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Initial Associated Press reports of a crash in Georgia of a B-29 that had been on a test flight for the Air Force’s secret Project Banshee (see October 6, 1948) acknowledge that “the plane had been on a mission testing secret electronic equipment which RCA developed and built under an Air Force contract… Full details of the plane’s mission were not disclosed.… The Air Force would say only that the bomber was engaged in ‘electronic research on different types of radar…’” Local papers have a bit more detail, with survivor accounts hinting at confusion and some contradictions between their versions of events and that being given out by official Air Force spokesmen. Later reports from the Air Force will downplay the B-29’s involvement in Project Banshee. (Siegel 2008, pp. 56-58)
Terry Anderson, a reporter with the Associated Press, is kidnapped by Hezbollah militants in Beirut. (New York Times 11/19/1987) Anderson will be held hostage for seven years, longer than any other American captive. His name will become synonymous with the Iran/Lebanese hostage crisis. He will be released in 1991, as the 16-year civil war in Lebanon comes to a close. (CNN 1996)
Future Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see November 1991 - Summer 1992 and 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) returns to Kingman, Arizona, where he moves in again with his Army friend Michael Fortier (see May-September 1993). During this time, McVeigh takes, and loses, a number of jobs, including a security guard position and as a clerk at a Tru-Value hardware store (see February - July 1994). (A chronology of McVeigh’s actions completed by his lawyers will say that shortly after arriving, he leaves Fortier’s home and moves into a house in Golden Valley, Arizona, about 20 miles outside of Kingman, where he lives for six months—see Early 2005. Other evidence disputes this claim.) He turns the house into a bunker, and begins experimenting with bombs and explosives. He renounces his US citizenship on March 16, begins openly speaking of his apocalyptic world views, and continues taking methamphetamines and smoking marijuana (see May-September 1993). In July, McVeigh and Fortier steal items from a National Guard armory. (McFadden 4/23/1995; Kifner 4/24/1995; PBS Frontline 1/22/1996; Douglas O. Linder 2001) In April, McVeigh spends a brief period of time at the home of Roger Moore, a gun dealer in Arkansas (see March 1993). In June, he goes to upstate New York to visit his ailing grandfather. McVeigh serves as best man in the Fortiers’ July wedding. (PBS Frontline 1/22/1996)
Conflicting Stories of Problems at Residence - For a time, McVeigh lives in a Kingman, Arizona, trailer park (see May-September 1993). Residents will later tell some reporters that he was arrogant and standoffish, and full of anger against the US government. “He drank a lot of beer and threw out the cans, and I always had to pick them up,” Bob Ragin, owner of the park, will be quoted as saying. Ragin will remember having frequent quarrels with McVeigh, whom Ragin says played loud music and kept a dog in violation of his lease. “Basically he just had a poor attitude, a chip on the shoulder kind of thing,” Ragin will recall. “He was very cocky. He looked like he was ready to get in a fight pretty easy. I’ll tell you, I was a little afraid of him and I’m not afraid of too many people.… You’d tell him there were beer cans all over the yard and he’d just mumble. When I went to talk to him, I’d tell somebody, ‘If you hear fighting or windows breaking, call the police.‘… [H]e piled up so many violations, I asked him to leave. When he did, the trailer was a disaster. It was trashed.” A neighbor, Danny Bundy, later recalls, “Him and his girlfriend drove like maniacs through here.” Some reports will say McVeigh’s alleged girlfriend was pregnant. Bundy will also recall McVeigh standing at the edge of the trailer park and firing rounds from a semiautomatic weapon into the desert. In 1996, author Brandon M. Stickney will write that the characterizations of McVeigh’s troublesome behavior at the mobile home park are largely wrong. He will quote Ragin as calling McVeigh “the perfect tenant,” and will write: “These stories, published by many top news agencies like the Associated Press and the New York Times, were completely wrong. One of the sources quoted even recanted his statements. Timothy McVeigh may have been unstable, but he was never the type to drink a lot of beer, play loud music (he is known for using headphones unless he was in his car), or have a girlfriend, much less a pregnant one.” Stickney will write that McVeigh spent much of this period, not living in a rented trailer, but with the Fortiers, and later in a small rental house in Golden Valley, a claim that tallies with the chronology later created by McVeigh’s lawyers. The FBI will learn that McVeigh owned a Tec-9 semiautomatic assault weapon, which is illegal to own (see September 13, 1994) but was legal when McVeigh bought it in early 1993. Another Kingman resident, Jeff Arrowood, will recall seeing McVeigh frequent a local shooting range. Arrowood will say that McVeigh fires hundreds of rounds at random targets. “Quite frankly, it scared the hell out of me,” he will say. “He pretty much went crazy, emptying on anything—trees, rocks, anything there. He just went ballistic.” (McFadden 4/23/1995; Weiner 4/23/1995; Kifner 4/24/1995; Stickney 1996, pp. 152, 163-165)
Federal authorities say that the Arizona license plate missing from accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh’s Mercury (see 9:03 a.m. -- 10:17 a.m. April 19, 1995) appears on a vehicle in a security camera videotape made near the Murrah Federal Building just before the bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). Authorities believe the second suspect in the bombing, “John Doe No. 2” (see April 20, 1995), may have used that vehicle for his getaway. The videotape shows both the vehicle—not McVeigh’s Mercury Marquis—and the Ryder truck containing the bomb. The Associated Press attributes the report to a federal official who speaks on condition of anonymity. (Weiner 4/29/1995)
Armed Freemen (see 1993-1994) beat and kidnap an Associated Press reporter and photographer on a county road outside “Justus Township” (see September 28, 1995 and After). Before permitting the two to leave, the Freemen search their vehicle and seize the photographer’s film. (Billings Gazette 3/25/2006)
A jury of nine women and three men is seated in the trial of Theodore “Ted” Kaczynski, the so-called “Unabomber” (see April 3, 1996 and June 9, 1996). (Washington Post 1998) The next day, the Associated Press prints brief profiles of the 12 jurors and six alternates chosen to hear the trial, though it does not name them. All are white. The jury is divided on its feelings about the death penalty, with many making similar statements to that given by Juror #2 during voir dire: “It’s not comfortable enough for me, but I could” vote for it. (Associated Press 12/23/1997)
Fox News chief Roger Ailes has hired John Prescott Ellis, a freelance Republican political advisor and an intensely loyal cousin of presidential candidate George W. Bush (R-TX), to head the network’s election-night coverage for the 2000 presidential election (see October-November 2000). During the election, Ellis is in constant contact with Bush and his senior campaign aides, speaking with Bush himself five separate times during the evening.
Calling Florida for Gore - At 7:52 p.m., Bush’s brother Jeb Bush (R-FL), the sitting governor of Florida, calls Ellis to protest when Fox “mistakenly” projects Florida as going to Al Gore (D-TN). Ellis tells Jeb Bush that he is looking at a computer “screenful of Gore.” Bush reminds Ellis, “But the polls haven’t closed in the panhandle.” Ellis replies, “It’s not going to help.” Voter News Service (VNS), the voting consortium the networks all use, rates the race a 99.5 percent certainty that Gore has won Florida, a conclusion that VNS and network officials alike later say was a mistake (see February 14, 2001). The prediction is indeed inaccurate; within minutes, Gore’s lead begins to shrink again. At 9:38 p.m., VNS issues a correction of an inaccurate vote count for Duval County, stripping Gore of a number of phantom votes, and the race is again far too close to call.
Calling Florida for Bush - At 2:10 a.m., Ellis sees data from VNS that shows Bush with a 51,433-vote lead, and 179,713 votes left to be counted. (The latter figure is grossly inaccurate, later data proves; over 350,000 votes actually remain to be counted.) Gore would need 63 percent of those votes to win, a scenario that is statistically unlikely. Ellis calls Jeb Bush to say that it is “statistically impossible” for Bush to lose. Around 2:15 a.m., Ellis puts the telephone down and excitedly announces to his team: “Jebbie says we got it! Jebbie says we got it!” Even though Florida is still rated “too close to call” by VNS, Fox News vice president John Moody gives the go-ahead to project Bush the winner in Florida. Fox News anchor Brit Hume makes the call for Bush at 2:16 a.m. The other networks hurriedly, and inaccurately, follow suit. (Kurtz 11/14/2000; Wittstock 11/19/2000; Associated Press 12/11/2000; Niman 12/14/2000; Shepard 1/2001; Moore 11/6/2006; Sherman 5/22/2011) Hume himself is a bit apprehensive of the call. “I must tell you, everybody, after all this, all night long, we put Bush at 271, Gore at 243,” he tells Fox viewers. “I feel a little bit apprehensive about the whole thing. I have no reason to doubt our decision desk, but there it is.” (Reaves 11/15/2000)
Other Networks Follow Suit - As Hume is announcing Bush’s “victory” in Florida, NBC News election coverage chief Sheldon Gawiser is on the telephone with Murray Edelman, the editorial director for VNS. Gawiser is considering calling Florida for Bush, and wants to discuss calling the race for Bush while citing Edelman and VNS as the sources responsible for such a call. Edelman is shocked that Gawiser wants to make any call with Bush’s lead not only very small, but dwindling. But as the two are talking, Fox’s announcement comes over NBC’s monitors, and Gawiser breaks off the call, saying: “Sorry, gotta go. Fox just called it.” At 2:17 a.m., NBC projects Bush the winner in Florida and the next president of the United States. The joint decision team for CBS and CNN, Warren Mitofsky and Joe Lenski, make the same decision a minute later. After CBS declares Bush’s victory, anchor Dan Rather tells viewers: “Let’s give a tip of the Stetson to the loser, Vice President Al Gore, and at the same time, a big tip and a hip, hip, hurrah and a great big Texas howdy to the new president of the United States. Sip it, savor it, cup it, photostat it, underline it in red, press it in a book, put it in an album, hang it on the wall—George W. Bush is the next president of the United States.” The ABC decision team resists making the call, not trusting the data (it had similar reservations about the earlier call for Gore), but according to ABC election consultant John Blydenburgh, a network executive overrides the decision team and has ABC declare Bush the projected winner at 2:20 a.m. Blydenburgh says the executive does not want ABC to look “foolish” by being the only network not to recognize Bush as the next president. The Associated Press (AP) refuses to make the call, saying that its figures show Bush with only a 30,000-vote lead, and that steadily dwindling (by 2:30 a.m., Bush’s lead, by the AP’s count, is below 19,000 votes; a glitch in the Volusia County numbers that comes in minutes after the call for Bush slashes Bush’s lead considerably, validating the AP’s reluctance to make the call). But the television broadcasts drive the story. Network pundits immediately begin dissecting Bush’s “victory” and speculating as to why Gore “lost.” (Shepard 1/2001; Moore 11/6/2006) Shortly after 3 a.m., CBS’s Ed Bradley begins informing viewers that the AP numbers show Bush with a lead of only 6,000 votes. Rather tells the viewers that if the AP is correct, the previous call for Bush may be premature. “Let’s not joke about it folks,” he says. “You have known all night long and we’ve said to you all night long that these estimates of who wins and who loses are based on the best available information we have. CBS News has the best track record in the business, over a half century plus, for accuracy on election night. But nobody’s perfect.” However, few listen to either CBS’s caveats or the AP’s refusal to call the election. (Shepard 1/2001) By 4:52 a.m., Bush’s lead has dwindled to 1,888 votes.
Fox Leads the Narrative for Bush - Gore initially concedes the race, but when the networks begin retracting their declaration and return Florida to the “too close to call” status, he retracts his concession. In their last conversation of the evening, Bush tells Ellis that Gore has taken back his concession, and says: “I hope you’re taking all this down, Ellis. This is good stuff for a book.” The morning headlines in most daily papers declare Bush the winner; much of the news coverage slams Gore as indulging in “sour grapes” for not conceding the election. Rather later says: “We’ll never know whether Bush won the election in Florida or not. But when you reach these kinds of situations, the ability to control the narrative becomes critical. Led by Fox, the narrative began to be that Bush had won the election.” In 2011, Rolling Stone reporter Tim Dickinson will write, “A ‘news’ network controlled by a GOP operative who had spent decades shaping just such political narratives—including those that helped elect the candidate’s father—declared George W. Bush the victor based on the analysis of a man who had proclaimed himself loyal to Bush over the facts.” After the election, House Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) says: “Of everything that happened on election night, this was the most important in impact. It immeasurably helped George Bush maintain the idea in people’s minds that he was the man who won the election.” (Wittstock 11/19/2000; Associated Press 12/11/2000; Niman 12/14/2000; Sherman 5/22/2011) Ellis later writes that Bush did not try to influence his coverage. “Governor Bush was, as always, considerate of my position,” Ellis will write. “He knew that I would be fried if I gave him anything that VNS deemed confidential, so he never asked for it. He made a point of getting the early exit poll data from other sources before talking to me.” (Associated Press 12/11/2000)
Criticism of Fox, Ellis - Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, later says of Ellis and Fox while the election is still in dispute: “The notion you’d have the cousin of one presidential candidate in a position to call a state, and the election, is unthinkable. Fox’s call—wrong, unnecessary, misguided, foolish—helped create a sense that the election went to Bush, was pulled back, and it’s just a matter of time before his president-elect title is restored. But that said, John Ellis is a good man, a good journalist whose judgment was overcome by excitement. He put himself in an impossible situation, but the mistake was not so much his as Rupert Murdoch’s for putting him in that position.… Everybody knows it’s a partisan channel, but its marketing slogan, ‘We report; you decide,’ is now totally obliterated by the fact that one candidate’s first cousin is actually deciding, and then they report.” (Rosenstiel is apparently unaware that Murdoch, who owns Fox News’s parent company News Corporation, did not make the call to hire Ellis.) Rosenstiel’s colleague Carl Gottlieb is less restrained, saying: “It’s beyond belief. The network should not have allowed Ellis to report on this election. As a viewer, after reading this story and reading about Ellis’s involvement in calling the race, you can’t help but get the idea that this guy’s complicit in what’s going on now down in Florida.” Murdoch will later claim that Fox News displayed “no partisanship” in its election-night coverage. Ellis will later tell a reporter: “It was just the three of us guys handing the phone back and forth—me with the numbers, one of them a governor, the other president-elect. Now that was cool. And everybody followed us.” (Wittstock 11/19/2000; Moore 11/6/2006) Ellis will also later deny telling his team that “Jebbie” gave him the go-ahead to call the election for Bush, instead saying he made the call based on his own calculations. Statistician Cynthia Talkov, the only member of Fox’s election team who actually understands the VNS statistical models, later says she never saw Ellis making any such calculations, and will say Ellis did not ask her for her opinion for his call, though every other projection that evening was made with her explicit approval. Talkov is one of the people who will confirm that Ellis received the go-ahead to call the election from Jeb Bush. A post-election analysis prepared by outside reviewers for CNN later issues sharp criticisms of the networks, noting, “On Election Day 2000, television news organizations staged a collective drag race on the crowded highway of democracy, recklessly endangering the electoral process, the political life of the country, and their own credibility.” Mitofsky, who invested election polls and developed the election night projection system the networks use, later calls Ellis’s actions “the most unprofessional election night work I could ever imagine. He had no business talking to the Bush brothers or to any other politician about what he was doing.” On the other hand, Ailes will characterize Ellis’s actions as those of “a good journalist talking to his very high-level sources on election night.” (Moore 11/6/2006)
Fox 'Investigation' Comes Up Empty - Fox News will announce an “investigation” of any conflicts of interest or unprofessional behavior concerning Ellis’s role in declaring Bush the winner, but nothing will come of any such investigation. The “investigation” will find that Ellis gave no VNS information to either George W. Bush, Jeb Bush, or any Bush campaign official, though Ellis himself will freely admit to a New Yorker reporter that he shared VNS data with both Bushes repeatedly during the evening. Such sharing of data would constitute a violation of journalistic ethics as well as possible criminal behavior. (Wittstock 11/19/2000; Moore 11/6/2006) Ailes had specifically warned his team not to share VNS information with anyone from the campaigns. (Boehlert 11/15/2000) Before the investigation is even launched, Moody will say: “Appearance of impropriety? I don’t think there’s anything improper about it as long as he doesn’t behave improperly, and I have no evidence he did.… John has always conducted himself in an extremely professional manner.” (Kurtz 11/14/2000)
The Associated Press’s projection that Vice President Al Gore won Florida’s presidential election (see 7:50 p.m., November 7, 2000) collapses in the wake of new poll results. Governor George W. Bush (R-TX), Gore’s opponent, tells reporters: “The networks called this thing awfully early, but the people actually counting the votes are coming up with a different perspective. So we’re pretty darn upbeat about things.” By 10:00 p.m., the major television networks—ABC News, CBS News, Fox News, and NBC News—begin retracting their earlier projection of Gore’s victory and revert Florida to the “too close to call” category. (Leip 2008)
Republican presidential contender George W. Bush (R-TX) appears to enjoy a late surge in Florida votes, securing what appears to be a slim but decisive lead of some 50,000 votes. Led by Fox News (see October-November 2000 and November 7-8, 2000), the four major television networks—ABC News, CBS News, Fox News, and NBC News—begin declaring Bush the projected winner of Florida and therefore the winner of the US presidential elections. By 2:20 a.m., the last of the networks has projected Bush as the winner. (Sack and Bruni 11/9/2000; Leip 2008) The Associated Press (AP) refuses to make the call, saying that its figures show Bush with only a 30,000-vote lead, and that steadily dwindling. By 2:30 a.m., Bush’s lead, by the AP’s count, is below 19,000 votes; a glitch in the Volusia County numbers that comes in minutes after the call for Bush slashes Bush’s lead considerably, validating the AP’s reluctance to make the call. But the television broadcasts drive the story. Network pundits immediately begin dissecting Bush’s “victory” and speculating as to why Gore “lost.” (Shepard 1/2001; Moore 11/6/2006) After the Fox announcement, Gore campaign manager Donna Brazile sends Gore a text message reading: “Never surrender. It’s not over yet.” But others in the campaign feel the campaign is indeed over. Gore’s brother-in-law Frank Hunger later recalls, “They were just so damn positive,” referring to the networks. “And they were talking about 50,000 votes, and we never dreamed they would be inaccurate.” The Gore campaign’s deputy campaign manager for communications, Mark D. Fabiani, will later recall: “I felt so deflated. It had been an evening where you won and then lost and winning felt a lot better than losing. You had been up and down and swung around and then dumped out on your head.” (Sack and Bruni 11/9/2000)
The US House Committee on Energy and Commerce holds a hearing on the news networks’ election night decision to project George W. Bush the winner of the Florida election, and thereby the winner of the US presidential election (see November 7-8, 2000). One of the matters at hand is Fox News’s choice to have its election night coverage anchored by John Prescott Ellis, President Bush’s cousin and an intensely partisan Bush supporter (see October-November 2000). The chairman of the committee is W.J. “Billy” Tauzin (R-LA).
