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Daley helps President stage cynical Chicago media event... Massive security keeps public from Bush No Child Left Behind anniversary speech

CHICAGO. JANUARY 7. With the help of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of security deployed for his six-hour visit, the President of the United States excluded the public and the press from his anniversary speech commemorating the signing of No Child Left Behind today.

The scene of George W. Bush’s seven-minute anniversary speech on behalf of No Child Left Behind was Horace Greeley Elementary School, at 832 W. Sheridan Road in Chicago, a half mile north of Wrigley Field in Chicago’s “Wrigleyville” community. Inside the school, President Bush did a carefully choreographed visit to a few classrooms, children, and teachers before giving a brief speech replete with all the usual talking points about “standards and accountability.”

In the speech, Bush also said that he would veto any version of No Child Left Behind that changed the law as it now stands, and that he has the power to implement parts of the law through executive order whether or not Congress reauthorizes the law, which is currently stalled in both the House and Senate.

He said that he had chosen Greeley as the site of his speech because it had been chosen by the U.S. Department of Education as an exemplary public school, based on No Child Left Behind guidelines. Located less than one half mile north of Wrigley Field in the trendy “Wrigleyville” section of Chicago, Greeley, with approximately 500 students this year, is not typical of Chicago’s more than 500 public elementary schools.

Outside the school, more than 100 Chicago police officers, Secret Service guards (including snipers posted on two roofs), and platoons of other city workers kept the public out of the public school the president chose for the site of the event celebrating his public schools policy.

Most of the press was also barred from the event. Photographs provided by the White House press pool, which allowed only a handful of reporters to cover the event, show Bush talking with students in a classroom while Mayor Daley and Congressman Rahm Emmanuel stand in the background. Earlier during a dispute over whether the event should have only what the White House calls “pool coverage” (restricting most reporters and media), one White House spokesman said that there was not enough space inside the building for all reporters who might cover the event. Greeley has a great deal of space, including an auditorium that can hold more than 500 people.

The security perimeter around the Greeley school was so tight during the half hour the President was inside the building that even parents who tried to go to the school to pick up their children were held behind police lines a block from the building. A Substance reporter covering the story from outside the building interviewed one mother who was being blocked by Chicago police from going to the school where her child attended. She asked that her name not be used.

At both ends of the block, the City of Chicago had parked loaded city garbage trucks — marked “Streets and Sanitation”. During the winter, these are salt trucks for icy roads. On the warm morning of January 7, they were parked across both ends of the street that runs in front of Greeley, apparently to fend off anyone who might try to drive an unauthorized vehicle near the president.

Behind the salt trucks on the east side of Greeley, a phalanx of seven mounted Chicago police officers — dubbed by some anti-Bush protesters on the sidewalk at that point “the cavalry” — stood in line. Anyone who approached them discovered that they were there to prevent anyone who might go beyond the salt trucks from getting too close to the Presidential Press Event taking place inside the school.

The mounted police were accompanied by at least two uniformed City of Chicago pooper scoopers. The cleaners wore City of Chicago vests. They confirmed that during the President’s visit, their sole job was to immediately clean up the horseshit that regularly fell to the pavement while the mounted police faced the small crowd and parents. The pooper scoopers confirmed that they were there to clean up the horse’s droppings, but asked that they not be named in news reports.

Although one pool press report said there were “about 15” anti-Bush demonstrators at Greeley, Substance counted more than 60 to the east of the school standing on the corners near Sheridan Road and Broadway.

Additional protesters were at Fremont and Sheridan west of the school, although it was impossible to walk the two blocks from Broadway to Fremont down Sheridan Road. When asked, police officers made it clear they had orders to arrest anyone who approached the building.

Security had cordoned off a four square block area around the school. Police officers told Substance they were under orders not to permit anyone inside the perimeter without authorization. Despite the fact that three Substance reporters presented officers with Chicago Police press passes, Substance was denied entry within the perimeter from both the west and east by Chicago police sergeants. The officers at both ends of the block said they were under orders to bar the press as well as others who wanted to enter the street. When asked, the officers called on sergeants who confirmed that their orders were to bar the press as well as the public. In Chicago, it is virtually unprecedented for Chicago police to bar reporters from a scene that is otherwise accessible, including crime scenes. One of the Substance reporters on the scene had covered a major fire the previous year despite the fact that all members of the public had been moved more than a block from the four-eleven alarm blaze, which took place on Mother’s Day 2006 near the Substance office.

Inside Greeley, according to press pool accounts, President Bush delivered his prepared remarks (to which he added his own comments) for an equally carefully prepared audience. [Bush’s remarks, based on a White House transcript provided by pool reporters to Substance, appear verbatim in this Substance].

Posed in press pool photographs with the Mayor and President are students from the school and the school’s principal. No teachers are visible in the photographs that have been provided to Substance by agreement with the press pool.

Most Chicago media, big and smaller, were barred from the Greeley event.

According to the White House media affairs department, the audience inside the school included a total of 19 members of the media — all called the “White House Press Pool” for the day.

According to White House media affairs spokesmen, who were interviewed by Substance on a number of occasions leading up to the event, “pool coverage” is “required in these cases.” There is a “Washington Pool” of 15 press people, and local people are added when the President travels. Over the course of four telephone conversations, White House spokesmen and spokeswomen refused to say how it was determined when a “pool coverage” takes place or who gets into what is called the “local pool.”

