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“[B]arely five hours after American Airlines Flight 77 plowed into the Pentagon, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was telling his aides to come up with plans for striking Iraq—even though there was no evidence linking Saddam Hussein to the attacks… . With the intelligence all pointing toward bin Laden, Rumsfeld ordered the military to begin working on strike plans….. Now, nearly one year later, there is still very little evidence Iraq was involved in the Sept. 11 attacks. But if these notes are accurate, that didn’t matter to Rumsfeld.” [CBS News, 9/4/2002]
A federal court, issuing a ruling in the case of New York Times Company v. United States (see June 15, 1971), refuses to order the Times to turn over its copy of the Pentagon Papers for government inspection, saying that it will not authorize a government fishing expedition into the files of any newspaper. (Herda 1994) The court’s decision is overruled the next day, but by this point it is, for all intents and purposes, too late. The Washington Post prints its second installment and releases the article to the 341 newspapers that subscribe to its national news service. Within hours, newspapers across the country are publishing the Post excerpts. Daniel Ellsberg, who originally leaked the documents to the Times (see March 1971), is secretly traveling around the country, making the documents available to other news outlets. (Ellsberg is so successful at staying hidden that he is interviewed by CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite for a June 23 news special without the FBI being able to find him. Ellsberg will eventually surrender himself to the police (see June 28, 1971).) (Reeves 2001, pp. 335-336)
Former White House counsel John Dean, continuing his testimony before the Senate Watergate Committee (see June 25-29, 1973), provides a sheaf of documents to the committee. Among those is the “Opponents List and Political Enemies Project,” informally called President Nixon’s “enemies list.” The list is actually a set of documents “several inches thick” of names and information about Nixon’s political enemies. It was compiled by a number of administration officials, including Dean, White House aides Charles Colson, Gordon Strachan, and Lyn Nofziger, beginning in 1971. One of the documents from August 16, 1971, has Dean suggesting ways in which “we can use the available federal machinery to screw our political enemies.” Methods proposed included administration manipulation of “grant availability, federal contracts, litigation, prosecution, etc.” The Dean memo was given to then-chief of staff H. R. Haldeman and top White House aide John Ehrlichman for approval. Though Dean testifies that he does not know if the plan was set into motion, subsequent documents submitted to the committee indicate that it was indeed implemented. A condensed list of 20 “White House enemies” was produced by Colson’s office; a larger list included ten Democratic senators, all 12 black House members, over 50 news and television reporters, prominent businessmen, labor leaders, and entertainers, and contributors to the 1972 presidential campaign of Democratic senator Edmund Muskie. The condensed list includes, in priority order:
“1. Arnold M. Picker, United Artists Corp., NY. Top Muskie fund raiser. Success here could be both debilitating and very embarrassing to the Muskie machine. If effort looks promising, both Ruth and David Picker should be programmed and then a follow through with United Artists.”
“2. Alexander E. Barkan, national director of AFL-CIO’s committee on Political Education, Washington D.C.: Without a doubt the most powerful political force programmed against us in 1968 ($10 million, 4.6 million votes, 115 million pamphlets, 176,000 workers—all programmed by Barkan’s COPE—so says Teddy White in The Making of the President 1968). We can expect the same effort this time.”
“3. Ed Guthman, managing editor, Los Angeles Times: Guthman, former Kennedy aide, was a highly sophisticated hatchetman against us in ‘68. It is obvious he is the prime mover behind the current Key Biscayne effort. It is time to give him the message.”
“4. Maxwell Dane, Doyle, Dane and Bernbach, NY: The top Democratic advertising firm—they destroyed Goldwater in ‘64. They should be hit hard starting with Dane.”
“5. Charles Dyson, Dyson-Kissner Corp., NY: Dyson and [Democratic National Committee chairman] Larry O’Brien were close business associates after ‘68. Dyson has huge business holdings and is presently deeply involved in the Businessmen’s Educational Fund which bankrolls a national radio network of five-minute programs—anti-Nixon in character.”
“6. Howard Stein, Dreyfus Corp., NY: Heaviest contributor to [Democratic presidential candidate Eugene] McCarthy in ‘68. If McCarthy goes, will do the same in ‘72. If not, Lindsay or McGovern will receive the funds.”
“7. [US Representative] Allard Lowenstein, Long Island, NY: Guiding force behind the 18-year-old ‘Dump Nixon’ vote campaign.”
“8. Morton Halperin, leading executive at Common Cause: A scandal would be most helpful here.”
“9. Leonard Woodcock, UAW, Detroit, Mich.: No comments necessary.”
“10. S. Sterling Munro Jr., Sen. [Henry Jackson’s aide, Silver Spring, Md: We should give him a try. Positive results would stick a pin in Jackson’s white hat.”
“11. Bernard T. Feld, president, Council for a Livable World: Heavy far left funding. They will program an ‘all court press’ against us in ‘72.”
“12. Sidney Davidoff, New York City, [New York City Mayor John V.] Lindsay’s top personal aide: a first class SOB, wheeler-dealer and suspected bagman. Positive results would really shake the Lindsay camp and Lindsay’s plans to capture youth vote. Davidoff in charge.”
“13. John Conyers, congressman, Detroit: Coming on fast. Emerging as a leading black anti-Nixon spokesman. Has known weakness for white females.”
“14. Samuel M. Lambert, president, National Education Association: Has taken us on vis-a-vis federal aid to parochial schools—a ‘72 issue.” (Facts on File 6/2003) Committee chairman Sam Ervin (D-NC) is clearly outraged by the list, and particularly by Lambert’s inclusion. He says, “Here is a man listed among the opponents whose only offense is that he believed in the First Amendment and shared Thomas Jefferson’s conviction, as expressed in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, that to compel a man to make contributions of money for the dissemination of religious opinions he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical. Isn’t that true?” Dean replies, “I cannot disagree with the chairman at all.” (Time 7/9/1973)
“15. Stewart Rawlings Mott, Mott Associates, NY: Nothing but big money for radic-lib candidates.”
“16. Ronald Dellums, congressman, Calif: Had extensive [Edward M. Kennedy] EMK-Tunney support in his election bid. Success might help in California next year.”
“17. Daniel Schorr, Columbia Broadcasting System, Washington: A real media enemy.”
“18. S. Harrison Dogole, Philadelphia, Pa: President of Globe Security Systems—fourth largest private detective agency in US. Heavy Humphrey [former presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey] contributor. Could program his agency against us.”
“19. [Actor] Paul Newman, Calif: Radic-lib causes. Heavy McCarthy involvement ‘68. Used effectively in nation wide TV commercials. ‘72 involvement certain.”
“20. Mary McGrory, Washington columnist: Daily hate Nixon articles.”
Another “master list” of political enemies prepared by Colson’s office includes Democratic senators Birch Bayh, J. W. Fulbright, Fred R. Harris, Harold Hughes, Edward M. Kennedy, George McGovern, Walter Mondale, Edmund Muskie, Gaylord Nelson, and William Proxmire; House representatives Bella Abzug, William R. Anderson, John Brademas, Father Robert F. Drinan, Robert Kastenmeier, Wright Patman; African-American representatives Shirley Chisholm, William Clay, George Collins, John Conyers, Ronald Dellums, Charles Diggs, Augustus Hawkins, Ralph Metcalfe, Robert N.C. Nix, Parren Mitchell, Charles Rangel, Louis Stokes; and several other politicians, including Lindsay, McCarthy, and George Wallace, the governor of Alabama (see May 15, 1972). The list also includes an array of liberal, civil rights and antiwar organizations, including the Black Panthers, the Brookings Institution, Common Cause, the Farmers Union, the National Economic Council, the National Education Association, the National Welfare Rights Organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Convention; a variety of labor organizations; many reporters, columnists, and other news figures; a short list of celebrities including Bill Cosby, Jane Fonda, Dick Gregory, Steve McQueen, Joe Namath, Gregory Peck, Tony Randall, and Barbra Streisand; and a huge list of businessmen and academics. The documents provide suggestions for avenues of attack against individual listees, including using “income tax discrepancies,” allegations of Communist connections, and other information. (Facts on File 6/2003) In 1999, Schorr will joke that being on Nixon’s enemies list “changed my life a great deal. It increased my lecture fee, got me invited to lots of very nice dinners. It was so wonderful that one of my colleagues that I will not mention, but a very important man at CBS, said, ‘Why you, Schorr? Why couldn’t it have been me on the enemies list?’” (CNN 3/27/1999) Schorr does not mention that he was the subject of an FBI investigation because of his listing. (Spartacus Schoolnet 8/2007)
A House of Representatives committee, popularly known as the Pike Committee after its chairman, Otis Pike (D-NY), investigates questionable US intelligence activities. The committee operates in tandem with the Senate’s investigation of US intelligence activities, the Church Committee (see April, 1976). Pike, a decorated World War II veteran, runs a more aggressive—some say partisan—investigation than the more deliberate and politically balanced Church Committee, and receives even less cooperation from the White House than does the Church investigation. After a contentious year-long investigation marred by inflammatory accusations and charges from both sides, Pike refuses demands from the CIA to redact huge portions of the report, resulting in an accusation from CIA legal counsel Mitchell Rogovin that the report is an “unrelenting indictment couched in biased, pejorative and factually erroneous terms.” Rogovin also tells the committee’s staff director, Searle Field, “Pike will pay for this, you wait and see…. There will be a political retaliation…. We will destroy him for this.” (It is hard to know exactly what retaliation will be carried out against Pike, who will resign from Congress in 1978.)