Opening Statements - In his opening statement, Tauzin tells the assemblage that the hearing is to “give us a real sense of what went wrong in terms of the election night coverage of the presidential election of November 2000.” He notes that news coverage issues have been raised in every election since the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon election. Early calls—the practice of news outlets to “call,” or project, winners in states before elections in other states have closed—have long been acknowledged as having a “deletorious” effect on voting, and the use of “exit polling”—polls of voters taken outside polling booths—have proven both “valuable” and “dangerous.” Voter News Service (VNS), the independent consortium that provided polling and other data to the networks and press agencies for their use during their election coverage, uses exit polling to help those news outlets “project” winners in races. Tauzin spends much of his opening statement attacking VNS and the use of exit polling as the “source” of the election night dissension, and says that on the whole, VNS data “produces statistical biases in favor of Democrats in this case today and against Republicans, that the statistical flaws tend to overstate the Democratic vote in the exit poll and understate the Republican vote.” Tauzin says that investigations have “discovered no evidence of intentional bias, no evidence of intentional slanting of this information,” and instead says the entire problem rests with VNS and its use of exit polling data. In their opening statements, many Republicans echo Tauzin’s remarks. Ranking minority member John Dingell (D-MI) calls the election night coverage “a monumental screw-up which I think has embarrassed an awful lot of people.” Dingell repeats Tauzin’s claim that no evidence of intentional bias has been found—calling such allegations “inflammatory”—and says that the focus of future hearings should be on the issue of voter disenfranchisement. Having said all that, he goes on to say that the networks’ decision to call Florida for Bush in the early hours of November 8, 2000 was premature, and lent itself to later allegations that attempts by Democratic challenger Al Gore were baseless and troublesome. Cliff Stearns (R-FL) accuses the networks of trying to influence Florida voters in the Panhandle, a traditionally Republican stronghold, by prematurely calling the state for Gore eight minutes before polls closed in that region. In questioning, Sherrod Brown (D-OH) notes the almost-immediate appearance of the “Sore Loserman” campaign (derived from the names of the Democratic candidates, Gore and Joe Lieberman), which attempted, successfully, to paint attempts by the Gore campaign to force vote recounts as attempts to “steal” the election.
Focus on Fox - Henry Waxman (D-CA) is the first to mention Fox News. He reads from a Los Angeles Times editorial, quoting: “Suppose that a first cousin of Al Gore had been running one of the network news teams issuing election night projections. Suppose that having previously recused himself from a columnist job saying his objectivity would suffer from family loyalty, this cousin had chatted with Gore six times on Election Day. Suppose the same cousin had been the first to declare Gore as the winner in Florida on election night, helping coax the rival networks to follow suit, leading George W. Bush to call up Gore in order to concede, thereby helping to create that Gore was the duly elected president of the United States long before all the votes had been counted. Can anybody reasonably doubt that the pundits would be working themselves into a nonstop lather charging the liberal media as accessories to grand larceny? Can we imagine, say, Rupert Murdoch’s Fox news channel right-leaning heads dropping the subject?” Waxman says this was absolutely the case, but with Fox News and John Ellis, not Gore and an imaginary Gore cousin at another network. “[O]f everything that happened on election night this was the most important in impact. It created a presumption that George Bush won the election. It set in motion a chain of events that were devastating to Al Gore’s chances and it immeasurably helped George Bush maintain the idea in people’s minds than he was the man who won the election.” Several other Democrats echo Waxman’s statements.
Issues with Florida Election Practices - Peter Deutsch (D-FL) cites issues of rampant voter disenfranchisement of African-Americans, a traditionally Democratic voting bloc, with over 100,000 ballots, mostly from African-American voters, apparently not counted. Deutsch says flatly that “there is no question, it is no longer debatable that if the vote in Florida were counted, Al Gore would be president of the United States.” Bobby Rush (D-IL) cites a large number of incidents where minority group voters were “harassed by police departments” in Florida and in other states besides. In many instances these voters were stopped from voting entirely; in others, their votes were not counted. Other Democrats, such as Eliot Engel (D-NY), echo Deutsch’s and Rush’s concerns; Engel says: “Al Gore was not the only one who lost that night. The American people lost that night, and the news media also lost that night.”
Testimony regarding Independent Review of Election Night Coverage - The first witness is Joan Konner, a professor of journalism at Columbia. Konner led a panel commissioned by CNN “to look at what went wrong in [CNN’s] television coverage of the presidential election 2000.” Her panel submitted a report on the election night coverage to CNN, and CNN provided that report to the committee. “[S]omething went terribly wrong,” she says. “CNN executives, correspondents, and producers themselves describe election night coverage as a debacle, a disaster, and a fiasco; and in our report we agree.” She blames the problems with CNN’s coverage on “excessive speed and hypercompetition, combined with overconfidence in experts and a reliance on increasingly dubious polls. We have stated that the desire to be first or at least not to be consistently behind the others led the networks to make calls unwisely based on sketchy and sometimes mistaken information.” The choice to create, fund, and use VNS by all the networks was primarily a cost-cutting decision, she says, but that choice was a mistake: “Relying on a single source eliminates the checks and balances built into a competitive vote-gathering and vote system. It eliminates the possibility of a second source for validating key and possible conflicting information.” Another member of the panel, James Risser of Stanford University, notes that the report’s findings apply equally to other networks along with CNN.
Media Panel - After much questioning of the CNN panel, a second panel is sworn in. This panel includes: Fox News chairman Roger Ailes; CBS president Andrew Heyward; CNN chairman Tom Johnson; NBC president Andrew Lack; ABC president David Westin; VNS director Ted Savaglio; VNS editorial director Murray Edelman; and the Associated Press’s president, Louis Boccardi. In an opening statement, Savaglio admits that VNS made “errors” in vote tabulation and predictives based on “flaws” in the statistical analyses. Two major errors were made on election night, Savaglio says, the first leading to the incorrect awarding of Florida to Gore early in the evening, and the second provision of data that indicated Bush had a statistically insurmountable lead in Florida that did not include an accurate tabulation of votes cast in Volusia County as well as errors in other county tabulations and estimates. Boccardi says that the Associated Press used VNS-provided data in the erroneous Gore projection, but “takes full responsibility” for the error. The Associated Press did not join in with the second, Fox News-led projection of Bush’s victory. “[T]he race was too close to call” at that point, he says. “It would be right to surmise that the pressure on AP at that moment [to join the networks in calling the election for Bush] was enormous.” Heyward testifies that CBS, like CNN, hired an independent panel to assess its election coverage, and has a number of improvements to be made for future coverage. “Our method of projecting winners, one that, as you have heard, has produced only six bad calls in over 2,000 races since the 1960s, failed us this time; and as a well-known candidate would say, failed us big time in the very state that held the key to this election,” he says. He also notes that charges by Republican committee members that there is an inherent bias in the statistical models against Republicans “has been rejected by every single outside expert who examined each of the networks, even those experts, and you heard from them today, who are the most highly critical of us.” Lack asks why there was not more media coverage and examination of other voting-related problems, from “ineffective voting machines” and “confusing ballots” to allowing felons to vote.
Ailes's Statement - Ailes blames VNS for Fox’s “mistakes” in its reporting, saying: “As everyone knows, Voter News Service, a consortium with a good track record, gave out bad numbers that night. In the closest race in history the wheels apparently came off a rattle trap computer system which we relied on and paid millions for.” He claims, “Through our self-examination and investigation we have determined that there was no intentional political favoritism in play on election night on the part of Fox News.” Ailes does not mention his choice to use Ellis as Fox’s election night anchor in his verbal statement, but in a written statement he submits to the committee, he says that Ellis was not the person who made the final decision to declare Florida for Bush. The news division’s vice president, John Moody, made the final call. As for hiring Ellis, he praises Ellis’s professionalism and experience, and writes: “We at Fox News do not discriminate against people because of their family connections. I am more than happy to give you examples of offspring of famous politicians who are employed at Fox News.” He also says that he was aware that Ellis was speaking to both George W. and Jeb Bush throughout the night, and writes: “Obviously, through his family connections, Mr. Ellis has very good sources. I do not see this as a fault or shortcoming of Mr. Ellis. Quite the contrary, I see this as a good journalist talking to his very high level sources on election night.” Though Ellis has freely admitted to sharing VNS data with both Bushes, Ailes writes, “Our investigation of election night 2000 found not one shred of evidence that Mr. Ellis revealed information to either or both of the Bush brothers which he should not have, or that he acted improperly or broke any rules or policies of either Fox News or VNS.” He concludes: “[I]n my heart I do believe that democracy was harmed by my network and others on November 7, 2000. I do believe that the great profession of journalism took many steps backward.”
Questioning the Media Representatives - Almost immediately, Ailes raises the question of skewed exit polling that appears to favor Democrats, though experts have refuted these claims in just-given testimony, and Savaglio has just said that exit polls exhibit no such bias. Ailes tells the panel: “I do know that when Republicans come out of polls and you ask them a question they tend to think it’s none of your business and Democrats want to share their feelings. So you may get some bias there that is inadvertent, just because it’s a cultural thing and unless you send the Republicans to sensitivity training you’re not going to get them to do that.” Tauzin says that a study of VNS results tends to bear out Ailes’s claim. Westin says if there is bias in exit polling, it cuts both ways, an observation with which Tauzin also agrees. Savaglio admits that after midnight, VNS provided substantially inaccurate information to the networks that led them to conclude Bush had a slight but insurmountable lead in Florida. Lack denies the rumor that Jack Welch, the CEO of NBC’s parent company General Electric, made the decision for NBC News to follow Fox’s lead in declaring Bush the presumptive winner in Florida. Waxman accepts Lack’s denial, but notes that he has been told Welch’s command to declare Bush the winner is preserved on videotape, “filmed by NBC’s advertising and promotions department.” Lack says if the tape exists, he will provide it to the committee. Bart Stupak (D-MI) asks the representatives directly if they believe any bias towards one party or another exists in their networks’ coverage, and all answer strongly in the negative. Heyward says that rumors of networks such as his trying to “slant” their coverage to give the idea of an “inevitable” Gore victory are entirely negative, and says: “[C]ertainly we displayed the popular vote graphic 15 times between 7 and 11. President Bush was ahead every single time; on the electoral count, 75 out of 100 times.… The video [shown by the commission at the beginning of the hearing] that gave the impression that the networks were saying Gore’s got it in the bag I believe was misleading, yes.” Westin agrees with Heyward, and says the networks generally gave the impression of “a much more balanced, much closer race throughout the night.” Under questioning by Gene Green (D-TX), Ailes contradicts previously presented evidence and says no one at the election desk, Ellis or anyone else, was in contact with “Austin” (meaning the Bush campaign and George W. Bush personally) at all that night. (House of Representatives, Committee on Energy and Commerce 2/14/2001)
An Associated Press news alert at 9:43 a.m. states, “An aircraft has crashed into the Pentagon, witnesses say.” (Associated Press 2001 ; Miller 8/26/2002) This is apparently the first news of the crash. Initial television reports stated there had been an explosion at the Pentagon, but not that a plane caused it (see 9:39 a.m.-9:44 a.m. September 11, 2001). Minutes later, there is still uncertainty over what caused the explosion. At 9:49, CNN’s Chris Plant reports from the Pentagon, “[I]nitial reports from witnesses indicate that there was in fact a helicopter circling the building, contrary to what the AP reported, according to the witnesses I’ve spoken to anyway, and that this helicopter disappeared behind the building, and that there was then an explosion” (see (9:35 a.m.-9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (CNN 9/11/2001) It is not until 9:53 that CNN confirms, “it was a plane that crashed into the Pentagon.” (CNN 9/11/2001)
The Customs Service intercepts a package sent via Federal Express from the Associated Press bureau in Manila to the AP office in Washington, and turns the contents over to the FBI. The FBI keeps the material, all unclassified and previously publicly disclosed, and fails to inform AP about this. It is claimed they do so to prevent the reporters from reporting their story, which is about government foreknowledge of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, and ties with Ramzi Yousef and other Islamic militants in the Philippines. (Associated Press 3/12/2003)
The candidates for governor of Maryland, Democrat Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Republican Robert Ehrlich, hold a debate in the Murphy Fine Arts Building on the campus of Morgan State University in Baltimore. After the debate, allegations surface that Democratic supporters of Townsend threw Oreo cookies at Michael Steele, the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor. Steele is African-American; to label an African-American an “Oreo” is to say that he, like an Oreo cookie, is black on the outside and white on the inside. It is considered a significant racial slur. The allegations are published by, among other sources, the conservative Washington Times, largely relying on reporting by S.A. Miller, who writes multiple stories concerning the alleged incident.
First Iteration: Oreos 'Distributed' among Audience Members - The source is Ehrlich’s campaign spokesman Paul Schurick, who tells a Baltimore Sun reporter that he saw Democrats in the audience distributing Oreo cookies. Schurick initially makes no mention of anyone throwing cookies. One day after the event, Steele is quoted by the Sun as talking about the Townsend supporters in the crowd and what he terms “race-baiting” by her campaign, but says nothing about Oreos. On October 14, Weekly Standard columnist Jeffrey Goldberg repeats as fact Schurick’s allegations about Oreos being passed out at the debate. On October 21, syndicated conservative columnist George Will repeats the story, adding that “[s]ome of the audience had distributed Oreo cookies to insult Ehrlich’s running mate.”
Second Iteration: 'Townsend Supporters Threw Oreo Cookies' - The same day as Will’s column appears, the Sun and the Associated Press report that Ehrlich told an audience at a Jewish day school that “Townsend supporters at the debate threw Oreo cookies” at Steele. The next day, the Salisbury, Maryland, Daily Times reports that “the Ehrlich campaign” claimed “protesters at the debate threw Oreo cookies at Steele.” The Washington Times reports Ehrlich’s claims on October 29. The Washington Post reports on October 31 that Townsend supporters “mocked” Steele by bringing Oreo cookies to the gubernatorial debate. On November 2, the London Times reports as fact that Steele “was bombarded with Oreo cookies” at the gubernatorial debate. Miller later tells other reporters that, while in attendance at the debate, he saw Steele get hit with the cookies. On November 22, the Capital News Service will report that Steele later “said an Oreo cookie rolled to his feet during the debate.”
