WH Pool Report: The Brand Called Laura Edition

In today's Pool Report from the First Lady detachment, the Chicago Tribune's Mark Silva fearlessly trails the First Lady through a riot of post-Katrina product placement: She taped a special Biloxi-based edition of "Extreme Makeover," to be aired in December, in which a New Orleans resident whose home was the subject of a pre-Katrina makeover, does some relief work for homeless evacuees. It's part of the show's "Pay It Forward" series--a nice cross-branding touch, that; evidently the treacly Kevin Spacey Haly Joel Osment vehicle will not be permitted a decent burial in the media marketplace. The Sears American Dream Campaign puts in an appearance, distributing "half-million dollars of needed goods," though it's unclear from the report whether this is the same as the Sears "Caravan of Caring," which also gets a mention. (We confess we're curious about the rejected protoype names for this project: Sears' Truckloads of Tenderness? Sears' Buttloads of Benficence?) We'll leave you with this vignette:

Inside a producer calls into a crowd of dozens of people picking through Rubbermaid-like but this is no actual product I D, bins to be ready but not too obvious for her entry.

Evidently Rubbermaid won't get a confirmed mention till a check to Sears is in the mail. Whole thing after the jump.

Bound for Biloxi, the First Lady's motorcade rolled from the South Lawn driveway of the White House at 8:46 am EDT on a splendid sunny and clear autumn morning.

The first dogs rested on the grass inside the shrubbery of the Rose Garden. Barney had a biscuit.

At Andrews AFB, Mrs. Bush boarded her USofA jet, a Boeing 737-700. She wore black slacks, a white long-sleeved blouse and black slingback shoes. Wheels up 9:27am.

Trent Lott's wife was aboard.

Mrs. Bush will make remarks and take questions, which will be transcribed. Will highlight below.

First stop today, on the set of "Extreme Makeover," the TV show.

Susan Whitson, the First Lady's press secretary, said the program producers had contacted them in April about Mrs. Bush taking part in a show. And at first they thought of her perhaps appearing with a family with at-risk kids. They had been "talking back and forth throughout the summer." And then, after the storms, "when this came up we connected again. I said, what are you doing for the hurricane... Maybe we can connect," she said. The arrangements for this started coming together the week after Labor Day, she said.

Whitson said what they like about this program is that the one they are taping will appear not right away but in December, at a time when people are not thinking as much about the hurricane but when storm victims still will have continuing need for help.

This segment will feature a woman whose home was made over in New Orleans before the storm and has survived, and who now wants to help other people - part of a "Pay it Forward" series that the show is prerparing.

"We didn't script out anything," Whitson said.

The Sears "American Dream Campaign" is delivering a convoy of goods, some half-million dollars of needed goods in the area, and she will help. They will be filming her from the start of her arrival, with show cohost, Preston Sharp.

The show has an 18-49 year-old viewership, which includes folks who like to help out and is "highly watched," Whitson noted.

Mrs. Bush is "familiar" with the program, but not a regular viewer.

This is Mrs. Bush's fifth trip to the storm-stricken region since Hurricane Katrina, if we count a trip to Houston on Sept. 19.

This is her second tour of a devastated area. She also made one made with the president to Poplarville, Miss., on Sept. 6.

Asked about Mrs. Bush's role versus the president's:

"The president, he's in charge... What Mrs. Bush is hoping to do is go around and tell the untold stories" - stories of people helping others.

She also will appear at a Salvation Army distribution center set up at Yankie Stadium, and that's a big CQ, for some unknown history of Southern spelling which may involve the place being named for a guy named Frankie. Got it?

First Lady's plane was wheels down, Biloxi, 10:28 am CDT, at Keesler AFB. Sunny, clear, hot and breezy, with the devastation all around visible on landing.

Her motorcade rolled east along the coast, beach strewn with debris to the right, homes damaged to the left, some, many, caved in. Past the Hard Rock and other casinos, still tall by the water. Utter destruction of many homes reduced to sticks or collapsed by flooding could be seen.

Arrival at the Biloxi Community Center, a two-story Brick and stucco auditoriium with a stage and balcony seating around the sides and back, blue walls inside, faded wood parquait-like floor, just a few blocks from the Gulf with a view of the water and old live oaks the sturdiest of the structures still standing. Across the street, two wooden clapboard single story homes are sunken in their foundations, one half collapsed.

