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Administration Coached Troops On What To Say To Bush, Then Lied About It

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President Bush’s teleconference Thursday with U.S. troops in Tikrit, tied to Saturday’s vote on the new Iraqi constitution, was far from spontaneous.

It turns out that the teleconference was actually the latest example of the Bush Administration pre-screening questioners to create an event as staged as a Broadway show. As with other “town hall” meetings here in the U.S., it’s clear the Bush Administration only wants to feign reality — just in case the real thing proves to be too difficult.

How do we know about the “Tikrit deceit”? Because reporters caught the administration in the act.

Allison Barber, deputy assistant to the Secretary of Defense for internal communication, in a tape that aired on CNN, is seen discussing with troops questions that had been “drilled through today.”

Worse, no one apparently told White House spokesman Scott McClellan that Barber had been caught on tape. Or more likely, McClellan knew, but chose to create one of those famous “alternate universes” during a second press briefing that day, when he continued to insist no pre-screening had occurred.

Let’s take you step-by-step through the “Tikrit deceit”:

STEP ONE: Lie at the White House press briefing.

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

MCCLELLAN: No.

Q: Not at all?

MCCLELLAN: This is a back-and-forth.

— White House press briefing, Oct. 13

STEP TWO: Barber is caught on tape.

“So here’s what you to be prepared for, Captain Kennedy, is that the president is going to ask some questions. He may ask all six of them, he may ask three of them. He might have such a great time talking to you, he might come up with some new questions. So what we want to be prepared for is to not stutter. So if there’s a question that the president comes up with that we haven’t drilled through today, then I’m expecting the microphone to go right back to you, Captain Kennedy, and you to handle [it].”

— Barber, speaking to troops, Oct. 13

“The soldiers, nine U.S. men and one U.S. woman, plus an Iraqi, had been tipped off in advance about the questions in the highly-scripted event. Allison Barber, deputy assistant to the Secretary of Defense for internal communication, could be heard asking one soldier before the start of the event, ‘Who are we going to give that [question] to?'”

— Official pool report, Oct. 13

STEP THREE: Play dumb.

Q Scott, why did the administration feel it was necessary to coach the soldiers that the President talked to this morning in Iraq?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 —

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.

— Press briefing later in the day, Oct. 13

***

It’s all pretty familiar territory for the administration, actually.

Some Bush apologists might say that the Tikrit deceit occurred because of a fear that someone would ask a politically embarrassing question, given the mounting death toll in Iraq, and the possibility that the U.S.-led troops will be fighting the insurgency for the rest of this decade, and possibly beyond.

But the truth is, this sort of deceit was going on long before Bush’s popularity tanked to new lows. This administration has always chosen “alternate universes” instead of dealing with the potential embarrassment of a pointed, but very real question from a disappointed, frustrated or (gasp!) liberal audience member.

During Bush’s tour of “town hall meetings” to push Social Security privatization, it was learned that the administration not only chose to have a hand-picked audience listening to a carefully tailored message, but it also wants hand-picked types of people to ask the right questions to help sell that carefully tailored message.

We know this because, again, the administration got caught in the act.

A memo, circulated among the conservative group Women Impacting Public Policy, illustrated the lengths to which the White House would go to create the right image.

“President Bush will be in Rochester, N.Y., for an upcoming event and has called on WIPP for help,” said the memo to New York-area members, which was leaked to the Los Angeles Times for a May 20 story.

The memo went on to solicit several types of people, including a young worker who “knows that [Social Security] could run out before they retire,” a young couple with children who like “the idea of leaving something behind to the family” and a single parent who believes Bush’s proposal for individual investment accounts “would provide more retirement options and security” than the current system. These people, all to be under the age of 29, would then be called upon by the President, to lob softball questions representing various arguments Bush has been making to sell privatization to younger voters.

WIPP also helped find questioners for a May 19 Milwaukee event. That led to this exchange, recorded by the Times, between a hand-picked questioner and Bush:

“You got any thoughts about Social Security?” Bush asked 22-year-old Concordia University senior Christy Paavola, one of five younger workers who appeared on stage with him at the Milwaukee Art Museum.

“Yes,” Paavola said. “I don’t think it’s going to be there when I retire, which is really scary.”

Many young people, the president commented, think they are paying into a retirement system that will never pay them back.

He asked Paavola: “Got anything else you want to say?”

“I really like the idea of personal savings accounts,” Paavola said.

“You did a heck of a job,” Bush told her. “You deserve an A.”

***

The administration got caught then, just as it got caught by the General Accounting Office found that the administration paid journalists and created other forms of “covert propaganda” in violation of “governmentwide” anti-propaganda rules — to tout Medicare and Education programs.

But old habits die hard. And until the American people demand a checks-and-balances occur — call their Congressman or Senator and say that they will not tolerate such deceit and propaganda in a democratic society — the administration will, obviously, repeat such actions unabated.

