BOB GARFIELD: It is no secret that White House administrations have always been in the business of managing their public relations, but it's not often that we get documentary proof of the specific strategies they employ.
For the current administration, that proof came a couple of weeks ago when its Advance Manual, a kind of how-to for staging public appearances by the president, was revealed in the course of a lawsuit against a government official.
Well, the manual, or at least a heavily redacted version of it, surfaced on the website of the American Civil Liberties Union. Slate senior editor Dahlia Lithwick did a close reading of it and she joins me now. Dahlia, welcome back to OTM. DAHLIA LITHWICK: Thank you for having me. BOB GARFIELD: Before we get to what's in the manual itself, let's start with how it came to the surface to begin with. It began with the arrest of a couple called Jeff and Nicole Rank at a presidential event. Tell me about that day. DAHLIA LITHWICK: Sure. It was, believe it or not, a Fourth of July event in Charleston, West Virginia, in 2004, and it was sort of open to the public on the state grounds. Mr. and Mrs. Rank wore tee-shirts to that event. They wore slightly, I think, controversial tee-shirts. Each of them had a red circle and a diagonal bar covering the word "Bush" on the front, and then on the back his said "Regime change starts at home" and hers said, "Love America, hate Bush." [BOB LAUGHS]
So, okay, they were trying to twitter, tweak somebody, but they didn't expect, I think, to be handcuffed, booked, photographed, fingerprinted, charged with trespassing, of all things, held for several hours in jail in West Virginia. BOB GARFIELD: Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. I'm sorry. Trespassing at a public [LAUGHS] event? I guess the loitering statute wasn't available. [LAUGHTER] DAHLIA LITHWICK: Right. And they didn't jaywalk. It was an incredibly bogus charge. They were released after a few hours and the city apologized, but the real question is the question that's been raised in several other lawsuits about what happens at these Bush events, at sort of public speeches and visits. This is not a campaign event. This is him in his capacity as the president.
There was a funny quote that I read where Mr. Rank [LAUGHS] said that God Bless America was playing on the loudspeakers as they dragged him off [LAUGHING] in handcuffs. I haven't been able to corroborate that, but, you know, it's certainly meant to be a Fourth of July event, and yet this is deemed inappropriate demonstrating and is actionable.
So the Ranks, not unreasonably, sued. This lawsuit has sort of gone back and forth and up and down, in all sorts of directions, but it was finally settled a few weeks ago with the Bush administration paying $80,000 - let's note that that's taxpayer money - to the Ranks, and the case has now been dismissed. BOB GARFIELD: But the manual survives. It's a set of how-to instructions for, I guess, keeping the crowd a friendly one. What's in it? DAHLIA LITHWICK: The manual turned up as part of discovery in this lawsuit, and, as you pointed out in your intro, it's been very heavily redacted so we probably are missing the really, truly delicious bits. I think that's fair to say.
But it's called the Presidential Advance Manual. There's an enormous amount in here that is quasi-hysterical about, quote, "demonstrators" and "protestors" and it very much starts to look - at least the unredacted parts - as though the whole object of these things is to do whatever you can to sort of quell protected free speech. BOB GARFIELD: There's actual language in there that talks about tactics for, quote, "deterring potential protestors from attending events," and one of the means for doing so - rally squads. What are rally squads? DAHLIA LITHWICK: [LAUGHS] Rally squads. The manual suggests that the organizers of this event drum up, quote, "college/Young Republican organizations, local athletic teams and fraternity/sororities" and then have these rally squads, quote, "use their signs and banners as shields between the demonstrators and the main press platform." And then later on they say, quote, "Long sheet banner could be used," quote, "in strategic areas around the site." [LAUGHS]
And so you sort of have this idea of like a bunch of Sigma Nu guys with an enormous sheet swarming any potential protestors. BOB GARFIELD: Okay. Now, it's not just that they want to quell voices of dissent. There's also the sensitivities of “dear leader.” DAHLIA LITHWICK: There's language that says that only individuals in groups, quote, "that are extremely supportive of the administration" - now, that is extremely is underlined in the manual - end quote, are going to be seated in the area between the stage and the main camera platform. So only, you know, the people who are going to be like absolutely hysterical with love for the president get to sit around him and in front of the cameras.
And then there's, I think, an even sort of slightly more alarming quote in the manual where they actually have event staff that are creating protest areas, quote, "preferably not in view of the event site or the motorcade route." BOB GARFIELD: Free speech pens. DAHLIA LITHWICK: Right, right. Those that aren't going to be sort of clapped behind the knees and dragged off in cuffs. Those who are, in fact, permitted to speak are going to have to do it in some area where not only the cameras don't see - maybe in some universe that makes sense - but, fascinatingly enough, the president himself is to be shielded from it. You know, is he really, really so sensitive that he can't see people who disagree with him? BOB GARFIELD: Is this really limited to the Bush administration or should we suppose that the Clinton administration used similar tactics? DAHLIA LITHWICK: You know, that's a good question, and in researching this piece I did come across a few instances where there was some quelling of speech at Clinton events and people who brought lawsuits. It seems to me that the difference is - and, again, we don't know - maybe there was a similar advance manual coming out of the White House under the Clinton era - but one of the things that is interesting is how sort of systemic this is and how focused, again, it is. I think that is quite a different thing. BOB GARFIELD: You know, it's got more than a little tinge of North Korea to it, doesn't it? DAHLIA LITHWICK: It really does, I think, chill you a little bit to imagine that a tee-shirt could send [LAUGHS] event staff into orbit in this country, in this day and age. It's just so profoundly un-American.
We're joking about it, but I do think it goes to the heart of this question of how, how is it possible that this administration is so protected from dissent that it just [LAUGHS] literally doesn't hear it? BOB GARFIELD: All right, Dahlia. Uh, thank you very much. DAHLIA LITHWICK: [LAUGHS] Okay. That's quite a beleaguered sigh. BOB GARFIELD: [SIGHS] Dahlia Lithwick [LITHWICK LAUGHS THROUGHOUT] is the senior editor at the online news magazine, Slate. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER] That's it for this week's show. On the Media was produced by Megan Ryan, Jamie York, Mike Vuolo, Mark Phillips and Nazanin Rafsanjani, and edited this week - by me. Dylan Keefe is our technical director and Jennifer Munson our engineer. We had help from Andrya Ambro and Madeleine Elish. Our webmaster is Amy Pearl.
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