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FOX News Asks: "Is Unscripted Questioning a Good Strategy for Pres. Bush?"

Reported by Marie Therese - March 22, 2006

In an refreshing moment of candor, FOX New Channel finally acknowledged that George Bush's prior public appearances have been scripted. During an interview with pro-conservative, pro-Republican pollster and political commentator, Dr. Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia, in the lower chyron, FOX News actually posed the question "Is Unscripted Questioning a Good Strategy for Pres. Bush?"

The clear implication of this query could not have been lost on the FOX viewers. The message was that in the past Bush has been so afraid of a real question that he would speak only in front of friendly audiences whose questioners were "scripted," i.e., written to offer him the chance to drive home GOP talking points without the unsettling experience of trying to explain things to a real voter with real problems.

Karl Rove has packaged Bush as a manly man, the archetypical jutting-jaw cowboy hell-bent on protecting Americans from a host of enemies, seen and unseen. The American people were sold the IMAGE of a man, and only some of us questioned what was truly behind the facade.

For the past five years the GOP has lived in a self-delusional world in which the Great White Father, George Bush, could do no wrong, guided as he was by the Supreme Being, with whom he communicated regularly. Pundits' voices would quiver with emotion as they uttered the words "this President" as if somehow HE was the repositor of all that is good and holy.

Post-Katrina, post-DPW, post-Iraq, George Bush doesn't look so good anymore. My brother - who voted for Bush twice - won't even talk about him other than to say that Bush isn't a Reagan Republican. Fiscally conservative, socially moderate Republicans I know describe themselves as "independents" rather than admit they have anything to do with the Shrub or his policies.

In the face of dwindling poll numbers, carnage in Iraq, falling wages, higher interest rates and a gaggle of rambunctious GOP incumbents who want to puts miles between themselves and "this President", FOX News finally felt free to admit that Bush's prior public appearances were staged events with prescreened "scripted" questions.

Dr. Sabato did his best to put a smiley face on what's left of the Bush legacy, noting that the President's aggressive foray into the real world is "the right strategy" for him at this time.

SABATO: "The President could hunker down in the White House or could appear before entirely partisan groups with no tough questions and people would say he was hiding ..."

Needless to say, with these words Sabato neatly summed up the last five years of the Bush Presidency. He went on to say that no matter how well Bush performed in a freewheeling environment, he still needed one thing: Some good luck!

However, Big Story host John Gibson, usually a gung-ho advocate for the GOP, didn't seem at all sure that Bush's performance was good enough, asking Sabato: "... In terms of just being a President talking to people, talking to reporters, talking to the people as he did in Cleveland yesterday, is he doing it well? Is he being convincing? Is he being persuasive?"

Dr. Sabato responded that he thought Bush was very effective in the press conference and even better in Cleveland, Ohio because the questions asked by "regular people" were not as "polished" and therefore appeared "truly natural and unstaged."

When the President spoke at the City Club of Cleveland yesterday, the majority of the audience was made up of Democrats. The Kansas City Star reported that Secretary of State Ken Blackwell and Attorney General Petro, both Republicans, were nowhere to be seen. Republican Senator Mike Dewine, who is running for reelection was also not present. According to the Detroit Free Press, the first "unscripted" question took the President by surprise since it asked whether or not he'd made his decision to go to war based on an apocalyptic religious world view. Needless to say, John Gibson did not bring up any of this, nor did Dr. Sabato.

On the other hand, they did rewrite history a bit, implying that the President was on the stump to help Republicans, a direct contradiction to the facts.

SABATO: "Look. There's a reason why almost no Democrats in the Senate or even outside the Senate, that is, Democratic leaders, have agreed with Russ Feingold. That censure resolution is a gift to Republicans in a mid-term election year. Frankly, so are attacks on the President's surveillance program. Whether it's right or wrong or legal or illegal, most people support it because of 9-11 and the things that have taken place since. So, again, the President's picking the right subjects and he's attacking where he can attack and scoring points but, John, you and I both know that the only way for George Bush to get over 50% again is for things to well in Iraq and for Bush to get credit for the good economy that we have."

GIBSON: "Right. But in the meantime he's trying to help out some Republicans in November. In a way, if he's performing well, the next question is: What took him so long? Why didn't they have him out saying these things before?"

SABATO: "Well, it's a good question. Actually, I think not only should he do it more on Iraq, he ought to do it a lot more on the economy. You know, Presidents Reagan and Clinton made far more appearances in the Rose Garden and elsewhere, touting an improving economy. President Bush has an improving economy. We see him maybe once a month talking about a good economy. He seems to think that's sufficient. It isn't sufficient. It takes a long time to get the message out to the American people."

What Sabato meant is that it takes a long time to pull the wool over people's eyes, to convince them that they really do have health insurance when they don't, that their wages are higher now which they aren't, that the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan works like a charm which it doesn't, that the people of Iraq are happy, happy, happy which they're not and that George W. Bush is competent which he isn't.

The Republicans are discovering a basic fact of marketing: If you build your entire campaign on one person's image, be prepared to take a fall when the human being stumbles.

Just ask Martha Stewart Omnimedia. They know what I'm talking about.

And, now, so does the GOP as it finds itself being dragged through the dust and dirt behind a runaway bronco named George Dubya.

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