ABC's Roberts to Laura Bush: Export Generosity, Not Bombs?

October 22nd, 2007 12:43 PM

America should export generosity and hope instead of bombs and fear. Host Robin Roberts quoted these sentiments from Archbishop Desmond Tutu and columnist Thomas Friedman to Laura Bush on Monday's "Good Morning America." Roberts was traveling with the First Lady through the United Arab Emirates and other Middle Eastern countries as part of a tour to increase breast cancer awareness in that region. And while the ABC host mostly stuck to discussing the honorable nature of the trip, she couldn't resist a few pointed barbs.

The GMA anchor first cited New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman's suggestion that the U.S. "should export hope instead of fear." Roberts then regurgitated another bumper sticker slogan by mentioning a discussion with Archbishop Desmond Tutu. She recounted, "Desmond Tutu went even farther, saying the generosity of Americans, that's what we should export instead of our bombs." In a follow-up interview with Middle Eastern women who survived breast cancer, Roberts awkwardly asked, "Does it help with Mrs. Bush and the United States coming here?...Or is it seen as, 'Okay, the Americans are, again, trying to force something on us?'"

Fakhria Lufti, a resident of Abu Dhabi and cancer survivor, seemed slightly baffled by Robert's question. She retorted, "It has nothing to nothing to do with America. You know, okay, she's the First Lady, but it is cancer [sic] everywhere, not just in America, okay?" Roberts is usually somewhat less combatively liberal than some of her other GMA co-hosts, Chris Cuomo, for example. And the anchor, who herself is a cancer survivor, did mostly stick to discussing women's health issues with Laura Bush. So, perhaps these comments were simply an attempt to show token toughness during a White House trip.

A transcript of the October 22 Laura Bush interview and a brief section of a second Roberts interview, follow:


MARYSOL CASTRO: Now let's go back to Robin who is traveling with the First lady in Abu Dhabi. Robin.

ABC GRAPHIC: First Lady on a Mission

ROBIN ROBERTS: Marysol, the weather here, 91 degrees and it's the cool part of the year. So keep that in mind. This is the first stop for Mrs. Bush. She will travel to four different Middle Eastern countries over the next six days. And the number of women being diagnosed with breast cancer in this region, absolutely alarming. She has made 68 six trips during her husband's presidency, but in some ways, this may be her most personal and urgent trip yet. It's a mission to save lives.

HALA MODDELMOG (PRESIDENT, SUSAN G. KOMEN FOR THE CURE): We do face, we think, a huge here in the Middle East.

ROBERTS: In Saudi Arabia, 20 percent of all cancer cases are breast cancer. In the UAE, it's nearly ten percent. And 70 percent of breast cancer patients are diagnosed during the advanced stages of the disease, compared to just 30 percent in the west. These countries have resources. The four Mrs. Bush will visit brought in $260 billion last year from oil alone. So why, with all this wealth, is diagnosis coming so late?

DR. OMNIYAT AL HAJRI (PHYSICIAN) It comes with a lot of social stigma. Ladies who are married are really worried about what will the affect of the diagnosis be on their husbands and their families? Many of them will opt not to do the mammogram.

ROBERTS: Many women never learn the necessity of self breast exams and early detection. Important in countries where women get breast cancer ten years earlier, when the disease is more deadly. But many here are working to change attitudes. In Dubai, volunteers on this pink bus give out vital information. Nurses demonstrate self exams. These brave women are breast cancer survivors putting on a fashion show, letting women know breast cancer can be conquered. All efforts the First Lady is here to support while she also focuses on diplomacy. In the waning days of her husband's presidency, she's taken on a more active role. This is her 14th solo trip overseas and she'll meet with the kings of Jordan and Saudi Arabia, using her popularity to try to boost the image of the U.S. here. And Mrs. Bush joins us now. Thank you so much for your time. I know it's a busy day for you."


ROBERTS: What do you hope to accomplish on this trip?

BUSH: Well, I think it's very important for people in the Middle East to know that people in the United States care about health and especially women's health because it's still embarrassing and they're fearful and shamed, like we were over 25 years ago.

ROBERTS: And this is a personal issue for you because both your grandmother and mother, both diagnosed.

