FRAMESHOP:FRAMESHOP: PHONY BALONEY

As the Iraq war and the Abramoff bribery scandal continued to collapse on the Republican party, President Bush again responded to crisis by heaping phony baloney on the American public. Yesterday, the White House staged the latest in its never-ending...

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Jeffrey Feldman, Editor-in-Chief
Frameshop, 01/12/2006

As the Iraq war and the Abramoff bribery scandal continued to collapse on the Republican party, President Bush again responded to crisis by heaping phony baloney on the American public. 

Yesterday, the White House staged the latest in its never-ending series of fake 'dialogues' between Bush and the American people.  This time the 'dialogue' was in  Louisville, Kentucky, where the President gave a summary of his 'victory in Iraq' speeches and then told the crowd he would 'answer any questions you got.'

What followed was not interesting for what Bush said, but for the How these obviously planted questions were delivered.  The event unfolded like an underfunded, hastily-rehearsed, 8th-grade play--the kind of event that makes an audience cringe and think 'How cute! At least they're trying.'

Except, this was no school play and these were not 8th-grade children.  This was our President attempting to hoodwink the public with more phony baloney propaganda. But we are not buying it. Americans are paying the price for the President's war and the President's corruption, and come November--the Republicans will pay the price politically.   

The entire transcript to yesterday's fake dialogue in Kentucky is available on the White House website (here).  But just for some uncomfortable fun, here are a few of the moments that made me cringe.

Phony Baloney Moment #1:  Mr. President, When Will You Attack the Media?
This over-produced question came from an audience member who was keen to find out when the President was going to get down to the business of attacking freedom of the Press in America:

Q I'd like to ask, recently in the media, you've been catching a lot of flak about that National Security Agency thing.

THE PRESIDENT:    Yes.

Q There's people in our states and there's people that are in D.C. that will take and jeopardize what I feel is our national security and our troops' safety today for partisan advantage, for political advantage. They're starting an investigation in the Justice Department about the -- looking into this, where these leaks came from. Is the Justice Department going to follow through and, if necessary, go after the media to take and get the answers and to shut these leaks up?

(see full transcript here)

My goodness!  What a way with words they have in Louisville.  Or rather:  they seem to be very good at memorizing questions given to them by the White House communications team.  But, yes  indeed, Mr. President:  when will the Justice Department 'go after' the media? 

Phony Baloney Moment #2:  Mr. President, How Can We Help Freedomize the World?
One of the key features of a phony Bush dialogue question is a member of the public who stands up and gives the President credit for saving America from terrorists attacks (Pssst...9/11 happened when President Bush was in office).  These statements are often coupled with 'how can we help, too' questions.  Here is an example from yesterday's event where a member of the audience was given this task to perform:

Q Mr. President, we hear a common expert opinion all the time that the terrorists are going to attack us -- it's not a question of whether, it's a question of when. And, yes, that might happen. But the facts are that since 9/11 we haven't had any, so thank you. (Applause.)

And now to my question. You have said many a time to all those who will listen that the two major pillars of democracy are free and fair elections, and the separation of church and state. However, historically, and to date, a vast majority of the Islamists across nations do not believe in that simple fact of separation between church and state. Therefore, how can we help change their belief, that for democracy to succeed, certain elements must be in place? Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT:    It's a great question...

(see full transcript here)

Yes, indeed. When we think about President Bush, 'separation of church and state' is the first thing that comes to mind, right?  Uh...wrong.  But in this phony question, the audience member was given the job of echoing the key points that Bush has been making about 'pillars of democracy.''  And the question was asked in perfect sentence and paragraph structure.  Amazing.

Phony Baloney Moment #3:  Answers Get Ahead of the Questions
Another feature of these fake dialogue events is the hallmark moment when Bush starts to let his stage answers slip into the exchange with members of the public.  In these events, once things get going the President has trouble separating the 'substance' of his answers from the directions he has been given by his handlers as to how he should act.  Concepts like 'immigration' and 'man asks question about Mexico' get jumbled up in the President's mind, with madcap results for everyone.  Here is an exchange that begins with Bush announcing that he is 'searching around' for his next so-called spontaneous moment of real interaction with real people asking their own really real questions:

THE PRESIDENT:  [...] The Let's see, let me -- kind of searching around.    Yes, sir?

Q Hi. My name is Mario --

THE PRESIDENT:    Hola -- en Mexico?

Q Monterrey. We went for Christmas, to spend Christmas with my family in Mexico. And, you know, my family, friends, media, President Fox, they're talking about the wall that the United States wants to build across the border with Mexico. My question for you is, what is your opinion or your position about that wall? And, you know, when people ask me how can I justify the answer to build a wall, other than saying, we don't want you here, you know?

THE PRESIDENT:    Yes, great question.

Q Thank you.

THE PRESIDENT:    His question is on immigration. Let me talk about immigration. We have an obligation to enforce our borders. (Applause.) Let me just say the full answer. (Laughter.)

