelsior: Jay, isn’t the southern coast of Ireland a bit far south for an iceberg this time of year?
Mr. Carny: Not at all. Remember that the Titanic was struck in the middle of April three years ago.
Mr. Ramos: That’s true, but the Titanic was struck in the middle of the North Atlantic. The Lusitania went down in the Southwest Approaches, which is nowhere near Greenland or the Arctic pack ice. And your statement about whales doesn’t seem to hold water, either. Our London bureau has interviewed many of the survivors and every eyewitness we have talked to says the same thing, that they saw a line of bubbles coming straight for the ship’s hull, followed by two large explosions. None of the eyewitnesses say anything at all about an iceberg.
Mr. Carny: Look, Jorge, you can do as much original reporting as you want, but it’s not going to change our position. We have the facts: the Lusitania was hit by an iceberg and sank. Period. You’re putting way too much emphasis on what the survivors thought they saw and not enough on what the Administration is saying here now.
Mr. Ramos: Let me go through this again, Jay, just to make sure I’ve got the details right. The President is saying that an iceberg that no one saw sank a British ship in a declared war zone because the iceberg didn’t like a movie that no one saw in New York. Furthermore, the torpedo wake that the survivors did see was in fact a pod of whales traveling in a perfectly straight line, a phenomenon unknown in nature, and that these whales were hunting fish or krill or something that was prepared to blow itself up in order to get away from the whales. Is that right?
Mr. Carny: Precisely, except without the hint of sarcasm I’m hearing, Jorge.
Mr. Ramos: Just a quick follow-up, Jay. Is it true that the Lusitania was carrying war supplies, including munitions, bought here in the United States in its hold? And wouldn’t the sale of munitions to Great Britain require some sort of Congressional approval?
Mr. Carny: That’s a lot of baloney, Jorge. It’s 1915; isn’t there a revolution going on in Mexico? Why don’t you go cover that instead of peddling these idiotic rumors at a White House press conference, for crying out loud? Anyway, in other news, the President will be traveling to Philadelphia tomorrow to spend a little time at the Philadelphia Cricket Club’s newly refurbished golf course. He’ll be back here at the White House Tuesday of next week. Okay, that’s it for me. Have a nice day, everyone.