In their “alternate universe,” they aren’t doing anything wrong.

***

This item first appeared at Journalists Against Bush’s B.S.

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About David R. Mark

  • http://www.fifthdentist.blogspot.com The Fifth Dentist

    This is what I’d like to see at the next white house press conference:

    David Gregory: … Scott aren’t you contradicting what you told us five minutes ago?

    McClellan: … I didn’t tell you anything five minutes ago, I was just clearing my throat …

    David Gregory: … OK guys, grab him and hold him down …

    McClellan: NO!!! Don’t … waughh!!!

    (Ripping sound is heard as the wasteband of McClellan’s underpants is stretched over his head as press corps delivers long-deserved atomic wedgie.)

    MClellan: (sobbing)

  • Caleb

    It turns out that after talking with the soldiers who were in the conference that none of it was staged. The soldiers were allowed to reherse thier own ( uncoached ) answers. One persona was given the advice to breath deeply to avoid nervousness. This story is all about the media and others bashing bush.

  • http://jabbs.blogspot.com David R. Mark

    So everyone is wrong, and you are right, huh? Do you have a source for this insightful comment?

    Seems to me being caught on tape is pretty conclusive evidence.

  • http://www.templestark.com/blog Temple A. Stark

    Caleb – what you are saying is out and out false. Stunts like this make me sick – from whomever; Gov. Gregoire, President Bush, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

    Anyone.

    Spin is always away from the truth.

  • Nancy

    This whole episode would have been screamingly funny if it weren’t so pathetic that Bush is so goddamn dumb he can’t answer real questions, and so enraging that he & his staff think the rest of us are as abysmally stupid or willing to overlook cheating as they are. Talk about a culture of corruption: for BushCo, cheating is the Norm….

  • Justin Berry

    Surely you dont think Bush is the first to rehearse an interview! This is as old as the presidency and the military. Bill Clinton was notorius for this duing my time in the U.S.M.C. You can put your head back in the sand if you want, but “spin” was definitely not invented nor perfected by this administration. Just because your party is not now (or ever will be} in power does not give you the right to call the kettle black.

  • Nancy

    Of course not; but no one else as blatantly tries to cover it up & pretend it didn’t happen as hard as BushCo does. That’s what’s pathetic/insulting/funny about it.

  • J Berry

    How do you know how a Dem. would have responded? MAYBE he would have said ” I did not have sex with that woman” and then coerced witnesses? That’s what’s pathetic/insulting/funny about it.

  • 1Potato

    In the big picture this is petty stuff.
    Even in the small picture.

  • Caleb

    During the CBS evening news

    link

    they ran what the soldiers went through. I’m sorry but to me it is plain that they’re just getting the soldeirs ready by telling them where to pass the mike and things of that nature – not coaching them. Even one of the soldiers said “The truth is that everything that was said was meant to be said, though it may have sounded scripted in some places,” Sergeant David Barry-Smith told Logan. I can see why the Bush administration is defending itself that it was “staged”.

  • http://jabbs.blogspot.com David R. Mark

    Or it could be that the woman was caught on tape coaching the soldiers.

  • Kaye Jones

    David,

    You pride yourself on encouraging journalists not to be lazy in their reporting. Please take your own advice and at least report the facts correctly. Women Impacting Public Policy is NOT a conservative group. It is bi-partisan and absolutely does NOT support a single candidate nor any political party. In fact, the President of Women Impacting Public Policy is Barbara Kasoff, who is a wonderful liberal Democrat from San Francisco who chaired the national Business Women for Kerry-Edwards campaign.

    Kaye

  • http://jabbs.blogspot.com David R. Mark

    Then why did WIPP help the Bush campaign out with its various town hall meetings? Why did it send out a memo describing such?

    I don’t think it’s lazy to relate these examples. I’ve never seen anyone else suggest WIPP didn’t play this role.

  • http://jabbs.blogspot.com David R. Mark

    Kaye, upon further review, I agree that WIPP calls itself a bipartisan group. So I’m wondering if WIPP, via a Social Security committee, decided to support Bush’s plans in earnest.

    I refer you to this WIPP page, which says it’s a top concern for WIPP’s members.

  • http://jabbs.blogspot.com David R. Mark

    I’ve also changed the post on JABBS.

  • http://www.dalehill.us Dale Hill

    But Bush seems to rely on this type of setup, so he can answer questions “more better” and not make pathetic “gammarical” and “subliminamable” speech errors, ” more, less frequently.” I guarantee you that when Clinton was in the Katrina devastated area, his spoken words weren’t written down before hand, so he wouldn’t sound like a dimwit.

