A Fox Nation headline asked, "Obama Busted Stacking Town Hall ... What If Bush Had?" But the same day on Fox News, Chris Wallace stated, "I know in the Bush administration, George W. Bush, they had a lot of these town hall meetings, and they chose all the people there."
On July 3, FoxNation.com features the headline "Obama Busted Stacking Town Hall ... What If Bush Had?" But the suggestion that Bush did not screen town hall audiences or questions was refuted by Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace, who said on the July 3 edition of Fox & Friends that "town hall meetings ... have always been something of an artifice, because I know in the Bush administration, George W. Bush, they had a lot of these town hall meetings, and they chose all the people there. So everybody has always tried to get a home-court advantage." Indeed, a March 12, 2005, Washington Post article on Bush's 2005 Social Security town hall events reported, "The carefully screened panelists [at a town hall in Memphis] spoke admiringly about Bush, his ideas, his 'bold' leadership on Social Security. If the presentations sound well rehearsed, it's because they often are. The guests at these 'Oprah'-style conversations trumpet the very points Bush wants to make."
In the wake of an October 13, 2005, "staged" public video conference Bush held with several soldiers in Iraq, an October 15, 2005, Washington Post article on that event called it "one of the stranger and most awkwardly staged publicity events of the Bush presidency." The article further reported:
Before they [Bush and the soldiers] spoke, Allison Barber, a mid-level Pentagon official, helped coach the troops on who would be asked what by Bush. Afterward, according to Reuters, she told reporters that "we knew that the president was going to ask about security, coalition and training" but not the specific questions.
This not a new technique for Bush; his White House has perfected the public relations strategy of holding scripted events featuring the president's supporters. During the first part of the year, Bush traveled the country to discuss his Social Security plan, while aides stacked the audience with Republicans and tutored participants in these town hall events on what to say.
From the March 12, 2005, Washington Post article titled "Social Security: On With the Show":
The few dissenting voices in the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts were quickly silenced or escorted out by security. One woman with a soft voice but firm opposition to Bush was asked to leave, even though her protests were barely audible beyond her section in the back corner of the auditorium. The carefully screened panelists spoke admiringly about Bush, his ideas, his "bold" leadership on Social Security.
If the presentations sound well rehearsed, it's because they often are. The guests at these "Oprah"-style conversations trumpet the very points Bush wants to make. Seniors on stage express confidence that Bush's plan to create private investment accounts would not eat into promised benefits, and the granddaughter of one spoke hopefully on Friday of a richer retirement if the president prevails.
These meticulously staged "conversations on Social Security," as they are called, replicate a strategy that Bush used to great effect on the campaign trail.
The White House follows a practiced formula for each of the meetings. First it picks a state in which generally it can pressure a lawmaker or two, and then it lines up panelists who will sing the praises of the president's plan. Finally, it loads the audience with Republicans and other supporters.
To help make its case, the White House recruits people such as Mark Darr, 31, an insurance agent from Benton, Ark., who joined the president on stage at a forum in Little Rock last month. In a subsequent interview, Darr said he believes he was chosen because he went to college with one son of Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee and provided insurance for another.
After the governor's office called, Darr said, he began receiving one call after another from the White House, quizzing him on his thoughts on Social Security and his family history, just as they did all the other candidates. "I'm sure they wanted to ... make sure they weren't going to embarrass the president," Darr said.
From the July 3 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends:
DAVE RIGGS (guest co-host): Well, it's good to see this, some in the press corps firing back. But is this unprecedented, though, in terms of the pre-packaged presidency that we're seeing now? You mentioned that all presidents do this, but this is something in itself. I mean, we haven't seen anything to this -- this much packaging before, have we?
WALLACE: Well, yeah, as far as the town hall meetings, yes. I mean, there have been -- those have always been something of an artifice, because I know in the Bush administration, George W. Bush, they had a lot of these town hall meetings, and they chose all the people there. So everybody has always tried to get a home-court advantage.