Former Bush adviser Karl Rove went on Fox News this morning and attacked President Obama’s health care town hall meeting yesterday as “pre-packaged, organized, controlled, [and] scripted,” adding that the Bush administration would never have done something so audacious:
ROVE: This White House has carried pre-packaged, organized, controlled, scripted events to a new height, and they’re getting away with things that in any previous White House, the media would have eviscerated the press secretary and the White House for it.
ThinkProgress contacted a White House spokesperson who said that at yesterday’s health care town hall event in Virginia, half of the tickets were given out by the school (to “students, faculty, staff, as well as members of the health community from the area”) and the other half by the White House (“grassroots activists and people involved in the issue in the area”). The spokesperson then explained how questions were chosen:
The President posted a video on YouTube several days ago, saying respond to this video with questions for me on health care, and we got hundreds, and all of those are online. So in terms of the videos that were selected, anyone can look at the range and see which ones we did and didn’t select. That’s fully transparent. They’re all up on YouTube; they were all up yesterday on our website.
Because YouTube doesn’t actually have a voting function, our new media staff took videos that were rated highly by other users and selected, from among those, questions that represented the range of things being asked. So a lot of people in the progressive community still want a single-payer system, so the first question was from a single-payer advocate. We took a question from a Republican member of Congress, Mike Burgess, about medical malpractice reform.
The spokesperson then noted that there were also questions taken from people who were following along on Twitter and Facebook. When asked whether these questioners or audience members were pre-screened for their political ideology or whether they agreed with the President, the spokesperson replied, “Absolutely not.”
Of course, pre-screening for political ideology is exactly what the Bush administration did.
In March 2005, people seeking tickets to a Social Security event were quizzed about their support of President Bush and his Social Security plan ahead of time. In April 2005, Bush’s security detail threw out three people from an event in Colorado because they had a bumper sticker reading “No More Blood For Oil.” White House spokesman Trent Duffy said that if there’s any evidence people might “disrupt the president,” they “have the right to exclude those people from those events.”
Bush even screened the assembled group of soldiers he would meet in Iraq during a 2003 Thanksgiving visit: Soldiers had to fill out a questionnaire asking whether they supported Bush.
HEMMER: This was the scene at the White House in the press room before the town hall event took place on health care. Roll this with Helen Thomas.
(VIDEO) THOMAS: You have left open the suggestion that you are pumping the answers.
REID: Even if there’s a tough question, it’s a question coming from somebody who was invited or was screened — the question was screened.
GIBBS: Chip, Chip, let’s have this discussion at the conclusion, how about that?
THOMAS: No, no, no. We are having it now.
GIBBS: Well I’d be happy to have it now. Which question did you object to at the town hall meeting, Helen?
THOMAS: It’s a pattern. It isn’t the question. It’s a pattern of controlling the press. (END VIDEO)
HEMMER: Now, Chip Reid’s next to her from NBC. Look, people are talking about this today, not the town hall meeting. How does that hurt the cause and the message about health care reform?
ROVE: Well, look. I thought — I’m like Jonah Goldberg; I really find it unusual to be in agreement with Helen Thomas. But notice what Gibbs said. He said, in essence, you have the right to end in a question by e-mail and we have the right to determine whether or not we ask it, so what’s the problem? It was sort of like, it’s a free-flowing town hall meeting if you get to send in via Twitter or e-mail your question, not if we have free-flowing questions in the room.
This White House has carried pre-packaged, organized, controlled, scripted events to a new height, and they’re getting away with things that in any previous White House, the media would have eviscerated the press secretary and the White House for it.
HEMMER: And when something like this happens, you know, the credibility is shaken and the argument stands on weaker ground. It’s plain and simple.
ROVE: Well, they got what they wanted.