  • 1Potato

    Right, Bill Clinton was no dimwit. He just allowed China to get our missle technology; allowed Al Queda to get cells inside the US; pardoned a billionare felon named Mark Rich as a reward for donating to his campaign;
    set back as we got whacked by terrorists five times; etc.

    Clinton didn’t stop Korea, Iran, Arafat, Al Queda. He appeased everyone as long as he got reelected. And he fix the levy in New Orleans either.

    But he had such a silvery tongue. Isn’t that what’s most important?

  • http://jabbs.blogspot.com david r. mark

    Your criticisms of Clinton really have nothing to do with this article.

    The long and the short of it is that the video shows Barber coaching the soldiers on the various questions they would be asked. She also coaches one of the soldiers to be prepared to laugh at a quip by the president.

    So the question is, can you accept that the president is using soldiers as props? Can you accept the fact that this is the latest pre-screened, coached, staged piece of propaganda from this administration, masquerading as truth?

    Let’s just accept this for what it is. It was a staged event with pre-screened soldiers responding to prepared questions. It’s a made-for-television drama, not reality.

    The denial among true believers is just incredible.

  • http://www.elitistpig.com Dave Nalle

    David, the soldiers who were involved have stated very credibly that they were not told what questions to ask, but that they prepared themselves with questions in advance, and that the guidance they got on site was all technical. Remember, the format of the teleconference was not just them asking Bush questions, but Bush asking them questions as well. Their prep-work was mostly in figuring out who could field what sort of questions most effectively. You can get a first hand account of this from the blog of one of the participants, Sgt. Ron Long.

    Do you suggest that Long and others who were there are lying?

    Dave

  • http://jabbs.blogspot.com david r. mark

    Dave, I trust my own eyes. I saw the video of Barber asking the soldiers the same questions Bush did. I saw Barber coach the female soldier on how to respond when Bush quipped about seeing her in New York last October.

    The soldiers were prepped on the questions, and were told that if that if the president asked something that wasn’t “scripted” — Barber’s word, not mine — that they should pass the microphone to Captain Kennedy.

    That’s real time.

    Obviously, in response to the mess that was caused by catching Barber on camera coaching the soldiers and using words like “scripted” is a lot of spinning. McClellan denied the coaching took place. People have tried to suggest Barber was merely helping the soldiers remain calm. I’ve seen lots of people in the conservative blogosphere whip out that old favorite — “liberal media bias.”

    Maybe they didn’t see the tape, and are reacting on autopilot. I did see the tape (I have a link to part of it in this story). I saw what Barber said, and it was very clear.

  • MCH

    And don’t forget to check out the Iraq Veterans Against the War web site, at link

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    I’ve now seen the Barber video too. It really doesn’t jibe with the quotes I’ve seen from the soldiers themselves. It’s not entirely clear how much coaching she gave them, but clearly it’s more than I expected.

    It is a valid point that coaching them likely had as one of its intentions to help them remain calm and be clear with their questions, and from what I’ve seen so far the questions were not given to them, but taken from them, approved and given back to them. Not sure how much better that is, but it’s at least marginally better.

    Have you read Long’s blog? How would you square that with the Barber tape?

    Dave

  • http://www.fifthdentist.blogspot.com The Fifth Dentist

    Bush’s approval rating is now at 39%. Fifty-eight percent of the country finally realizes that this guy is a tool. On one hand, I’m glad that people are finally seeing that the emperor has no clothes. On the other, I’m sorry that the country and government are failing so badly at everything lately. Most americans actually want the country to succeed and are upset when it doesn’t. But all this is predictable when you elect and then re-elect an incompetent corrupt regime with a ridiculously inept foreign policy.

  • Nancy

    And how does telling the soldiers to be sure to laugh when Fearless Leader cracks a witty one qualify as keeping them calm? How do people like McClellan live with themselves, looking in the mirror day after day and knowing everyone knows they know everyone knows they know etc. etc. they’re lying & get paid for it? Wouldn’t pimping or dealing drugs be more honest?

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    5D, the other 39% of us have known he’s a tool all along, but he was and still is OUR tool, and he’s still better than the other tools we were offered at the hardware sales in 2000 and 2004.

    Dave

  • Nancy

    No he’s not. That’s just YOUR opinion, and mine & 5th’s are just as valid: this tool is used & unfit as well as shoddy. It sure ain’t mine or of my choice.

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    When I say ‘our’, Nancy, I’m referring to the generally sane element of the population to which I belong and not including you or 5th.

    Dave

  • Nancy

    That reminds me: isn’t Lyndon LaRouche one of yours?

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    No, LaRouche is a Democrat/Fascist. He’s about as far from a liberal as you can get.

    Dave

  • Nancy

    I was trying to find a summary of what exactly he is in Wikipedia, & he’s all over the map – uniquely LaRouche, it would seem – but I thought he was technically a Libertarian. I know he’s not a Dem, however low you think they may be, nor is he a Pub.