Battle to Release Report - On January 23, 1976, the investigative committee voted along party lines to release the report unredacted, sparking a tremendous outcry among Republicans, who are joined by the White House and CIA Director William Colby in an effort to suppress the report altogether. On January 26, the committee’s ranking Republican, Robert McCory, makes a speech saying that the report, if released, would endanger national security. On January 29, the House votes 246 to 124 not to release the report until it “has been certified by the President as not containing information which would adversely affect the intelligence activities of the CIA.” A furious Pike retorts, “The House just voted not to release a document it had not read. Our committee voted to release a document it had read.” Pike threatens not to release the report at all because “a report on the CIA in which the CIA would do the final rewrite would be a lie.” The report will never be released, though large sections of it will be leaked within days to reporter Daniel Schorr of the Village Voice, and printed in that newspaper. Schorr himself will be suspended from his position with CBS News and investigated by the House Ethics Committee (Schorr will refuse to disclose his source, and the committee will eventually decide, on a 6-5 vote, not to bring contempt of Congress charges against him). (Spartacus Educational 2/16/2006) The New York Times will follow suit and print large portions of the report as well. The committee was led by liberal Democrats such as Pike and Ron Dellums (D-CA), who said even before the committee first met, “I think this committee ought to come down hard and clear on the side of stopping any intelligence agency in this country from utilizing, corrupting, and prostituting the media, the church, and our educational system.” The entire investigation is marred by a lack of cooperation from the White House and the CIA. (Haines 1/20/2003)
Final Draft Accuses White House, CIA of 'Stonewalling,' Deception - The final draft of the report says that the cooperation from both entities was “virtually nonexistent,” and accuses both of practicing “foot dragging, stonewalling, and deception” in their responses to committee requests for information. CIA archivist and historian Gerald Haines will later write that the committee was thoroughly deceived by Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who officially cooperated with the committee but, according to Haines, actually “worked hard to undermine its investigations and to stonewall the release of documents to it.” (Spartacus Educational 2/16/2006) The final report accuses White House officials of only releasing the information it wanted to provide and ignoring other requests entirely. One committee member says that trying to get information out of Colby and other CIA officials was like “pulling teeth.” For his part, Colby considers Pike a “jackass” and calls his staff “a ragtag, immature, and publicity-seeking group.” The committee is particularly unsuccessful in obtaining information about the CIA’s budget and expenditures, and in its final report, observes that oversight of the CIA budget is virtually nonexistent. Its report is harsh in its judgments of the CIA’s effectiveness in a number of foreign conflicts, including the 1973 Mideast war, the 1968 Tet offensive in Vietnam, the 1974 coups in Cyprus and Portugal, the 1974 testing of a nuclear device by India, and the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviet Union, all of which the CIA either got wrong or failed to predict. The CIA absolutely refused to provide any real information to either committee about its involvement in, among other foreign escapades, its attempt to influence the 1972 elections in Italy, covert actions in Angola, and covert aid to Iraqi Kurds from 1972 through 1975. The committee found that covert actions “were irregularly approved, sloppily implemented, and, at times, had been forced on a reluctant CIA by the President and his national security advisers.” Indeed, the Pike Committee’s final report lays more blame on the White House than the CIA for its illegal actions, with Pike noting that “the CIA does not go galloping off conducting operations by itself…. The major things which are done are not done unilaterally by the CIA without approval from higher up the line.… We did find evidence, upon evidence, upon evidence where the CIA said: ‘No, don’t do it.’ The State Department or the White House said, ‘We’re going to do it.’ The CIA was much more professional and had a far deeper reading on the down-the-road implications of some immediately popular act than the executive branch or administration officials.… The CIA never did anything the White House didn’t want. Sometimes they didn’t want to do what they did.” (Haines 1/20/2003)
Roger Ailes, a former media consultant to the Nixon administration (see Summer 1970), comes up with a bold plan to help his new client, Vice President George H.W. Bush, who is running for president. Bush is neck-deep in the Iran-Contra scandal (see Before July 28, 1986, August 6, 1987, and December 25, 1992) and, as reporter Tim Dickinson will later write, comes across as “effete” in comparison to his predecessor Ronald Reagan. Ailes decides to use an interview with combative CBS News reporter Dan Rather to bolster his client’s image. Ailes insists that the interview be done live, instead of in the usual format of being recorded and then edited for broadcast. Dickinson will later write, “That not only gave the confrontation the air of a prizefight—it enabled Ailes himself to sit just off-camera in Bush’s office, prompting his candidate with cue cards.” Rather is in the CBS studio in New York and has no idea Ailes is coaching Bush. As planned, Bush begins the interview aggressively, falsely accusing Rather of misleading him by focusing the interview on Iran-Contra. (It is true that CBS had not informed the Bush team that it would air a report on the Iran-Contra investigation as a lead-in to the Bush interview, a scheduling that some in the Bush team see as a “bait-and-switch.”) When Rather begins to press Bush, Ailes flashes a cue card: “walked off the air.” This is a set piece that Bush and Ailes have worked out beforehand, based on an embarrassing incident in Rather’s recent past, when Rather angrily walked off the CBS set after learning that his newscast had been pre-empted by a women’s tennis match. Clenching his fist, Ailes mouths at Bush: “Go! Go! Just kick his ass!” Bush fires his rejoinder: “It’s not fair to judge my whole career by a rehash on Iran. How would you like it if I judged your career by those seven minutes when you walked off the set?” In their 1989 book The Acting President: Ronald Reagan and the Supporting Players Who Helped Him Create the Illusion That Held America Spellbound, CBS host Bob Schieffer and co-author Gary Paul Gates will write: “What people in the bureau and viewers at home could not see was that the response had not been entirely spontaneous. As the interview progressed, the crafty Ailes had stationed himself beside the camera. If Bush seemed to be struggling for a response, Ailes would write out a key word in huge letters on his yellow legal pad and hold it just beneath the camera in Bush’s line of vision. Just before Bush had shouted that it was not fair to judge his career on Iran, Ailes had written out on his legal pad the words.… Three times during the interview, Bush’s answer had come after Ailes had prompted him with key words or phrases scribbled on the legal pad.” Dickinson will later write: “It was the mother of all false equivalencies: the fleeting petulance of a news anchor pitted against the high crimes of a sitting vice president. But it worked as TV.” Ailes’s colleague Roger Stone, who worked with Ailes on the 1968 Nixon campaign, will later say of the interview: “That bite of Bush telling Rather off played over and over and over again. It was a perfect example of [Ailes] understanding the news cycle, the dynamics of the situation, and the power of television.” (Associated Press 7/6/1989; Noyes 1/25/2008; Dickinson 5/25/2011) After the interview is concluded, Bush leaps to his feet and, with the microphone still live, says: “The b_stard didn’t lay a glove on me.… Tell your g_ddamned network that if they want to talk to me to raise their hands at a press conference. No more Mr. Inside stuff after that.” The unexpected aggression from Bush helps solidify his standing with hardline Republicans. The interview gives more “proof” to those same hardliners that the media is hopelessly liberal, “their” candidates cannot expect to be treated fairly, and that the only way for them to “survive” encounters with mainstream media figures is through aggression and intimidation. (Salon 1/26/2011) Conservative commentator Rich Noyes will write in 2008 that Bush’s jab at Rather exposed the reporter’s “liberal bias,” though he will fail to inform his readers of Ailes’s off-camera coaching. (Noyes 1/25/2008)
Former White House counsel John Dean, shocked by allegations that he was behind the Watergate burglary in an attempt to prove that Democrats were involved in a prostitution ring (see May 6, 1991), calls Hays Gorey, a reporter with Time magazine who co-authored a book with Dean’s wife Maureen about her experiences during Watergate. Gorey is shocked that Time is considering running an article on the allegations without conferring with him, as Gorey had anchored much of Time’s Watergate coverage at the time. Both he and Dean are stunned to see that Maureen Dean is accused of being connected to the so-called prostitution ring; Gorey calls the allegations complete fantasy. Gorey learns that Time has secured the rights to print portions of the not-yet-published book making the allegations, Silent Coup. Dean later writes that his wife finds the allegations “laughable,” and is completely certain that her former roommate, Heidi Rikan, never ran any prostitution ring, as the book alleges. She has no knowledge of an attorney named Philip Macklin Bailey, whom, the book’s authors claim, was connected to the supposed prostitution ring, and had her name as well as Dean’s in his address book. By the end of the day, the producers of CBS’s 60 Minutes have decided not to air a segment on the book, as neither the authors nor the book’s publisher can provide any proof of their allegations. Bailey is “unavailable” and the authors either cannot or will not provide any documentation to back up their claims. Time, however, still intends to publish an excerpt from the book and a review. Time’s editors ask Gorey to interview Dean for a sidebar article; by this point, Gorey has talked to numerous members of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) from 1972, and they all say that the allegation of the DNC either operating or patronizing a prostitution ring is absolute fiction. (One former DNC official tells Gorey that had the committee patronized such a ring, he would have been a regular customer.) Gorey loans Dean his advance copy of the book, and after skimming over it, Dean, writing in 2006, concludes that the book is “filled with false or misleading information. All the hard evidence (the information developed by government investigators and prosecutors) that conflicted with this invented story was simply omitted.” Dean and Gorey both wonder why St. Martin’s Press and Time believe they can publish such outlandish accusations without facing lawsuits. (Dean 2006, pp. xvii-xviii)
Former White House counsel John Dean, who served prison time for his complicity in the Watergate conspiracy (see September 3, 1974), receives an early morning phone call from CBS reporter Mike Wallace. Dean has tried to keep a low public profile for over a decade, focusing on his career in mergers and acquisitions and staying out of politics. Wallace wants Dean’s reaction to a not-yet-published book by Leonard Colodny and Robert Gettlin, Silent Coup, which advances a very different theory about the Watergate affair than is generally accepted. According to Dean’s own writing and a Columbia Journalism Review article about the book, the book’s allegations are as follows:
Richard Nixon was guilty of nothing except being a dupe. Instead, Dean is the mastermind behind the Watergate conspiracy. Dean became involved both to find embarrassing sexual information on the Democrats and to protect his girlfriend, Maureen “Mo” Biner (later his wife), who is supposedly listed in a notebook linked to a prostitution ring operating out of the Watergate Hotel. This alleged prostitution ring was, the authors assert, patronized or even operated by officials of the Democratic Party. Dean never told Nixon about the prostitution ring, instead concocting an elaborate skein of lies to fool the president. According to the authors, Dean’s wife Maureen knew all about the call girl ring through her then-roommate, Heidi Rikan, whom the authors claim was actually a “madame” named Cathy Dieter. The address book belonged to a lawyer involved in the prostitution ring, Philip Macklin Bailey.
According to the book, the other schemer involved in Watergate was Nixon’s chief of staff Alexander Haig. Haig wanted to conceal his role as part of a military network spying on Nixon and his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger (see December 1971). Haig orchestrated the titular “silent coup” to engineer Nixon’s removal from office.
Haig was the notorious “Deep Throat,” the inside source for Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward (see May 31, 2005). Far from being a crusading young reporter, Woodward is, the book alleges, a “sleazy journalist” trying to cover up his background in military intelligence. Woodward had a strong, if covert, working relationship with Haig. (Weinberg 11/1991; Dean 2006, pp. xv-xvii)
During the phone call, Wallace tells Dean, “According to Silent Coup, you, sir, John Dean, are the real mastermind of the Watergate break-ins, and you ordered these break-ins because you were apparently seeking sexual dirt on the Democrats, which you learned about from your then girlfriend, now wife, Maureen.” Wallace says that the book alleges that Dean had a secretive relationship with E. Howard Hunt, one of the planners of the Watergate burglary. Dean replies that he had little contact with Hunt during their White House careers, and calls the entire set of allegations “pure bullsh_t.” He continues: “Mike, I’m astounded. This sounds like a sick joke.” Wallace says that the authors and publisher, St. Martin’s Press, claim Dean was interviewed for the book, but Dean says no one has approached him about anything related to this book until this phone call. Dean says he is willing to refute the book’s claims on Wallace’s 60 Minutes, but wants to read it first. CBS cannot give Dean a copy of the book due to a confidentiality agreement. (Dean 2006, pp. xv-xvii) Dean will succeed in convincing Time’s publishers not to risk a lawsuit by excerpting the book (see May 7, 1991), and will learn that the book was co-authored behind the scenes by Watergate burglar and conservative gadfly G. Gordon Liddy (see May 9, 1991 and After). The book will be published weeks later, where it will briefly make the New York Times bestseller list (see May 1991) and garner largely negative reviews (see June 1991).