(see full transcript here)

So, the President remembered that he was supposed to answer a question that had something to do with Mexico, and  just got confused about whether he was supposed to  answer the question first or let the person ask the question first.  It's an honest mistake.  And then, in an attempt to get things back on track and find his grove again, the President announces the title to his pre-hearsed answer in the answers itself: "His question is on immigration."  Finally, in a moment of nervous excitement, the President lets slip that he is supposed to give a big answer, not a short answer, and reminds the audience that they are supposed to be quiet until he is finished with his lines: "Let me just say the full answer."  This, of course, makes everyone laugh because these phony events are all just fun and games anyway.

Phony Baloney Moment #4:  Answers Get Ahead of the Questions
A recurrent feature of these fake dialogues is the messed-up question followed by the messed-up answer.  In these moments, a member of the audience delivers their planted question, but they do it in a way that is utterly confusing--they do not really understand what it is they are asking, or do not have the acting skills to pull it off.  On occasion, the President--apparently confused by all this--answers by butchering his own answer.  Here is an example from yesterday's event:

THE PRESIDENT:  [...] Yes, ma'am.

Q Hello, Mr. President. You just made a very poignant -- about math and science. I am a -- number one, I'd like to thank you for taking time to be here. I think all of us would reiterate that.    I am a business owner and I am living the American Dream, and I would like to personally thank you for having a will that will not be broken.    And the men and women of the armed forces that protect the freedoms that we have had and that we oftentimes take for granted and give us this way of life.    So as a business owner, though, my greatest challenge is, I worked 20 years in the civil engineering arena before starting my company. And the thing that is really frightening to me is our -- we have a true weakness, a wave that's coming in both the engineering arena, the sciences, as well as construction -- construction inspectors. There's going to be a huge -- these baby boomers that are starting to retire, that knowledge base that's getting ready to go away, and there is no one to replace it that's compelling enough. What could you suggest that corporate America can do to help in this deficit?

THE PRESIDENT:    No, I appreciate it. First, thanks for owning your own business. I love being the President of a country where people can -- I'm not saying you started with nothing, but, you know, have a dream and end up with owning your own business. 

(see full transcript here)

Yikes! My head is spinning.  The difficulty seems to be that in each question, the member of the audience has been instructed to heap praise on the President and then ask their question.  This can be tricky for people who may be nervous and not used to speaking in public.  The second problem is that the President is not very good at these canned answers.  So, in an attempt to praise the speaker for doing well in business, he accidentally calls them a 'nothing'--and then fumbles to recover. 

Phony Baloney Moment #5:  Question from a Small Child
The final moment that often appears in these events is a question posed by a small child who then gets an answer that he or she could not possible understand.  These moments demonstrate that Bush is completely out of touch with the room, but is desperately trying to do what he has been told.  Yesterday, for example, a small child asked a question about the war on terror (seriously...) and Bush responded with an answer that was way too sophisticated for a 7-year old to understand:

THE PRESIDENT:  [...] How old are you?

Q Seven.

THE PRESIDENT:    Okay. That's good. (Laughter.)

Q How can people help on the war on terror?

THE PRESIDENT:    Well, that's the hardest question I've had all day. (Laughter.)

First of all, I expect there to be an honest debate about Iraq, and welcome it. People can help, however, by making sure the tone of this debate is respectful and is mindful about what messages out of the country can do to the morale of our troops. (Applause.)

I fully expect in a democracy -- I expect and, frankly, welcome the voices of people saying, you know, Mr. President, you shouldn't have made that decision, or, you know, you should have done it a better way. I understand that. What I don't like is when somebody said, he lied. Or, they're in there for oil.    Or they're doing it because of Israel.    That's the kind of debate that basically says the mission and the sacrifice were based on false premise.    It's one thing to have a philosophical difference -- and I can understand people being abhorrent about war. War is terrible. But one way people can help as we're coming down the pike in the 2006 elections, is remember the effect that rhetoric can have on our troops in harm's way, and the effect that rhetoric can have in emboldening or weakening an enemy.

So that was a good question. Thank you. (Applause.)

(see full transcript here)

So, you know, his answer to a question from a 7-year old child about how to help in the war on terror was not 'send a postcard to the troops in Iraq' or 'have a bake sale,' but  make sure 'the tone of this debate is respectful' and be' mindful about what messages out of the country can do to the morale of our troops.'  Does President Bush really believe that a small child should be mindful of messages?  Probably not.  He was just trying to deliver his lines.

What To Do About These Events:  The Media Should Interview the People Who Asked Questions
To deal with these phony baloney events, the media should take time to interview the people who were recruited to deliver canned speeches. Only that way can the public see that these staged events are the fake products of a fake  Presidency.

The trap that we should not fall into is to respond to the substance of the questions and answers--because there is no substance.

I am sure it is exciting to get a call from the White House and to be invited to help out at an event for the President of the United States.  Presented with the correct sales pitch, I am sure many of us might agree to participate in something like this before we really understood what was happening. 

The solution, therefore, is for the media--broadcast and cable television in particular--bring attention to how these propaganda events are created, as a way to get the American public to see how every interaction between President Bush and the public is not really interaction at all.

It's phony baloney.

©  2006 Jeffrey Feldman

© Jeffrey Feldman 2006, Frameshop

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