Reporter Retracts Claim - But in November 2005, after Steele announces his candidacy for Maryland’s gubernatorial position (see November 2005), Miller will tell a reporter for WTOP news radio, Mark Segraves, that he could not swear in court that anyone actually threw cookies because he did not, in fact, see it happen, though he had reported several times that he witnessed just such events. Times managing editor Fran Coombs will issue a denial that Miller ever spoke to Segraves or anyone else from WTOP, but will confirm that Miller did not, in fact, attend the debate. Coombs will tell WTOP that the Times stands behind its reporting, regardless of whether Miller’s claims are true or not, and will say that the reported Oreo incident is a diversion from the real story of a double standard on racism in the Democratic Party.
Third Iteration: Steele Just Saw 'One or Two' Oreos at His Feet - Steele will tell Segraves that he was never struck by any thrown cookies. “I’ve never claimed that I was hit, no. The one or two that I saw at my feet were there. I just happened to look down and see them,” he will say. By November 15, the Associated Press will report that Ehrlich says “he did not personally see cookies thrown at Steele because he was on stage,” and “said he doesn’t know who might have thrown them.”
Fourth Iteration: Steele Says Oreos 'Tossed in His General Direction' - Around the same time, the Associated Press will also report that, according to Steele, “Oreo cookies were tossed in his general direction as he left the debate at Morgan State University,” including two that “rolled up” next to his shoe. The stories are dramatically different, and quite contradictory. Steele’s November account differs from Schurick’s account and his own previous statements.
Fifth Iteration: Oreos 'Thick in the Air Like Locusts' - In the Sun’s 2005 report, Schurick is quoted as saying: “It was raining Oreos. They were thick in the air like locusts. I was there. It was very real. It wasn’t subtle.” Sometime in late 2002, Ehrlich will tell a radio audience that his father was struck in the head by a cookie, though, according to the WBAL report at the time, “Schurick would not make Robert L. Ehrlich Sr. available for an interview.”
No Mention in Reporting after Debate, No Video Evidence - In November 2005, the Baltimore Sun will report that no newspaper or television reports mentioned any such incident in their initial reporting of the debate, and although four local television stations recorded the debate, no video of any such incident exists.
Eyewitnesses: Nothing Was Thrown - The Sun will report the operations manager of the Murphy Building at Morgan State, Vander Harris, as saying nothing of the sort occurred: “It didn’t happen here,” he will say. “I was in on the cleanup, and we found no cookies or anything else abnormal. There were no Oreo cookies thrown.” Several attendees at the event will tell the Sun that while some disruptive behavior occurred, no one threw anything at Steele nor anyone else. Morgan State spokesman Clint Coleman will say: “There were a lot of things, disturbances, by this group of outsiders who were bent on disrupting the debate. But I never actually saw Oreo cookies being thrown at him.” As for “raining Oreos,” Coleman will say, “I can tell you that did not happen.” Neil Duke, who moderated the event for the NAACP, will say he never saw any cookies thrown at Steele. “Were there some goofballs sitting in [the] right-hand corner section tossing cookies amongst themselves and acting like sophomores, as the legend has it?” Duke will say. “I have no reason to doubt those sources; I just didn’t see it.” And Wayne Frazier, the president of the Maryland-Washington Minority Contractors Association, will say he saw Steele walk into the auditorium that evening, but saw no Oreos. “I was there the whole time and did not see any of the so-called Oreo cookie incident,” he will say. “It could have happened and I didn’t see it, but I was in the auditorium from start to finish.” (Segraves 11/15/2005; Media Matters 11/21/2005)
Associated Press reporter Charles Hanley, an award-winning news veteran with over 30 years of weapons issues coverage on his record, accompanies the UN weapons inspectors combing through Iraq to find the suspected weapons of mass destruction. In 2007, Hanley will recall: “What we did was go out everyday with the inspectors. These guys would roar out on these motorcades at very high speed and roar through towns and do sudden U-turns and drive over land and do all of these things to confuse the Iraqis about where they were going so that there wouldn’t be a call ahead telling them to put away all the bad stuff. The inspectors then would issue a daily report. And as it turned out, of course, inspection after inspection, it turned out to be clean. They had nothing to report, no violations to report.” Hanley files repeated reports with statements such as, “No smoking guns in… almost 400 inspections.” But, Hanley will later say, his editors often refuse to print his work. “[T]hat would be stricken from my copy because it would strike some editors as tendentious. As sort of an attack or some sort of allegation rather than a fact. You know and we don’t want our reporters alleging things. We, you know, we just report the facts. Well it was a fact. It was a very important fact that seemed to be lost on an awful lot of journalists unfortunately.” Instead, Hanley says, “The media just continued on this path of reporting, ‘Well, the Bush administration alleges that there are WMD,’ and never really stopped and said ‘It doesn’t look like there are. There’s no evidence.’ That should have been the second sentence in any story about the allegations of WMD. The second sentence should have been, ‘But they did not present any evidence to back this up.’” (Moyers 4/25/2007)
The FBI gathered a significant amount of evidence that showed links between convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997, June 11-13, 1997, and 7:14 a.m. June 11, 2001) and white supremacists who had threatened to attack government buildings, according to investigative memos procured by the Associated Press. This evidence includes hotel receipts, a speeding ticket, prisoner interviews, informant reports, and phone records suggesting that McVeigh had contact with white supremacists connected to the Elohim City community (see 1983, January 23, 1993 - Early 1994, April 1993, October 12, 1993 - January 1994, August 1994 - March 1995, August - September 1994, September 12, 1994 and After, September 13, 1994 and After, November 1994, December 1994, February 1995, March 1995, (April 1) - April 18, 1995, April 5, 1995, April 8, 1995, and Before 9:00 A.M. April 19, 1995). “It is suspected that members of Elohim City are involved either directly or indirectly through conspiracy,” FBI agents wrote in a memo shortly after the bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). An FBI teletype shows that some of the supremacists who were present when McVeigh called Elohim City (see April 5, 1995) were familiar with explosives, and had made a videotape in February 1995 vowing to wage war against the federal government and promising a “courthouse massacre.” The AP notes that the Murrah Building, devastated by the blast, was directly across the street from the federal courthouse. The teletype also notes that two members of a violent Aryan Nation bank robbery gang who live in the Elohim City compound left the compound on April 16 for a location in Kansas a few hours away from where McVeigh completed the final assembly of the bomb (see 8:15 a.m. and After, April 18, 1995). Some of the evidence was not turned over to McVeigh’s lawyers for his trial. “They short-circuited the search for the truth,” says McVeigh’s original lead attorney, Stephen Jones. “I don’t doubt Tim’s role in the conspiracy. But I think he clearly aggrandized his role, enlarged it, to cover for others who were involved.” The FBI agent in charge of the investigation, Dan Defenbaugh, says he never saw the FBI teletype that linked McVeigh to the Elohim City community. He says he would not have considered the teletype a “smoking gun” that would have altered the outcome of the investigation, but his team “shouldn’t have been cut out. We should have been kept in on all the items of the robbery investigation until it was resolved as connected or not connected to Oklahoma City.” Defenbaugh adds that he knew nothing of a 1996 plea offer by prosecutors to one of the robbers, Peter Kevin Langan (identified by the AP as Kevin Peter Langan), who said he had information about the bombing. Langan made several demands the government was unwilling to meet, and the plea offer was rescinded. Langan’s lawyer later said Langan could disprove the April 19, 1995 alibis for two of the bank robbers, casting doubt on their denials of non-involvement with the bomb conspiracy. The FBI acknowledges its failure to turn over some documents, but says it found no evidence that McVeigh was involved with anyone in the conspiracy aside from his accomplice Terry Nichols (see December 23, 1997 and June 4, 1998). FBI spokesman Mike Kortan says: “We believe we conducted an exhaustive investigation that pursued every possible lead and ran it to ground. We are confident that those who committed the crime have been brought to justice and that there are no other accomplices out there.” Part of the problem, Defenbaugh says, was that white supremacist militia groups shared many of McVeigh’s far-right beliefs, and some had their own plans for carrying out bombings that had nothing to do with McVeigh’s tightly controlled conspiracy. “Even though we had our conspiracy theories, we still had to deal with facts and the fact is we couldn’t find anyone else who was involved,” Defenbaugh says. Jones says of the Elohim City connection: “I think Tim was there. I think he knew those people and I think some helped, if not in a specific way, in a general way.” Retired FBI agent Danny Coulson says: “I think you have too many coincidences here that raise questions about whether other people are involved. The close associations with Elohim City and the earlier plan to do the same Murrah building all suggest the complicity of other people.” (Solomon 2/13/2003)
US Special Operations forces rescue captured Private Jessica Lynch from Saddam Hussein Hospital hospital near Nasiriyah (see March 23, 2003). According to the Pentagon, the rescue is a classic Special Forces raid, with US commandos in Black Hawk helicopters blasting their way through Iraqi resistance in and out of the medical compound. (Dorsey 11/11/2003) The Associated Press’s initial report is quite guarded, saying only that Lynch had been rescued. An Army spokesman “did not know whether Lynch had been wounded or when she might return to the United States.” (Chinni 6/23/2003)
'Shooting Going In ... Shooting Going Out' - Subsequent accounts are far more detailed (see April 3, 2003). Military officials say that the rescue was mounted after securing intelligence from CIA operatives. A Special Forces unit of Navy SEALs, Army Rangers, and Air Force combat controllers “touched down in blacked-out conditions,” according to the Washington Post. Cover is provided by an AC-130 gunship circling overhead; a reconnaissance aircraft films the events of the rescue. One military official briefed on the operation says: “There was shooting going in, there was some shooting going out. It was not intensive. There was no shooting in the building, but it was hairy, because no one knew what to expect. When they got inside, I don’t think there was any resistance. It was fairly abandoned.” (Schmidt and Loeb 4/3/2003) CENTCOM spokesman General Vincent Brooks says he is not yet sure who Lynch’s captors were, but notes: “Clearly the regime had done this. It was regime forces that had been in there. Indications are they were paramilitaries, but we don’t know exactly who. They’d apparently moved most of them out before we arrived to get in, although, as I mentioned, there were buildings outside of the Saddam Hospital, where we received fire—or the assault force received fire—during the night.” (Broder 4/2/2003)
'Prototype Torture Chamber' - According to a military official, the Special Forces soldiers find what he calls a “prototype” Iraqi torture chamber in the hospital’s basement, equipped with batteries and metal prods. US Marines are patrolling Nasiriyah to engage whatever Iraqi forces may still be in the area. (Schmidt and Loeb 4/3/2003)
Secretive Intelligence Sources - CENTCOM officials refuse to discuss the intelligence that led them to Lynch and the 11 bodies. One official says, “We may need to use those intelligence sources and collection methods again.” (Broder 4/2/2003)
Pentagon's Story Almost Entirely Fictitious - Reporters are given a detailed briefing about the rescue, as well as copies of a video of the rescue shot by the soldiers as they performed the mission (see April 1, 2003). Subsequent interviews with Iraqi hospital staffers and nearby residents show that almost every aspect of the Pentagon’s story is fabrication (see May 4, 2003, May 23, 2003, May 25, 2003, and June 17, 2003).
The Associated Press reports that questions remain about how Army Private Jessica Lynch was injured (see March 23, 2003 and April 1, 2003). While US military doctors are reporting that Lynch did not suffer from gunshot wounds as originally reported (see April 4, 2003), the Associated Press report reads in part: “Lynch’s family in West Virginia said doctors had determined she’d been shot. They found two entry and exit wounds ‘consistent with low-velocity, small-caliber rounds,’ said her mother, Deadra Lynch.” (Chinni 6/23/2003)
Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) makes a controversial statement concerning gay rights. He makes the statements in an interview with an Associated Press reporter on April 7; the interview will be published on April 20. Santorum, a fervent anti-gay activist, explains his opposition to gay rights, saying: “I have no problem with homosexuality. I have a problem with homosexual acts. As I would with acts of other, what I would consider to be, acts outside of traditional heterosexual relationships. And that includes a variety of different acts, not just homosexual. I have nothing, absolutely nothing against anyone who’s homosexual. If that’s their orientation, then I accept that. And I have no problem with someone who has other orientations. The question is, do you act upon those orientations? So it’s not the person, it’s the person’s actions. And you have to separate the person from their actions.” Asked if the law should ban homosexual acts, Santorum responds by criticizing a recent Supreme Court decision striking down a Texas anti-sodomy statute, saying: “We have laws in states, like the one at the Supreme Court right now, that has sodomy laws and they were there for a purpose. Because, again, I would argue, they undermine the basic tenets of our society and the family. And if the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything. Does that undermine the fabric of our society? I would argue yes, it does. It all comes from, I would argue, this right to privacy that doesn’t exist in my opinion in the United States Constitution, this right that was created, it was created in Griswold—Griswold was the contraceptive case—and abortion. [Santorum is referring to Griswold v. Connecticut, wherein the US Supreme Court threw out a Connecticut ban on contraception.] And now we’re just extending it out. And the further you extend it out, the more you—this freedom actually intervenes and affects the family. You say, ‘Well, it’s my individual freedom.’ Yes, but it destroys the basic unit of our society because it condones behavior that’s antithetical to strong healthy families. Whether it’s polygamy, whether it’s adultery, where it’s sodomy, all of those things, are antithetical to a healthy, stable, traditional family. Every society in the history of man has upheld the institution of marriage as a bond between a man and a woman. Why? Because society is based on one thing: that society is based on the future of the society. And that’s what? Children. Monogamous relationships. In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality. That’s not to pick on homosexuality. It’s not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be. It is one thing.” The unidentified reporter interrupts Santorum by saying, “I’m sorry, I didn’t think I was going to talk about ‘man on dog’ with a United States senator, it’s sort of freaking me out.” Santorum defends his juxtaposition by saying: “And that’s sort of where we are in today’s world, unfortunately. The idea is that the state doesn’t have rights to limit individuals’ wants and passions. I disagree with that. I think we absolutely have rights because there are consequences to letting people live out whatever wants or passions they desire. And we’re seeing it in our society.” Santorum says that if elected president, he would let “the democratic process” decide on a state level whether to limit or remove the constitutional right to privacy. “If New York doesn’t want sodomy laws, if the people of New York want abortion, fine. I mean, I wouldn’t agree with it, but that’s their right. But I don’t agree with the Supreme Court coming in,” he says. (Associated Press 4/23/2003; Loughlin 4/23/2003) Santorum’s remarks will draw heavy criticism. The Associated Press reporter who interviews Santorum is later identified as Lara Jakes Jordan; the AP often does not identify reporters with a byline (see April 23, 2003 and After).
The Associated Press reveals that 10 days before the execution of convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997, June 11-13, 1997, and 7:14 a.m. June 11, 2001), lawyers for FBI laboratory employees sent an urgent letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft, saying that a prosecution witness in the McVeigh trial, forensic expert Steven Burmeister, may have lied on the stand (see June 11, 2001). The letter was never given to McVeigh’s lawyers. McVeigh’s former lawyer Stephen Jones says, “It is truly shocking and just the latest revelation of government conduct that bankrupts the prosecution, investigation, and verdict.” Justice Department spokesperson Barbara Comstock says she does not believe the allegations, even if true, would have affected the outcome of the trial, saying, “Court after court has found that the evidence of guilt against McVeigh was overwhelming.” FBI officials call the allegations against Burmeister specious. FBI laboratory director Dwight Adams says: “It didn’t happen. Steve Burmeister is one of the FBI’s finest experts. He is meticulous and honest.” (New York Times 5/1/2003)
According to a November 2004 article in the Washington Post, a syndicated column by Robert Novak exposing Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA official (see July 14, 2003) may appear on the Associated Press wire as early as July 11, 2003, giving White House officials a chance to read the column and learn of Plame Wilson’s status three days before its appearance in print publications such as the Chicago Sun-Times. The Washington Post will say: “The timing [of the column’s appearance] could be a critical element in assessing whether classified information was illegally disclosed. If White House aides directed reporters to information that had already been published by Novak, they may not have disclosed classified information.” (Schmidt 11/26/2004) Novak sends a draft copy of the column to at least one person on this day: conservative lobbyist Richard Hohlt (see 4:00 p.m. July 11, 2003). Many of the White House leaks of Plame Wilson’s identity come on or before this day (see June 13, 2003, June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, and 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). And on this day, Novak is still attempting to confirm that Plame Wilson is indeed a CIA official (see (July 11, 2003)).