The authors of the upcoming book Silent Coup, Leonard Colodny and Robert Gettlin, are interviewed on CBS’s Good Morning America. The book alleges that former White House counsel John Dean masterminded the Watergate burglary (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) to prove that Democrats were operating a prostitution ring, and that Dean’s wife Maureen had inside knowledge of the prostitution ring (see May 6, 1991). Dean has already convinced CBS’s flagship news program, 60 Minutes, not to air a segment on the book, and convinced Time magazine not to excerpt the book in its upcoming issue (see May 7, 1991). Dean says the book is false to the point of libel (see May 6, 1991). Dean has informed the Good Morning America producers of his intention to sue both the authors and the publisher of the book. Reflecting on the affair in his 2006 book Conservatives Without Conscience, Dean writes: “[W]e had mortally wounded the book and destroyed the carefully planned launch, which might had given the story credibility. Now it would be difficult to treat Silent Coup as legitimate news.” Dean recalls being less than impressed with the authors as they discuss their book with Good Morning America’s anchor, Charles Gibson. Colodny, whom Dean will describe as “a retired liquor salesman and conspiracy buff,” and Gettlin, “a journalist,” appear “tense.” Gibson does not believe their story, Dean observes. Gibson skims past the material concerning Dean and his wife, and focuses on the equally specious allegations about Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward (supposedly a CIA agent) and then-White House chief of staff Alexander Haig (who supposedly planned the “coup” of the title that forced Richard Nixon out of office). (Dean 2006, pp. xix-xx)
Silent Coup authors Leonard Colodny and Robert Gettlin (see May 6, 1991 and May 6, 1991) appear on CNN’s Larry King Live. Defending themselves from charges by former White House counsel John Dean that they have libeled him and his wife Maureen (see May 7, 1991), the authors deny any allegations against Maureen Dean even though their book claims that she is the key to understanding the entire Watergate conspiracy. Halfway through the show, Dean will write, the authors “disappear… without explanation, as if snatched from their seats by hooks.” They are replaced by Washington Post reporter Howard Kurtz and convicted Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy. Liddy falsely claims that John Dean and others named in the book, particularly Post reporter Bob Woodward and former White House chief of staff Alexander Haig, refused to appear on 60 Minutes to refute the charges by Colodny and Gettlin. Liddy also lies about Time magazine’s decision not to excerpt the book, saying that the book is “so densely packed that it did not lend itself to being excerpted, and they felt that they couldn’t do it.” In reality, Dean, Woodward, and Haig had all agreed to appear on 60 Minutes to refute the book; CBS pulled the segment because the authors could not prove any of their sensational claims about prostitution rings and CIA manipulations. Time chose not to print the excerpt after Dean alerted them that he was filing lawsuits against the authors and the publisher, St. Martin’s Press. 60 Minutes reporter Mike Wallace, who would have anchored the segment, calls King to refute Liddy’s misrepresentations. Wallace says: “We objected to the fact that the authors refused or declined to let the objects of their scrutiny, these three in particular, see the book, read the book ahead of time, so that they could face the charges.… We could not, on our own, source the thing sufficiently to satisfy ourselves that it stood up as a 60 Minutes piece. That’s why we didn’t do the piece.” Watching the interview, Maureen Dean applauds as Wallace destroys the book’s credibility on the air. (Dean 2006, pp. xx-xxi)
Silent Coup, an alternate theory of the Watergate conspiracy by Leonard Colodny and Robert Gettlin (see May 6, 1991), is published. It quickly makes the New York Times bestseller list. (Dean 2006, pp. xxiv) The same day it is published, the Washington Post runs an article by media reporter Howard Kurtz that thoroughly discredits the book. Kurtz notes that both CBS and Time magazine chose not to feature the book because the authors refused to provide any proof of their allegations (see May 7, 1991); two of the authors’ primary sources of information, former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Thomas Moorer and former Pentagon spokesman Jerry Friedheim, both disavow statements they are said to have made; and the primary Watergate figures, Post reporter Bob Woodward, former White House aide Alexander Haig, and former White House counsel John Dean, harshly repudiate the book’s contentions. (Weinberg 11/1991)
CBS News erroneously reports that the FBI has captured “John Doe No. 2,” the second suspect in the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and April 20, 1995). The man in question, David Iniguez, was a deserter from the US Army base in Fort Riley, Kansas, who had left the base in August 1994. Suspected bomber Timothy McVeigh once served as an Army gunner at Fort Riley (see January - March 1991 and After), and FBI investigators have speculated that McVeigh and Iniguez may have known one another. No evidence tying Iniguez to the bombing ever surfaces. He does not resemble the sketch of “John Doe No. 2,” and has no tattoo on his arm as the suspect is described as having. Still, Iniguez is taken to a court in Los Angeles after being arrested on unrelated charges, escorted into the courthouse by a half-dozen FBI agents, and taunted and jeered by a crowd of about 30 people who shout, “Coward!” and “Why did you do it?” (Johnston 4/23/1995; Kleinfeld 4/30/1995) It is possible, but not certain, that CBS bases its reporting on information from the FBI that stated it had located “John Doe No. 2” two days ago (see April 21, 1995).
Following the publication of a front-page article in the New York Times on the use of fake, digitally-created images in some CBS programs like “The Early Show”, CBS executives call a press conference to defend and explain the practice. While the technology has been used in sports broadcasting for several years now (see 1999 and After), many are troubled by its use in news programs. CBS Television used the technology developed by Princeton Video Image to superimpose a digitally created CBS logo to block out an NBC-sponsored sign in Times Square during its news coverage of New Year’s Eve celebrations. Dan Rather, the CBS anchor, calls that “a mistake”. “At the very least we should have pointed out to viewers that we were doing it.” Both NBC and ABC told the New York Times that they had not used the technology in their news broadcasting. But CBS defends the practice. “Anytime there’s an NBC logo up on our network we’ll block it again”, says Leslie Moonves, the president of CBS Television. Andrew Heyward, the president of the news division, acknowledges the potential for abuse or deception: “He said that he understood the argument against the use of the technology—which is widely employed in sports and some entertainment shows—on news programs. The danger is ‘that it looks too real and therefore it’s wrong or potentially wrong,’ he said. ‘I certainly agree it’s potentially subject to abuse.’ He noted that advances in computer-generated techniques had made things like missiles hitting Baghdad and airplanes crashing look so real that it was incumbent on networks to underscore that these were not real images. ‘We’re not sitting here rubbing our hands, saying how can we use this again,’ Mr. Heyward said. ‘We are not in the deception business. We’re in the reality business; we’re in the accuracy business. To the extent that this technology interferes with that core belief we’re not going to do it. We will absolutely take seriously the use of this tool.’” (Kuzcynski 1/12/2000; Carter 1/13/2000; Independent 1/24/2000; Lake 1/27/2000)
CBS News airs a February 22, 2000 interview with convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and June 2, 1997), awaiting execution in an Indiana federal prison (see July 13, 1999). McVeigh was interviewed by CBS reporter Ed Bradley for a 60 Minutes segment. McVeigh set only one condition for the interview: that Bradley not ask him whether he bombed the Murrah Federal Building. CBS does not air the entire interview, but runs selected excerpts interspersed with comments from others, including family members of the bombing victims. McVeigh spoke about his political ideology, his service in the Gulf War (see January - March 1991 and After), and what he considers to be his unfair criminal trial (see August 14-27, 1997). He expressed no remorse over the dead of Oklahoma City, and blamed the US government for teaching, through what he says is its aggressive foreign policy and application of the death penalty, the lesson that “violence is an acceptable option.” McVeigh described himself as returning from the Gulf War angry and bitter, saying: “I went over there hyped up, just like everyone else. What I experienced, though, was an entirely different ballgame. And being face-to-face close with these people in personal contact, you realize they’re just people like you.” Jim Denny, who had two children injured in the bombing, said he did not understand McVeigh’s Gulf War comparison: “We went over there to save a country and save innocent lives. When he compared that to what happened in Oklahoma City, I didn’t see the comparison. He came across as ‘the government uses force, so it’s OK for its citizens to use force.’ We don’t believe in using force.” McVeigh told Bradley that he “thought it was terrible that there were children in the building,” which provoked an angry reaction from Jannie Coverdale, who lost two grandchildren in the blast. “Timothy McVeigh is full of it,” she said. “He said it was terrible about the children. He had been to the Day Care Center. He had talked to the director of the Day Care Center. He knew those children were there.” McVeigh explained that the use of violence against the government could be justified by the fact that the government itself uses violence to carry out its aims. “If government is the teacher, violence would be an acceptable option,” he said. “What did we do to Sudan? What did we do to Afghanistan? Belgrade? What are we doing with the death penalty? It appears they use violence as an option all the time.” He said that the ubiquitous pictures of himself in an orange jumpsuit, leg irons, and handcuffs that made the rounds of the media two days after his arrest (see April 21, 1995) were “the beginning of a propaganda campaign.” Jurors, however, denied that pretrial publicity influenced their judgment. Juror John Candelaria told Bradley, “He’s the Oklahoma City bomber, and there is no doubt about it in my mind.” McVeigh refused to express any regrets or a wish that his life could have gone in a different direction, telling Bradley: “I think anybody in life says, ‘I wish I could have gone back and done this differently, done that differently.’ There are moments, but not one that stands out.” He admitted to forging something of a friendship with one of his former cellblock colleagues in the Colorado supermax prison he formerly occupied, Theodore “Ted” Kaczynski, the Unabomber. McVeigh said that while Kaczynski is “far left” while he is “far right” politically, “I found that, in a way that I didn’t realize, that we were much alike in that all we ever wanted or all we wanted out of life was the freedom to live our own lives however we chose to.” (Douglas O. Linder 2001; CBS News 5/11/2001; Douglas O. Linder 2006; CBS News 4/20/2009)
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)
Based on Voter News Service (VNS) projections from exit polling, the Associated Press projects Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic presidential candidate, as the winner of the Florida elections over Governor George W. Bush (R-TX). Gore’s victory, if confirmed, would give him the electoral votes he needs to win the US presidency. The major television networks—ABC News, CBS News, Fox News, and NBC News—call Florida for Gore between 7:50 and 8:00 p.m. (Leip 2008) In light of the predictions of a Gore victory, Bush decides to abandon his plans to watch the rest of the returns from a suite in the Austin, Texas, Four Seasons Hotel, and instead returns to the relative privacy of the governor’s mansion in Austin. (Tapper 3/2001) Florida polling places in the Central Time Zone do not close until 8:00 p.m., so the networks’ projection that Florida is going to Gore comes out 10 minutes before those polling places—all in Florida’s “Panhandle” region, a Republican stronghold—close. Bush campaign officials will later allege that the networks called Florida for Gore an hour before the polls closed, potentially discouraging some Bush voters from casting their votes. The liberal news Web site Consortium News will later observe: “Though the networks certainly could have and obviously should have waited, it is unclear that any Bush voter decided not to go to the polls because of a projection that occurred only minutes before the polls closed. It’s unlikely that more than a few late-arriving voters were even aware of Gore’s projected victory.” (Consortium News 11/22/2000) Many Florida lawmakers and officials are shocked by the pronouncement. Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) will later recall feeling that the networks are “stretching it” to make such a prediction. Broward County elections supervisor Jane Carroll will say acidly, “That’s very kind of [the networks] to just give this away.” Broward has yet to tally a single vote. Broward canvassing board chairman Judge Robert Lee is incredulous at the announcement, and like Graham and others, is disturbed that the networks would call the election before the polls are closed. As the evening goes on and the returns begin to come in, Lee wonders, “Why are they calling Florida for Gore when it’s so close?” Bush campaign strategist Karl Rove goes on the air to argue that Florida is still in play, and to complain about the networks’ choice to project Florida for Gore before the Panhandle counties have concluded their polling. The VNS voting predictions are later shown to be badly flawed, with a number of erroneous estimates, a drastic overestimation of African-American (Democratic) votes in Miami-Dade and a corresponding underestimation of Cuban-American (Republican) votes in that county, and poorly managed exit polling. (Tapper 3/2001)
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 four news networks, ABC News, CBS News, Fox News, and NBC News, retract their earlier projection that Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush has won Florida and thereby won the US presidency (see 2:15 a.m. November 8, 2000). The state is again rated as “too close to call.” (Leip 2008)
In the aftermath of the Florida election results (see Early Morning, November 8, 2000), television and press news outlets offer a round of explanations, excuses, and apologies for the mistakes and miscues that marked election-night coverage (see 7:50 p.m., November 7, 2000, 9:30 p.m. November 7, 2000, 2:15 a.m. November 8, 2000, and 3:57 a.m. - 4:15 a.m. November 8, 2000). Knight-Ridder newspapers say the election night will “forever… be known” as “The Night That Television Got It Wrong.” The Baltimore Sun observes: “Whipsawed between presidential election returns that turned on a dime, and production schedules that couldn’t, newspaper editors crossed their fingers in the early morning and started their presses. And many got the story wrong.” The New York Times says that network executives are “examining how the errors could have occurred,” and goes on to state that many in academia, politics, and the news media are calling the mistakes “perhaps the most egregious election-night gaffes in the modern television era.” CBS News says: “We all made our own calls. All of us made the wrong call twice. It was different people, different eyes looking at it. Each of us thought when we looked at the data that it was a good call. It did not appear to be as risky as it turned out to be.” California pollster Mark DiCamillo says: “Everybody is dying to know who won when the polls close. There’s tremendous pressure that builds. You’ve been looking at exit poll data. It’s very hard to say it’s too close to call. It’s the pressure cooker on election night television coverage.” (National Journal 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)
On September 17, 2001, CBS News anchor Dan Rather says in an interview, “George Bush is the president, he makes the decisions and you know, as just one American wherever he wants me to line up, just tell me where.” (Moyers 4/25/2007) On September 22, he is interviewed again, and says that journalists are reluctant to criticize the Bush administration for fear of a public backlash. He adds, “I am willing to give the government, the President, and the military the benefit of any doubt here in the beginning.… I’m going to do my job as a journalist, but at the same time I will give them the benefit of the doubt, whenever possible in this kind of crisis, emergency situation. Not because I am concerned about any backlash. I’m not. But because I want to be a patriotic American without apology.” (Artz and Kamalipour 2005, pp. 69) Less than a year later, Rather will say in another interview that he has not been aggressive enough in reporting since 9/11 for fear of being seen as unpatriotic (see May 17, 2002).
