There so many nice images a presidential chat with the troops can convey: support for the country's fighting men and women; a regular-guy president; the commander in chief, his troops and the nation as a whole jutting their jaws with determination as they carry on the noble cause of democratizing the world, one constitution at a time.
With the inadvertent release of a dress rehearsal for troops before their talk Thursday with President Bush, the White House showed its true self. This is an administration that cares less about the truth than controlling the public's perceptions.
It was bad business as usual when the administration carefully staged, rehearsed and even gave breathing instructions for what was supposedly "just a conversation" between President Bush and troops in a live video conference. The White House and the Pentagon tried to spin the staging as normal preparation. But, as Fox News reported, even some senior Pentagon officials were privately angry.
Every administration tries to control public opinion. No rehearsal was required for President Clinton to give an Oscar-worthy performance in any situation demanding empathy. What's scandalous now is the persistence, the predictability and the calculated disregard for the truth or other ethical boundaries involved in the Bush team's spin.
From the beginning, the administration has forged new frontiers of secrecy, not just on security issues but energy policy, regulatory decisions and even the papers from past administrations. Domestically, the administration is so devoted to controlling discussion that it engaged in what a Government Accountability Office frankly called "covert propaganda" with payments to pay conservative commentators to talk up the No Child Left Behind Act.
There's a sad irony in the purpose of Thursday's conversation between the troops and the president. Bush was trying to rev up support for a war sold to the public on the basis of non-existent weapons of mass destruction. When the war seemed to be going well, the president stood in front of a "Mission Accomplished" banner to thank the military. With the polls showing a plunge in support at home, the administration's deepest inclinations must have been that nothing could be left to chance.
©1996-2005 Seattle Post-Intelligencer