On the open floor of the hall inside, there are tables of goods in bins piled on tables. The big storage bins have Sears American Dream Campaign posters on them. Clothes mostly, labeled for girls or boys and by ages. Also tables of shoes and books and food.

There is an orange semi, a Sears-postered truck, outside and there are two ABC film crews awaiting her arrival at 10:48 am.

They film her getting out of the motorcade, and inside a producer calls into a crowd of dozens of people picking through Rubbermaid-like but this is no actual product I D, bins to be ready but not too obvious for her entry.

"Don't lool like you're waiting for them," the producer calls out - to no effect. People clap and cheer as Laura Bush enters the hall with Preston Sharp, taller, in a black shirt and white cowboy hat.

People step up to greet and thank her. She then moves to the left to a row of tables with clothes. She takes a place behind a bin labeled for girls' clothes, age 4 - ?Girls, little girls 4? - and starts passing out colorful clothing to people across the bins.

"Hi, how are you?" She asks, and Sharp, standing to her left, asks people: "Did you get what you need? Did you get clothes?"

"I got a picture," replied one teenage girl, who escaped before we could identify her.

At one point, with the ABC cams close on her, Laura Bush reaches across the bin and grasps the hand of a woman who holds her hand and thanks her sincerely. We poolers were ushered out too quickly to identify this woman and retreated to the balclony for ?the shot? overhead, a hall full of clothes being handed out to grateful people and Laura Bush making her way among the crowd, cameras following.

We then waited outside in the parking lot for a media avail. The First Lady left the hall at 11:49 am after nearly an hour inside. In the shade of the entry, Mr. Sharp paused to have his makeup patted by a woman with pads in hand.

Mrs. Bush stepped outside and came over to the side of the hall, with the single-story destroyed houses for her backdrop, and stood in the sun to say to news cameras:

"People from around the world and from around the country can see... The destruction." But "I feel encouraged," having spoken to many people here. "Because they have gotten so much help.... They feel hopeful.

"This is what it's going to take," she said. "It's going to take partnerships between government and private groups."

"And it's going to take a long time," she said, reminding all that the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays are coming, times to be mindful of helping people.

Cayla Obillo, 4, is a girl whom Mrs. Bush met inside.

The motorcade rolled north, inland, less than a mile but through destroyed areas of housing, to "Yankie" Stadium, an open field with high cement bleachers on both sides, "Home of the Shrimp Bowl Classic." Anf it is Yankie.

Mrs. Bush arrived at about noon under a blazing hot sun and was greeted by people at the entrance. This field has become the Salvation Army's Disaster Recovery Center.

She moved toward a small white tent where water, sweet tea and food are being dispensed and took a place behind the table with Mrs. Lott to her left. Mrs. Bush and Lott, with plastic white gloves on, started dispending cups of drinks and syrofoam boxes of lunch to people lined up here.

A sign hung above the table where Mrs. Bush was working: "Jesus said unto them, come and dine - John 21:12." Another sign said breakfast 7-9 am. Dinner 11-1 pm, supper 5-7 pm.

Men and women working here wore yellow shirts and hats with the words Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief.?

At 12:15 Mrs. Bush left this tent and moved to a big red and green tent in the center of the field, where people seek shade to eat. She greeted more people.

Then at 12:20, wiping sweat from her cheeks and showing the wear of heat, Mrs. Bush came out to the parking lot and stood before a white Salvation Army Disaster Services truck to speak and answer questions under a hot sun.

What we're seeing here, she said, "is what faith-based organizations are doing all across the coast."

"I feel so encouraged every time I visit one of these sites," she said.

She epxressed "a lot of optimism," hands folded in front of her. "It's heart-breaking. It really is heart-breaking."

But, she said, "it really is important that we don't lose hope and keep working."

Quick motorcade to Keesler AFB, blazing sun on the tarmac.

Mrs. Bush boarded the plane at 12:42 pm CDT, with Mrs. Lott on the plane, and we are "fixing to be wheels up real soon." I figured I'd send y'all the pool before we fly.

- Yankee.

Mark Silva

White House Correspondent

Chicago Tribune


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