A letter addressed to news anchor Tom Brokaw at NBC News is mailed from Princeton, New Jersey. It is postmarked September 18, 2001, which means it is dropped into a mailbox either some time after 5 p.m. on September 17 or some time before 5 p.m. on September 18. The letter contains deadly anthrax spores and a short message in slanting block letters:
THIS IS NEXT
TAKE PENACILIN NOW
DEATH TO AMERICA
DEATH TO ISRAEL
ALLAH IS GREAT
There is no return address and the word penicillin is misspelled. The letter is opened on October 12, turned over to the FBI the same day, and tests positive for anthrax the next day. Several days later, an employee at the New York Post is diagnosed with cutaneous anthrax. An unopened letter is found at the Post’s editorial office, addressed to “Editor.” It also is found to contain real anthrax and the exact same message as the Brokaw letter, and was postmarked on the same day and from the same location. That same week, an employee at CBS News and the infant son of an ABC News employee are diagnosed with anthrax infections, but no letters are found in their New York offices. It is presumed those letters are mailed with the other two, but are thrown away. Also, several employees at a Florida building containing the offices of the Sun, a tabloid, get sick with anthrax infections. However, no letter is found there either. The victims at the Sun suffer from the more deadly inhalation anthrax instead of cutaneous anthrax, suggesting that letter could be sent separately. That letter appears to be directed at the National Enquirer, another tabloid owned by the same company as the Sun, but was redirected to the Sun due to a recent relocation of the Enquirer’s offices. (Revkin and Canedy 12/5/2001; Foster 9/15/2003) A second wave of anthrax letters follows in early October (see October 6-9, 2001).
Five major US television networks agree to self-censor their news broadcasts of statements by Osama bin Laden and his associates. The agreement, made by ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and Fox News, comes after a conference call between National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and the heads of the networks; Rice’s call comes after White House press secretary Ari Fleischer warns reporters that statements from suspected terrorists could contain anything from incitement to coded messages, and asks them not to print full transcripts of bin Laden’s messages (see October 10, 2001). (BBC 10/11/2001; Rich 2006, pp. 31) Rice asks that, instead of automatically airing bin Laden videotapes, news executives should carefully review the tapes and remove any “inflammatory language” before broadcasting. (Current Events 11/9/2001) The networks say they will now review them first, and edit or censor them as needed. While the American news networks are willing to comply with Rice’s recommendation, the Arab news network Al Jazeera disagrees: chief editor Ibrahim Halil says, “I don’t think the United States, which taught the world about freedom of expression, should now begin to limit it.” Al Jazeera has been the first to broadcast many of the statements in question, broadcasts which were often picked up by American news networks and shown in their entirety. (BBC 10/11/2001)
'A Silky Form of Censorship' - According to the New York Times, the five networks have never before consulted one another as a group and made such a collective policy decision about news coverage. The executives deny that they were threatened or pressured by Rice or any other White House officials: “Ms. Rice made no specific request of news organizations, other than that we consider the possible existence of such messages in deciding whether and how to air portions of al-Qaeda statements,” says an ABC spokesman. They also deny that the decision amounts to censorship. CBS says it is committed to “responsible journalism that informs the public without jeopardizing American lives.” CBS president Andrew Heyward says: “The issue… was raised by the transmission of unedited, extended propaganda messages from a terrorist group… with the will to kill thousands of people. No network wants to serve as the platform for that propaganda.” And Fox News chairman Roger Ailes notes that “[Rice] was very, very careful to talk about freedom of the press and not to suggest how we do our job.” Matthew Felling of the Center for Media and Public Affairs, a media watchdog group, has a different view. He calls the decision “a silky form of censorship.” Network executives say that the likelihood of bin Laden using his statements to send coded messages to “sleeper” agents in the US is unlikely, and if he is, the agents could get the statements from printed transcripts or Internet video. “What sense would it make to keep the tapes off the air if the message could be found transcripted in newspapers or on the Web?” one executive asks. “The videos could also appear on the Internet. They’d get the message anyway.” (BBC 10/11/2001; Current Events 11/9/2001)
Notion that Censorship Could Disrupt Al-Qaeda Communications Fantastical, Says Media Critic - Author and media critic Frank Rich is fascinated by the assumptions behind Rice’s assertions: in 2006, he will write that the Bush administration “entertain[s] at least a passing fantasy that al-Qaeda, despite its access both to the Internet and to the Arabic superstation Al Jazeera… could be disrupted by having its videos kept off the likes of Fox.” The administration’s “ambitions to manage the news [knows] no bounds.” (Rich 2006, pp. 31)
British Broadcasters Refuse Similar Request - A similar request by the British government is flatly refused; the BBC issues a short statement reading, “Government interference will be resisted.” The Canadian government does not issue such a request, leaving the decision of whether to air unedited broadcasts of the terrorists’ statements up to news executives and editors. (Hurst 9/8/2002)
An Iraqi defector identifying himself as Jamal al-Ghurairy, a former lieutenant general in Saddam Hussein’s intelligence corps, the Mukhabarat, tells two US reporters that he has witnessed foreign Islamic militants training to hijack airplanes at an alleged Iraqi terrorist training camp at Salman Pak, near Baghdad. Al-Ghurairy also claims to know of a secret compound at Salman Pak where Iraqi scientists, led by a German, are producing biological weapons. Al-Ghurairy is lying both about his experiences and even his identity, though the reporters, New York Times war correspondent Chris Hedges and PBS’s Christopher Buchanan, do not know this. The meeting between al-Ghurairy and the reporters, which takes place on November 6, 2001, in a luxury suite in a Beirut hotel, was arranged by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC). Buchanan later recalls knowing little about al-Ghurairy, except that “[h]is life might be in danger. I didn’t know much else.” Hedges recalls the former general’s “fierce” appearance and “military bearing.… He looked the part.” Al-Ghurairy is accompanied by several other people, including the INC’s political liaison, Nabeel Musawi. “They were slick and well organized,” Buchanan recalls. Hedges confirms al-Ghurairy’s credibility with the US embassy in Turkey, where he is told that CIA and FBI agents had recently debriefed him. The interview is excerpted for an upcoming PBS Frontline episode, along with another interview with an INC-provided defector, former Iraqi sergeant Sabah Khodada, who echoes al-Ghurairy’s tale. While the excerpt of al-Ghurairy’s interview is relatively short, the interview itself takes over an hour. Al-Ghurairy does not allow his face to be shown on camera.
Times Reports Defectors' Tale - Two days later, on November 8, Hedges publishes a story about al-Ghurairy in the New York Times Times. The Frontline episode airs that same evening. (Hedges 11/8/2001; Fairweather 4/2006) Hedges does not identify al-Ghurairy by name, but reports that he, Khodada, and a third unnamed Iraqi sergeant claim to have “worked for several years at a secret Iraqi government camp that had trained Islamic terrorists in rotations of five or six months since 1995. They said the training at the camp, south of Baghdad, was aimed at carrying out attacks against neighboring countries and possibly Europe and the United States.” Whether the militants being trained are linked to al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden, the defectors cannot be sure, nor do they know of any specific attacks carried out by the militants. Hedges writes that the interviews were “set up by an Iraqi group that seeks the overthrow of… Hussein.” He quotes al-Ghurairy as saying, “There is a lot we do not know. We were forbidden to speak about our activities among each other, even off duty. But over the years, you see and hear things. These Islamic radicals were a scruffy lot. They needed a lot of training, especially physical training. But from speaking with them, it was clear they came from a variety of countries, including Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria, Egypt, and Morocco. We were training these people to attack installations important to the United States. The Gulf War never ended for Saddam Hussein. He is at war with the United States. We were repeatedly told this.” He uses Khodada’s statements as support for al-Ghurairy’s, identifies Khodada by name, and says that Khodada “immigrated to Texas” in May 2001 “after working as an instructor for eight years at Salman Pak…” He quotes the sergeant as saying, “We could see them train around the fuselage. We could see them practice taking over the plane.” Al-Ghurairy adds that the militants were trained to take over a plane without using weapons. Hedges reports that Richard Sperzel, the former chief of the UN biological weapons inspection teams in Iraq, says that the Iraqis always claimed Salman Pak was an anti-terror training camp for Iraqi special forces. However, Sperzel says, “[M]any of us had our own private suspicions. We had nothing specific as evidence.” The US officials who debriefed al-Ghurairy, Hedges reports, do not believe that the Salman Pak training has any links to the 9/11 hijackings. Hedges asks about one of the militants, a clean-shaven Egyptian. “No, he was not Mohamed Atta.” Atta led the 9/11 hijackers. Hedges notes that stories such as this one will likely prompt “an intense debate in Washington over whether to extend the war against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban government of Afghanistan to include Iraq.” (Hedges 11/8/2001; McCollam 7/1/2004)
Heavy Press Coverage - The US media immediately reacts, with op-eds running in major newspapers throughout the country and cable-news pundits bringing the story to their audiences. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice says of the story, “I think it surprises no one that Saddam Hussein is engaged in all kinds of activities that are destabilizing.” The White House will use al-Ghurairy’s claims in its background paper, “Decade of Deception and Defiance,” prepared for President’s Bush September 12, 2002 speech to the UN General Assembly (see September 12, 2002). Though the tale lacks specifics, it helps bolster the White House’s attempts to link Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 hijackers, and helps promote Iraq as a legitimate target in the administration’s war on terror. (Five years later, the reporters involved in the story admit they were duped—see April 2006.)
Complete Fiction - The story, as it turns out, is, in the later words of Mother Jones reporter Jack Fairweather, “an elaborate scam.” Not only did US agents in Turkey dismiss the purported lieutenant general’s claims out of hand—a fact they did not pass on to Hedges—but the man who speaks with Hedges and Buchanan is not even Jamal al-Ghurairy. The man they interviewed is actually a former Iraqi sergeant living in Turkey under the pseudonym Abu Zainab. (His real name is later ascertained to be Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, and is a former Iraqi general and senior officer in the Mukhabarat.) The real al-Ghurairy has never left Iraq. In 2006, he will be interviewed by Fairweather, and will confirm that he was not the man interviewed in 2001 (see October 2005). (McCollam 7/1/2004; Fairweather 4/2006) Hedges and Buchanan were not the first reporters to be approached for the story. The INC’s Francis Brooke tried to interest Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff in interviewing Khodada to discuss Salman Pak. Isikoff will recall in 2004 that “he didn’t know what to make of the whole thing or have any way to evaluate the story so I didn’t write about it.” (McCollam 7/1/2004)
"The Perfect Hoax" - The interview was set up by Chalabi, the leader of the INC, and former CBS producer Lowell Bergman. Bergman had interviewed Khodada previously, but was unable to journey to Beirut, so he and Chalabi briefed Hedges in London before sending him to meet with the defector. Chalabi and Bergman have a long relationship; Chalabi has been a source for Bergman since 1991. The CIA withdrew funding from the group in 1996 (see January 1996) due to its poor intelligence and attempts at deception. For years, the INC combed the large Iraqi exile communities in Damascus and Amman for those who would trade information—real or fabricated—in return for the INC’s assistance in obtaining asylum to the West. Helping run that network was Mohammed al-Zubaidi, who after 9/11 began actively coaching defectors, according to an ex-INC official involved in the INC’s media operations (see December 17, 2001 and July 9, 2004). The ex-INC official, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, did everything from help defectors brush up and polish their stories, to concocting scripts that defectors with little or no knowledge could recite: “They learned the words, and then we handed them over to the American agencies and journalists.” After 9/11, the INC wanted to come up with a big story that would fix the public perception of Saddam Hussein’s involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Al-Zubaidi was given the task. He came up with al-Ghurairy. He chose Zainab for his knowledge of the Iraqi military, brought him to Beirut, paid him, and began prepping him. In the process, al-Zainab made himself known to American and Turkish intelligence officials as al-Ghurairy. “It was the perfect hoax,” al-Haideri will recall in 2006. “The man was a born liar and knew enough about the military to get by, whilst Saddam’s regime could hardly produce the real Ghurairy without revealing at least some of the truth of the story.” Al-Haideri will say that the reality of the Salman Pak story was much as the Iraqis claimed—Iraqi special forces were trained in hostage and hijack scenarios. Al-Zubaidi, who in 2004 will admit to his propaganda activities, calls Al-Zainab “an opportunist, cheap and manipulative. He has poetic interests and has a vivid imagination in making up stories.” (Fairweather 4/2006)
Stories Strain Credulity - Knight Ridder reporter Jonathan Landay later says of al-Qurairy, “As you track their stories, they become ever more fantastic, and they’re the same people who are telling these stories, until you get to the most fantastic tales of all, which appeared in Vanity Fair magazine.” Perhaps al-Qurairy’s most fabulous story is that of a training exercise to blow up a full-size mockup of a US destroyer in a lake in central Iraq. Landay adds, “Or, jumping into pits of fouled water and having to kill a dog with your bare teeth. I mean, and this was coming from people, who are appearing in all of these stories, and sometimes their rank would change.… And, you’re saying, ‘Wait a minute. There’s something wrong here, because in this story he was a major, but in this story the guy’s a colonel. And, in this story this was his function, but now he says in this story he was doing something else.’” Landay’s bureau chief, John Walcott, says of al-Qurairy, “What he did was reasonably clever but fairly obvious, which is he gave the same stuff to some reporters that, for one reason or another, he felt would simply report it. And then he gave the same stuff to people in the Vice President’s office [Dick Cheney] and in the Secretary of Defense’s office [Donald Rumsfeld]. And so, if the reporter called the Department of Defense or the Vice President’s office to check, they would’ve said, ‘Oh, I think that’s… you can go with that. We have that, too.’ So, you create the appearance, or Chalabi created the appearance, that there were two sources, and that the information had been independently confirmed, when, in fact, there was only one source. And it hadn’t been confirmed by anybody.” Landay adds, “[L]et’s not forget how close these people were to this administration, which raises the question, was there coordination? I can’t tell you that there was, but it sure looked like it.” (Moyers 4/25/2007)
No Evidence Found - On April 6, 2003, US forces will overrun the Salman Pak facility. They will find nothing to indicate that the base was ever used to train terrorists (see April 6, 2003).
