Well, it’s like this: Either George Bush is getting a lot of free, unofficial campaign tie on TV, or he has a secret desire to be Regis Philbin. Only these two hypotheses can explain the President’s almost ubiquitous presence lately. Consider: He introduced ABC’s docudrama about the Persian Gulf war. He made a cameo appearance at the Country Music Association Awards. He opened NBC’s coverage of the Ryder Cup golf tournament with a cheer for the American team. He gave a little speech for schoolchildren in a tax-payer-funded special televised on PBS and CNN. All of this in addition to his frequent appearances on all the evening network news.
Call it product placement. As the 1992 presidential campaign heats up, Bush made a number of Zelig-like appearances on TV in recent weeks. (Other presidential candidates can’t ask for equal time because Bush is not officially campaigning.) Off the record, however, the publicity value of these events has not been lost on the White House. Bush’s presence at the CMA Awards, seen by 31 million people, ”was a flack’s dream,” says one White House official. ”I decided I was going to come into work the next day, take full credit for the thing, and open my own PR business.” On the record, the Bush blitz is just business as usual. According to Sig Rogich, the Las Vegas advertising mogul who now directs the White House Office of Public Events and Initiatives, ”He’s not doing anything that he hasn’t always done.”
That may be true, but Bush has never done so much of it. And more is expected. Workers recently installed a fully equipped TV studio at the Old Executive Office Building nest door to the White House, where Bush can tape not only video congratulations but also public-service announcements. Under the guidance of aide Dorrance Smith, a Bush family friend who until recently was a producer for ABC News’ Nightline, Bush has also been experimenting with video teleconferencing to business conventions in other cities, saving himself both the time and cost of speaking to the groups in person. ”It’s being there without being there,” says a White House spokesperson.
White House officials state that they didn’t ask for the President to be on the programs but were merely responding to the 30 to 40 TV invitations Bush receives every week. These are selected or rejected on the basis of their ”timing, propriety, and the type of show,” according to one White House official.
What is deemed improper for the President? When Geraldo requested a taped congratulatory message from Bush to welcome the talk show host’s arrival in the USSR, the White House declined. ”We’re not going to do Geraldo,” says a spokesperson, ”we’re not going to do Pee-wee, and we’re not going to do The Dating Game.” And pretty much proves that George Bush does not want to be Regis Philbin.