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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

White House Files Official Forms For Bush-Cheney 2004 Campaign

Aired May 16, 2003 - 19:35   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Now we move onto political news. And part of the political field for the 2004 presidential race is officially set. Today the Bush-Cheney reelection team filed the paperwork necessary to get into the race. Our White House correspondent Chris Burns reports this all though was pretty low key.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRIS BURNS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It was a quiet, unannounced first step. President Bush filing with the Federal Election Commission. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer merely confirming it during a regular press briefing. He said the effort was to build an organization, a war chest of over $100 million. This organization being called Bush-Cheney '04 incorporated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The American people will decide whether or not I deserve a second term. In the meantime I am focusing my attention today on helping people find work. And that's where I' going to be for a while. I want this economy to be robust and strong so that our fellow Americans who are looking for a job can find a job. We've also got a lot of work to do on the security the front.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNS: Ari Fleischer says that President Bush will not declare his candidacy formally until later. The strategy is to ride his wartime -- post-war popularity to remain above the political fray as the Democrats fight amongst each other.

He wants to avoid the misfortune of his father, George Bush, who won the Gulf War and then later lost it on the economy to Bill Clinton. Also after a bruising primary and during a final election in which Ross Perot, the independent candidate siphoned off votes.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: Well, one, it certainly seems from here that the emerging Democratic team is to snipe at each other. There are nine Democratic presidential candidates running and they seem to be spending a lot of time dealing with each other while this president is focusing on economic security and national security.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNS: So the strategy for the president is to try to maintain his momentum as a popular wartime president, try to push through the economic policy that he wants with tax cuts to try to raise the economy in time for the elections.

Chris Burn, CNN, the White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KAGAN: Well it goes without saying that President Bush's image team will be work as hard as possible to make the president look good between now and election day. And if you look closely you'll actually see they've been at work all along with dazzling technique.

In Washington with some pointers on what to look for, what you might have missed is Joshua King, he's a pollster with Penn, Schoen and Berland Associates. And he's been in the biz for a while. He knows how to be an image maker himself. Josh, good evening and thanks for joining us.

JOSHUA KING, PENN, SCHOEN & BERLAND: Thanks, Daryn.

KAGAN: Well this has been in the news a lot lately. "The New York Times" talking about how the Bush administration has taken this to new heights. We saw it in the Clinton administration, in the Reagan administration.

Let's look at some specific recent events that might orchestrate better. First of all, the latest when the president landed on the USS Lincoln and caught a lot of flack from Democrats. But the White House says this was A-OK. This wasn't just any kind of plane landing. Give us an idea of elements that go into making this look good.

KING: Well, first of all, they've got to decide that they're going to take this great gamble in which is to put the president in an olive flight suit, to go through training in the White House pool and to sort of have him pretend for a day that he's a pilot himself. And then be able to get out of the cockpit and receive the accolades of the people on deck.

And that's a bit of a risk and I think they've taken some heat from those in Washington. But they're probably glad to have that heat in exchange for all of the still pictures and video that as we are right now, we continue to see.

KAGAN: Well from what I hear the Republicans absolutely love and the White House administration, the Bush administration absolutely thrilled with this because every time the Democrats come up and say you're just making images and we're doing here tonight, you just put that video on one more time. It's yet another opportunity to play the picture of the president with the military behind him.

KING: Yes, you know, I'm all for presidents being able to meet the troops that are fighting for the nation. President Reagan did it a lot. President Clinton did it a lot. And President Bush does it a lot and there's really nothing wrong with that.

If I had any problem with it, it just would be that the White House is a little disingenuous by saying he had to fly out with a fighter jet when there's more ungainly air transport, a C-2 Greyhound or even his own helicopter that easily could have made that flight. But I don't have a problem with him going to make a speech on an aircraft carrier. I hope presidents do it for decades to come.

KAGAN: Well let's look at another event, the anniversary of 9/11 when the president gave a speech and you can see so brilliantly the Statue of Liberty lit up over his shoulder. What goes in to putting this picture together?

KING: Well, again this, walkout is really what they're trying to get. He walks out, he makes his speech, there's no question and answer from the press. They have floated as it was reported today in "The New York Times," barges with klieg lights that do a much better job lighting up the Statue of Liberty than are normally out there in New York Harbor.

They're throwing huge amounts of motion picture quality lights because this statue 300, 400 yards away and if you're going to make this speech you ought to do it right. And had they not lit up the statue to that extent, it just would have been a black background for him.

KAGAN: You can't have that.

Now we're not just looking behind the scenes of the Bush administration. As we said, this has been going to for a while now. You worked in the Clinton administration. Give us an example of how you tried to craft the image when President Clinton was in office.

KING: You've given me this terrific backdrop of the South Portico of the White House here. This is a fake, but you know, that was available to President Reagan, President Clinton and to President Bush every week. So I think if you went back to the video archives, you'd probably see a lot of examples of the president on the stage with cameras from CNN, the pool camera representing all of networks positioned just so to put the president's head almost where you see my head right now, right squarely between those columns. That is one of the most powerful icons in the world.

KAGAN: So he looks presidential there. I think we actually pulled some video of one of President Clinton's trips to Bosnia to visit the troops. Can you tell us about this?

KING: Well, I'm not sure about exactly this moment. We are, I think, in Tuzla in Bosnia-Herzegovina, in the Posavina Corridor. This is the 1st Armored Division, president's not in his business suit. He'd been flying all that night. There was a terrific speech that he gave actually on the tarmac in Tuzla.

And he was able to also -- we had a lot of still photos that came out the day after, just, frankly, like the Bush team was able to get from the visit to the carrier Lincoln. KAGAN: And then finally in the moment or so that we have left let's talk about when the image making doesn't go exactly right.

KING: Well you know there are a lot of examples over time going back from President Carter when he was doing a marathon and he stumbled or had a fainting spell. President Reagan when he was trying to show his respect to the German people and ended up laying a wreath at a cemetery for SS soldiers. President Clinton has had moments that haven't gone right. And President Bush even in the last few weeks did a speech in front of a variety of boxes that happened to be made in China.

So you try to push the outside of the envelope. You try and get as much photo value as possible. Sometimes thing goes awry and sometimes you have to explain yourself. Ari Fleischer spent a good deal of time over the last week explaining himself as we started in this broadcast. I think they're happy to do the explaining for the value that they got in return.

KAGAN: Right. And every time they get to explain they get to put the pictures up one more time. More value for their money.

Josh King, thanks for you insight, taking us behind the scenes of presidential image making.

KING: Thanks, Daryn.

KAGAN: We appreciate it.

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