While detailed plans for the upcoming invasion of Iraq are well underway, the administration realizes that the American people are not strongly behind such an invasion. They aren’t convinced that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 9/11 attacks, and unsure about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction. White House and Pentagon officials decide that using retired military officers as “independent military analysts” in the national media can help change hearts and minds (see April 20, 2008). Assistant secretary of defense for public affairs Victoria “Torie” Clarke, a former public relations executive, intends to achieve what she calls “information dominance.” The news culture is saturated by “spin” and combating viewpoints; Clarke argues that opinions are most swayed by voices seen as authoritative and completely independent. Clarke has already put together a system within the Pentagon to recruit what she calls “key influentials,” powerful and influential people from all areas who, with the proper coaching, can generate support for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s agenda. After 9/11, when each of the news networks rushed to land its own platoon of retired military officers to provide commentary and analysis, Clarke saw an opportunity: such military analysts are the ultimate “key influentials,” having tremendous authority and credibility with average Americans. They often get more airtime than network reporters, Clarke notes. More importantly, they are not just explaining military minutiae, but telling viewers how to interpret events. Best of all, while they are in the news media, they are not creatures of the media. Reporter David Barstow will write in 2008, “They were military men, many of them ideologically in sync with the administration’s neoconservative brain trust, many of them important players in a military industry anticipating large budget increases to pay for an Iraq war.” And even those without such ties tended to support the military and the government. Retired Army general and ABC analyst William Nash will say: “It is very hard for me to criticize the United States Army. It is my life.”
'Writing the Op-Ed' for the War - As a result, according to Clarke’s aide Don Meyer, Clarke decides to make the military analysts the main focus of the public relations push to build a case for invading Iraq. They, not journalists, will “be our primary vehicle to get information out,” Meyer recalls. The military analysts are not handled by the Pentagon’s regular press office, but are lavished with attention and “perks” in a separate office run by another aide to Clarke, Brent Krueger. According to Krueger, the military analysts will, in effect, be “writing the op-ed” for the war.
Working in Tandem with the White House - The Bush administration works closely with Clarke’s team from the outset. White House officials request lists of potential recruits for the team, and suggests names for the lists. Clarke’s team writes summaries of each potential analyst, describing their backgrounds, business and political affiliations, and their opinions on the war. Rumsfeld has the final say on who is on the team: “Rumsfeld ultimately cleared off on all invitees,” Krueger will say. Ultimately, the Pentagon recruits over 75 retired officers, though some only participate briefly or sporadically.
Saturation Coverage on Cable - The largest contingent of analysts is affiliated with Fox News, followed by NBC and CNN, the networks with 24-hour cable news coverage. Many analysts work for ABC and CBS as well. Many also appear on radio news and talk broadcasts, publish op-ed articles in newspapers, and are quoted in press reports, magazine articles, and in Web sites and blogs. Barstow, a New York Times reporter, will note that “[a]t least nine of them have written op-ed articles for The Times.”
Representing the Defense Industry - Many of the analysts have close ties with defense contractors and/or lobbying firms involved in helping contractors win military contracts from the Pentagon:
Retired Army general James Marks, who begins working as an analyst for CNN in 2004 (until his firing three years later—see July 2007) is a senior executive with McNeil Technologies, and helps that firm land military and intelligence contracts from the government.
Thomas McInerney, a retired Air Force general and Fox News analyst, sits on the boards of several military contractors.
CBS military analyst Jeffrey McCausland is a lobbyist for Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, a major lobbying firm where he is director of a national security team that represents several military contractors. His team proclaims on the firm’s Web site, “We offer clients access to key decision makers.”
Shortly after signing with CBS, retired Air Force general Joseph Ralston became vice chairman of the Cohen Group, a consulting firm headed by former Defense Secretary William Cohen (also an analyst for CNN). The Cohen Group says of itself on its Web site, “The Cohen Group knows that getting to ‘yes’ in the aerospace and defense market—whether in the United States or abroad—requires that companies have a thorough, up-to-date understanding of the thinking of government decision makers.”
Ideological Ties - Many military analysts have political and ideological ties to the Bush administration and its supporters. These include:
Two of NBC’s most familiar analysts, retired generals Barry McCaffrey and Wayne Downing, are on the advisory board of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, an advocacy group created with White House encouragement in 2002 to push for the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. (Barstow 4/20/2008) Additionally, McCaffrey is chief of BR McCaffrey Associates, which “provides strategic, analytic, and advocacy consulting services to businesses, non-profits, governments, and international organizations.” (Kurtz 4/21/2008) Other members include senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), and prominent neoconservatives Richard Perle and William Kristol. (Cohen 4/28/2008) Both McCaffrey and Downing head their own consulting firms and are board members of major defense contractors.
Retired Army general Paul Vallely, a Fox News analyst from 2001 through 2007, shares with the Bush national security team the belief that the reason the US lost in Vietnam was due to negative media coverage, and the commitment to prevent that happening with the Iraq war. In 1980, Vallely co-wrote a paper accusing the US press of failing to defend the nation from what he called “enemy” propaganda—negative media coverage—during the Vietnam War. “We lost the war—not because we were outfought, but because we were out Psyoped,” he wrote. Vallely advocated something he called “MindWar,” an all-out propaganda campaign by the government to convince US citizens of the need to support a future war effort. Vallely’s “MindWar” would use network TV and radio to “strengthen our national will to victory.” (Barstow 4/20/2008)
Ironically, Clarke herself will eventually leave the Pentagon and become a commentator for ABC News. (Goodman 4/22/2008)
Seducing the Analysts - Analysts describe a “powerfully seductive environment,” in Barstow’s words, created for them in the Pentagon: the uniformed escorts to Rumsfeld’s private conference room, lavish lunches served on the best government china, embossed name cards, “blizzard[s] of PowerPoints, the solicitations of advice and counsel, the appeals to duty and country, the warm thank you notes from the secretary himself.” Former NBC analyst Kenneth Allard, who has taught information warfare at the National Defense University, says: “[Y]ou have no idea. You’re back. They listen to you. They listen to what you say on TV.” Allard calls the entire process “psyops on steroids,” using flattery and proximity to gain the desired influence and effect. “It’s not like it’s, ‘We’ll pay you $500 to get our story out,’” Allard says. “It’s more subtle.”
Keeping Pentagon Connections Hidden - In return, the analysts are instructed not to quote their briefers directly or to mention their contacts with the Pentagon. The idea is always to present a facade of independent thought. One example is the analysts’ almost perfect recitation of Pentagon talking points during a fall and winter 2002 PR campaign (see Fall and Winter 2002). (Barstow 4/20/2008)
The “military analysts” named by the New York Times as participants in the Pentagon’s propaganda operation to manipulate public opinion on the Iraq war (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) appear over 4,500 times on network and television news broadcasts between January 1, 2002 and May 13, 2008. The news outlets included in the May 13, 2008 count, performed by the media watchdog group Media Matters, includes ABC, ABC News Now, CBS, CBS Radio Network, NBC, CNN, CNN Headline News, Fox News, MSNBC, CNBC, and NPR. Media Matters uses the Lexis/Nexis database to compile their report. Media Matters releases a spreadsheet documenting each analyst’s appearance on each particular broadcast outlet. (Media Matters 5/13/2008) Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald notes, “If anything, the Media Matters study actually under-counts the appearances, since it only counted ‘the analysts named in the Times article,’ and several of the analysts who were most active in the Pentagon’s propaganda program weren’t mentioned by name in that article.” (Greenwald 5/15/2008)
The White House Iraq Group (WHIG—see August 2002) launches its Iraq marketing campaign with a blitz of the Sunday morning talk shows. Vice President Dick Cheney appears on NBC (see September 8, 2002 and September 8, 2002), Secretary of State Colin Powell on Fox (see September 8, 2002), Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on CBS (see September 8, 2002), and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice on CNN (see September 8, 2002). Rice is the first to use the characterization, “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud” (see September 4, 2002), but President Bush and his senior officials repeat the phrase over and over in the following days. Author Craig Unger will note “Cheney’s most Machiavellian flourish” in having all four officials cite “evidence” of Iraq’s nuclear program, suspicious aluminum tubes, and attribute the information to the New York Times. Cheney and the others are referring to a story by the Times’ Judith Miller and Michael Gordon (see September 8, 2002) that Iraq had tried “to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes” that American experts believe could be used in centrifuges to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons. The story is attributed to “unnamed administration sources;” Miller and Gordon do not inform their readers that the story comes from Cheney’s office. In essence, Cheney planted disinformation in the New York Times, then cited the Times article to prove his contention. Gordon will later insist that he and Miller had to pry that story out of the administration, but Unger will note that it is hard to equate Gordon’s contention with four of the administration’s highest officials going on television simultaneously to spread the story and cite the Times article. Furthermore, because of the scheduling practices on the four networks, it appears that the four officials’ simultaneous appearances were arranged in advance. As the Times is the flagship newspaper of the US press, over 500 other newspapers and broadcast outlets pick up on the Times story and the officials’ appearances, giving the story tremendous visibility throughout the world. (Unger 2007, pp. 252-254)
A CBS news poll concludes that 51 percent of Americans think that Saddam Hussein “was personally involved in the Sept. 11 attacks” and “70 percent believe that members of al-Qaeda are currently in Iraq.” (CBS News 9/24/2002)
Influential evangelist and political activist Jerry Falwell calls the Prophet Muhammed, the founder of Islam, a “terrorist,” telling a CBS News interviewer: “I think Muhammad was a terrorist. I read enough of the history of his life written by both Muslims and non-Muslims [to know] that he was a—a violent man, a man of war.” In contrast, Falwell says: “Jesus set the example for love, as did Moses. I think Muhammad set an opposite example.” After a global eruption of outrage at Falwell’s statements, he issues a backhanded apology: “I sincerely apologize that certain statements of mine made during an interview for CBS’s 60 Minutes were hurtful to the feelings of many Muslims. I intended no disrespect to any sincere, law-abiding Muslim.” His denunciation of Muhammed came as an answer to what he calls a “controversial and loaded question” at the end of an hour-long interview. The backlash from Falwell’s remarks is severe. At least five people are killed and around 50 injured when Hindu-Muslim rioting over the remarks breaks out in India. Shi’ite Muslim clerics in Lebanon and Iran express their outrage over Falwell’s remarks, with one Iranian cleric saying that Falwell is a “mercenary and must be killed.” Since Falwell’s remarks, hundreds of Muslim protesters will twice gather outside the CBS building in New York City to demand an apology from the network. (CBS News 10/14/2002) Falwell’s remarks echo earlier denunciations of Islam by other American Christian evangelicals (see October 2001 and June 10-11, 2002).
