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 V.13 No.34 | August 19 - 25, 2004 

Thin Line

When President Bush arrived in Albuquerque last week to host a group of supporters near the Sunport, it marked the 13th such campaign forum this year, equaling the number of solo news conferences he has had in three and a half years in the White House.

As Washington Post columnist Dan Froomkin noted in his online column on Monday, "Instead of taking questions from reporters, President Bush has become increasingly partial to playing talk-show host to an audience of sycophantic fans."

The Albuquerque Tribune covered the event with a generous front-page headline, "Hailing the Chief," but failed to explain exactly how the "1,100 Bush fans" gained entry to the private location, other than to state it was a "ticket-holder crowd."

Froomkin, however, describes the formula for each made-for-TV appearance. It starts with a "long speech and staged interviews with prepped guests," and then "Bush opens the floor to some incredible softballs."

"There's never a nasty question, never a heckler, nothing but love," writes Froomkin."That makes for great imagery and great soundbytes." In other words, it's a phony, deceptive and unrealistic presentation of the president and his relationship to the electorate. The events take place in contained, isolated locations, where they are totally controlled by Bush's handlers. As a result, local reporters get to regurgitate the charade on the front-page, such as the Tribune's take on the event, while the national press corps sits through the same-old dog and pony show from one city to the next.

Bill Plante of “CBS Evening News” apparently got so bored, on Friday night, he showed video of “campaign wranglers trying to pump up the hand-picked crowd."

"The art of TV-friendly political stagecraft reaches new levels in this campaign," Plante tells Dan Rather, with America watching. "It's all about getting the message without any distraction, and making sure that there's no public argument to spoil the party."

Elisabeth Bumiller writes in her “White House Letter” in the New York Times: "Bush campaign officials readily say that they carefully screen the crowds by distributing tickets through campaign volunteers. The result is often a love-in with heavily religious crowds. Bush relaxes, shows off his humor and appears more human than in his sometimes tongue-tied and tense encounters with the press."

Still, according to the Tribune, even among sycophants, Bush told the local crowd: "It's great to be here in ..." and after a few beats, someone reminded him: "Albuquerque."

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