In an August 4 article by reporter Richard W. Stevenson, The New York Times falsely reported that President Bush has "consistently used" the phrase "war on terror" since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. In fact, Bush twice said in 2004 that the administration "misnamed" the war on terror and suggested alternative terms for the effort.
According to the Times, after top administration officials, including Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and national security adviser Stephen Hadley, adopted the new term "global struggle against violent extremism," Bush reportedly "told aides that he was not happy with the new phrasing, a change of tone from the wording he had consistently used since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001" [emphasis added].
But, as The New York Sun documented on August 1, Bush himself "expressed skepticism about the 'war on terror' formulation" during an August 2004 campaign speech, when he said that "it ought to be [called] the struggle against ideological extremists who do not believe in free societies who happen to use terror as a weapon to try to shake the conscience of the free world."
From Bush's August 6, 2004, remarks to the UNITY: Journalists of Color convention in Washington:
We actually misnamed the war on terror, it ought to be the struggle against ideological extremists who do not believe in free societies who happen to use terror as a weapon to try to shake the conscience of the free world. [laughter]
No, that's what they do. They use terror to -- and they use it effectively, because we've got good hearts. We're people of conscience, they aren't. They will cut off a person's head like that, and not even care about it. That's why I tell you, you can't talk sense to them.
The Sun reported that the audience laughed at Bush's remark but that "the president made it clear he was not joking." In a September 6, 2004, column, United Press International homeland and national security editor Shaun Waterman wrote that "Bush seems to have intended the remark as a joke"; but Waterman also noted that, in a September interview with Time magazine, Bush "repeated it, stripped of hyperbole, in all seriousness."
From the September 6 edition of Time:
TIME: Is the war on terrorism something our generation and the next generation are just going to have to get used to?
BUSH: Yes, I think it is a long-lasting ideological struggle. Frankly, the war on terror is somewhat misnamed, though. It ought to be called the struggle of a totalitarian point of view that uses terror as a tool to intimidate the free.
During the 2004 presidential campaign, both Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney attacked Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) for his purported reluctance to use the term "war" to describe the struggle against terror.