Doubts as to the veracity and reliability of the information provided about Iraq’s secret bioweapons program by the Iraqi defector known as “Curveball” are growing among German intelligence analysts (see February 2001), and among some CIA analysts and officials as well, who are receiving summations of Curveball’s assertions from their German counterparts. Central group chief Margaret Henoch is one of those who questions Curveball’s reliability. Henoch later recalls in a CBS report revealing Curveball’s true identity (see November 4, 2007), “I said, ‘You know, I don’t know who this guy is. There’s no proof that he is who he is. There’s no proof that any of this ever happened. And, from my perspective, I just don’t think we should trust this.’” When the top CIA analyst working with Curveball’s information tries to prove his identity by showing Henoch a picture of a man in a hazmat (hazardous materials) suit, she recalls responding, “‘How do you know that was him if he’s completely covered? ‘Cause it could be me.’ And, as God as my witness, she looked at me like a pig looking at a wristwatch. And I thought it was over. And, when I went back, I sort of said to my boss, ‘Well, I’m such a genius.’” Henoch is mistaken in believing that Curveball’s reliability had been holed. She later recalls, “[I]t was whack-a-mole. I mean, he just popped right back up.” Her superiors want Curveball to be credible, and are prepared to overlook the inconsistencies and unverifiable claims he is making. (CBS News 11/4/2007)
While CBS and NBC begin covering the US strikes against Iraqi targets almost from the outset (see March 19, 2003), ABC News delays its coverage for 11 minutes after its broadcast competitors, leading Washington Post media correspondent Lisa de Moraes to mockingly declare ABC to be the “first victim” of the war. In a March 21 analysis, de Moraes will note that ABC waits while its show The Bachelor: Where Are They Now? completes its broadcast. ABC news anchor Peter Jennings shows up to lead the network’s coverage almost a half hour later than his colleagues at NBC and CBS, leading de Moraes to ask if Jennings was not aware of the “scheduled” 8 p.m. deadline laid down by President Bush. “[W]asn’t anyone at ABC News watching that MSNBC countdown clock?” she asks. It is NBC that officially breaks the news of the military strike, with correspondent Peter Arnett informing NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw of the attack at 9:32 p.m. Jennings, whom de Moraes speculates “was at a dinner party,” finally takes to the air at 10:05 p.m, just a few minutes before, de Moraes writes, “President Bush went on the air to formally cut the ribbon on the war.” An ABC News spokesman later confesses that when the war broke, “our correspondent was out of position.” De Moraes is equally bemused that Jennings left the news desk at 11:01 p.m, surprising some local affiliates who plan to continue running ABC’s national news transmission instead of their own local programming. One affiliate’s news director later says, “There was a sense that the coverage was going to continue for some time, and when it ended so abruptly it caught all of us off guard.” The next day, ABC officials Alex Wallau and David Westin issue a joint statement: “We decided around 10:55 p.m. ET last night to end Special Report coverage.… We felt that we had covered this story in Iraq to that point and that we should allow for your late local news broadcasts. We were not aware that there had been Network Alert System communications sent to your stations saying that there would not be a local news opportunity last night.” (de Moraes 3/21/2003; Rich 3/30/2003; Rich 2006, pp. 73)
The New York Times examines the influence of retired military officers in influencing public opinion on the invasion of Iraq. Reporter John Cushman, Jr writes that “a whole constellation of retired one-, two-, three- and four-star generals—including many who led the recent wars in Afghanistan, Kosovo, and the Persian Gulf—can be seen night and day across the television firmament, navigation aids for viewers lost in a narrative that can be foggier than war itself.” All of the news broadcasters, including cable news outlets CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News, and the commercial networks’ news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC rely on retired military officers to explain to their viewers what is happening in Iraq. Cushman acknowledges the “deep perspective” that the retired officers bring to the war coverage, particularly those who led the same units now on the ground, or at least “commanded, trained, or shared barracks and beers with the current commanders.” Retired Marine General Gregory Newbold recently told an ABC News audience, “If things haven’t gone exactly according to script, they’ve gone according to plan.” Newbold helped draw up the plans for the invasion as director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Questions Raised - How much do the military analysts actually know? Cushman asks, and are they giving out more information than they should? Many of the analysts receive what Cushman calls “occasional briefings from the Pentagon” (he is apparently unaware of the Pentagon’s propaganda operation involving these selfsame analysts—see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond), and garner much of their information from public sources and from their friends and former colleagues in the military. Cushman goes on to observe that almost all of the analysts have “evident sympathies with the current commanders”; between those sympathies and their “immersion in [military] doctrines,” their objectivity is in doubt—or as Cushman delicately phrases it, their experience and bias “sometimes seem to immunize them to the self-imposed skepticism of the news organizations that now employ them.” After conducting “a detailed review of their recent remarks,” Cushman says that it is a rarity when an analyst criticizes the conduct of the war. “Instead, they tend gravely to point out the timeless risks of combat.” One sharp exception is from retired Army General Wesley Clark, the former supreme commander of NATO, who recently questioned whether the military had committed enough troops on the ground. More typical is recent remarks by retired Army General Wayne Downing, a commander in the 1991 Gulf War. Downing lavished praise on the invasion’s supreme commander, General Tommy Franks. Cushman notes that Downing “rattl[ed] off the story of his old comrade’s career as if by rote.”
Technical Details Vs. Analysis - The retired officers do “reasonably well” in explaining what Cushman calls “the nuts and bolts of an operation, the technical details of weapons, the decisions facing American and British commanders.” Their speculations about what the Iraqis might be doing and thinking are more problematic. One analyst, retired Marine General Bernard Trainor, almost seemed to invite chemical or biological retaliation from the Iraqis when he told an MSNBC audience: “If he moves, we kill him; if he stays put, we kill him. And regardless of what they’re told to do over the network, whatever is left of the command and control, unless it comes down to using chemical weapons, then the rest of it is just ancillary. If this is going to be the communication of red telephone, if you will, to tell people to launch chemical weapons—and we’re reaching that point in the operation—if they’re going to use their stuff, they’d better start thinking about it, because pretty soon we’re in downtown Baghdad.” Clark, considered the most polished and urbane of the analysts, takes a different tack, and notes repeatedly that the analysts are careful not to give away details of current operations and thus endanger American troops. All of the analysts, Cushman writes, “emphasize the gravity of what the military is up to in Iraq.” As Clark told an audience, “It’s not entertainment.” (Cushman 3/25/2003)
While the iconic Firdos Square photo op dominates US news broadcasts (see April 9, 2003), the fighting throughout Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq goes almost unreported. CNN’s Paula Zahn makes a passing reference to “total anarchy” in Baghdad; CNN reporter Martin Savidge and CBS reporter Byron Pitts give brief oral reports on the fighting, but no film is shown to American viewers. The Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media will later note: “Despite the fact that fighting continued literally blocks from Firdos Square, apparently no camera crews were dispatched to capture those images. According to CNN and FNC [Fox News Channel], in other words, the war ended with the collapse of the statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square.” After that, the Journal will conclude, “the battlefield itself disappeared”; author and media critic Frank Rich will note that war coverage dropped “precipitously on every network, broadcast and cable alike.” War footage will drop 76 percent on Fox and 73 percent on CNN. (Rich 2006, pp. 84)
On CNN’s Larry King Live, CBS news anchor Dan Rather says: “Look, I’m an American. I never tried to kid anybody that I’m some internationalist or something. And when my country is at war, I want my country to win, whatever the definition of ‘win’ may be. Now, I can’t and don’t argue that that is coverage without a prejudice. About that I am prejudiced.” (Rendall and Broughel 5/2003) On September 17, 2001, Rather said he would “line up” with the president (see September 17-22, 2001). In May 2002, he said that fear of being seen as unpatriotic was affecting news coverage (see May 17, 2002). In 2007, Rather will admit to not staying objective after 9/11 (see April 25, 2007).
Washington Post columnist Colman McCarthy notes that there are at least a dozen retired military officers giving supposedly independent opinion and commentary on the Iraq war to the various news networks. McCarthy writes: “Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have been unhappy with the criticism of their war effort by former military men appearing on television. So am I, but for a different reason. The top people at the Pentagon are wondering why these ex-military talkers can’t follow the company line on how well the war has been fought. I’m wondering why these spokesmen for militarism are on TV in the first place.” McCarthy lists twelve: Lieutenant General Bernard Trainor, Major General Robert Scales, Lieutenant General Gregory Newbold, Major General Donald Shepperd, General Barry McCaffrey, Major General Paul Vallely, Lieutenant General Don Edwards, Lieutenant General Thomas McInerney, Colonel Tony Koren, Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona, Major Jack Stradley, and Captain Chris Lohman. He asks rhetorically, “Did I miss anyone?” (McCarthy 4/19/2003) In 2008, after the story of the massive and systematic Pentagon propaganda operation using at least 75 retired military officers to promote the war (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) becomes public knowledge, Editor & Publisher’s Greg Mitchell answers the question, “[H]e sure did.” (Mitchell 4/20/2008)
Deploring the Military's Domination of the Airwaves - McCarthy continues: “That the news divisions of NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, and Fox sanctioned this domination by military types was a further assault on what the public deserves: independent, balanced and impartial journalism. The tube turned into a parade ground for military men… saluting the ethic that war is rational, that bombing and shooting are the way to win peace, and that their uniformed pals in Iraq were there to free people, not slaughter them. Perspective vanished, as if caught in a sandstorm of hype and war-whooping. If the US military embedded journalists to report the war from Iraq, journalists back in network studios embedded militarists to explain it. Either way, it was one-version news.” McCarthy asks why no dissenters are allowed on the airwaves to counter the military point of view, a question answered by a CNN news executive (see April 20, 2003). McCarthy answers his own question: “In wartime, presumably, the message to peace activists is shut up or shut down.”
Viewers Unaware of Analysts' Business Connections - Presciently, considering the wide range of business connections exploited by the analysts and documented in the 2008 expose, McCarthy notes: “Viewers are not told of possible conflicts of interest—that this general or that one is on the payroll of this or that military contractor. Nor are they given information on whether the retired generals are paid for their appearances.”
Militaristic Newsmen - It is not just the retired officers who provide a militarist perspective, McCarthy observes, but the reporters and anchormen themselves. With examples of ABC’s Ted Koppel and NBC’s Brian Williams donning helmets before the cameras, or Fox’s Geraldo Rivera proclaiming in Afghanistan that “[W]e have liberated this country” (and his cameraman shouting, “Hallelujah!”), “the media are tethered to the military,” McCarthy writes. “They become beholden, which leads not to Pentagon censorship, as in 1991 (see October 10, 1990), but a worse kind: self-censorship” (see September 10, 2003).
