For the past week, news outlets have been awash in talk of Bush's upcoming speech on his Iraq strategy. That cycle has been fueled, of course, by leaks from the White House about what the speech will actually contain. By now, the official previews of the speech have emerged – including a morning preview at the White House for network anchors and White House counselor Dan Bartlett's appearances on television discussing the speech. His remarks are effectively dominating the news right now.
All of this is typical of what happens before a major presidential speech, but it begs the question of what, exactly, the White House's strategy is in showing its hand early. Why do they explain what's going to be in the speech before the president gives it? The reasons, unsurprisingly, have a lot to do with controlling the way the speech is received.
"Basically I think there is a point like today at which [the previews] become a practical courtesy," said White House correspondent Bill Plante. "But the leaks over the last week were to enlist allies and to give maximum exposure to the ideas while perhaps holding back specifics. And by those yardsticks it's received great success -- we've been talking about nothing else for a week now."
Official appearances like Bartlett's allow the administration to respond to information that's been widely consumed for the past week, said Plante, which offers "another news cycle to consider the speech."
Plante explained that comments like those that Bartlett made on "The Early Show" this morning are meant to generate attention. "When [he] admits and practically concedes that they didn't have enough troops, that mistakes were made, this captures attention," said Plante. Hence, a headline like this one on CBSNews.com: Bush Speech To Admit Flaw In War Plan.
White House correspondent Mark Knoller told us via e-mail that Bartlett's appearances are meant to "lay the PR groundwork for the speech." Putting a surrogate like Bartlett on television to preview the speech allows the White House to put it in context for the public -- "to explain why Mr. Bush feels the need to address the American people and preview what he's going to say," wrote Knoller.
And setting that context means emphasizing what the administration wants the public to hear.
Bush knows that the networks "are going to be doing the story with or without White House cooperation," wrote Knoller, "so he'd rather put the speech in favorable terms - than have a congressional critic say its DOA."