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a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Then why deny it?

Posted by Thomas Nephew on October 18th, 2005

Writing about the staged soldier teleconference with the President last week, Stryker (“digitalwarfighter”) argues “Of course it was staged“:

The press has played along with these charades for just as long without ever showing the general public the Man Behind the Curtain, so I’m trying to figure out what the big deal is supposed to be. […]

It’s a fairly symbiotic relationship whose inner-workings are rarely revealed to the general public, but those who’ve had the opportunity to take a peak behind the curtain get to see just how cozy the relationship between the allegedly free press and our government really is, which is why the shock expressed by the press with this latest bit of PR seems a bit feigned.

And of course he’s right, as far as the press goes. But while it may not be news to bloggers or daily news readers — let alone the press corps — that the Bush administration stages its little events with the president, the illusion of “spontaneity” and “reality” is clearly important to the stagers. Otherwise why would Allison Barber (the PR flack from the Pentagon who coached the soldiers) and Scott McClellan deny the event was staged?

In one sense, yes, it’s old news; White House creates fake photo op or an illusory meeting with carefully selected voters. Even the president calls it “catapulting the propaganda.” What’s different this time isn’t just the feigned press shock, but the response it got from the fakers. The illusion of reality really matters to the White House — more than the reality of reality does, and even when the illusion is proven for all to see.

6 Responses to “Then why deny it?”

  1. Paul Says:

    I just want to add that I also stated that this stuff has a long history preceeding Bush. I found it funny that the press, which has always been a complicit actor in these PR exercises, expressed shock at it; I’m reminded of Renault in Casablanca.
    What’s more interesting about all this to me is how it exposes the inherant unreality of television itself. What you see on the TV is a carefully choreographed illusion. For instance, people on morning television programs aren’t in a family room with flowers, fireplaces, and nice furniture; they’re on an upraised platform inside a cavernous space lit by powerful lamps from above and surrounded by massive cameras, wires, and people running around behinds the scenes directing the whole thing. They merely present the viewer with a narrow box projecting an image that they control and manipulate. And that’s just one obvious example, but it illustrates that what you see on television has been staged in some way, shape, or form — even supposedly live and unedited video from places around the world.
    But I don’t want to appear as if I’m just bashing on the press because I think they’re biased or evil or whatever nonsense is out there. Politicians, and the propaganda outfits that support them, use the medium to create and manipulate perceptions to their advantage, with the press a complicit partner because they get ratings, money, and access out of the deal. It truly is a symbiotic relationship.

  2. Thomas Nephew Says:

    I hope it’s clear I wasn’t criticizing you, just pointing out that whether such things are common knowledge or not, the illusion remains important to the White House. (Meaning, I suppose, that such things aren’t common knowledge.)
    To that extent, I just want to not play along with them and pretend it wasn’t an illusion. And if the press does a Captain Renault — at least they’re doing that: for once they’re paying the price vice pays to virtue.

  3. Paul Says:

    I hope it’s clear I wasn’t criticizing you, just pointing out that whether such things are common knowledge or not, the illusion remains important to the White House.
    It’s cool. The post started out as a genuine “WTF?” thing, but evolved into my personal experiences with the phenomenon and how the part that I’ve seen works.
    If I’d had the presence of mind at the time, I would’ve figured-out who all those reporters flying with Gore and everyone else were and dug into their backgrounds to see what their story was, because flying around to all those nice, exotic places and filing only a couple of paragraphs about a boring speech didn’t seem to tell the whole story.
    Anyway, being stationed at Andrews pretty much exposed the whole machine for what it is and it’s why I feel as strongly as I do about the press, political parties, and politicians.

  4. Nell Says:

    I’m sorry, there is something much more offensive about using soldiers in a combat zone as scripted props than screening attenders at a Social Security bamboozle-fest. The press has every right to treat the choreography differently than it does the usual campaign events.

  5. Paul Says:

    I’m sorry, there is something much more offensive about using soldiers in a combat zone as scripted props than screening attenders at a Social Security bamboozle-fest.
    Really? The shock and outrage must’ve been under the radar for the last 60 years or so that it’s been going on. Ever seen a 40’s newsreel? How about a Presidential visit to a military base? Ever seen a President at the Korean DMZ? This isn’t exactly a recent development.
    The press has every right to treat the choreography differently than it does the usual campaign events.
    The press has been a partner to both for a very long time. There’s no difference between how the press is involved with the illusion during a campaign (acceptable and not requiring explanation, apparently) and how it’s involved in military Public Affairs (chicanery most foul!). To condone its behavior during one while pretending to be shocked, shocked! at the other is transparently political BS.

  6. Thomas Nephew Says:

    Leaving me out of it, I think you both may deserve a little better from each other. I’d say we each get to decide what’s most offensive to us personally; to me both examples (selected citizenry at bamboozlefest, scripted soldier teleconference) are pretty offensive, in context. The SocSec campaign was a fairly serious thing, too, after all; it’s one of the few remaining bulwarks against poverty and destitution left to many Americans.
    Stryker’s right — the use of soldiers as scripted props is nothing new. Sometimes it’s even with their widespread, heartfelt approval (e.g., Iwo Jima flag raising — perhaps even a good thing on balance?). Sometimes it’s much more for the benefit of the politicians involved (this instance). There is a Johnny-come-lately quality to some reactions, and folks like Stryker in the armed services are going to notice that.
    But Nell’s right, too — a lie in a bloody graveyard arguably built on lies is more offensive than other lies.
    I return to my original point: the effort to maintain the fiction is telling, in this case. It suggests to me that ‘bamboozling’ events like this one are both important and vulnerable weapons in the Bush political arsenal.

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