The White House launches a media campaign designed to spread the “good news” from Iraq. The campaign has two centerpieces: a squad of Republican congressmen and White House cabinet members (see Mid-October 2003) making brief visits to Iraq and coming back with “good news” to tell. Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) complains, “I was not told by the media in my country that thousands and hundreds of [Iraqi] children went back to school this week.” (Newspapers across the US did indeed report the reopening of Iraqi schools, according to the Associated Press.) The leader of the Congressional delegation, Mitch McConnell (R-KY), directly attacks the media for not reporting “good news” from Iraq: “Journalism schools teach that news means bad news.” One House member, George Nethercutt (R-WA), undercuts the message when he tells reporters the successes are more important than the loss of US soldiers: “The story of what we’ve done in the postwar period is remarkable. It is a better and more important story than losing a couple of soldiers every day.” The stories from the Congressional members are further undermined when the media reports that while they might have spent their days in Basra or Baghdad, they spent their nights in the safety of Kuwait. The second focus is on President Bush, who flies around the US giving interviews to carefully selected anchors and reporters from regional TV news providers such as Tribune Broadcasting, Belo, and Hearst-Argyle. These “heartland” news providers will presumably provide softer interviews than the Washington press corps. Bush’s main message is how much “good progress” is being made in Iraq. (Hanley 10/17/2003; Rich 2006, pp. 104-105)
The federal grand jury investigating the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert CIA identity subpoenas a large amount of White House records, including Air Force One telephone logs from the week before Plame Wilson’s public outing (see July 14, 2003); records created in July 2003 by the White House Iraq Group (WHIG—see August 2002), a White House public relations group tasked with crafting a public relations strategy to market the Iraq war to the public; a transcript of press secretary Ari Fleischer’s press briefing in Nigeria currently missing from the White House’s Web site (see 3:20 a.m. July 12, 2003); a list of guests at former President Gerald Ford’s July 16, 2003 birthday reception; and records of Bush administration officials’ contacts with approximately 25 journalists and news media outlets. The journalists include Robert Novak, the columnist who outed Plame Wilson, Newsday reporters Knut Royce and Timothy Phelps (see July 21, 2003), five Washington Post reporters including Mike Allen and Dana Priest (see September 28, 2003 and October 12, 2003), Time magazine’s Michael Duffy (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), NBC’s Andrea Mitchell (see July 8, 2003 and October 3, 2003), MSNBC’s Chris Matthews (see July 21, 2003), and reporters from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and the Associated Press. The subpoenas will be accompanied by a January 26 memo from White House counsel Alberto Gonzales that will set a January 29 deadline for production of the subpoenaed documents and records. Gonzales will write that White House staffers will turn over records of any “contacts, attempted contacts, or discussion of contacts, with any members of the media concerning [former ambassador Joseph] Wilson, his trip, or his wife, including but not limited to the following media and media personnel.” White House spokeswoman Erin Healy later says, “The president has always said we would fully comply with the investigation, and the White House counsel’s office has directed the staff to fully comply.” White House press secretary Scott McClellan will say: “It’s just a matter of getting it all together.… At this point, we’re still in the process of complying fully with those requests. We have provided the Department of Justice investigators with much of the information and we’re continuing to provide them with additional information and comply fully with the request for information.” (US District Court for the District of Columbia 1/22/2004; US District Court for the District of Columbia 1/22/2004; Brune 3/5/2004; Allen 3/6/2004)
After senior Justice Department officials object to the possible illegality of the National Security Agency’s secret domestic surveillance program, and refuse to sign off on its continued use, the program is suspended for several months while Justice Department officials conduct a secret audit of the program. Attorney General John Ashcroft will recertify the program at the end of the month (see Late March, 2004). The suspension is prompted by acting Attorney General James Comey’s refusal to approve the program when it comes up for its regular 45-day review, and a subsequent late-night hospital visit by White House officials Andrew Card and Alberto Gonzales to the hospital room of Attorney General John Ashcroft, where they unsuccessfully attempt to pressure Ashcroft, recuperating from surgery, to overrule Comey and approve the program (see March 10-12, 2004). Bush himself has personally reauthorized the program over 30 times since its inception after the 9/11 attacks (see Early 2002), and reauthorizes it himself after Comey and Ashcroft refuse to give it their approval. This reauthorization prompts a threat of mass resignations by Justice Department officials unless the program is brought under increased oversight. Bush will allow the Justice Department to recommend changes to the program, though those changes have never been made public. The Justice Department audits a selection of cases to see how the NSA is running the program, scrutinizing how NSA officials determine that they have probable cause to wiretap US citizens’ phones and e-mail accounts. The results of that audit have not been made public. When the program was first authorized by Bush’s executive order in early 2002, it was so secret that then-Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson, who was active in most of the government’s most highly classified counterterrorism operations, was not given access to the program. That decision, among other elements of the program, led many Justice Department officials to worry that the program was operating outside of the Constitution and without proper oversight. Comey, Thompson’s successor, was eventually given authorization to take part in the program and to review intelligence data produced by it. Justice Department officials say that Comey takes part in overseeing the reforms that are put into place during the current audit. However, those reforms do not restrict the NSA’s authority to independently choose its eavesdropping targets, and NSA shift supervisors have the authority to decide for themselves whether there is enough evidence against a US citizen to warrant a secret wiretap. No one at the Justice Department or in the White House needs to be consulted before a wiretap is put into place. (Lichtblau and Risen 12/31/2005)
The day after President Bush’s presidential election victory over Senator John Kerry (D-MA), an Associated Press exit poll indicates that 22 percent of voters made their choice because of “moral values”—a higher ranked criterion than the Iraq war, the threat of terrorism, or the economy. The mainstream media seizes on the poll as an indication of a new focus on morality among American voters. “It really is Michael Moore versus Mel Gibson,” says former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, comparing the liberal documentary maker to the actor who has wooed conservatives with his recent film, The Passion of the Christ. News analysts say that singer Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction,” where she showed her right breast for a moment during the February 2004 Super Bowl halftime show, was “the socio-political event of the past year.” Bush campaign manager and White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove says, “I think it’s people who are concerned about the coarseness of our culture, about what they see on the television sets, what they see in the movies.” Conservative columnist Robert Novak uses the poll to claim that “the anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, socially conservative agenda is transcendant.” Author and media critic Frank Rich will note that the interpretation of the poll is transparently false. First, he will point out, if one adds together the 19 percent who chose terrorism and the 15 percent who chose Iraq as the issues that most drove their vote, then it is “clear that national security was of greater concern to Americans than ‘moral values.’” Moreover, the poll itself is suspect: the category of “moral values” is so general as to mean anything from, as Rich will write, “abortion to aiding the poor to being nice to your mother.” According to a Pew Research Center analysis, the over-generalized category of “moral values” is an easy way for voters to choose “none of the above” instead of choosing a specific issue as their single motivator. According to Rich, Pew will find that “when voters were given no menu of suggestions to choose from, Iraq, the economy, and terrorism led by far, and issues that might be labeled as ‘values’ polled in the low single digits.” Worse for the conservative “moral values” argument, 60 percent of those polled actually favored either same-sex marriage or civil unions, and 55 percent support abortion in one form or another. ABC News polling director Greg Langer later notes that the erroneous “moral values” claim “created a deep distortion—one that threatens to misinform the political discourse for years to come.” (Rich 2006, pp. 150-151) One effect of the new “moral values” perception is the decision by 66 ABC affiliates not to air the World War II film Saving Private Ryan over Memorial Day over fears that the profanity and violence portrayed in the film might result in fines from the Federal Communications Commission (see November 11, 2004).
An investigation by the New York Times reveals that the government’s use of “video news releases,” or so-called “fake news” reports provided by the government and presented to television news viewers as real news (see March 15, 2004), has been used by far more government agencies than previously reported. The Times report finds that VNRs from the State Department, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and the Agriculture Department are among the agencies providing VNRs to local television news broadcasters. Previous media reports focused largely on the VNRs provided by the Department of Health and Human Services to tout the Bush administration’s Medicare proposals. The Times finds that “at least 20 federal agencies, including the Defense Department and the Census Bureau, have made and distributed hundreds of television news segments in the past four years.… Many were subsequently broadcast on local stations across the country without any acknowledgement of the government’s role in their production.… [T]he [Bush] administration’s efforts to generate positive news coverage have been considerably more pervasive than previously known. At the same time, records and interviews suggest widespread complicity or negligence by television stations, given industry ethics standards that discourage the broadcast of prepackaged news segments from any outside group without revealing the source.”
VNRs Presented as Actual News - While government VNRs are generally labeled as being government productions on the film canister or video label, the VNRs themselves are designed, the Times writes, “to fit seamlessly into the typical local news broadcast. In most cases, the ‘reporters’ are careful not to state in the segment that they work for the government. Their reports generally avoid overt ideological appeals. Instead, the government’s news-making apparatus has produced a quiet drumbeat of broadcasts describing a vigilant and compassionate administration.” The VNRs often feature highly choreographed “interviews” with senior administration officials, “in which questions are scripted and answers rehearsed. Critics, though, are excluded, as are any hints of mismanagement, waste or controversy.”
Benefits to All except News Consumers - The Times explains how VNRs benefit the Bush administration, private public relations firms, networks, and local broadcasters: “Local affiliates are spared the expense of digging up original material. Public relations firms secure government contracts worth millions of dollars. The major networks, which help distribute the releases, collect fees from the government agencies that produce segments and the affiliates that show them. The administration, meanwhile, gets out an unfiltered message, delivered in the guise of traditional reporting.” News viewers, however, receive propaganda messages masquerading as real, supposedly impartial news reports.
Ducking Responsibility - Administration officials deny any responsibility for the use of VNRs as “real” news. “Talk to the television stations that ran it without attribution,” says William Pierce, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services. “This is not our problem. We can’t be held responsible for their actions.” But the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has disagreed, calling the use of government-produced VNRs “covert propaganda” because news viewers do not know that the segments they are watching are government productions (see May 19, 2004). However, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Justice Department (see March 2005) have called the practice legal, and instructed executive branch agencies to merely ignore the GAO findings.
Creative Editing - The Times gives an example of how seamlessly government-produced propaganda can be transformed into seemingly real news segments. In one segment recently provided by the Agriculture Department, the agency’s narrator ends the segment by saying, “In Princess Anne, Maryland, I’m Pat O’Leary reporting for the US Department of Agriculture.” The segment is distributed by AgDay, a syndicated farm news program shown on some 160 stations; the segment is introduced as being by “AgDay’s Pat O’Leary.” The final sentence was edited to state: “In Princess Anne, Maryland, I’m Pat O’Leary reporting.” Final result: viewers are unaware that the AgDay segment is actually an Agriculture Department production. AgDay executive producer Brian Conrady defends the practice: “We can clip ‘Department of Agriculture’ at our choosing. The material we get from the [agency], if we choose to air it and how we choose to air it is our choice.” The public relations industry agrees with Conrady; many large PR firms produce VNRs both for government and corporate use, and the Public Relations Society of America gives an annual award, the Bronze Anvil, for the year’s best VNR.
Complicity by News Broadcasters - Several major television networks help distribute VNRs. Fox News has a contract with PR firm Medialink to distribute VNRs to 130 affiliates through its video feed service, Fox News Edge. CNN distributes VNRs to 750 stations in the US and Canada through its feed service, CNN Newsource. The Associated Press’s television news distributor does the same with its Global Video Wire. Fox News Edge director David Winstrom says: “We look at them and determine whether we want them to be on the feed. If I got one that said tobacco cures cancer or something like that, I would kill it.” TVA Productions, a VNR producer and distributor, says in a sales pitch to potential clients, “No TV news organization has the resources in labor, time or funds to cover every worthy story.” Almost “90 percent of TV newsrooms now rely on video news releases,” it claims. The reach can be enormous. Government-produced VNRs from the Office of National Drug Control Policy reached some 22 million households over 300 news stations. And news stations often re-record the voiceover of VNRs by their own reporters, adding to the illusion that their own reporters, and not government or PR employees, are doing the actual reporting.
Office of Broadcasting Services - The State Department’s Office of Broadcasting Services (OBS) employs around 30 editors and technicians, who before 2002 primarily distributed video from news conferences. But in early 2002, the OBS began working with close White House supervision to produce narrated feature reports promoting American policies and achievements in Afghanistan and Iraq, and supporting the Bush administration’s rationale for invading those countries. Between 2002 and now, the State Department has produced 59 such segments, which were distributed to hundreds of domestic and international television broadcasters. The State Department says that US laws prohibiting the domestic dissemination of propaganda don’t apply to the OBS. Besides, says State Department spokesman Richard Boucher: “Our goal is to put out facts and the truth. We’re not a propaganda agency.” State Department official Patricia Harrison told Congress last year that such “good news” segments are “powerful strategic tools” for influencing public opinion. The Times reports that “a review of the department’s segments reveals a body of work in sync with the political objectives set forth by the White House communications team after 9/11.” One June 2003 VNR produced by the OBS depicts US efforts to distribute food and water to the people of southern Iraq. The unidentified narrator condluded, “After living for decades in fear, they are now receiving assistance—and building trust—with their coalition liberators.” OBS produced several segments about the liberation of Afghan women; a January 2003 memo called the segments “prime example[s]” of how “White House-led efforts could facilitate strategic, proactive communications in the war on terror.” OBS typically distributes VNRs through international news organizations such as Reuters and the Associated Press, which then distribute them to major US networks, which in turn transmit them to local affiliates.
The Pentagon Channel and 'Hometown News' - In 2004, the Defense Department began providing The Pentagon Channel, formerly an in-house service, to cable and satellite operators in the US. The content is provided by Pentagon public relations specialists who produce “news reports” identical to those produced by local and national news broadcasters. And the content is free. The Pentagon Channel’s content is supplemented by the Army and Air Force Hometown News Service (HNS), a 40-man unit that produces VNRs for local broadcasters focusing on the accomplishments of “hometown” soldiers. Deputy director Larry Gilliam says of the service, “We’re the ‘good news’ people.” Their reports, tailored for specific local stations, reached 41 million households in 2004. But the service’s VNRs sometimes go beyond celebrating a hometown hero. Weeks after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, HNS released a VNR that lauded the training of military policemen at Missouri’s Fort Leonard Wood, where many of the MPs involved in the scandal were trained. “One of the most important lessons they learn is to treat prisoners strictly but fairly,” the “reporter” in the segment says. A trainer tells the narrator that MPs are taught to “treat others as they would want to be treated.” Gilliam says the MP report had nothing to do with the Pentagon’s desire to defend itself from accusations of mistreatment and prisoner abuse. “Are you saying that the Pentagon called down and said, ‘We need some good publicity?’” Gilliam asks the Times reporter. He answers his own question, “No, not at all.” (Barstow and Stein 3/13/2005)
Congress Bans Use of Government VNRs - Two months after the Times article is published, Congress will ban the use of government VNRs for propaganda purposes (see May 2005).
