Stolberg's Anti-Bush Conspiracy Theory

White House correspondent Sheryl Gay Stolberg forwarded a conspiracy theory on the Times' political blog "The Caucus": Apparently President Bushis so in thehabit ofsquelching dissent athis rallies that anyopposition voice that does pipe up is obviously nothing but a Bush plant. From Stolberg's Wednesday night posting "War Opponent Questions Bush":



"Coincidence?



"President Bush's public appearances are usually polite affairs, held before friendly audiences. But when Mr. Bush appeared at a town-hall style meeting before a Chamber of Commerce group here in the Pennsylvania Dutch country today, the first question was hardly a softball.



"It came from Gerry Beane, a 59-year-old real estate agent and opponent of the war in Iraq, who began by telling Mr. Bush he really appreciated that the president did not 'govern by opinion polls.' Still, Mr. Beane went on, 'We have reached a point in our political process where almost three quarters of American citizens' oppose the war. And so, he said, 'I was hoping that I could say to you, man to man, and taxpayer to president, we need to cut back the amount of money we spend on Iraq. We need to bring our soldiers home.'



"The crowd was hushed - seemingly shocked - as a woman next to Mr. Beane quietly took off her jacket to reveal a pink shirt that said, 'George Bush, your war killed my friend's son.' Mr. Bush appeared not to notice, and went on to defend his policies, saying that he does intend to bring 5,700 troops home by Christmas, and that, 'If I didn't think the mission was necessary for our security, I wouldn't have our troops there.'



"The president's lengthy defense of the war brought hearty applause from the crowd. But it also raised a few eyebrows. Mr. Beane, as it turned out, had been quoted in the local newspaper before Mr. Bush arrived. He was the first person in line to get tickets to the town hall event, and he told his interviewer he hoped to ask Mr. Bush about the war. Is it possible the White House hand-picked him, to give Mr. Bush a platform to make his case?



"The White House says it does not screen its questioners. 'Absolutely not, must be a coincidence,' said Tony Fratto, the deputy press secretary. 'We definitely do not do that.'



"So how was it, that out of the 400 people who attended the event, the president called on Mr. Beane first? Mr. Beane says he nodded his head vigorously as the president spoke, hoping Mr. Bush would think he was calling on someone who agreed with him. Conspiracy or coincidence? Coincidence, he says.



"'I'm a lucky man,' he said."