For Us or Against Us - McCarthy concludes: “George W. Bush lectured the world that you’re either with us or against us. America’s networks got the message: They’re with. They could have said that they’re neither with nor against, because no side has all the truth or all the lies and no side all the good or evil. But a declaration such as that would have required boldness and independence of mind, two traits not much linked to America’s television news.” (McCarthy 4/19/2003)
The media response to President Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” event (see May 1, 2003) is overwhelmingly positive. Of his entrance in a fighter jet, the Detroit Free Press writes that Bush brought his “daring mission to a manly end.” The Washington Post’s David Broder, the dean of the Washington press corps, says that the “president has learned to move in a way that just conveys a great sense of authority and command.” (Unger 2007, pp. 304)
Matthews Lauds Bush's 'Guy' Status - One of the most effusive cheerleaders for Bush is MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. On an episode of his Hardball broadcast, Matthews gushes about Bush’s “amazing display of leadership” and his appearance as a “high-flying jet star.” Bush “deserves everything he’s doing tonight in terms of his leadership. He won the war. He was an effective commander. Everybody recognizes that, I believe, except a few critics. Do you think he is defining the office of the presidency, at least for this time, as basically that of commander in chief?” Matthews compares Bush, who sat out Vietnam in the Texas Air National Guard, with former president Dwight D. Eisenhower, who commanded US forces in Europe during World War II. But, Matthews observes: “He looks great in a military uniform. He looks great in that cowboy costume he wears when he goes West.” His “performance tonight [is] redolent of the best of Reagan.” Guest Ann Coulter, a staunch conservative, calls Bush’s performance “huge,” and adds: “It’s hard to imagine any Democrat being able to do that. And it doesn’t matter if Democrats try to ridicule it. It’s stunning, and it speaks for itself.” Democratic pollster Pat Caddell says when he first heard about it, he was “kind of annoyed” because “[i]t sounded like the kind of PR stunt that Bill Clinton would pull. But and then I saw it. And you know, there’s a real—there’s a real affection between him and the troops.… He looks like a fighter pilot.” Matthews continues, “[H]e didn’t fight in a war, but he looks like he does.” Later that night, on Keith Olbermann’s Countdown, Matthews waxes poetic about Bush’s manly qualities: “We’re proud of our president. Americans love having a guy as president, a guy who has a little swagger, who’s physical, who’s not a complicated guy like Clinton or even like [former Democratic presidential candidates Michael] Dukakis or [Walter] Mondale, all those guys, [George] McGovern [whom Matthews does not identify as a pilot during World War II]. They want a guy who’s president. Women like a guy who’s president. Check it out. The women like this war. I think we like having a hero as our president. It’s simple. We’re not like the Brits. We don’t want an indoor prime minister type, or the Danes or the Dutch or the Italians, or a [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. Can you imagine Putin getting elected here? We want a guy as president.”
'Fighter Dog' - CNN’s Wolf Blitzer refers several times to Bush’s days as a fighter pilot in the Texas Air National Guard, without referring to the swirling controversy over whether he used the Guard to get out of serving in Vietnam, and calls Bush “a one-time fighter dog.” Other media pundits and journalists use Bush’s appearance and service record to laud his performance. NBC’s Brian Williams says: “And two immutable truths about the president that the Democrats can’t change: He’s a youthful guy. He looked terrific and full of energy in a flight suit. He is a former pilot, so it’s not a foreign art farm—art form to him. Not all presidents could have pulled this scene off today.” Fox News’s Jon Scott says that Bush “made just about as grand an entrance tonight as the White House could have asked for.… Now, of course, President Bush flew fighters in the Air National Guard, but no pilot, no matter how experienced, can land on an aircraft carrier first time out. The president did take the stick for a short time during his flight, but he let another pilot handle the landing.” Fox’s Wendell Goler continues the tale of Bush actually flying the fighter plane by saying that Bush “took a 20-minute flight to the ship during which he briefly called on his skills as a pilot in the National Guard.” Goler quotes Bush as saying “he flew the plane about a third of the way from North Island Naval Air Station to the carrier Lincoln. He says the pilot asked him if he wanted to do some maneuvers, but he flew it mostly in a straight line.” (DeYoung 5/2/2003; Media Matters 4/27/2006)
Dowd's Rhetorical Excesses - One of the more extreme reactions comes from New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. She writes of the jet landing and Bush’s exit from the plane: “The tail hook caught the last cable, jerking the fighter jet from 150 mph to zero in two seconds. Out bounded the cocky, rule-breaking, daredevil flyboy, a man navigating the Highway to the Danger Zone, out along the edges where he was born to be, the further on the edge, the hotter the intensity. He flashed that famous all-American grin as he swaggered around the deck of the aircraft carrier in his olive flight suit, ejection harness between his legs, helmet tucked under his arm, awestruck crew crowding around. Maverick [a reference to the iconic action film Top Gun] was back, cooler and hotter than ever, throttling to the max with joystick politics. Compared to Karl Rove’s ‘revvin’ up your engine’ myth-making cinematic style, Jerry Bruckheimer’s movies [Bruckheimer produced Top Gun] look like Lizzie McGuire (a Disney Channel show). This time Maverick didn’t just nail a few bogeys and do a 4G inverted dive with a MiG-28 at a range of two meters. This time the Top Gun wasted a couple of nasty regimes, and promised this was just the beginning.” (Mitchell 5/3/2008)
Press Coverage and Later Response - The next day’s press coverage is equally enthusiastic. PBS reporter Gwen Ifill says Bush was “part Tom Cruise [another Top Gun reference], part Ronald Reagan.” The New York Times’s Elisabeth Bumiller calls Bush’s speech “Reaganesque.” New York Times reporter David Sanger writes that Bush’s entrance echoed the movie Top Gun. The Washington Post also reports Bush’s claim of having actually flown the fighter for a period of time. On CBS’s Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer calls the image of Bush in the flight suit “one of the great pictures of all time,” and adds, “[I]f you’re a political consultant, you can just see campaign commercial written all over the pictures of George Bush.” Schieffer’s guest, Time columnist Joe Klein, adds: “[T]hat was probably the coolest presidential image since Bill Pullman played the jet fighter pilot in the movie Independence Day.… And it just shows you how high a mountain these Democrats are going to have to climb.” Fox News anchor Brit Hume says Bush was brave for risking the “grease and oil” on the flight deck while “[t]he wind’s blowing. All kinds of stuff could have gone wrong. It didn’t, he carried it off.” Conservative radio host Laura Ingraham tells CNN viewers: “Speaking as a woman… seeing President Bush get out of that plane, carrying his helmet, he is a real man. He stands by his word. That was a very powerful moment.” (DeYoung 5/2/2003; Media Matters 4/27/2006; Mitchell 5/3/2008)
The New York Times reports on the frenzy among news outlets to secure interviews with Army Private Jessica Lynch, currently recuperating from wounds suffered when her Humvee overturned and her unit was attacked by Iraqi forces (see April 1, 2003 and May 4, 2003). Such attempts at wooing a subject are called “the get.” NBC’s Katie Couric, the co-host of its flagship morning broadcast Today, sent Lynch a bundle of patriotic books. Diane Sawyer of ABC News sent Lynch a locket. CBS News sent her a letter promising a two-hour documentary, an offer from MTV for a possible news special, a music-video program or a concert in her honor with “a current star act such as Ashanti” in her hometown, and a potential book deal with Simon & Schuster. (CBS News president Leslie Moonves will later call that letter a mistake.) In May, CBS News correspondent Jane Clayson sent Lynch a birthday greeting noting that they shared the same astrological sign. (Rutenberg 6/16/2003; Susman 8/7/2003; Dorsey 11/11/2003) Sawyer and ABC will eventually win out for Lynch’s first media interview (see November 11, 2003).
Referring to President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), CIA Director George Tenet says in a written statement: “I am responsible for the approval process in my agency.… These 16 words should never have been included in the text written for the president.” Tenet denies that the White House is responsible for the mistake, putting the blame squarely on himself and his agency. His statement comes hours after Bush blamed the CIA for the words making it into the speech (see July 11, 2003). (CNN 7/11/2003; Central Intelligence Agency 7/11/2003; Sanger and Risen 7/12/2003)
CIA Chose to Send Wilson to Niger - Tenet also confirms that it was the CIA’s choice to send former ambassador Joseph Wilson to Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), apparently in an effort to rebut claims that Vice President Dick Cheney ordered the mission. Tenet states: “There was fragmentary intelligence gathered in late 2001 and early 2002 on the allegations of Saddam’s efforts to obtain additional raw uranium from Africa, beyond the 550 metric tons already in Iraq. In an effort to inquire about certain reports involving Niger, CIA’s counterproliferation experts, on their own initiative, asked an individual with ties to the region [Wilson] to make a visit to see what he could learn.” Tenet says that Wilson found no evidence to believe that Iraq had attempted to purchase Nigerien uranium, though this did not settle the issue for either the CIA or the White House. (Central Intelligence Agency 7/11/2003)
Coordinated with White House - Tenet’s admission was coordinated by White House advisers for what reporter Murray Waas will call “maximum effect.” Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, White House political strategist Karl Rove, and Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby had reviewed drafts of Tenet’s statement days in advance; Hadley and Rove had suggested changes in the draft. (Waas 3/30/2006) Cheney rejected an earlier draft, marking it “unacceptable” (see July 11, 2003).
White House Joins in Blaming CIA - National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice also blames the CIA. Peppered with questions from reporters about the claim, she continues the White House attempt to pin the blame for the faulty intelligence on the CIA: “We have a higher standard for what we put in presidential speeches” than other governments or other agencies. “We don’t make the president his own fact witness. That’s why we send them out for clearance.” Had the CIA expressed doubts about the Niger claim before the State of the Union? she is asked (see January 26 or 27, 2003, March 8, 2003, March 23, 2003, April 5, 2003, Early June 2003, June 9, 2003, and June 17, 2003). “The CIA cleared the speech in its entirety,” she replies. “If the CIA, the director of central intelligence, had said, ‘Take this out of the speech,’ (see January 27, 2003) it would have been gone without question. If there were doubts about the underlying intelligence, those doubts were not communicated to the president, to the vice president or to me.… What we’ve said subsequently is, knowing what we know now, that some of the Niger documents were apparently forged, we wouldn’t have put this in the president’s speech—but that’s knowing what we know now.” Another senior White House official, defending the president and his advisers, tells ABC News: “We were very careful with what the president said. We vetted the information at the highest levels.” But another intelligence official, also interviewed by ABC, contradicts this statement. (CNN 7/11/2003; White House 7/11/2003; Pincus and Milbank 7/12/2003; Sanger and Risen 7/12/2003; Rich 2006, pp. 99; McClellan 2008, pp. 171-172) Tenet’s mea culpa is apparently enough for Bush; press secretary Ari Fleischer says, “The president has moved on.” (White House 7/11/2003; Rich 2006, pp. 99) White House press secretary Scott McClellan will later claim that at this point Rice is unaware that her National Security Council is far more responsible for the inclusion than the CIA. He will write that the news media reports “not unfairly” that Rice is blaming the CIA for the inclusion. (McClellan 2008, pp. 171-172)
News Reports Reveal Warnings Not to Use Claim - Following Tenet’s statement, a barrage of news reports citing unnamed CIA officials reveal that the White House had in fact been explicitly warned not to include the Africa-uranium claim. These reports indicate that at the time Bush delivered his State of the Union address, it had been widely understood in US intelligence circles that the claim had little evidence supporting it. (Donnelly and Neuffer 3/16/2003; Risen 3/23/2003; Singh 6/12/2003; Landay 6/12/2003; Singh 6/12/2003; Landay 6/13/2003; ABC News 6/16/2003; Newsday 7/12/2003; Priest 7/20/2003) For example, CBS News reports, “CIA officials warned members of the president’s National Security Council staff the intelligence was not good enough to make the flat statement Iraq tried to buy uranium from Africa.” And a Washington Post article cites an unnamed intelligence source who says, “We consulted about the paper [September 2002 British dossier] and recommended against using that material.” (Martin 7/10/2003; CNN 7/10/2003; Pincus 7/11/2003)
Claim 'Technically True' since British, Not US, Actually Made It - White House officials respond that the dossier issued by the British government contained the unequivocal assertion, “Iraq has… sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa” and that the officials had argued that as long as the statement was attributed to the British intelligence, it would be technically true. Similarly, ABC News reports: “A CIA official has an idea about how the Niger information got into the president’s speech. He said he is not sure the sentence was ever cleared by the agency, but said he heard speechwriters wanted it included, so they attributed it to the British.” The same version of events is told to the New York Times by a senior administration official, who claims, “The decision to mention uranium came from White House speechwriters, not from senior White House officials.” (ABC News 6/12/2003; Martin 7/10/2003; Kristof 7/14/2003; Stevenson 7/19/2003)
Decision Influenced by Office of Special Plans - But according to a CIA intelligence official and four members of the Senate Intelligence Committee who are investigating the issue, the decision to include the Africa-uranium claim was influenced by the people associated with the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans (see September 2002). (Leopold 7/16/2003)
Reactions - Rice says that the White House will not declassify the October 2002 NIE on Iraq (see October 1, 2002) to allow the public to judge for itself whether the administration exaggerated the Iraq-Niger claim; McClellan will write that Rice is currently “unaware of the fact that President Bush had already agreed to ‘selective declassification’ of parts of the NIE so that Vice President Cheney, or his top aide Scooter Libby, could use them to make the administration’s case with selected reporters” (see 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003). (McClellan 2008, pp. 171-172) Two days later, Rice will join Bush in placing the blame for using the Iraq-Niger claim solely on the CIA (see July 13, 2003). McClellan will later write, “The squabbling would leave the self-protective CIA lying in wait to exact revenge against the White House.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 172)
Former Ambassador Considers Matter Settled - Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who recently wrote an op-ed for the New York Times revealing his failure to find any validity in the claims during his fact-finding trip to Niger (see July 6, 2003 and February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), is pleased at Tenet’s admission. According to his wife, CIA analyst Valerie Plame Wilson, “Joe felt his work was done; he had made his point.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 140)
Discussing the Chinook helicopter shot down just hours before over Fallujah (see November 2, 2003), CBS News anchor Bob Schieffer asks with real anguish in his voice, “If this is winning, you have to ask the question: How much of this winning can we stand?” (Rich 2006, pp. 109)
Wall Street Journal reporter Brian Anderson writes: “Watch Fox [News] for just a few hours, and you encounter a conservative presence unlike anything on television. When CBS and CNN would lead a news item about an impending execution with a candlelight vigil of death-penalty protesters, for example,” Anderson quotes Fox senior vice president for news John Moody as saying it is “de riguer that we put in the lead why the person is being executed.” Anderson continues, “Fox viewers will see Republican politicians and conservative pundits sought out for meaningful quotations, skepticism voiced about environmental ‘doomsaying,’ religion treated with respect, pro-life views given airtime—and much else they’d never find on other networks” (see October 13, 2009). (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 50)
The FBI sends veteran interrogator George Piro to question captured Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein. Over a period of months, Piro uses a combination of friendliness, warmth, and verbal provocations to tease a wealth of information from Hussein. At no time does Piro or other FBI interrogators use “aggressive” or “harsh” interrogation methods against Hussein. Piro works closely with a team of FBI and CIA analysts to pore over Hussein’s responses. He will later recall his sessions with Hussein for CBS News interviewer Scott Pelley.