In the days after Michael Steele (R-MD), an African-American, announced his candidacy for governor of Maryland, allegations have resurfaced that in 2002 he was “pelted” with Oreo cookies by Democrats at a political debate (see September 26, 2002 and After); if true, such actions would constitute a significant racial slur. However, reporting of the incident has fallen into question, and Steele himself recently denied being hit by cookies during the debate, though he did say he saw Oreos on the stage near him: “I’ve never claimed that I was hit, no. The one or two that I saw at my feet were there. I just happened to look down and see them.” Eyewitness accounts compiled by the Baltimore Sun show that the allegations are questionable at best; moreover, the Sun reports, accounts of the incident by Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert Ehrlich, Ehrlich’s communications director Paul Schurick, and Steele himself, dramatically contradict each other. Progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters compares the different accounts of the incident, and concludes that the story has grown from an almost-baseless “partisan talking point” into “a ‘fact’ reported by the media” over the last three years. Media Matters notes that several newspapers, including the Chicago Sun-Times, the Washington Post, and the Washington Times, have recently reported the incident as factual, with the Times writing that Steele was “pelt[ed] with Oreo cookies” among the “racially tinged attacks” directed at him by his Democratic opponent in 2002. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell writes: “Steele has been subjected to the worst racial slurs imaginable. At one debate, a group of black people pelted the stage with Oreos.” Between October 31 and November 16, the Washington Times asserts the incident as fact three times in its editorial pages, and twice in its news reporting. The Weekly Standard reports it three times. Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity twice asserts it as fact on his broadcast, as does one of his guests, National Review editor Rich Lowry. Deroy Murdock, another National Review contributor, asserts it as fact in one of his columns. Washington Post metro editor Marc Fisher cites it in an online chat. Mitchell cites it in the Chicago Sun-Times. The conservative American Spectator cites it as fact once. Syndicated columnist Gregory Kane cites it as fact once. The National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service editor in chief George Curry states it as fact on National Public Radio, as does the host of the NPR program, Ed Gordon. The Investors Business Daily cites it as fact in an editorial. MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson cites it as fact on the air. The Associated Press cites it as fact in an article. Media Matters also notes that the story resurfaced briefly during the August 2004 Republican National Convention, with the Baltimore Sun reporting that Steele and Ehrlich “still talk” about the incident, and the Washington Post reporting it as fact. (Segraves 11/15/2005; Media Matters 11/21/2005)
The Supreme Court upholds most of Texas’s far-reaching redistricting plan as engineered by former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX—see 2002-2004). The case is League of United Latin American Citizens et al v. Perry et al. The Court rejects one element of the plan, saying that some of the new boundaries fail to protect minority voting rights. Some district boundaries will need to be redrawn, particularly one “oddly shaped” district, District 23, in the Associated Press’s description, that saw the shift of 100,000 Hispanics out of a district represented by a Republican incumbent and into the unusually crafted district. Critics called District 23 the result of illegal gerrymandering, and said it violates the Voting Rights Act (VRA—see August 6, 1965, 1970, 1975, April 22, 1980, and June 29, 1989). Justice Anthony Kennedy, author of the majority opinion, says that under the plan, Hispanics have no chance to elect a candidate of their choosing. Democrats and minority groups have accused Republicans of unconstitutionally redrawing Texas’s electoral districts to ensure that the state’s legislature is controlled by Republicans. In the 2004 elections, the first with the new districts, Republicans took control of Texas’s legislature and four Democratic incumbents lost their seats. The Court upholds the contention that states can redraw district maps when they choose, not just once a decade as claimed by Texas Democrats. In essence, this means that any time a political party takes power in a state legislature, it can redraw maps to suit its purposes. The Constitution mandates the redrawing of state congressional district boundaries once a decade to account for population shifts; the Court says such redrawings can be more frequent if desired. The 2003-2004 redrawing of the Texas district map cost DeLay his position; he has resigned from Congress in the face of money laundering charges in relation to his fundraising activities for legislative candidates. While two other states, Colorado and Georgia, have undertaken similar redistricting efforts, law professor Richard Hasen says he does not believe many more states will move in the same direction. “Some people are predicting a rash of mid-decade redistricting. I am skeptical,” he says. “It would be seen as a power grab in a lot of places.” The 5-4 Court majority is not along ideological lines. While Kennedy, who usually joins the other conservatives, writes the majority opinion, the four liberals of the Court—Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, John Paul Stevens, and David Souter—write their own concurrences in conjunction with his opinion. Chief Justice John Roberts dissents, and Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas join his dissent. Justice Antonin Scalia writes his own dissent. (Associated Press 6/28/2006; FindLaw 6/28/2006; Oyez (.org) 2012)
The press reveals that then-Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage met with Washington Post author Bob Woodward in June 2003 at the same time Woodward has admitted to learning from a confidential administration source that Valerie Plame Wilson was a CIA agent (see June 13, 2003). The information comes from Armitage’s 2003 appointment calendars, made available to the Associated Press through a Freedom of Information Act request. The revelation makes it likely that Armitage was the first Bush administration official to reveal that Plame Wilson was a CIA agent. Woodward admitted almost a year ago that a “current or former” administration official divulged Plame Wilson’s CIA identity to him (see November 14, 2005). Neither Woodward nor Armitage will comment on the allegations. At the same time, Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff publishes the story in his magazine. (Apuzzo and Solomon 8/22/2006; Shenon 8/23/2006; Isikoff 9/4/2006) Lewis Libby’s defense lawyer, William Jeffress, says of the report: “I would hope that the facts on that would come out. We have asked for information as to Woodward’s source in discovery, but that has been denied.” Melanie Sloan, a lawyer representing Valerie Plame Wilson and her husband Joseph Wilson in their lawsuit against Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney, and White House official Karl Rove (see July 13, 2006), says “it sure sounds like” Armitage was the first to reveal Plame Wilson’s CIA status to a member of the press. However, Sloan adds, if Armitage revealed Plame Wilson’s identity to columnist Robert Novak (see July 8, 2003), who outed Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003), then far from indicating Libby’s or Rove’s innocence in exposing Plame Wilson’s identity, it merely widens the conspiracy. “Then I think maybe Armitage was in on it,” Sloan says. “The question is just what was Armitage’s role?” (Apuzzo and Solomon 8/22/2006) The Washington Post soon receives confirmation of Armitage’s role in the leak from a former State Department colleague. (Smith 8/29/2006) Many members of the press learn about Armitage from an upcoming book, Hubris, by Michael Isikoff and David Corn. According to the book, Woodward dismissed Armitage’s outing of Plame Wilson as “gossip.” Armitage also revealed Plame Wilson’s name to columnist Robert Novak (see July 8, 2003). (Wilson 2007, pp. 256) Partly as publicity for the book, Isikoff prints two “teaser” articles in Newsweek revealing Armitage as the source. One article is dated September 4, but appears on the Internet in late August. The articles also reveal that Armitage leaked Plame Wilson’s identity to both Woodward and Novak. (Isikoff 8/27/2006; Isikoff 9/4/2006)
Judge Reggie Walton releases a heavily redacted, 38-page document containing his November 15, 2006 opinion about the release of classified documents on behalf of the Libby defense team (see November 15, 2006 and November 22, 2006). Material pertaining to the classified documents themselves is redacted from the document. According to Walton’s ruling, Lewis Libby wants to use 129 classified documents to bolster his contention that his systemic and widespread memory failures led him to misinform investigators about his role in exposing CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson (see January 31, 2006). According to the Associated Press, if Walton decides to bar the use of some or all of those classified documents, Libby’s lawyers could then ask for a dismissal of the case. “If the case goes forward and the evidence is allowed,” the AP writes, “the trial could offer a behind-the-scenes look at the White House in the early months of the war in Iraq.” Walton has said he has tried to balance national security concerns with Libby’s right to a fair trial (see November 15, 2006 and November 22, 2006). He has said that pre-approving classified evidence “requires a court to play the role of Johnny Carson’s character Carnac the Magnificent by requiring it to render rulings before knowing the exact context of how those rulings will coincide with other evidence that has actually been developed at trial.” Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald has characterized Libby’s threat to reveal classified information during the trial “graymail” (see After October 28, 2005, January 31, 2006, February 6, 2006, and (February 16, 2006)). Libby’s defense will argue that Libby was absorbed by several major national security areas of concern during the time Plame Wilson was exposed: threats from Islamist terror groups, working with Homeland Security to bolster US defenses, countering the nuclear threat posed by Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan (see Late February 1999) and North Korea, the Iranian threat, developing security in Iraq after the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime, Israeli-Palestinian relations, incidents between Iraq and Turkey, and the unrest in Liberia as it threatened the safety of the US Embassy in Monrovia. (US District Court of the District of Columbia 12/1/2006 ; Apuzzo 12/1/2006; Seidman 12/4/2006)
The Associated Press (AP) issues a “thumbnail sketch” of the main players in the Lewis Libby perjury and obstruction trial. Much of the material is derived from readily available biographical sources, but the AP notes that Judge Reggie Walton is a Republican who “does not fit neatly into a political box,” and has served as, among other positions, a criminal prosecutor, a public defender, and a deputy drug “czar” under President George H. W. Bush. He was nominated by George W. Bush for the federal bench in 2001, was introduced at his confirmation hearings by US House Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), and won unanimous approval by the Senate. The AP also notes that “Walton decided not to move the case to the courthouse’s larger, more majestic ceremonial courtroom.” The article goes on to note that Libby’s lawyers, particularly Theodore Wells and William Jeffress, have markedly different courtroom styles, with Jeffress being the calmer and quieter of the two, and cites both lawyers’ ties to Democratic causes. (Apuzzo 1/13/2007)
Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the presumptive Republican nominee for president, repeatedly conflates the two main warring branches of Islam in statements made while visiting the Middle East. The quickly planned trip was designed to showcase McCain’s foreign policy sagacity, and contrast him with his Democratic opponents Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Barack Obama (D-IL), whose relative lack of experience in foreign policy is being negatively portrayed by the McCain campaign.
Allegations of Cooperation between Iran and al-Qaeda - McCain twice says while in Jordan that it is “common knowledge” that Iran, a Shi’ite-led theocracy, is training al-Qaeda terrorists and sending them into Iraq to wreak havoc. Al-Qaeda is a Sunni organization. Sunni Muslims have contended for primacy with Shi’ite Muslims for centuries; much of the violence in Iraq is between Sunni and Shi’ite insurgents. “We continue to be concerned about Iranian[s] taking al-Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back,” he says in one instance, and adds: “Well, it’s common knowledge and has been reported in the media that al-Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran. That’s well known. And it’s unfortunate.” His traveling companion, Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), whispers a correction in McCain’s ear, and McCain promptly corrects himself, “I’m sorry, the Iranians are training extremists, not al-Qaeda.”
Criticism of McCain - The Democratic National Committee responds to McCain’s statements by saying: “After eight years of the Bush administration’s incompetence in Iraq, McCain’s comments don’t give the American people a reason to believe that he can be trusted to offer a clear way forward. Not only is Senator McCain wrong on Iraq once again, but he showed he either doesn’t understand the challenges facing Iraq and the region or is willing to ignore the facts on the ground.” (Cooper 3/18/2008; Edwards 3/18/2008)
Previous Similar Comments - McCain made a similar statement the day before while calling in to conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt’s talk show, saying, “As you know, there are al-Qaeda operatives that are taken back into Iran, given training as leaders, and they’re moving back into Iraq.” Hewitt did not correct the error. (Town Hall (.com) 3/17/2008) And on February 28, McCain told an audience in Texas, “But al-Qaeda is [in Iraq], they are functioning, they are supported in many times, in many ways by the Iranians.” (ThinkProgress (.org) 3/20/2008) McCain’s own campaign notes that McCain “immediately corrected” the error—a misstatement, as McCain made the mistake three different times in two days—and attacks the Democrats for McCain’s blunder by stating, “Democrats have launched political attacks today because they know the American people have deep concerns about their candidates’ judgment and readiness to lead as commander in chief.”
Media Reaction - Many in the mainstream media forgive or ignore McCain’s repeated gaffe. The Atlantic Monthly’s Marc Ambinder calls it “momentary confusion” on McCain’s part, again ignoring the fact that McCain made the same mistake three times in two days. (Ambinder 3/18/2008) ABC’s Jake Tapper blames the blunder on “jet lag.” (Tapper 3/18/2008) Both the Associated Press and CNN misreport McCain’s statement. Associated Press reporter Alfred de Montesquiou inaccurately reports that McCain “voiced concern that Tehran is bringing militants over the border into Iran for training before sending them back to fight US troops in Iraq, and blamed Syria for allegedly continuing to ‘expedite’ a flow of foreign fighters.” (de Montesquiou 3/18/2008) And CNN’s Emily Sherman rewrites McCain’s statement, reporting, “During a press conference in Amman, Jordan, the Arizona senator also said there is a continued concern that Iran may be training Iraqi extremists in Iran and then sending them back into Iraq.” (Sherman 3/18/2008)
As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, conservative radio host Michael Savage repeats the false assertion that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is a Muslim, a trope repeated by many conservative radio hosts (see January 22-24, 2008). In reality, Obama is a practicing Christian and a member of the United Church of Christ. The allegations that Obama is, or ever was, a Muslim have been debunked by, among others, CNN, the Chicago Tribune, and the Associated Press. Savage again lies to his listeners by telling them another oft-repeated falsehood, that Obama was educated in a radical Islamist “madrassah” during a childhood stint in Indonesia. Savage tells his listeners: “Look who we inherited in this country, from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Barack Hussein Obama, in one generation. A war hero to—a war hero who commanded the Allied operations against Nazi Germany was running for the presidency then. Now we have an unknown stealth candidate who went to a madrassas in Indonesia and, in fact, was a Muslim.… Yes, check it out.” (Media Matters 4/7/2008) Weeks before, Savage told his listeners that Obama and his former pastor supported the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese, and Obama would bring chaos and devastation to the United States on a scale not seen since the Civil War (see March 13, 2008).
