Thursday, October 13, 2005

Stage-Management to the Nth Degree

[Note: Updated at the bottom. There's more, if you can believe it.]

This morning, President Bush addressed American troops in Tikrit, Iraq live via videoscreen from the White House. The transcript and video are available here. I know you'll all be shocked to learn that the whole thing was one gigantic kabuki dance of stage management - the participants were hand-picked, the questions were divvied up beforehand, and the president was his typical self, except even more awkward since there was a bit of a transmission delay.

Reading the transcript is bad enough, but if you watch the video, I can almost guarantee you will cringe at least once. I did repeatedly. It's completely ridiculous.

Of course, Scott McClellan, the increasingly silly-looking White House Press Secretary, was asked whether this morning's exchanges were scripted. According to TPM, that exchange went like this:

"QUESTION: How were they selected, and are their comments to the president pre-screened, any questions or anything...


QUESTION: Not at all?

MCCLELLAN: This is a back-and-forth."

Later on, after the event, the topic came up again at the full press briefing. The first question after McClellan's opening statement was this fastball: "Scott, why did the administration feel it was necessary to coach the soldiers that the President talked to this morning in Iraq?"

It didn't get better:

"MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, I don't know what you're suggesting.

Q Well, they discussed the questions ahead of time. They were told exactly what the President would ask, and they were coached, in terms of who would answer what question, and how they would pass the microphone.

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm sorry, are you suggesting that what our troops were saying was not sincere, or what they said was not their own thoughts?

Q Nothing at all. I'm just asking why it was necessary to coach them.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, in terms of the event earlier today, the event was set up to highlight an important milestone in Iraq's history, and to give the President an opportunity to, once again, express our appreciation for all that our troops are doing when it comes to defending freedom, and their courage and their sacrifice. And this is a satellite feed, as you are aware, and there are always technological challenges involved when you're talking with troops on a satellite feed like this. And I think that we worked very closely with the Department of Defense to coordinate this event. And I think all they were doing was talking to the troops and letting them know what to expect.

Q But we asked you specifically this morning if there would be any screening of questions or if they were being told in any way what they should say or do, and you indicated no.

MR. McCLELLAN: I don't think that's what the question was earlier today. I think the question earlier today was asking if they could ask whatever they want, and I said, of course, the President was -- and you saw --

Q And I asked if they were pre-screened.

MR. McCLELLAN: You saw earlier today the President was trying to engage in a back-and-forth with the troops. And I think it was very powerful what Lieutenant Murphy was saying at the end of that conversation, when he was talking about what was going on in January, how the American troops and coalition forces were in the lead when it came to providing security for the upcoming election, an election where more than eight million Iraqis showed up and voted. It was a great success.

And he talked about how this time, when we had the preparations for the upcoming referendum this Saturday, you have Iraqi forces that are in the lead, and the Iraqi forces are the ones that are doing the planning and preparing and taking the lead to provide for their own security as they get ready to cast their ballots again.

Q But I also asked this morning, were they being told by their commanders what to say or what to do, and you indicated, no. Was there any prescreening of --

MR. McCLELLAN: I'm not aware of any such -- any such activities that were being undertaken. We coordinated closely with the Department of Defense. You can ask if there was any additional things that they did. But we work very closely with them to coordinate these events, and the troops can ask the President whatever they want. They've always been welcome to do that."

Utter nonsense.

Wonkette has more on this, and hits the nail on the head with her conclusion: "Perhaps they didn't want another 'body armor' moment, a spontaneous admission of reality onto the Bush stage set. Whatever the reason for clamping down so tightly on their message, we can't say that propaganda like this says much for 'American-style democracy.'"

Enough of the bubble. It's well past time this president started experiencing reality.

[Update: As if all this wasn't enough, the AP has much more on the rehearsal that took place before the interview. -- 6:28 p.m.]

[Update: McPherson notes in comments this NPR report on today's events. It is an excellent summation. -- 8:44 p.m.]


At 7:44 PM, Anonymous Paul Wartenberg said...

Why even cover these things anymore? Photo ops are such a complete sham. The media should have reported that the President staged an assinine puppet show and ignored it. Well except FOX, but we all know they're part of the puppet show too.

At 8:33 PM, Blogger McPherson Hall said...


I was clearing brush and listening to the radio tuned to National Public Radio. All Things Considered had the rehearsal for Bush's Video-call ... hearing the rehearsal and excerpts from the Live Event -- the only one that seemed to hear it '"live" was the President. The DOD representative was so at ease playing the President, that you had the feel that she had done it before. Although since this feed was probably not meant for public consumption, she may not have a job any more.

Check out the NPR link where they have the feed.

All Things Considered, October 13, 2005 ยท President Bush's administration has been marked by a savvy use of technology and media strategy. From staging optimal photo-ops to conjuring message-appropriate backdrops at speeches, the president's staff has been diligent in its work.

And so it was early Thursday, with President Bush slated to chat with soldiers stationed in Iraq, that his staff ran through his opening remarks -- and some questions -- without the commander-in-chief being present.

While it's common to use a trial run to ensure things go smoothly when the president arrives, the event, recorded by NPR, offered some insights into the meticulous nature of advance work.

McPherson Hall

At 2:12 AM, Blogger pacatrue said...

What I find most troubling about it all is not the stage managing of the event. We expect that at this point. It's McClellan's flat denial of an obvious fact. It makes you wonder if it isn't these events that we need to stop covering, it's the White House Press room. If McClellan doesn't want to answer it, don't answer it, but don't just lie to us. There ceases to be any point in speaking to the man.

At 12:30 PM, Blogger Jerry said...

McClellan has to be headed for a breakdown. You cannot repeatedly tell the press things that are demonstrably false without going nuts. I hate to be so gleeful about someone's misfortune, but I hope his meltdown happens on camera.

At 12:34 PM, Anonymous Paul Wartenberg said...

I just want to say that if I were ever President, I'd be ballsy enough to let the troops ask their own damn questions. ;)

At 6:14 PM, Blogger pacatrue said...

Paul for President!


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