It was a full day for President Bush.
As the violence continued unabated in the Middle East, the president welcomed British Prime Minister Tony Blair to the White House, announced plans to send Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice back to the region in the hopes of brokering a peace, and -- what else?
Bush held a photo op with contestants from "American Idol."
Really. Taylor Hicks and the nine runners-up from this year's hit Fox show joined the president for a grip-and-grin in the Oval Office -- the same room in which he and Blair powwowed about the Middle East just hours earlier.
If the timing strikes you as odd, the White House has an explanation.
"This has been planned for some time," said a spokesperson.
Pre-empting any criticism that this might be a poor use of the president's energy, the White House explained that the 10 finalists would be with the president "for just a few minutes" and were planning to be in Washington anyway. Plus, the 2006 "Idol" has a White House connection. The first lady's press secretary, Susan Whitson, taught ninth grade English to "Idol" champion Taylor Hicks back in Alabama.
Sure, the president can change his schedule -- not long ago he indefinitely "postponed" a meeting with the heads of the nation's big three automakers. But perhaps Simon Cowell is scarier than Detroit?
A charitable person might see something charming in the visit. Bill Clinton liked to say one of the greatest benefits of being president is the opportunity to meet anyone in the world -- everyone says yes to a White House invitation.
But it's hard to imagine Bush texting in a vote for his favorite "Idol." So we asked if the president is a big fan of the show.
"The president is aware of the program and knows these folks worked hard to develop their talents," we're told.
So what gives?
Today's "Idol" (idle?) visit has defenders in an unlikely place: Hollywood.
A number of Hollywood producers and executives -- none fans of President Bush -- insisted to this ABC reporter that the visit is perfectly understandable. They say the Fox show is a national phenomenon, and these finalists are American heroes.
Perhaps posing with the "Idols" is not that different from, say, welcoming Olympic athletes or a NASCAR champion or the University of Texas Longhorns to the White House.
As with many of those visits, reporters were not invited into the Oval Office meeting. Unlike those visits, today's guests were not brought out to the microphones on the White House driveway. (Apparently someone in the White House realized nothing good could come of allowing the "Idols" to offer their opinions on world affairs in front of the West Wing.)
Still, it seems to be a case of life imitating art (or "art").
One wonders if the White House schedulers forgot that Universal made a movie, "American Dreamz," about an unpopular president whose craven PR staff put the leader of the free world together with pop idols to try to boost his numbers. It's tagline: "Imagine a country where the president never reads the newspaper, where the government goes to war for all the wrong reasons, and more people vote for a pop idol than their next president." The movie was not exactly a hit.
Today's visit was, at least, an apparent first. A check of the records indicates
that this appears to be the first time a president has posed for a photo op with reality show contestants in the Oval Office. One for the history books.