Crossposted at Shadow Blog for America

Keepers of Bush image lift stagecraft to new heights

This article was written by Elisabeth Bumiller of the New York Times in May of 2003. The version here, includes photographic examples, added by media educator Frank Baker. You may have seen this article when it first came out, but I think it would be timely to revisit it now, and spend some time discussing it this week as Bush prepares to make a speech from New Orleans on Thursday evening.

Some excerpts about Bush’s celebrated stagecraft:

On Tuesday, at a speech promoting his economic plan in Indianapolis, White House aides went so far as to ask people in the crowd behind Mr. Bush to take off their ties, WISH-TV in Indianapolis reported, so they would look more like the ordinary folk the president said would benefit from his tax cut.

The images of two of the more famous “sets” used by Bush for his speeches can be found here. These sets can clearly run into money, but it’s clear that this is one area where Bush is not concerned about “cutting spending”.

The White House efforts have been ambitious — and costly. For the prime-time television address that Mr. Bush delivered to the nation on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the White House rented three barges of giant Musco lights, the kind used to illuminate sports stadiums and rock concerts, sent them across New York Harbor, tethered them in the water around the base of the Statue of Liberty and then blasted them upward to illuminate all 305 feet of America’s symbol of freedom. It was the ultimate patriotic backdrop for Mr. Bush, who spoke from Ellis Island.

For a speech that Mr. Bush delivered last summer at Mount Rushmore, the White House positioned the best platform for television crews off to one side, not head on as other White Houses have done, so that the cameras caught Mr. Bush in profile, his face perfectly aligned with the four presidents carved in stone.

Bush’s people are clearly masters of the visual, but the stark contrast between appearance and reality can be painfully ironic.

But even this White House makes mistakes. One of the more notable ones occurred in January, when Mr. Bush delivered a speech about his economic plan at a St. Louis trucking company. Volunteers for the White House covered “Made in China” stamps with white stickers on boxes arrayed on either side of the president. Behind Mr. Bush was a printed backdrop of faux boxes that read “Made in U.S.A.,” the message the administration wanted to convey to the television audience.

Anyway, I was reminded of this article, because I smell another big staging in the works. From CNN:

Earlier in the day, the White House said the president will address the nation Thursday night about the Hurricane Katrina disaster.

The 9 p.m. ET address is the latest administration reaction to Katrina, which roared ashore on August 29.

“The president will talk to the American people about the recovery and the way forward on the longer-term rebuilding,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan told reporters, according to Reuters.

Bush is expected to make his address from storm-wracked Louisiana, where the president toured damaged New Orleans neighborhoods on Monday.

This almost writes itself. Somehow there’s going to have to be footage of Bush hugging a person of color–am I right? Or better yet, being hugged–and thanked–by a person of color. Prepare to be manipulated. Prepare for at least a very solid attempt to create a visual moment of “redemption” for Dubya. Let me know how it turns out–I can never bear to watch these things. Oh, and dang, I just realized–Thursday night will mean that we won’t get the Daily Show coverage until at least Monday.

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