The Republican National Committee (RNC) demands that the Democratic Party stop running a political ad that it says misconstrues Republican presidential candidate John McCain’s words. The ad says that President Bush has talked about staying in Iraq for 50 years, then plays a clip of McCain saying: “Maybe 100. That’d be fine with me.” The announcer then says, “If all he offers is more of the same, is John McCain the right choice for America’s future?” RNC chairman Mike Duncan says the ad deliberately distorts what McCain actually said. RNC lawyer Sean Cairncross says he has written to NBC, CNN, and MSNBC demanding that those networks stop airing the commercial. Interestingly, the Associated Press, in reporting the story, seems to concur with the RNC’s position: its story lede is, “The Republican National Committee demanded Monday that television networks stop running a television ad by the Democratic Party that falsely suggests John McCain wants a 100-year war in Iraq.” But in fact, McCain said just those words in January, and has repeated them since (see January 3-27, 2008). McCain said in response to a question about Bush’s claim of US troops being in Iraq for the next fifty years: “Maybe 100. As long as Americans are not being injured or harmed or wounded or killed, that’d be fine with me, and I hope it would be fine with you, if we maintain a presence in a very volatile part of the world where al-Qaeda is training, recruiting, equipping, and motivating people every single day.” Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean says “there’s nothing false” about the ad. “We deliberately used John McCain’s words. This isn’t some ominous consultant’s voice from Washington. This is John McCain’s own words. And we’ve been very upfront about everything that he’s said.” (Associated Press 4/28/2007)
Dr. Jerome Corsi, a conservative author and blogger who was deeply involved in the 2004 Swift Boat Veterans for Truth campaign to besmirch presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA), publishes a book, The Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality. The title is a play on the word ‘abomination.’ In his book, Corsi, who writes for the conservative Web site WorldNetDaily and blogs at the extremist Free Republic, attacks Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama in a fashion similar to that used against Kerry—combining fact, hyperbole, speculation, and outright falsehoods in an attempt to demean and disparage Obama’s character and professional career. The publisher, Threshold (a division of Simon and Schuster devoted to publishing conservative political works), calls the book “[s]crupolously sourced” and “[m]eticulously researched and documented…” Among other allegations, Corsi accuses Obama of growing up under the influence of Communist, socialist, and radical Islamic mentors; of deep and secretive affiliations with ‘60s radicals William Ayers and Bernadette Dohrn; of espousing what he calls “black liberation theology” through his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright; connections to socialists and radical Islamists in Kenya, his father’s home country; deep and criminal ties to Chicago real-estate mogul Tony Rezko; and an intent to, if elected president, implement what Corsi calls “far-left” domestic and foreign policies. (Simon and Schuster 8/1/2008; Corsi 8/12/2008; Holan 8/20/2008) The book debuts as number one on the New York Times bestseller list, propelled by large bulk sales (large buys by particular organizations designed to artificially elevate sales figures) and an intensive marketing campaign carried out on conservative talk radio shows. “The goal is to defeat Obama,” Corsi says. “I don’t want Obama to be in office.” (Rutenberg and Bosman 8/12/2008)
Allegations Roundly Debunked - Unfortunately for Corsi, his allegations do not stand up to scrutiny. FactCheck.org, a non-partisan “‘consumer advocate’ for voters” site run by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, finds that Corsi’s book “is a mishmash of unsupported conjecture, half-truths, logical fallacies and outright falsehoods.” It “is not a reliable source of facts about Obama.” FactCheck notes: “Corsi cites opinion columns and unsourced, anonymous blogs as if they were evidence of factual claims. Where he does cite legitimate news sources, he frequently distorts the facts. In some cases, Corsi simply ignores readily accessible information when it conflicts with his arguments.” The organization notes that Threshold’s chief editor, Republican operative Mary Matalin, said the book was not political, but rather “a piece of scholarship, and a good one at that.” FactCheck responds: “The prominent display of Corsi’s academic title (he holds a Ph.D. in political science) seems clearly calculated to convey academic rigor. But as a scholarly work, The Obama Nation does not measure up. We judge it to be what a hack journalist might call a ‘paste-up job,’ gluing together snippets from here and there without much regard for their truthfulness or accuracy.” (FactCheck (.org) 2008; FactCheck (.org) 9/15/2008) The St. Petersburg Times’s PolitiFact finds, “Taken as a whole, the book’s primary argument is that Obama is a likely communist sympathizer with ties to Islam who has skillfully hidden his true agenda as he ruthlessly pursues elected office,” an argument that the organization concludes is wholly unsupported by Corsi’s arguments and sources. (St. Petersburg Times 8/1/2008) And an Associated Press article finds the book a “collect[ion of] false rumors and distortions [designed] to portray Obama as a sort of secret radical who can’t be trusted.” (Wills 8/16/2008)
Unreliable Sources - As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, Corsi’s sources are often unreliable: for example, his allegation that Obama’s father divorced his mother according to “Islamic sharia law” is based on a single and unverifiable post made by an anonymous blogger. (Media Matters 8/4/2008) FactCheck notes that although Corsi points to his over 600 endnotes as proof of his “rigorous” sourcing, many of those endnotes refer to obscure, unverifiable Internet postings, blog posts, and opinion columns. Four of Corsi’s sources refer to his own work. “Where Corsi does cite news sources,” the site says, “he sometimes presents only those that are consistent with his case while ignoring evidence that doesn’t fit the picture he paints.” (FactCheck (.org) 9/15/2008)
Demonstrably False Claims - Some of Corsi’s claims are completely false: his statement that Obama did not dedicate his 2004 memoir, Dreams from My Father, to his parents or grandparents is easily debunked merely by reading the book’s introduction, in which Obama wrote, “It is to my family, though—my mother, my grandparents, my siblings, stretched across oceans and continents—that I owe the deepest gratitude and to whom I dedicated this book.” (Media Matters 8/4/2008; Holan 8/20/2008) Corsi also claims, falsely, that Obama holds dual citizenship in the US and Kenya, though the Kenyan Constitution specifically prohibits dual citizenship. (FactCheck (.org) 9/15/2008) Corsi goes on to claim that Obama has long rejected his white family members from his mother’s side, including his grandparents in Hawaii who raised him for much of his childhood. This is part of Corsi’s argument about Obama’s secret embrace of the so-called “radical black rage” teachings of American activist Malcolm X. According to Corsi’s reading of Obama’s memoir: “His race, he self-determines, is African-American. In making that determination, he rejects everyone white, including his mother and his grandparents. We do not have to speculate about this. Obama tells this to us outright; his words are direct, defying us to miss his meaning.” But PolitiFact calls this “a significant misreading of Obama’s memoir,” and notes that Corsi ignores a large amount of evidence that points to Obama’s continued close relationship with his white family members throughout his life. PolitiFact concludes, “To conclude that Obama rejects everyone white, including his mother and his grandparents, Corsi has to significantly read against the memoir’s stated meaning. We find factual evidence also contradicts this statement, indicating that Obama maintained lifelong relations with his white relatives.” (St. Petersburg Times 8/1/2008)
Insinuations and Leading Questions - Many of Corsi’s allegations are based on little more than questions and insinuations: for example, Corsi insinuates that Obama may not have stopped using marijuana and cocaine, as he admitted to doing during his high school years. Corsi writes: “Still, Obama has yet to answer questions whether he ever dealt drugs, or if he stopped using marijuana and cocaine completely in college, or whether his drug usage extended into his law school days or beyond. Did Obama ever use drugs in his days as a community organizer in Chicago, or when he was a state senator from Illinois? How about in the US Senate? If Obama quit using drugs, the public inquiry certain to occur in a general election campaign for the presidency will most certainly aim at the when, how and why…?” According to Media Matters, Obama wrote in his book Dreams from My Father that he stopped using drugs shortly after beginning college. (Media Matters 8/4/2008) FactCheck notes: “Corsi… slyly insinuates—without offering any evidence—that Obama might have ‘dealt drugs’ in addition to using them. And he falsely claims that Obama has ‘yet to answer’ whether he continued using drugs during his law school days or afterward.… In fact, Obama has answered that question twice, including once in the autobiography that Corsi reviews in his book.”
Guilt by Association - Corsi alleges that Obama has links to Kenyan presidential candidate Raila Odinga, and claims that Obama is somehow linked to the violence surrounding the 2007 Kenyan presidential election. He bases his claim on a single visit by Obama and his wife, Michelle, to Kenya, where they publicly took AIDS tests to demonstrate the tests’ safety. In the testing process, Obama spoke briefly to the crowd. Odinga was on stage while Obama spoke. Corsi construes the speech as an Obama endorsement of Odinga, and, as FactCheck writes, “[h]e goes on to attribute all the violence in Kenya to an elaborate Odinga plot.” Corsi ignores the fact that during that trip, Obama also met with the other Kenyan presidential candidate, Mwai Kibaki, and with opposition leader Uhuru Kenyatta. Human Rights Watch blamed the violence following the election on both Odinga and Kibaki and their followers. FactCheck notes that Corsi uses the logical fallacy of “guilt by association” to fill Chapters 3 through 7. (FactCheck (.org) 9/15/2008)
Misquoting Other Sources - Media Matters finds that Corsi sometimes misquotes and rewrites source material, as when he attributed a claim concerning Obama’s supposedly untoward business relationship with Rezko to articles in the Chicago Sun-Times, the Boston Globe, and Salon (.com) that made none of the claims Corsi attributes to them. Corsi also misquoted the conservative Web site NewsMax when he used one of its articles to falsely claim that Obama had been present at Chicago’s Trinity United Church during Reverend Wright’s denunciation of America’s “white arrogance.” (Obama was actually in Miami during Wright’s sermon.) (Media Matters 8/4/2008) Corsi uses a man he calls one of Obama’s “closest” childhood friends, Indonesian Zulfan Adi, to back his assertion that Obama was once a practicing Muslim. However, Corsi does not report that Adi later retracted his claims about Obama’s religious practices, and admitted to knowing Obama for only a few months. Corsi also ignores a Chicago Tribune story that contains interviews with “dozens of former classmates, teachers, neighbors and friends [who] show that Obama was not a regular practicing Muslim when he was in Indonesia,” and other media reports that have conclusively proven Obama was never a Muslim (see January 22-24, 2008).
Ignoring the Obvious - Corsi repeatedly claims that Obama is a master speaker who bedazzles crowds with soaring flights of rhetoric, but never actually gives any specifics of what he intends to do as president. He writes: “At the end of every rhetorically uplifting speech Obama gives about the future of hope, millions of listeners are still left pondering, ‘Now what exactly did he say?’ If the politician is the message, as [campaign manager David] Axelrod and Obama have proclaimed, they can’t forever avoid telling us what precisely that message is.” But FactCheck notes that “Obama’s Web site is packed with details of what he proposes to do if elected. He lays out descriptions of his policy proposals, including tax cuts for most families and increases for those making more than $250,000 per year; a $150 billion, 10-year program to develop alternative energy sources and more efficient vehicles; a proposal to increase the size of the Army by 65,000 troops and another to create a public health insurance plan for those whose employers don’t offer health coverage. Whether or not one agrees with them, Obama has indeed presented detailed plans for dozens of policies. It’s hard to see how anyone writing a book on Obama could fail to acknowledge their existence.”
Conspiracy Theorist, 'Bigot,' and Veteran Liar - FactCheck notes: “Corsi is a renowned conspiracy theorist who says that [President] George Bush is attempting to create a North American Union… and that there is evidence that the World Trade Center may have collapsed [after the 9/11 attacks] because it was seeded with explosives. More recently, Corsi claimed that Obama released a fake birth certificate. We’ve debunked that twice now. [M]any of the themes in The Obama Nation are reworked versions of bogus chain e-mail smears.” (FactCheck (.org) 9/15/2008) In August 2004, Media Matters found that Corsi routinely embraced both extremist opinions and personal invective. Corsi called Islam “a worthless, dangerous Satanic religion.” Of Catholicism, he wrote, “Boy buggering in both Islam and Catholicism is okay with the Pope as long as it isn’t reported by the liberal press.” Of Muslims themselves, he wrote, “RAGHEADS are Boy-Bumpers as clearly as they are Women-Haters—it all goes together.” And of Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), he wrote: “Anybody ask why HELLary couldn’t keep BJ Bill [former President Clinton] satisfied? Not lesbo or anything, is she?” (Media Matters 8/6/2004) (Corsi posted these comments on the Free Republic under the moniker “jrlc,” and identified himself as “jrlc” on March 19, 2004.) (Free Republic 3/18/2004; Jerome Corsi 8/7/2004) An Obama campaign spokesman calls Corsi “a discredited, fringe bigot.” (Wills 8/16/2008) FactCheck concludes, “In Corsi’s case, we judge that both his reputation and his latest book fall short when measured by the standards of good scholarship, or even of mediocre journalism.” (FactCheck (.org) 9/15/2008) PolitiFact concludes: “A reader might think that because the book is printed by a mainstream publishing house it is well-researched and credible. On the contrary—we find The Obama Nation to be an unreliable document for factual information about Barack Obama.” (Holan 8/20/2008)
As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, conservative radio host Chris Baker calls Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama a “little b_tch” for reacting to Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s accusation that Obama was “palling around” with accused domestic terrorist William Ayers. Baker says: “[T]his little b_tch needs to stand up for himself. Sorry, I can’t stand this. You want to be the president of the United States, and you won’t even stand up to a smoking-hot chick from Alaska? How is he gonna stand up to the world’s terrorists?… I mean, this—this guy—this guy is—he’s a—he’s a wimp is what he is.… This wuss-bag needs to stand up for himself and answer the questions about his relationship with Bill Ayers and other terrorists and terrorist sympathizers.” Baker cites two articles from the Associated Press and New York Times, but fails to note that both articles debunk Palin’s claim that Obama had anything but a peripheral connection to Ayers. And Baker fails to reveal that the Obama campaign had responded two days before to the Palin assertions. (Media Matters 10/7/2008)
The conservative lobbying group Citizens United (CU) distributes hundreds of thousands of DVDs in newspapers throughout Ohio, Florida, and Nevada, all considered “swing states” in the upcoming presidential election. The DVDs contain a “documentary” entitled Hype: The Obama Effect and are characterized by CU as “truthful attack[s]” on Senator Barack Obama (D-IL). Previous advertisements for the film said the film portrays Obama as an “overhyped media darling,” and quoted conservative pundit Tucker Carlson as saying: “The press loves Obama. I mean not just love, but sort of like an early teenage crush.” The DVD distribution takes place just days before the November 4 election. CU says it is spending over a million dollars to distribute around 1.25 million DVDs, which are included with delivery and store-bought copies of five newspapers: the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch, the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Palm Beach (Florida) Post, and the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The film attacks Obama’s record on abortion rights, foreign policy, and what the Associated Press calls his “past relationships” with, among others, his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright (see January 6-11, 2008). The DVD also attempts to tie Obama to political corruption in Illinois, and lambasts the news media for what CU calls its preferential treatment of Obama. CU president David Bossie says: “We think it’s a truthful attack. People can take it any way they want.” Bossie was fired from his position on a Republican House member’s staff in 1998 for releasing fraudulently edited transcripts of a former Clinton administration official to falsely imply that then-First Lady Hillary Clinton had committed crimes (see May 1998). Among those interviewed about Obama for the film are conservative columnist Robert Novak, conservative pundit Dick Morris, former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), and author and pundit Jerome Corsi, whom the AP terms a “discredited critic” of Obama. Obama campaign spokesman Isaac Baker calls the DVD “slash and burn politics,” and says the DVD is another tactic of the presidential campaign of John McCain (R-AZ) to “smear” Obama with “dishonest, debunked attacks from the fringes of the far right.” (Falcone 7/22/2008; Elliott 10/28/2008; Schulman 10/29/2008)
Newspaper Official Defends Decision to Include DVD - Palm Beach Post general manager Charles Gerardi says of his paper’s decision to include the DVD in its Friday distribution: “Citizens United has every right to place this message as a paid advertisement, and our readers have every right to see it, even if they don’t agree with it. That we accepted it as a paid advertisement in no way implies that this newspaper agrees or disagrees with its message.” (Palm Beach Post 10/31/2008)
Falsehoods, Misrepresentations, and Lies - Within days, the liberal media watchdog organization Media Matters finds that the DVD is riddled with errors, misrepresentations, and lies.
Claim that Obama 'Threw' Illinois State Senate Election - On the DVD, author David Freddoso claims that in 1998, Obama managed to “thr[o]w all of his opponents off the ballot” to win an election to the Illinois State Senate, a claim that has been disproved.
Claim that Obama Refuses to Work with Republicans - Freddoso also asserts that there are no instances of Obama’s stints in the Illinois State Senate nor the US Senate where he was willing to work with Republicans on legislation, an assertion that Freddoso himself inadvertently disproves by citing several instances of legislation Obama joined with Republicans to pass.
Claim that Obama Wants to Raise Taxes on Middle Class and Small Business - The DVD’s narrator misrepresents Obama’s campaign statements to falsely claim that Obama has promised to “irrevocabl[y]” raise taxes on citizens making over $100,000 to fund Social Security; the reality is that Obama’s proposed tax increase would affect citizens making $250,000 or more. The DVD narrator makes similarly false claims about Obama’s stance on raising the capital gains tax, and on raising taxes on small business owners. Conservative radio host Armstrong Williams tells viewers that Obama will raise taxes on small businesses that employ only a few workers, when in fact Obama has repeatedly proposed cutting taxes on most small businesses. Huckabee makes similar claims later in the DVD.
Claim that Obama Supports Immigration 'Amnesty' - The narrator misrepresents Obama’s stance on immigration reform as “amnesty for the 12 to 20 million people who violated US immigration law,” a position that Obama’s “Plan for Immigration” rejects.
Claim that Obama Wants 'Centralized Government' Health Care - Blackwell, now a contributing editor for the conservative publication TownHall, falsely claims that Obama wants to implement what he calls “a centralized government program that hasn’t worked in Canada, hasn’t worked in England, that has actually taken the freedom from the consumer and limited the choices.” Organizations such as PolitiFact and the New York Times have called claims that Obama supports government-run “single payer” health care false.
Claim that Obama Refused to Protect Lives of Infants - Conservative columnist and anti-abortion activist Jill Stanek claims that Obama opposed legislation that would have protected the lives of babies “born alive” during botched abortion efforts, when in fact no such legislation was ever proposed—the law already protects babies in such circumstances—and the Illinois Department of Public Health has said no such case exists in its records. (Stanek has claimed that she has witnessed such incidents during her time as an Illinois hospital worker.) Stanek has said that she believes domestic violence against women who have had abortions is acceptable, claimed that Chinese people eat aborted fetuses as “much sought after delicacies,” and claimed that Obama “supports infanticide.”
Claim that Obama Supported Attack on Petraeus - The DVD narrator claims that as a US senator, Obama refused to vote for a bill that condemned an attack by liberal grassroots activist organization MoveOn.org on General David Petraeus. In reality, Obama did vote to support an amendment that condemned the MoveOn advertisement.
Claim that Obama Supported Award for Farrakhan - The DVD narrator claims that Obama has aligned himself with the controversial head of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan, and cites the 2007 decision by Obama’s then-church, Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, to award a lifetime achievement award to Farrakhan. In reality, Obama denounced Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism, and stated that he did not agree with the Trinity decision to give Farrakhan the award.
Claim of Suspiciously Preferential Loan Rate - The DVD narrator claims that Obama received a suspiciously “preferential rate on his super-jumbo loan for the purchase” of a “mansion” in Hyde Park, Illinois, from Northern Trust, an Illinois bank. A Washington Post reporter did make such a claim in a report, but subsequent investigation by Politico and the Columbia Journalism Review showed that the rate Obama received on the loan was consistent with other loans Northern Trust made at the time and not significantly below the average loan rate.
