Just ahead of a report criticizing President Bush’s satellite-linked session with soldiers in Iraq as a “staged” event, NBC’s “Today” show was caught in a video stunt of its own.

Calling it a “deliciously ironic twist of fate,” the conservative weblog NewsBusters noted that shortly before airing a segment “aimed at embarrassing the Bush administration,” NBC reporter Michelle Kosinski – filing from flooded Wayne, N.J. – appeared embarrassed when an orchestrated camera shot went awry during the broadcast this morning.

Yesterday, Kosinski donned hip waders, reporting in thigh-deep water for effect. This morning, she appeared in a canoe on a suburban street – obviously attempting to dramatize the severity of the flooding disaster.

A few seconds after she went live, however, a pair of men walked in front of the camera – the flood waters barely covering the tops of their boots.

“Kosinski’s canoe was in no more than four to six inches of water,” declared Newsbusters.

Initially undaunted by the men’s appearance, Kosinski began her report and gingerly paddled the canoe a few feet, stating, “It’s really tough to control a boat, or canoe, when you’re out in it,” according to a short video clip of the broadcast.

In what appeared as an attempt to mitigate the failed dramatic effect, “an embarrassed Kosinski claimed the water was deeper down the street but that her producers didn’t want to let her go there for fear she’d drift away,” the weblog reported.

At that, “Today” hosts Matt Lauer and Katic Couric began to poke fun at the reporter.

“Are these holy men, perhaps walking on top of the water?” Lauer joked.

“Gee, is your oar hitting ground, Michelle?” Couric asked mockingly, before she and Lauer broke into laughter.

The “Today” show’s report on the president’s chat from the Eisenhower Executive Office Building with troops of the 42nd Infantry Division in Tikrit, Iraq, was typical of mainstream media coverage.

Criticizing the morning show’s segment, Newsbusters said the only advice the official was shown giving was a “suggestion to one soldier to ‘take a little breath’ before speaking to the president so he would actually be speaking to him.”

Some soldiers reportedly practiced their comments in order to appear as articulate as possible, “but there was no indication, or even allegation, that the soldiers were coached as to the substance of their comments or in any way instructed what to say,” Newsbusters said.

Nevertheless, daily newspaper circulation leader USA Today, for example, described it as a “staged live videoconference” in which “soldiers were told in advance the questions Bush would ask.”

“Before Bush began speaking, a small group of reporters watching the event overheard Allison Barber, deputy assistant secretary of defense for internal communications, asking one soldier: ‘Who are we going to give that [question] to?'” the paper reported.

The Washington Post, meanwhile, reported Bush’s chat was designed “to rally U.S. troops behind his Iraq strategy,” claiming “he and his aides left little to chance” by speaking to 10 “hand-picked” soldiers.

Newsday reported the chat “was billed as a folksy question-and-answer session in which President George W. Bush would talk to soldiers about their activities in Iraq and assure them of popular support” that instead “turned out to be a carefully rehearsed, relentlessly upbeat media event.”

The Associated Press, in a story picked up by several major media companies, said the event “was billed as a conversation with U.S. troops, but the questions President Bush asked on a teleconference call Thursday were choreographed to match his goals for the war in Iraq and Saturday’s vote on a new Iraqi constitution.”

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