BUSH: Had breast cancer, that's right. Neither died of breast cancer. My mother is still living and is she's in good health now. But, you know, It is something I worked on for years. In fact, I lived in Dallas when Nancy Brinker started the Komen foundation. And I was one of their early volunteers.

ROBERTS: Are you hoping that leaders here will do more and spend more when it comes to breast cancer research and care?

BUSH: Sure. Absolutely. And we do have the support of leaders here. Because, here, across the Middle East, there is a high rate of breast cancer. Younger women get breast cancer here than they do in many other parts of the world.

ROBERTS: Is this a way of broadening the discussion here in this region of the world where women's rights, they're not empowered as women are all across the world. I mean, we're going to Saudi Arabia tomorrow, where women still cannot drive. So, is there a bigger hope here in pushing forward for women's rights?

BUSH: Well, I think this is a very good way for American women or the American people in general to reach out to women across the Middle East, no matter what their circumstances are. All of us face the same health challenges.

ROBERTS: I recently talked with Thomas Friedman of the Washington Post and also Archbishop Tutu. And Thomas Friedman said, you know, we should export hope instead of fear. Desmond Tutu went even farther, saying the generosity of Americans, that's what we should export, instead of our bombs. So, is this a way of reaching across to the world and saying, especially in this region of the world--

BUSH: Absolutely. In these countries, the United Arab Emirates is a very strong friend and ally to the United States, as is Kuwait and, you know, the other-- Jordan and Saudi Arabia, the other countries that I'll be visiting, are our allies. But you're right and Thomas Friedman's right and Desmond Tutu is right. And in fact, we do export our generosity. We just need to get the word out about it.

ROBERTS: You're very outspoken recently about the country of Myanmar, about the repression there and even going as far as talking about possible additional sanctions. What led you to speak out?

BUSH: This summer when we watched the demonstrators in Burma march, including many Buddhist monks and then saw the very extreme and brutal repression of these peaceful demonstrators. I felt an obligation to speak out.

ROBERTS: Your husband has had some stern warnings toward Iran, going as far as to say a nuclear Iran could lead to World War III and in the last 24 hours, Vice President Cheney has echoed some of those sentiments. Are you concerned about the growing tension?

BUSH: Certainly. Absolutely I'm concerned about it. But I do also know that the United States wants to work with diplomatic -- keep diplomacy working in Iran. And we have many friends and allies here in the Middle East that we also hope will continue to work with the Iran to make sure that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons. This is a country that has said they want Israel wiped off the face of the Earth. I mean, these are threats that the world needs to take seriously. And no one wants to see any sort of nuclear proliferation anywhere here in the Middle East.

ROBERTS: Are you concerned that it could lead to a new war?

BUSH: No, I'm not. I mean, I'm not worried about it. But I also do know we need to continue to work as hard as we can with our friends and allies here and around the world to persuade Iran not to develop nuclear weapons.

ROBERTS: Well, Mrs. Bush, as I said, I know it's a very busy day for you. And I appreciate you spending time with me.

BUSH: Thank you so much Robin, and thank you for coming on this trip. You also serve as a great example to people here and I appreciate it.

ROBERTS: I wouldn't miss it. I wouldn't miss it. Thank you. [End of interview] And I'm fortunate that I was well enough to travel during my treatment for breast cancer to make this trip. It was easy getting the doctor's permission. Diane, as you know, getting my mom's permission, a lot harder. We'll have more from the Middle East coming up.

DIANE SAWYER: I'm surprised you didn't ask me to make that call.


ROBERTS: Does it help with Mrs. Bush and the United States coming here? Is it seen in a positive light? Or is it seen as, 'Okay, the Americans are, again, trying to force something on us?'

FAKHRIA LUFTI (BREAST CANCER SURVIVOR): It has nothing to nothing to do with America. You know, okay, she's the First Lady, but it is cancer [sic] everywhere, not just in America, okay? It's all over the world. It doesn't know the nationality.

DR. HOURIYA KAZIM (BREAST CANCER SURGEON): There's lots of awareness now, but what we need is education. The awareness is there. Pink ribbons are everywhere, but, you know, we tell people, 'Don't let those pink ribbons fool you.' It's still a scary thing. You know, when you hear the words breast cancer people are still afraid. And the fear tells me that they really don't have the knowledge and they're, you know, still ignorant about the disease.