I cannot say this with absolute certainty, but the religious aspects of President George W. Bush’s ABC interviews are making bigger waves overseas than in the United States. Part of that might be due to the news of a certain stink emanating from Chicago (even this Indianapolis resident can smell it!). Another aspect may be that U.S. news outlets are less willing to report on a competitor’s exclusive interview.
However, I think that the main reason for the difference in news coverage is that European news outlets have for quite awhile reported a distorted view of Bush’s faith, and this interview is truly earth-shattering news for them.
The truth about what Bush believes has always been somewhat shrouded by both his handlers and his supporters. He is famous among people of Christian faith for stating in a debate that Jesus Christ was his favorite philosopher. His "conversion story" under the influence of Billy Graham and his claim that Jesus changed the direction of his life of alcoholism are all part of the politically-induced narrative that generally has gone unquestioned. And the European press has generally taken every opportunity to find Bush as a religious extremist.
One of the more extreme reactionary "news" articles on this subject comes from The Telegraph, which proclaims in a headline that George Bush says that the "Bible [is] probably not true." Now to give the editors at The Telegraph a tiny bit of credit, the subhead clarifies that imprecise and generally inaccurate statement with a qualifier:
US President George W Bush has said that the Bible is "probably not" literally true and that a belief that God created the world is compatible with the theory of evolution.
The fact that this is such big news in Europe (see this Guardian blogpost headlined "Bush the religious moderate?") demonstrates that for quite awhile European media has generally fed its readership with easily accepted distortions about what Bush believes. Consistent throughout the European press coverage (see here the AFP) of these "revelations" is a failure to cite to anything Bush has said in the past that could be considered inconsistent with what he told ABC.
See here the Guardian‘s analysis:
And while the Texas-raised Dubya might style himself a simple-thinking cowboy, let’s not forget he was born amid the liberal east coast money of New Haven, Connecticut, to a father whose Episcopalian faith was notably less evangelical than his son’s future Methodism.
Is there a sense, perhaps, that Bush junior’s faith, while clearly pivotal in his life, has been overplayed in the narrative of his presidency?
For a more balanced perspective on the contents of the interview, see the Associated Press’s article. Unfortunately, the AP didn’t mention anything that would suggest that any of this is new. Sure, Bush has said that the "theory of intelligent design" should be taught along side evolution, but that doesn’t mean he ever believed in a literal interpretation of Genesis.
What would provide an interesting news article would be an analysis by someone who has followed Bush’s faith (closer than I have) so that we could have something of a professional assessment as to how this interview has changed, if at all, the way history will view the role faith has played in Bush’s life. From my perspective, not a lot has changed, at least in what I thought Bush believed. Perhaps this interview will result in the news media asking tougher and more inquisitive questions about Bush’s faith.
As David Brody noted, how should people distinguish Bush’s personal faith from President-elect Obama’s personal faith? Imagine if this interview had aired before Bush was elected in 2000? Bush strongly indicated in the interview that he believes that he prays to the same God as those of other faiths. One has to ask whether Bush believes Jesus Christ is the sole means to salvation and if not, will people start asking whether Bush can call himself a true Christian?