PHOTO-OP HELL….Was today’s presidential videoconference with some soldiers in Iraq staged and scripted? Let’s find out! Here’s the White House version:

QUESTION: How were they selected, and are their comments to the president pre-screened, any questions or anything…


QUESTION: Not at all?

MCCLELLAN: This is a back-and-forth.

And here’s the Associated Press version:

It was billed as a conversation with U.S. troops, but the questions President Bush asked on a teleconference call Thursday were choreographed to match his goals for the war in Iraq and Saturday’s vote on a new Iraqi constitution.

“This is an important time,” Allison Barber, deputy assistant defense secretary, said, coaching the soldiers before Bush arrived.

….A brief rehearsal ensued. “OK, so let’s just walk through this,” Barber said. “Captain Kennedy, you answer the first question and you hand the mike to whom?”

“Captain Smith,” Kennedy said.

….”If the question comes up about partnering ? how often do we train with the Iraqi military ? who does he go to?” Barber asked.

“That’s going to go to Captain Pratt,” one of the soldiers said.

“And then if we’re going to talk a little bit about the folks in Tikrit ? the hometown ? and how they’re handling the political process, who are we going to give that to?” she asked.

More here about drilling the troops to make sure their answers were suitably soothing for His Bubbleness. As Atrios says, it’s a sad day when the Bush administration can’t even produce a photo-op competently. That’s always been the one thing they were good at.

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