White House's bold new P.R. offensive: Making stuff up

Worried citizens welcome Bush's all-out assault on reality.

Published October 20, 2003 7:30PM (EDT)

The recent launch of an aggressive White House public relations offensive, designed to convince Americans that things are going well in Iraq and to hell with everything else, has scored a direct hit. At least half a dozen Americans have surrendered to Operation So-Shut-Up-Already, say exuberant White House operatives, who advanced on Anytown, USA, this Monday and successfully rounded up a small but scrappy audience made up almost entirely of people with jobs. Operatives are confident that these modest casualties in the war on logic will lift the president's sagging approval ratings. "We've seen higher numbers on Jessica Simpson's I.Q. test," leaked one senior White House official who asked not to be identified as Karl Rove.

Mess Secretary Scott McClellan was optimistic about the success of the P.R. campaign and expressed hope of obtaining a federal cease-and-desist order against what he termed information stalkers, ranging from embedded reporters in Iraq to readers of all but the Campbell's Soup Recipe Update. "We're winning the war on querorism," he confirmed Sunday.

Recently the president attempted to explain the bewildering increase in the number of people unhappy about being mired in a costly war that has killed or injured more than 2,000 U.S. soldiers, ratcheted up anti-American sentiment around the world, shown no foreseeable conclusion, and which was based on disinformation. The president deduced that media saboteurs must have installed what he and other weapons experts are calling "the Filter," a kind of mainstream media code that causes the front pages of newspapers to fill up with accurate reports of casualty figures and Iraqi resistance. The Filter is also alleged to screen out the preponderance of good news that normally arises from senseless violence, muddled foreign policy, and a neglected domestic economy that is spiraling toward its doom.

By mounting an all-out assault on reality and taking the "good news in Iraq" to small-town America, the administration hopes to discourage voters from overreacting to such everyday annoyances as their children being killed in Baghdad, the loss of millions of jobs, and a request for an additional $87 billion that will enable the administration to pursue its policy of ensuring more of the same.

Anytown resident Paula Wooloverus welcomes the manipulation. "I wish the media would stop distracting us with fact-based news of Iraq. Sure, my son is over there risking his life, but other than that, who cares? What we really want are more happy stories about the homeland, like the one about the appointment of a manufacturing czar. That was a fun story, wasn't it? Whatever happened with that guy anyway? And what's Gary Coleman up to? That's what I want to know."

Neighbor Varian Likely agrees. "I want to read more inspiring stories like the one where the president said that Iraq is a country where the markets are busy, democracy is building, people are benefiting from education, jobs and healthcare, and a vibrant, independent media has replaced government-controlled newspapers. It gives me hope that someday those kinds of things could happen here."

Waving a sign that read, "Don't ever change your spinful ways," he and other Anytown residents took to the streets Monday to show their support for being stage-managed, bankrupted and then dismissed. Famed as a manufacturing base for address labels advertised in the Lillian Vernon catalog, Anytown welcomed the arrival of the president's bus, dubbed "Err Force 2004," which had been fitted with loudspeakers for the occasion. As the bus lurched into town, ones and twos of people began to line the streets, lured by the siren call of the Partridge Family hit, "C'mon, Get Happy." Some even threw flowers, including workers who had lost their jobs when American florist companies replaced them with overseas customer service operators.

Shortly afterward, the president entered the Anytown Industrial & Cultural Complex, or as it is known locally, the homeless shelter, to speak to his supporters. "We are all spinners," the president announced, "and I just want to assure the American people that as far as Iraq goes, we are making progress in a vague sense to be determined later and then thoroughly revised as needed. And as far as the economy goes, I for one am willing to stand my ground and say, 'Here, economy, come on, nice doggie,' and that sort of thing, but let's not make a federal case out of it. " The president also cited the latest glowing report from the Federal Reserve beige book, which described current business activity as "not dead yet," in contrast to this spring when business activity was rated, "Asystole! Charge paddles to 50! Clear!"

Afterward the audience of nearly seven people said they had enjoyed putting aside their fears for one surreal hour. Admits one member of the captive audience, "They marched us in, had the president tell us what we wanted to hear, and then marched us out again. With that kind of leadership strategy, who wouldn't be stunned into silence?"

"Seems reasonable to me," said Chaim Anat Reil, one of at least two people, including the president himself, who cheered the president's promise to replace solutions with more cleverly worded excuses. "Now that household debt has risen to 14 percent of disposable income, personal bankruptcies are expected to surpass last year's record of 1.5 million, and people are mailing out fewer bill payments, it's true that demand for our product is down. And yeah, maybe our manufacturing plant is slated for closure immediately following the Good News Carnival 'n' Fundraiser Luncheon. Hey, no problem. All that matters is that the president went on record as saying that things in Iraq are better than we think. And thank goodness, because we thought things were really bad."

Also supportive of the White House is Claris Mudd, who believes that the White House is not getting enough credit for its handiwork on the domestic front. "All we ever hear is how bad the economy is. But what about the multimillion dollars in federal benefits awarded to companies that, by sheer coincidence, are run by volunteers who raised at least $100,000 for Bush's 2000 campaign? What about the billions of dollars in energy-industry tax breaks in the Bush administration's proposed energy plan? No, all we ever hear about is a handful of 2 or 3 million people who can't find a job to save their lives. Or, oh, poor us, our school district can't comply with No Child Left Behind just because the law was shortchanged by billions of dollars. Or, boo hoo, my elderly mother is forced to make prescription drug runs to Canada, my spouse's job is headed for Byelorussia, and my pension disappeared somewhere in the Caymans. Don't these people have anything better to occupy their time? Don't they watch 'Regis and Kelly'?"

Meanwhile, the president vowed to step up his P.R. campaign and ordered emergency shipments of spin to be distributed wherever the need for food, jobs and healthcare was most difficult to ignore. "I ask the American people for nothing in return but a blank check in Iraq, the continuation of reckless tax cuts, and $170 million in campaign donations."

By Joyce McGreevy

Joyce McGreevy is a writer in Portland, Ore.

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