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Will videoconference damage Bush's image?

Presidential historian Beschloss discusses 'scripted' allegations
/ Source: msnbc.com

The videoconference President Bush held on Thursday with troops in Iraq has been billed as an unscripted exchange by officials, but cameras captured the troops being coached in a rehearsal just before the conference. 

In response, the Department of Defense emailed a statement to NBC News, which concluded, by saying, "we certainly regret any perception that [the troops] were told what to say.  It is not the case."

On Friday, MSNBC anchor Amy Robach talked with NBC News presidential analyst Michael Beschloss, who watched the tape of the pre-conference coaching, about what impact this may have on the administration.

To read an excerpt of their conversation, continue to the text below.

AMY ROBACH: It's no surprise all presidents manage their events to some extent but what was your reaction when you saw that tape yesterday?

MICHAEL BESCHLOSS:  Amy, sometimes they manage them a little bit better then this one and the thing was, the White House was at a time when George Bush's polls are really in the basement largely because of the war that's getting very unpopular. What they were obviously trying to do as something that's going to at least make Americans feel better about this war. But when you look at how much this was staged,  it has the opposite effect, it makes us almost thing what they were about that those people might say to the president.

ROBACH:  Is there an historical precedence to this at all?  Have you seen anything like this before?  I know we're in a newer age of technology then perhaps previous presidents, perhaps those far back.  But give us a sense of perspective here.

BESCHLOSS:  The presidents like to do this especially in wartime.  Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon had to deal with various unpopular wars in Vietnam and Cambodia, Southeast Asia, but in the technology of those days, they had to fly over there and be photographed visiting the troops.  Now a president can do this by video link.  But obviously what they were very worried about yesterday was some surprising moment that might be very much against their message.  What I'm thinking of is 1979. Jimmy Carter's numbers were going down rapidly and at that time he was in a marathon in Maryland.  He ran too fast, he got winded and he began to collapse.  There was an image of Carter sagging almost to the ground.  People thought of that as an image of Carter's political plight of the time.  I think the Bush people were afraid of something like that.

ROBACH:  In fact, let's listen to one suggestion Allison Barber made to a solider during the pre-interview phase before they actually talk to the president live.

--Begin video clip--ALLISON BARBER, DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE OFFICIAL: "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 to him.  You've got a real message there ok."  -- Allison Barber--End video clip--

ROBACH: There's a line between preparing someone for a television appearance and actually pre-producing that appearance.  Is there a clear line with the American public you think?

BESCHLOSS:  There should be and I think in fairness to that soldier based on something the solider earlier said she was perhaps trying to get it said a little more clearly.  But there sure has to be a line because people serve in the military and they do so whether they support a war or not so you have to assume that at least some of the people fighting in Iraq privately might have doubts about the war so therefore when you bring people into something like this and they're essentially asked to do this in some cases or ordered to, there is a little bit of a problem.  You get into a situation where a soldier doesn't want to do this, does that soldier say no?

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