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Bush takes heat for WMD jokes

McAuliffe: 'Should not be making light of the situation.'

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George W. Bush
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- What was meant by President Bush to be a joke about the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq has brought little laughter to some Americans.

During the annual Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner this week, Bush presented a slide show of quirky photographs from inside the White House. In one, the president is looking under furniture in the Oval Office.

"Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be somewhere," Bush joked. "Nope, no weapons over there ... maybe under here?" (Bush pokes fun at himself at dinner)

Democrats have seized on the matter, calling it astonishingly insensitive when Americans have died for their country in Iraq while the search for WMD has turned up nothing.

The administration had cited the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons program as one of the primary reasons for the need for war.

"It's inappropriate to the thousands of people obviously who have been wounded over there," Terry McAuliffe, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, told ABC's "Good Morning America" on Friday.

"This is a very serious issue. We've lost hundreds of troops, as you know, over there. Let's not be laughing about not being able to find weapons of mass destruction. ... We certainly should not be making light of the situation."

McAuliffe's Republican counterpart, Ed Gillespie, responded by saying people need to lighten up, that the president made the comment in jest.

He noted that the correspondents at the dinner laughed when the president made the remark.

"There is a long-standing tradition of the president making light of serious matters and self-deprecating humor" at the dinner, he said.

"The people in the room obviously saw the humor in it at that moment. And to play it back now in a different context is unfair, frankly, I have to say."

Mark Katz, a former speechwriter for President Clinton who wrote jokes for the former president when he appeared at the same dinner, told CNN he thought the joke crossed a line.

He said the joke sounded like something a speechwriter would write for internal White House amusement, but something "I never would expect" to have been approved for public consumption.

"There are lines you cannot cross," Katz said. "With regard to going to war, sending American troops to war to find weapons of mass destruction, that's a joke that's playing out on the world stage -- and is at our expense."

A non-scientific poll by showed 54 percent of the more than 200,000 respondents felt Bush crossed the line.

A majority of CNN viewers who have responded by e-mail also said they were offended.

"Seeing our president joke about WMDs at a comedy function was terrible. How can a thinking, caring human being joke about the lie that led to body bags and broken young men and women? I was appalled," wrote Fran in Burlington, Massachusetts.

Ron in Pittsburgh added: "I couldn't believe my ears when I heard Mr. Bush joking about weapons of mass destruction. It was tasteless and childish."

But Paul in Portland held a different view: "Sometimes I've written some very critical letters of the president's policies, but [Wednesday] the president was actually very funny."

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