Bush inadvertently admits that off-the-cuff comments are off-the-script

November 28, 1991|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON — The Sun reported incorrectly yesterday that President Bush spoke Wednesday to a teachers group. It also reported incorrectly that a Pennsylvania judge on Wednesday stayed implementation of the state's abortion law. In fact, both events occurred Tuesday.

* The Sun regrets the error.

WASHINGTON -- A White House microphone, accidentally left on after President Bush completed a closed-circuit broadcast to a California audience, has confirmed what some reporters had long suspected: Some of Mr. Bush's seemingly spontaneous exchanges with the public are actually scripted beforehand.

The president complained Wednesday about problems with the

scripted exchanges after a question-and-answer session with a teachers group, the Association of Christian Schools International, which is holding its convention in Anaheim, Calif.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION bnB

Mr. Bush spoke from the White House, a technique he frequently uses in "appearances" before small conventions, and his remarks were carried on speakers in the White House press room for reporters.

But Mr. Bush's microphone remained open after the television broadcast had ended, and reporters heard the president grouse that the questions his audience had asked him had not come in the order in which his staff had apparently prepared him.

"These questions!" Mr. Bush told an unnamed aide. "We've got )) to get this sorted out here. It happened last week, too. Something's going awry here. I mean, if I just listen to the question, I can answer whatever it is. But if I think it's going to be on here, I don't listen to the question. I just look at this," he said, referring to a prepared answer.

"They asked the second question," one assistant replied. Said another, "They flip-flopped the questions."

"Did we have the proper answer for vouchers on here?" Mr. Bush then asked.

He was complaining about a question from his audience about the effect on religious schools of the administration's proposed voucher program, in which parents would receive vouchers to help pay tuition for their children at the school of their choice.

When that question was asked, Mr. Bush expressed confusion, telling the convention that he could see his audience on his television but could not hear the question.

Marlin Fitzwater, the White House spokesman, later told the Associated Press that the White House often solicits questions beforehand from groups the president plans to address and then prepares written answers for the president to deliver.

"These things are scripted," Mr. Fitzwater said. "It was never intended to be spontaneous. It's not like the press, where they get points for stumping the boss."

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