In addition to the 15 “Washington Press Pool” people who traveled with the President to Chicago on Air Force One, the White House had apparently appointed Stephanie Banchero (of the Chicago Tribune) and Rosalind Rossi (of the Chicago Sun-Times) to be the print reporters to cover the story as part of the “local pool.” Photographer Heather Stone (of the Chicago Tribune) was the official “local press pool” photographer. William Jennings of WMAQ TV (Channel 5, Chicago’s NBC affiliate) was the official “press pool” person for Chicago news. No radio reporter was part of the “local pool” covering the Bush visit January 7.

The scene at Greeley in mid-morning was of reporters taking photographs of security, a school building, and a small group of protesters. Every reporter in Chicago who wasn’t in the pool and who wanted to cover the No Child Left Behind speech was required to stand behind police lines to get the story about how President Bush’s No Child Left Behind law was working and bringing “standards and accountability” to the public schools of the United States of America.

According to those present at the event, Bush took no questions from the press either inside the building, before or after the Greeley event. Nor did he take questions from reporters at Chicago’s Union League Club, where he spoke later in the day in a speech billed as concerning the “economy.”

At around 11:00 a.m., while Bush was presumably delivering his No Child Left Behind anniversary speech inside Greeley school, TV news crews — including ABC Channel 7, CBS Channel 2, WGN Channel 9, and Fox News — were parked more than a block away from the President. Some of the reporters and crews were trying to cover the news from outside the building. Most TV reporters were taking photographs of the small protests against the Bush visit or the elaborate security while the President was speaking on No Child Left Behind.

The security was elaborate and expensive. At Substance deadline, a complete tally of the costs for security during the event had not been made available.

Substance was told by one community resident that “Bush blood” had been deposited at the hospital a block north of Greeley the day before.

Elaborate security procedures were in place at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport for the media from the time of the arrival of Air Force One earlier in the day. Air Force One had brought the President into Chicago at precisely 9:30 a.m. Three Substance reporters who were authorized to cover the arrival of Air Force One were double checked. All equipment was checked, and specialized dogs were used to check vehicles and equipment. Security staff told Substance that the dogs are trained to sniff out explosives.

No reporters were allowed within 150 feet of the President when he got off Air Force One and into a waiting United States Marine Corps helicopter. Only photographs were permitted by the press at that point.

Bush was then taken by helicopter in a four-helicopter convoy away from O’Hare Airport. According to pool reports, his helicopter touched down in Soldier Field, where he was joined by Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley for a limousine ride north to Greeley. According to pool reports, there were well wishers on the sides of the road at some point to greet the President and Mayor Daley as they passed in the procession. Substance has been unable to determine how the well wishers learned of the route of the limousines, since members of the media had not been informed of how the President was getting from the helicopter to Greeley.

At Greeley, observers told Substance that there were at least two men with rifles — presumably security — on rooftops adjacent to the school where the President was speaking. Substance reporters did not observe the “snipers,” who, we were told, left the horizon when media showed up with cameras.

The President and others left Greeley a few minutes after his speech on No Child Left Behind. Because they were so distant from the scene, reporters and members of the press were left guessing as to precisely when.

After Bush left Greeley Elementary, he was taken in a limousine downtown to the Union League Club, where he met with Mayor Daley and members of the Olympic 2016 committee.

President Bush was scheduled to deliver a speech on the economy at the Union League Club, at 65 W. Jackson, at 1:15 p.m. Although the security was less tight at the Union League Club than at Greeley, again the public was greeted with Chicago’s cavalry (the mounted police) and the ubiquitous salt trucks blocking the streets. About a hundred protesters stood at the intersection of Jackson and Dearborn protesting various policies of the Bush administration.

The meeting with the Olympic committee was closed to the public and most of the press. Bush’s economic speech was opened to those media that had applied for special credentials to the White House prior to the event.

Promptly at 1:15, Bush walked into the Heritage Room at the Union League Club with Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. After Daley thanked Bush for his support for the city’s bid to host the 2016 Olympics, Bush began his economic speech with the claim that prior to No Child Left Behind schools like Greeley were failing the children of Chicago, but that the improvements made at Greeley since 2002, when No Child Left Behind was passed, had been caused by the fact that the federal government and Chicago’s mayor had established clear standards for public education.

Bust then delivered a speech which repeated all of the main themes of his economic polices, including his demand that the tax cuts for the wealthy be maintained and that the estate tax (which he calls the “death tax”) be ended. At each point where he denounced “Congress” for wanting to raise taxes or increase government spending, Bush was greeted with enthusiastic applause from the very affluent (and virtually all-white) Union League Club audience prepared for him. The members of the “V. I. P. audience ranged from billionaires (like Patrick Ryan, who is CEO of Aon Insurance as well as head of Chicago’s Olympic Committee) to millionaires in large numbers. This reporter did not see any middle class or African Americans in the audience that was there to cheer the Bush economic speech, but since the press was confined in an area in the back of the room, a complete view of the audience was impossible.

Following the Union League Club speech, the President was whisked back to O’Hare International Airport and flown back to Washington, D.C. aboard Air Force One, according to pool reports. Air Force One had arrived promptly at 9:30 in the morning.

During protests outside the Union League Club, there had been at least five arrests, according to protesters interviewed later by Substance. One of them, according to two protesters who asked not to be identified, was sandwiched between two of the police horses when he and others tried to unveil a banner in the street a block from the speech on the economy.

By 2:00, the last protesters who had been arrested outside the Union League Club was gone, the pooper scoopers had finished their work, and the blue salt trucks that had kept the public at least a block away from the President of the United States and Chicago Mayor Daley were all gone. 



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