'Citizen of the World' - Corsi claims that Obama does not consider himself an American, but a “citizen of the world.” Media Matters has found numerous instances where Obama proclaims himself a proud American as well as “a fellow citizen of the world.” In 1982, Media Matters notes, then-President Reagan addressed the United Nations General Assembly by saying, “I speak today as both a citizen of the United States and of the world.” Media Matters notes that Corsi’s anti-Obama book Obama Nation was widely and thoroughly debunked (see August 1, 2008 and After), and since its publication, Corsi has made a number of inflammatory and false accusations about Obama and his family (see August 15, 2008, August 16, 2008, September 7, 2008, October 8, 2008, October 9, 2008, July 21, 2009, and September 21, 2010). (Media Matters 10/30/2008)
The US Senate race in Minnesota, between incumbent Norm Coleman (R-MN) and challenger Al Franken (D-MN), concludes with Coleman enjoying a razor-thin margin of victory and declaring himself the victor. However, Franken (running as the candidate for the “Democratic-Farmer-Labor” party, or DFL, Minnesota’s version of the state Democratic Party) says he will ask for a recount, as is his right under Minnesota law. Minnesota officials say the recount could delay the final result of the race until December. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune characterizes the race between Coleman and Franken as “one of the most bitter… in Minnesota history.” The initial results show Coleman in the lead by 215 votes, though he was adjudged to lead by as much as 725 votes in early estimates. The Associated Press previously called Coleman the winner, but has now withdrawn that call, labeling the race as too close to judge. Franken says his campaign is investigating alleged voting irregularities at a number of polling places, and adds: “[A] recount could change the outcome significantly.… Let me be clear: Our goal is to ensure that every vote is properly counted.” Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie (D-MN) says a recount would not begin until the middle of the month and would likely stretch into December. “No matter how fast people would like it, the emphasis is on accuracy,” he says. The vote is split three ways, with Coleman and Franken each having 42 percent of the vote and Independence Party candidate Dean Barkley having 15 percent. Exit polls show Franken rode a wave of Democrats voting for Barack Obama (D-IL) as president, including a large number of first-time voters. Minnesota delivered its electoral votes for Obama. However, Barkley drained a significant amount of votes away from Franken. Franken had trouble convincing some voters of his credibility, in light of his career as an overtly liberal comedian and author, while Coleman was hurt by being connected with the poorly performing US economy under President Bush. Franken caught up with Coleman in polling after the stock market almost collapsed in September. Franken says that like the just-elected Obama, “I believe we’re going to celebrate a victory in this race, too.” Coleman tells supporters that he “feels good” about the ultimate results. Both Franken and Coleman engaged in harshly negative campaign advertising, which drove a large number of voters to choose Barkley in the race. National Republicans called Franken “unfit for office” because of his liberalism, while Franken attacked Coleman by pairing him with Bush, telling voters that Coleman helped Bush “drive the economy right into the ditch.” The two campaigns together spent almost $50 million, making it by far the most expensive Senate race in the country. Franken was dogged by allegations that he did not pay the proper income taxes, and embarrassed by examples of “lewd” humor from his past comedy engagements, leading him to apologize for some of his humor to his supporters. Coleman dealt with questions about his payment of artificially low rent on an exclusive Capitol Hill rowhouse, and questionable contributions from wealthy benefactors. Coleman asks Franken to waive the recount in the interest of saving Minnesota taxpayers the cost of the procedure, and so that “healing” from the hotly contested race can begin. (Lopez and Duchschere 11/5/2008; Duchschere, Brown, and Louwagie 11/6/2008; Bakst 1/6/2009)
Tom Raum, a reporter and analyst for the Associated Press (AP), calls Social Security “a giant federal Ponzi scheme” destined to “bury… the nation ever deeper in debt.” Raum then writes: “Although calling Social Security a Ponzi scheme—think of the huge frauds that sent billionaires Bernard Madoff (see August 14, 2009) and R. Allen Stanford to prison—may be a bit of a stretch, there is one clear similarity. As in a Ponzi scheme, the concept works fine at first. So long as there are more new ‘investors’ pumping money into the system to pay off the earlier ones, everyone is happy. But at some point not enough new money is coming in and the scheme collapses.” Raum claims that Social Security system trustees have reported that by 2016, money paid out in benefits will exceed the revenues flowing in, and in 2037, the system will be entirely penniless. Thusly, Raum writes, Social Security “is projected to go insolvent in 2017.” (Raum 8/16/2009) (The Raum article is reprinted over several days by different press outlets, but according to progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters, originally appears on August 12.) (Schulman 8/12/2009) However, the trustees did not say what Raum claims they said. In their May 12, 2009 report, the trustees said that the Social Security trust fund, not Social Security itself, will be completely depleted in 2037. And after that happens, according to the trustees, revenue from payroll taxes will be sufficient to pay about three-quarters of scheduled Social Security benefits through 2083: “Under the intermediate assumptions, the OASDI cost rate is projected to increase rapidly and first exceed the income rate in 2016, producing cash-flow deficits thereafter. Redemption of trust fund assets will allow continuation of full benefit payments on a timely basis until 2037, when the trust funds are projected to become exhausted. This redemption process will require a flow of cash from the general fund of the Treasury. Pressures on the federal budget will thus emerge well before 2037. Even if a trust fund’s assets are exhausted, however, tax income will continue to flow into the fund. Present tax rates are projected to be sufficient to pay 76 percent of scheduled benefits after trust fund exhaustion in 2037 and 74 percent of scheduled benefits in 2083.” The Associated Press accurately reported on the trustees’ report the same day it was issued. (Administration 5/12/2009 ; Crutsinger 5/12/2009; Schulman 8/12/2009) Stephen Moore of the Wall Street Journal made a similar claim to Raum’s in February (see February 2, 2009).
The mainstream media shows little interest in reporting that the just-released CIA report on torture (see August 24, 2009) does not prove that torture works as a method of eliciting actionable intelligence from detainees, according to Washington Post columnist and blogger Greg Sargent, writing on the Post’s political blog “The Plum Line.” Sargent notes that when former Vice President Dick Cheney was asserting that the then-classified memos did indeed show that torture worked, “[t]he mainstream media trumpeted Cheney’s lies about what the documents show. But now that they’ve been made public and they contradict his claims, most reporters seem to have lost interest.” He also notes the coverage given to Cheney’s claim that the report proves torture was effective (see August 24, 2009). Sargent backs up his claim with analysis of the media coverage provided by the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Associated Press, and CNN; the Times was the only source to directly address Cheney’s claims, but, as Sargent observes, “this came in the 13th paragraph in an article not directly focused on Cheney’s claims.” He goes on to note that only ABC News and the Washington Independent devoted stand-alone stories to Cheney’s claims not being proven. (Roth 8/25/2009; Sargent 8/25/2009) CNN reported, “Cheney says documents show interrogations prevented attacks… and yielded crucial information about al-Qaeda.” Sargent notes that Cheney didn’t say that at all, but rather he said “that the same individuals who were tortured also happened to yield the most important evidence about al-Qaeda. He’s not saying that the docs proved torture was responsible for producing that info” (emphasis in the original). Sargent credits Cheney with “masterful obfuscation,” and says that CNN was “being played for chumps.” (Sargent 8/25/2009; CNN 8/25/2009) Sargent observes: “To be fair, there was tons of news yesterday. Maybe the news orgs will get around to doing big takeouts on this. But come on, Cheney and his daughter Liz were granted tons of print space and air time to claim for weeks that these docs would prove torture worked. Seems fair to expect aggressive, stand-alone stories about what they do—and don’t—prove in the real world.” And reporter Zachary Roth concludes, “[N]o doubt, when Cheney or his daughter want to go public with their next set of self-justifying crap, they’ll be welcomed as authorities, as if none of this ever happened.” (Sargent 8/25/2009; Roth 8/25/2009)
Andrew Joseph Stack, a software engineer and pilot in Austin, Texas, burns his house down, then takes to the air in his Piper Dakota plane and crashes it into an Austin office building in an apparent attempt to destroy the large IRS office inside. Stack dies in the crash, as does IRS manager Vernon Hunter. Thirteen others are wounded, two critically. IRS revenue officer Peggy Walker, who is sitting at her desk when Stack’s plane crashes into the building, will later tell a reporter: “It felt like a bomb blew off. The ceiling caved in and windows blew in. We got up and ran.” IRS agent William Winnie says he was on the third floor of the building when he saw a light-colored, single engine plane coming toward the building. “It looked like it was coming right in my window,” Winne tells reporters. He says the plane veered down and smashed into the lower floors. “I didn’t lose my footing, but it was enough to knock people who were sitting to the floor,” he recalls. Two days before his flight, Stack, a software engineer, posted an angry rant on his personal Web site. “Nothing changes unless there is a body count,” he said, and went on to blast corporations, the Catholic Church, and bailouts for Wall Street. Stack wrote about the “storm raging in my head” and railed against taxation without representation. “Anyone who really stands up for that principal is promptly labeled a ‘crackpot,’ traitor, and worse,” he wrote. He expressed his anger at the “handful of thugs and plunderers [that] can commit unthinkable atrocities,” including bailed-out General Motors executives and the drug and insurance companies who “are murdering tens of thousands of people a year and stealing from the corpses and victims they cripple.” He hopes that “the American zombies wake up and revolt.” He concluded: “Violence not only is the answer, it is the only answer. I know I’m hardly the first one to decide I have had all I can stand.… I saw it written once that the definition of insanity is repeating the same process over and over and expecting the outcome to suddenly be different. I am finally ready to stop this insanity. Well, Mr. Big Brother IRS man, let’s try something different; take my pound of flesh and sleep well. The communist creed: From each according to his ability, to each according to his need. The capitalist creed: From each according to his gullibility, to each according to his greed.” The note was signed, “Joe Stack (1956-2010).” Before the attack is determined not to be foreign terrorism, at least two Texas Air National Guard F-16 fighter jets are scrambled in Houston, and President Obama is briefed. (Kennedy 2/18/2010; DeGuerin 2/18/2010; Katz 2/18/2010; Associated Press 2/19/2010; Your News Now 2/25/2010) The press soon reprints the entire posting, which the Associated Press calls “a rambling anti-government manifesto.” (Katz 2/18/2010; Associated Press 2/19/2010) Federal authorities find a note in Stack’s car, parked at the Georgetown Airport where he took off; the note says there is a bomb in the airport. The FBI investigates and finds no bomb. (Katz 2/18/2010) Stack used to play in a rock band; Pam Parker, whose husband leads the band, says Stack is usually “easy-going,” and though he “talked politics like everyone[, he] didn’t show any obsession.” The Web posting “sounded like his voice, but it was nothing I ever heard him say. Clearly there was crazy in him but it must have been way in the back of his head, it wasn’t who Joe was.” Patrick Beach, who also played in the band with Stack, tells a reporter, “I talked to a lot of people who knew him better than I did, and no one saw anything like this coming.” Beach says it is hard to comprehend how Stack, whom Beach says loved his wife and stepdaughter, could be the same person who wanted to “commit mass murder.” (Martinez 2/18/2010; Associated Press 2/19/2010) According to Stack’s father-in-law Jack Cook, Stack has a “hang-up” about the IRS, and his marriage to his wife Sheryl is strained; Cook says the night before Stack’s attack on the IRS building, his wife had taken her daughter to a hotel to get away from Stack. (Associated Press 2/19/2010) The press later learns that Stack is in the middle of an audit for failing to report income, in a case centered around his “Universal Life Church,” a “home church” founded by Stack and his wife. Stack had declared the church a tax shelter in violation of federal law, and had been ordered by the court to pay over $14,000 in back taxes along with an undisclosed amount in penalties, fines, and interest. (Your News Now 2/25/2010)
A chain email makes the rounds of the Internet containing a purported Associated Press (AP) article that claims to hold evidence that President Obama is not an American citizen (see June 13, 2008, June 27, 2008, July 2008, August 21, 2008, October 30, 2008, July 1, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, and July 29, 2009). The story claims that transcripts from Obama’s first university, Occidental College, show that Obama attended the school under the name “Barry Soetoro” and received financial aid as a native of Indonesia. The alleged AP story reads in part: “The group ‘Americans for Freedom of Information’ has released copies of President Obama’s college transcripts from Occidental College. Released today, the transcript school [sic] indicates that Obama, under the name Barry Soetoro, received financial aid as a foreign student from Indonesia as an undergraduate. The transcript was released by Occidental College in compliance with a court order in a suit brought by the group in the Superior Court of California. The transcript shows that Obama (Soetoro) applied for financial aid and was awarded a fellowship for foreign students from the Fulbright Foundation Scholarship program. To qualify, for the scholarship, a student must claim foreign citizenship.” PolitiFact, the nonpartisan, political fact-checking organization sponsored by the St. Petersburg Times, investigates the claim. AP spokesman Jack Stokes tells PolitiFact the story is not valid: “It is not an AP story,” he says. PolitiFact then performs Google and Lexis-Nexis searches, and finds no information on any such group named “Americans for Freedom of Information.” The story, PolitiFact notes, is dated April 1, 2009, April Fool’s Day. Occidental College official Jim Tranquada confirms that the school has not released Obama’s transcripts, because it has never received a request from Obama to do so, and unless it receives such a request, it cannot, under federal law, release the transcripts to anyone. Obama called himself “Barry” when he entered Occidental, but according to the recollections of friends and acquaintances, began calling himself “Barack” by the time he left. “Soetoro” is the name of Obama’s stepfather, with whom he lived in Indonesia while a small child. Tranquada confirms that Obama registered under the name “Obama” and not “Soetoro.” The email’s claim that Obama applied for a Fulbright scholarship cannot be verified by any records. (St. Petersburg Times 6/28/2010)
The non-partisan PolitiFact, an organization sponsored by the St. Petersburg Times, responds to a recent claim that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has approved a case challenging President Obama’s US citizenship (see October 31, 2008 and After). The claim comes from a chain email circulating around the Internet that purports to feature an Associated Press (AP) article titled, “Very Quietly Obama’s Citizenship Case Reaches the Supreme Court.” The article is not a legitimate AP creation, according to AP spokesperson Jack Stokes, and in fact is an April Fool’s Day joke. The email quotes the article as saying, “Under growing pressure from several groups, Justice Antonin Scalia announced that the Supreme Court agreed on Tuesday to hear arguments concerning Obama’s legal eligibility to serve as president in a case brought by Leo Donofrio of New Jersey.” Donofrio has indeed sued New Jersey Secretary of State Nina Wells in an attempt to block New Jersey’s certification of Obama’s presidential victory there in November 2008; Donofrio claimed that Obama has dual US-British citizenship and therefore is ineligible to be president. The case was turned down by the Supreme Court. PolitiFact notes that it takes four Justices, not one, to have the Court hear a case. In such an instance, the Court issues a “writ of certiorari,” sometimes referred to as “cert.” No individual justice ever makes such an announcement. Donofrio’s case first went to Justice David Souter, who denied the request. It then went to Justice Clarence Thomas, who submitted it to committee. The Court denied “cert” for the case. PolitiFact calls the claim “ridiculous and misleading.” (St. Petersburg Times 6/28/2010)
The Associated Press makes public for the first time the arrest of an Indonesian militant named Umar Patek in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on January 25, 2011. It will later turn out that Osama bin Laden is in hiding in Abbottabad at this time, and Patek may have been there to meet with him (see January 25, 2011). The Associated Press claims that the information was provided by Indonesian and Philippine intelligence officials one day earlier, and then it was confirmed by Pakistani officials before publication. (Gannon and Dozier 3/30/2011) News reports two weeks later even reveal that an “alleged al-Qaeda facilitator” and Abbottabad resident named Tahir Shehzad was arrested as well, after he gave up Patek’s location. Plus, it is reported that Shehzad had been monitored by Pakistani intelligence for a year before that. (Brummitt and Shahzad 4/14/2011; Karmini 4/14/2011)
Who Is to Blame? - Bin Laden does not immediately move from Abbottabad after these reports come out. After he is killed in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011), the Pakistani government will register displeasure that Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd confirmed the information about the arrest on March 30. But Rudd’s confirmation comes after the Associated Press article has been published. A Pakistani official will say that an attempt was made to keep the arrest a secret for fear that “subsequent leads would all go dead.”
