In her October 19 syndicated column, Michelle Malkin took to task "[t]he Associated Press, NBC News correspondent Andrea Mitchell and others in the Bush-bashing press corps" for “accus[ing] the White House and 10 soldiers from the Army's 42nd Infantry Division of 'staging' ” an October 13 video conference in which President Bush spoke with soldiers stationed in Iraq. Malkin also criticized NBC News for “indulging in its Bush-deranged feeding frenzy over the 'staged' talk with the troops.” But the very same NBC Nightly News report specifically referenced by Malkin included extended video of preparations for the event making it abundantly clear that it was, in fact, “staged.”
Malkin's comments echoed those of The Washington Times, which had similarly expressed skepticism that “some of the soldiers who appeared had supposedly been coached by White House aides.”
On the October 13 broadcast of NBC's Nightly News, correspondent Andrea Mitchell reported on the video conference, the advance preparations for which were inadvertantly transmitted to reporters via a live satellite feed. In the words of Nightly News anchor Brian Williams, the feed “showed a full-blown rehearsal of the president's questions, in advance, along with the soldiers' answers and coaching from the administration,” although the live video event was billed as a spontaneous exchange between the president and the troops. Mitchell's report included video footage of Allison Barber, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for internal communications, coaching the soldiers on delivering their answers and at one point referring to some of the questions as “scripted.”
Mitchell's report also included footage of Barber rehearsing the president's questions and the soldiers' responses in advance, and a comparison of the questions and answers rehearsed with those spoken during the video conference itself. From the October 13 broadcast of NBC's Nightly News:
WILLIAMS: It was billed as a chance for the president to hear directly from the troops in Iraq. The White House called it a “back and forth,” a “give and take,” and so, reporters who cover the White House were summoned this morning to witness a live video link between the commander in chief and the U.S. soldiers in the field, as the elections approach in Iraq. The problem was, before the event was broadcast live on cable TV, the satellite picture from Iraq was being beamed back to television newsrooms here in the U.S. It showed a full-blown rehearsal of the president's questions, in advance, along with the soldiers' answers and coaching from the administration.
MITCHELL: The White House had said the exchange would be spontaneous, but there was something they did not expect you to see. The troops were coached on how to answer the commander in chief. This is Allison Barber. She works for the Pentagon.
BARBER (video clip): All right. But if he gives us a question that's not something that we've scripted, Captain Kennedy, you are going to have that mike, and that's your chance to impress us all. Master Sergeant Lombardo, when you're talking about the president coming to see you in New York, take a little breath before that so you can actually be talking directly to him. You've got a real message there, OK?
MITCHELL: During today's rehearsal, Barber played the role of the president. Here's one of Mr. Bush's questions in the practice session:
BARBER (playing the role of President Bush; video clip from rehearsal): I'm interested in how your pre-election operations are going.
MITCHELL: And here's how it was repeated when the cameras were rolling with the president in place:
BUSH (video clip from conference): Confident? I mean, how do you think feel like the operations are going?
MITCHELL: Here from the rehearsal is a soldier practicing his answer.
CAPT. BRENT KENNEDY (video clip from rehearsal): We are working in northern Iraq right now with an operation that we call Operation Saratoga.
MITCHELL: And here's how it appeared on the broadcast.
KENNEDY (video clip from conference): We're surging in an operation called Operation Saratoga.