Naked City

Off the Desk

The Bush campaign's Austin press office -- run by Ari Fleischer, Dan Bartlett, and Ray Sullivan -- has established a reputation for a relentless pace of press releases. But since the election was put on hold shortly after 3:30am on Nov. 8, the indefatigable press combine has somehow managed to increase the volume of e-mail it sends to media outlets. As the campaign got under way during the spring of 1999, it was not uncommon for reporters to receive two or three e-mails in a given day. Since Nov. 8 (through midday Nov. 21), the Bush press office has sent out 70 e-mails -- some of which have real content, and others that report on the most quotidian events of the governor or his surrogates. Traffic was particularly heavy on Nov. 10, when 15 e-mails were churned out between 10am and 5:23pm -- the last of which reported that the governor would be attending the Texas Book Festival events before retiring to his ranch at Crawford.

It is not only volume; the breadth of topics addressed by the Bush press office e-mails is equally impressive. From the relatively insignificant GWB Weekend Advisory to the comments of Bush attorney Ted Olson in response to a disappointing ruling from a lower court in Florida, nothing eludes the content providers in the Austin press office.

The November e-mail campaign currently under way is reminiscent of the efforts a nascent Bush campaign used in the spring of 1999. At that time, there was a very evident attempt to create the illusion of a growing movement. Prominent Bush supporters were advanced and flown into Austin for a series of daily events at the Governor's Mansion. Full advantage was taken of Democrats who would stand and support Bush's quest for the presidency. Recently, Democratic supporters are back; when Senators Robert Torricelli and Daniel Patrick Moynihan made critical remarks about the Florida recount, their words were quickly forwarded to news outlets.

The Bush press office is also adept at conscripting the press, constantly recycling news clips that support its position. Friendly press reports range from simple stories in regional newspapers to pontifications by national media types such as Larry King. One report from the provinces was lifted from the pages of The Shreveport Times, where a general assignment reporter tracked down an innovative elementary school teacher who had lifted a butterfly ballot from a Web site and had her fourth-grade class vote -- marking the Bush chad with a blue pen and the Gore chad in red. All 22 students present and voting easily navigated the ballot that apparently bewildered South Florida Democrats. Not all reports were lifted from minor regional news sources. Editorials from The San Francisco Chronicle, The Washington Post, and the overheated rhetoric of CNN's Crossfire were also brought to bear on the Florida recount process. All of this was dispatched by a junior press aide named Lee Boddy, from a well-financed and fatly staffed press office that never sleeps...

One Travis County state rep would probably have a better session if Bush were to win Florida and claim the presidency. Elliott Naishtat, D-Austin, spent the final days of the campaign with the governor -- or at least kind of with the governor. Naishtat and state Democratic Party Chair Molly Beth Malcolm traveled in a private jet, shadowing Bush at each campaign stop -- where the two Democratic spokespersons provided the press with a different version of Bush's six years as governor of Texas. Should Bush lose, Naishtat might consider affixing a veto stamp to his pre-filed bills.

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Ari Fleischer, Dan Bartlett, Ray Sullivan, George W. Bush, Molly Beth Malcolm, Elliott Naishtat

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