No Reaction from Bin Laden? - The Australian will later note, “Many security experts have… expressed surprise that the leaking of Patek’s arrest in Abbottabad did not trigger alarm bells in the bin Laden compound and prompt [bin Laden] to flee the area.” (Hodge and Alford 5/6/2011)
Fox News talk show host Bill O’Reilly denies there were ever any racial connotations to the “birther” controversy surrounding President Obama’s US citizenship. On his show The O’Reilly Factor, O’Reilly notes that many “defenders of Obama labeled the whole thing racist,” and plays clips from MSNBC’s Ed Schultz, CBS’s Bob Schieffer, The View’s Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg (see April 27, 2011), MSNBC analyst Jonathan Alter, and BET host Tavis Smiley, many of them focusing on billionaire entrepeneur and television host Donald Trump and his pronouncements (see April 26, 2011, April 27, 2011, and April 27, 2011). O’Reilly’s guests, Fox analyst Alicia Menendez and Republican strategist Margaret Hoover, join in denouncing what Hoover calls “the most predictable” reactions imaginable from “the entire left.” Hoover says that liberals always cry “racist” when they want to criticize conservatives. Hoover does admit that Trump’s claims that Obama got into Ivy League schools due to affirmative action, and the “widespread movement to delegitimize the president to say he’s not American enough (see April 27, 2011), I think it’s not unrelated to race.” O’Reilly disagrees, saying that questions about Obama’s college career are different from “calling him out because of his skin color.” Trump may be “stoking the discomfort that some people have with [Obama’s] skin color,” Hoover says, a remark that draws a snort of derision from O’Reilly, who says he knows Trump well and does not believe he is a racist. Menendez, described by an on-screen chyron as a member of a “center-left think tank,” agrees with Hoover that some of the comments and charges leveled by “birthers” may aggravate the racial tensions that exist in America today. O’Reilly cuts her off and says he does not see “any of these racial confrontations in this country, and I do this every day.” He demands proof of her contention. “I’m not saying it’s just about Barack Obama,” Menendez says, “I’m saying it’s generally about people trying to figure out what to do with this change in America.” Menendez says that there is “some intertwining” between the birther controversy and racist attitudes, but calls the comments by Schulz and others “very radical and obscure the conversation we should be having.” O’Reilly calls the charges of racism “vicious,” and presses for agreement from both Hoover and Menendez. Menendez attempts to qualify, calling the charges a response to “a vicious and hateful thing coming out of the right. And there were very few people like you who were being honest and calling it what it was.” O’Reilly says that the “bad behavior” from the right does not justify “bad behavior” from the left. He says the charges that “the birth certificate was phony” had no connection to racism at all, and continues to lambast “the left” for trying to tie racism into the controversy. Menendez asks if O’Reilly believes that “it was just coincidental” that Obama, the first African-American president, was targeted as not “being a real American” by right-wing opponents. “That’s just a weird coincidence,” she says. O’Reilly says the entire controversy was “borne out of hatred for the man.… The people who hate Barack Obama will latch on to anything. It’s not because of his skin color.” O’Reilly concludes that the “far left” did not act “in a responsible way” in challenging the controversy “as we did [presumably referring to his show]. We just took it apart” (see July 29, 2009). (Media Matters 4/28/2011) An Associated Press analysis has found that the “birther” controversy was fueled in large part by racism (see April 27, 2011), and liberals (see April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 28, 2011, and April 28, 2011), moderates (see April 27, 2011), and conservatives (see April 27, 2011) alike have decried the racism at the heart of “birtherism.” Author John Avlon has said that “birthers” will never give up their conspiracy theories because even Republicans who disbelieve the claims and do not themselves harbor racist beliefs will not denounce the claims and the racism behind them (see April 28, 2011). Some conservative media outlets, including Fox News, are launching a new series of attacks on Obama through his father, vilifying the senior Obama because of his alleged “penchant” for “white women” (see April 28, 2011, April 29, 2011, and April 29, 2011). And conservative radio host Laura Ingraham says the release of the “long form” certificate “proves” Obama intends to make his re-election bid about race (see April 28, 2011).
The nonpartisan FactCheck.org finds that recent claims by presidential candidate Newt Gingrich (R-GA) that “more people have been put on food stamps by Barack Obama than any president in American history” are wrong. In fact, far more Americans were added to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) rolls under President George W. Bush than under Obama. Gingrich has made the claim in a number of political speeches (see November 30 - December 2, 2011 and January 5, 2012), but his reiteration of the claim during a recent Republican debate in South Carolina has drawn a great deal of media attention (see January 16, 2012). FactCheck finds: “Gingrich would have been correct to say the number now on food aid is historically high. The number stood at 46,224,722 persons as of October, the most recent month on record. And it’s also true that the number has risen sharply since Obama took office. But Gingrich goes too far to say Obama has put more on the rolls than other presidents.” Information from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA)‘s Food and Nutrition Service going back to January 2001 “show[s] that under President George W. Bush the number of recipients rose by nearly 14.7 million. Nothing before comes close to that.” Moreover, “the program has so far grown by 444,574 fewer recipients during Obama’s time in office than during Bush’s.” The trend in recent months has been for the number of food-stamp recipients to decline, another fact Gingrich fails to note. FactCheck finds that the rise in the number of Americans on food stamps—currently one out of seven—began during the second term of the Bush presidency. “In the 12 months before Obama was sworn in, 4.4 million were added to the rolls, triple the 1.4 million added in 2007,” the organization writes. “To be sure, Obama is responsible for some portion of the increase since then. The stimulus bill he signed in 2009 increased benefit levels, making the program more attractive. A family of four saw an increase of $80 per month, for example.… The stimulus also made more people eligible. Able-bodied jobless adults without dependents could get benefits for longer than three months.” Part of the reason for the higher number of recipients under Obama is the new outreach to eligible citizens by state governments, according to the USDA; many state governments have worked harder to inform eligible citizens of their right to apply for government assistance, and have reduced the amount of information that claimants must provide to receive assistance. FactCheck concludes: “We don’t argue that the program is either too large (as Gingrich does) or too small. It has certainly reached a historically high level, and may or may not grow even larger in the months to come. But the plain fact is that the growth started long before Obama took office, and participation grew more under Bush.” And it quotes the USDA’s Kevin Concannon, who recently told a Wall Street Journal reporter, “I realize Mr. Gingrich is a historian, but I’m not sure he’d get very high marks on that paper.” (Jackson 1/17/2012) CBS News notes that the White House has called Gingrich’s claims “crazy,” and finds: “While the number of people on food stamps is indeed at a record level, that’s in part because of eligibility rules being relaxed under the administration of George W. Bush. It’s also due in part to the economic downturn that began under Mr. Bush.… [T]hat percentage increase hardly makes Obama the ‘best food stamp president in American history,’ at least when you look at the question proportionally. The percent increase in beneficiaries during Mr. Bush’s presidency was higher than it has been under Mr. Obama: The number of beneficiaries went from 17.3 million in 2001 to 28.2 million in 2008—an increase of 63 percent in years that are mostly considered non-recessionary.” (Hughes 1/17/2012) US News and World Report agrees with FactCheck, finding that “SNAP participation has been on the rise since well before President Obama took office. Nearly 17.2 million people in FY 2000 participated in the program, a figure that increased by nearly 64 percent by 2008.” (Kurtzleben 1/17/2012) The Associated Press accuses Gingrich of distorting the facts and notes: “It’s gotten easier to qualify for food stamps in the past decade but that is because of measures taken before Obama became president. It’s true that the number of people on food stamps is now at a record level. That’s due mainly to the ailing economy, which Republicans blame on Obama, as well as rising food costs. The worst downturn since the Great Depression wiped out 8.7 million jobs, pushed the unemployment rate to a peak of 10 percent in October 2009, and increased poverty.” (Associated Press 1/17/2012) The nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has found that SNAP is a critical element in keeping poverty-stricken Americans, particularly children and the elderly, from starving during the economic recession (see January 9, 2012).
Investigative journalist Robert Parry speaks at a conference in Heidelberg, Germany concerning the progression of journalism from the 1970s to the present. Parry tells the gathering that American investigative journalism may have hit something of a zenith in the 1970s, with the media exposure of the Pentagon Papers (see March 1971) and the Watergate scandal (see August 8, 1974). “That was a time when US journalism perhaps was at its best, far from perfect, but doing what the Founders had in mind when they afforded special protections to the American press,” he says. “In the 1970s, besides the Pentagon Papers and Watergate, there were other important press disclosures, like the My Lai massacre story and the CIA abuses—from Iran to Guatemala, from Cuba to Chile. For people around the world, American journalism was the gold standard. Granted, that was never the full picture. There were shortcomings even in the 1970s. You also could argue that the US news media’s performance then was exceptional mostly in contrast to its failures during the Cold War, when reporters tended to be stenographers to power, going along to get along, including early in the Vietnam War.” However, those days are long past, Parry notes, and in recent years, American journalism has, he says, gone “terribly wrong.” Parry says that the American press was subjected to an orchestrated program of propaganda and manipulation on a par with what the CIA did in many foreign countries: “Think how the CIA would target a country with the goal of shoring up a wealthy oligarchy. The agency might begin by taking over influential media outlets or starting its own. It would identify useful friends and isolate troublesome enemies. It would organize pro-oligarchy political groups. It would finance agit-prop specialists skilled at undermining and discrediting perceived enemies. If the project were successful, you would expect the oligarchy to consolidate its power, to get laws written in its favor. And eventually the winners would take a larger share of the nation’s wealth. And what we saw in the late 1970s and early 1980s in the United States was something like the behavior of an embattled oligarchy. Nixon’s embittered allies and the Right behaved as if they were following a CIA script. They built fronts; they took over and opened new media outlets; they spread propaganda; they discredited people who got in the way; ultimately, they consolidated power; they changed laws in their favor; and—over the course of several decades—they made themselves even richer, indeed a lot richer, and that, in turn, has translated into even more power.”
Building a Base - Right-wing billionaires such as the Koch brothers (see 1979-1980) and Richard Mellon Scaife, along with Nixon-era figures such as former Treasury Secretary William Simon (a Wall Street investment banker who ran the right-wing Olin Foundation) worked to organize conservative foundations; their money went into funding what Parry calls “right-wing media… right-wing think tanks… [and] right-wing attack groups. Some of these attack groups were set up to go after troublesome reporters.” Parry finds it ironic, in light of the CIA’s interference in the affairs of other nations, that two foreign media moguls, Sun Myung Moon and Rupert Murdoch, were key figures in building and financing this conservative media construct. Some media outlets, such as Fox News (see Summer 1970 and October 7, 1996), were created from scratch, while others, such as the venerable and formerly liberal New Republic, were bought out and taken over by conservatives. When Ronald Reagan ascended to the White House, Parry says, he brought along with him “a gifted team of [public relations] and ad men.” Vice President George H.W. Bush, a former CIA director, enabled access to that agency’s propaganda professionals. And Reagan named William Casey to head the CIA; Casey, a former Nixon administration official, was “obsessed [with] the importance of deception and propaganda,” Parry says. “Casey understood that he who controlled the flow of information had a decisive advantage in any conflict.”
Two-Pronged Attack - Two key sources of information for Washington media insiders were targeted, Parry says: the “fiercely independent” CIA analytical division, whose analyses had so often proven damaging to White House plans when reported, and the “unruly” Washington press corps. Casey targeted the CIA analysts, placing his young assistant, Robert Gates, in charge of the analytical division; Gates’s reorganization drove many troublesome analysts into early retirement, to be replaced with more malleable analysts who would echo the White House’s hard line against “Soviet expansionism.” Another Casey crony, Walter Raymond Jr., worked to corral the Washington press corps from his position on the National Security Council. Raymond headed an interagency task force that ostensibly spread “good news” about American policies in the foreign press, but in reality worked to smear and besmirch American journalists who the White House found troubling. According to Parry, “Secret government documents that later emerged in the Iran-Contra scandal revealed that Raymond’s team worked aggressively and systematically to lobby news executives and turn them against their reporters when the reporters dug up information that clashed with Reagan’s propaganda, especially in hot spots like Central America.” It was easy to discredit female journalists in Central America, Parry says; Raymond’s team would spread rumors that they were secretly having sexual liaisons with Communist officials. Other reporters were dismissed as “liberals,” a label that many news executives were eager to avoid. Working through the news executives was remarkably successful, Parry says, and it was not long before many Washington reporters were either brought to heel or marginalized.
'Perception Management' - Reagan’s team called its domestic propaganda scheme “perception management.” Parry says: “The idea was that if you could manage how the American people perceived events abroad, you could not only insure their continued support of the foreign policy, but in making the people more compliant domestically. A frightened population is much easier to control. Thus, if you could manage the information flows inside the government and inside the Washington press corps, you could be more confident that there would be no more Vietnam-style protests. No more Pentagon Papers. No more My Lai massacre disclosures. No more Watergates.” The New York Times and Washington Post, the newspapers that had led the surge of investigative reporting in the 1970s, were effectively muzzled during the Reagan era; Parry says that the two papers “became more solicitous to the Establishment than they were committed to the quality journalism that had contributed to the upheavals of the 1960s and 1970s.” The same happened at the Associated Press (AP), where Parry had attempted, with limited success, to dig into the Reagan administration’s Central American policies, policies that would eventually crystallize into the Iran-Contra scandal (see May 5, 1987). Few newspapers followed the lead of AP reporters such as Parry and Brian Barger until late 1986, when the Hasenfus air crash provided a news story that editors could no longer ignore (see October 5, 1986). But, Parry says, by the time of the Iran-Contra hearings, few news providers, including the Associated Press, had the stomach for another scandal that might result in another impeachment, particularly in light of the relentless pressure coming from the Reagan administration and its proxies. By June 1990, Parry says he understood “the concept of ‘perception management’ had carried the day in Washington, with remarkably little resistance from the Washington press corps.… Washington journalists had reverted to their pre-Vietnam, pre-Watergate inability to penetrate important government secrets in a significant way.” The process accelerated after 9/11, Parry says: “[M]any journalists reverted back their earlier roles as stenographers to power. They also became cheerleaders for a misguided war in Iraq. Indeed, you can track the arc of modern American journalism from its apex at the Pentagon Papers and Watergate curving downward to that center point of Iran-Contra before reaching the nadir of Bush’s war in Iraq. Journalists found it hard even to challenge Bush when he was telling obvious lies. For instance, in June 2003, as the search for WMD came up empty, Bush began to tell reporters that he had no choice but to invade because Saddam Hussein had refused to let UN inspectors in. Though everyone knew that Hussein had let the inspectors in and that it was Bush who had forced them to leave in March 2003, not a single reporter confronted Bush on this lie, which he repeated again and again right through his exit interviews in 2008” (see November 2002-March 2003, November 25, 2002, December 2, 2002, December 5, 2002, January 9, 2003, March 7, 2003, and March 17, 2003).
The Wikileaks Era and the 'Fawning Corporate Media' - Parry says that now, the tough-minded independent media has been all but supplanted by what former CIA analyst Ray McGovern calls the “Fawning Corporate Media.” This has increased public distrust of the media, which has led to people seeking alternative investigative and reporting methods. Parry comments that much of the real investigative journalism happening now is the product of non-professionals working outside the traditional media structure, such as Wikileaks (see February 15, 2007, 2008, and April 18, 2009). However, the independent media have not demonstrated they can reach the level of influence of institutions like the Washington Post and the New York Times. “[I]f we were assessing how well the post-Watergate CIA-style covert operation worked,” Parry says, “we’d have to conclude that it was remarkably successful. Even after George W. Bush took the United States to war in Iraq under false pretenses and even after he authorized the torture of detainees in the ‘war on terror,’ no one involved in those decisions has faced any accountability at all. When high-flying Wall Street bankers brought the world’s economy to its knees with risky gambles in 2008, Western governments used trillions of dollars in public moneys to bail the bankers out. But not one senior banker faced prosecution.… Another measure of how the post-Watergate counteroffensive succeeded would be to note how very well America’s oligarchy had done financially in the past few decades. Not only has political power been concentrated in their hands, but the country’s wealth, too.… So, a sad but—I think—fair conclusion would be that at least for the time being, perception management has won out over truth. But the struggle over information and democracy has entered another new and unpredictable phase.” (Parry 5/15/2012)
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