The New York Times and the rest of the media can't get enough of the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at President Bush during a press conference in Baghdad, with a front-page story calling the potentially dangerous action a "defiant act" and a "mythic moment" and commenting on shoe-hurling Muntader al-Zaidi's "hero status" in the Arab world.
Timothy Williams and Abeer Mohammed added insult to Bush's deftly dodged injury in Tuesday's front-page story, "In Iraqi's Shoe-Hurling Protest, Arabs Find a Hero. (It's Not Bush.)"
Calling someone the "son of a shoe" is one of the worst insults in Iraq. But the lowly shoe and the Iraqi who threw both of his at President Bush, with widely admired aim, were embraced around the Arab world on Monday as symbols of rage at a still unpopular war.
In Saudi Arabia, a newspaper reported that a man had offered $10 million to buy just one of what has almost certainly become the world's most famous pair of black dress shoes.
A daughter of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, the Libyan leader, reportedly awarded the shoe thrower, Muntader al-Zaidi, a 29-year-old journalist, a medal of courage.
In the Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City, people calling for an immediate American withdrawal removed their footwear and placed the shoes and sandals at the end of long poles, waving them high in the air. And in the southern Iraqi city of Najaf, people threw their shoes at a passing American convoy.
In street-corner conversations, on television and in Internet chat rooms, the subject of shoes was inescapable throughout much of the Middle East on Monday, as was the defiant act that inspired the interest: a huge and spontaneous eruption of anger at President Bush on Sunday in his final visit here. Some deplored Mr. Zaidi's act as a breach of respect or of traditional Arab hospitality toward guests, even if they shared the sentiment. (Mr. Bush, having demonstrated his quick reflexes, then brushed it off as an expression of democracy.)
The Times noted how popular the act was in the Arab world, including in Syria, where "Zaidi's picture was shown all day on state television, with Syrians calling in to share their admiration for his gesture and his bravery."
The instantly mythic moment took place Sunday night at a news conference by President Bush and Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki in Baghdad's Green Zone, a session meant partly to trumpet recent security gains in Iraq....Mr. Zaidi's hero status continued to grow on Monday.
In Damascus, a 34-year-old shop owner, who gave his name only as Muhammad, said he was on his way to celebrate the shoe-throwing incident with friends.
"This is like a holiday," he said. "This is just what we needed for revenge."
Yet the Times, casting its own rhetorical shoe in its eagerness to draw a picture of Bush's unpopularity and the "glee" felt in the Arab world, sailed right by an idea raised by columnist Ralph Peters in the New York Post:
Bush won. Even if shoe-thrower Muntadar al-Zaidi (who works for an Egypt -based media outfit) walks out in his stocking feet and becomes a hero to dead-enders, he unwittingly showed what a great thing has been accomplished in Iraq.
Other than Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, what Arab head of government holds free-wheeling press conferences? "President" Mubarak of Egypt? Assad of Syria? The Saudi king? Qaddafi? If an Arab reporter had "shoed" any other leading Arab ruler during one of their staged events, he would've been fortunate to escape with his life.
The Times's editorial board blog joined in on the irresponsible fun with a lame headline, "If the (Thrown) Shoe Fits...."
President Bush got a huge chuckle out of Sunday's shoe-throwing incident in Baghdad.
"I didn't know what the guy said, but I saw his sole," Mr. Bush said, prompting laughter from White House reporters who talked with him once he was safely back aboard Air Force One.
"I'm pretty good at ducking, as most of you will know....I'm talking about ducking your questions," he added teasingly.
Muntader al-Zaidi, an Iraqi TV journalist, threw his shoes at President Bush during a joint press conference on Sunday with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Baghdad's super-secure Green Zone. Hitting someone with a shoe is a particularly strong rebuke in Iraqi culture.
The president -- who ducked when the shoe was thrown -- was uninjured. But the incident overshadowed media coverage of the trip in the Arab world and transformed Mr. al-Zaidi into a symbolic figure in the debate about the American military's presence in Iraq.
Mr. Bush refused to see it that way, however.
Hypocritcally, even while the front-page story and the editorial blog headline mocked Bush, the editorial page bloggers tsk-tsked Bush's witty shoe joke and reminded Bush, as if it was necessary, to be solicitous of Zaidi's rights as a shoe-hurler:
Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch, in a report released Monday, concluded that Iraq's central criminal court, the country's chief judicial institution, has fallen short of international and Iraqi constitutional standards.
Which brings us back to Mr. al-Zaidi.
Witnesses told The Times that Mr. Zaidi had been severely beaten by security officers on Sunday after being tackled at the press conference and dragged out. While he has not been formally charged, Iraqi officials said he faced up to seven years in prison if convicted of committing an act of aggression against a visiting head of state.
No doubt he must face the charges -- and punished if found guilty. But we hope Mr. Bush does not only see the incident as a source of endless "shoe" jokes. He must make clear to Baghdad that the United States does not condone abuse of defendants and that it expects Mr. al-Zaidi to have a speedy trial, a fair process and access to a competent lawyer.
Of course, Zaidi would have had access to none of those privileges of a free society if it hadn't been for Bush and his decision to invade Iraq. It's an angle the Times judiciously avoided.