'Mr. Saddam' - Piro begins calling the dictator “Mr. Saddam,” as a sign of respect; by the end of their time, they are on a first-name basis with one another. Hussein never finds out that Piro is “just” an FBI agent; he believes that Piro is far more influential than he actually is, and is directly briefing President Bush on their conversations. “He didn’t know I worked for the FBI, he didn’t know I was a field agent,” Piro will recall. Had he found out, “I think initially he would have been angry. He would feel that I was way beneath him, and would not respond well to the interrogation. Or even to me.… I think he thought, and actually on a couple of occasions talked around the issue that I was directly answering to the president.” Piro will recall setting several strategies of deception into motion, including his barking orders at the guards to send them into a panic to obey his instructions. “[I]t was all part of our strategy,” Piro will explain.
Controlling the Dictator - Piro will say that he gained physical control of the setting—a small, windowless room with chairs and a table—merely by placing himself between Hussein and the door. “I purposely put his back against the wall,” Piro will recall. “And then mine against the door, psychologically to tell him that his back was against the wall in the interview room. And that I stood between him and the door, psychologically. Between him whether it’s to go back to his cell, freedom, whatever he was projecting to be outside of that door. I was kind of that psychological barrier between him and the door.” Piro will add, “I basically said that I was gonna be responsible for every aspect of his life, and that if he needed anything I was gonna be the person that he needed to talk to.” Piro controls Hussein’s food and cleaning materials—Piro will describe Hussein as a “clean freak” who uses large numbers of baby wipes to disinfect his cell and his food. Piro allows Hussein pen and paper to write what Piro will describe as inordinate amounts of “terrible” poetry. “We had the guards remove their watches,” Piro will recall. “And the only person that was wearing a watch was me. And it was very evident to him, ‘cause I was wearing the largest wristwatch you could imagine. And it was just the act of him asking for the time—was critical in our plan.” Pelley says, “So you controlled time itself,” and Piro answers, “Yes.”
No Coercive Interrogation Methods - Piro will say that no coercive interrogations, such as sleep deprivation, excessive heat or cold, bombardment with loud music, or waterboarding are ever used. “It’s against FBI policy, first,” Piro will explain. “And wouldn’t have really benefited us with someone like Saddam.… I think Saddam clearly had demonstrated over his legacy that he would not respond to threats, to any type of fear-based approach.” The best methods for use with Hussein are, according to Piro, time and patience.
Using Emotions to Create Vulnerability - Piro uses their time to build a relationship with Hussein based on dependency, trust, and emotion. He alternates between treating Hussein with courtesy and kindness, and provoking him with pictures and video images designed to anger and embarrass the former dictator. He uses pictures of the toppling of Hussein’s statues and news videos documenting his overthrow. “I wanted him to get angry. I wanted him to see those videos and to get angry,” Piro will say. “You want to take him through those various emotions. Happy, angry, sad. When you have someone going through those emotions they’re not able to really control themselves. And they’re more vulnerable during the interview.”
Insult Drove Kuwait Invasion - Piro learns that one of the driving forces behind Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 (see August 2, 1990) was personal insult. “What really triggered it for him, according to Saddam, was he had sent his foreign minister to Kuwait to meet with the Emir Al Sabah, the former leader of Kuwait, to try to resolve some of the… issues” between Kuwait and Iraq, Piro will recall. “And the Emir told the foreign minister of Iraq that he would not stop doing what he was doing until he turned every Iraqi woman into a $10 prostitute. And that really sealed it for him, to invade Kuwait. He wanted to punish, he told me, Emir Al Sabah, for saying that.” The 1991 US invasion of Iraq (see January 16, 1991 and After) soured Hussein on then-President George H. W. Bush, a feeling that Hussein transferred to the son. “He didn’t like President [George W.] Bush,” Piro will say. “He would have liked meeting President Reagan. He thought he was a great leader. Honorable man. He liked President Clinton. But he did not like President Bush, the first or the current.”
Small Things, Big Impact - Piro will recall the outsized impact relatively small incidents have on Hussein. One night the FBI flies Hussein to a hospital. He is manacled and blindfolded. Piro will remember: “And once I saw how beautiful Baghdad was in the middle of the night, so I took advantage of it. I allowed him to look out and the lights were on. There was traffic. And it looked like any other major metropolitan city around the world. And for him to see that. And as I mentioned, you know, big Baghdad is moving forward without you. I mean, little things like that didn’t require a lot of suggestion on our part. It made its point.” Piro even uses Hussein’s birthday, a former national holiday, to drive home his point. “In 2004, no one celebrated his birthday on April 28th. So the only one that really knew and cared was us. I’d brought him some cookies, and we, the FBI, celebrated his birthday for him.” Piro gives Hussein packets of flower seeds and allows him to plant his own small garden, which he must tend with his hands because the FBI will not allow him to use tools. Piro will recall that their strolls in Hussein’s tiny garden are often the site of large revelations.
Avoiding Capture - Hussein tells Piro that US forces simply missed him during the first days of the invasion, the “shock and awe” assault. “He said that he was at one of the locations. He said it in a kind of a bragging fashion, that he was there, but that we missed him,” Piro later says. “He told me he changed the way he traveled. He got rid of his normal vehicles. He got rid of the protective detail he traveled with. Really just to change his signature so he would be much harder to identify.” And Hussein denies ever using body doubles or decoys, as US intelligence had long asserted.
WMD - Five months into the sessions, Hussein finally opens up to Piro regarding the subject of Iraq’s WMD programs. Using indirection, Piro begins to tease information out of Hussein. “He told me that most of the WMD had been destroyed by the UN inspectors in the ‘90s. And those that hadn’t been destroyed by the inspectors were unilaterally destroyed by Iraq,” Piro will recall. So why, Pelley will ask, did Hussein “put your nation at risk, why put your own life at risk to maintain this charade?” Piro will respond: “It was very important for him to project that because that was what kept him, in his mind, in power. That capability kept the Iranians away. It kept them from reinvading Iraq.” It is apparent, Piro says, that Hussein did not believe he could survive without the perception that he had WMD. But Piro confirms that Hussein always intended to restart his WMD program someday. “The folks that he needed to reconstitute his program are still there,” Piro will observe. “He wanted to pursue all of WMD. So he wanted to reconstitute his entire WMD program.”
Did Not Believe US Would Invade - From there, Hussein begins to explain why he let the US continue to believe he had such weapons even as troops began massing on his borders. He didn’t believe the US would actually invade, he says. As Piro will recall: “[H]e told me he initially miscalculated President Bush. And President Bush’s intentions. He thought the United States would retaliate with the same type of attack as we did in 1998 under Operation Desert Fox (see December 16-19, 1998). Which was a four-day aerial attack. So you expected that initially.” Hussein says that Iraq would have survived a relatively limited aerial bombardment. “He survived that once,” Piro will recall. “And then he was willing to accept that type of attack. That type of damage.” But he never believed the US would invade until almost the moment of the initial assault.
'The Secret War' - Hussein knew his military could not win in any confrontation with the US. Instead, as Piro will recall: “What he had asked of his military leaders and senior government officials was to give him two weeks. And at that point it would go into what he called the secret war.… Going from a conventional to an unconventional war.” Pelley will remark, “So the insurgency was part of his plan from the very beginning,” to which Piro will say, “Well, he would like to take credit for the insurgency.”
Iraq and al-Qaeda - Hussein confirms that his regime had no dealings with al-Qaeda, as many Bush officials have long believed. Hussein considered Osama bin Laden “a fanatic,” according to Piro. “You can’t really trust fanatics,” Hussein tells the interrogator. And he had no interest in any alliance with al-Qaeda. “He didn’t wanna be seen with bin Laden,” Piro will recall. “And didn’t want to associate with bin Laden.” Hussein viewed bin Laden as a threat to him and his regime.
Independent Confirmation and Praise for Piro's Efforts - Hussein’s claims are later verified by independent interrogations with other high-ranking Hussein regime officials. Piro’s boss, FBI Assistant Director Joe Persichini, will say that Piro’s interrogation is a high mark of the bureau’s recent efforts. “The FBI will be celebrating its 100th anniversary this year and I would have to say that the interview with Saddam Hussein is one of the top accomplishments of our agency in the last 100 years,” Persichini will say, and gives credit to Piro’s language skills. Only about 50 of the 10,000 FBI agents speak Arabic, he will note. Piro will credit his FBI and CIA colleagues for their work in analyzing Hussein’s statements, and their extensive knowledge of Hussein and his regime. “The more you know about your subject, the better of an interview… that you’re gonna conduct,” he will say. “You’ll be able to recognize inconsistencies, deception, things like that. Plus it really establishes your credibility within the interview.”
No Regrets - One thing Hussein never shows during his long interviews, Piro later recalls, is remorse. “No remorse,” Piro will say. “No regret.” (CBS News 1/27/2008)
ABC News and Fox News are the only major news networks to broadcast a “hard news” report on the day’s exchange between Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry and voter Cedric Brown (see March 15, 2004 and After).
CBS: Advantage Bush - CBS gives a brief synopsis of the exchange; neither NBC nor CNN devote much air time to the story. CBS anchor Dan Rather sums up the exchange by providing a brief overview of the controversy surrounding Kerry’s supposed claim of unnamed “foreign leaders” supporting his bid for the presidency (see March 8, 2004 and After and March 15, 2004) and the Bush campaign’s implication that Kerry is lying; the Kerry campaign’s response; and White House spokesman Scott McClellan’s insistence that Kerry either “name names” or admit to “making it up.” In 2008, authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella will write, “By sandwiching the Kerry perspective between an opening and closing statement focused on the Bush perspective, the CBS piece creates a net advantage for the Republicans.”
ABC: Advantage Kerry - The ABC report, by reporter Linda Douglass, goes further in asking about the Bush campaign’s motives in attacking Kerry, and asks if the Bush campaign is not trying to deflect attention from reports about Bush administration misrepresentations about the true costs of its Medicare plan (see June 2003). ABC anchor Elizabeth Varga opens by noting the Bush campaign’s “extraordinary” attack on Kerry’s “credibility,” leading into Douglass’s report, which summarizes the “foreign leaders” controversy, reports the Kerry-Brown exchange, observes that the Kerry campaign is “sidestep[ping]” the accusations that he is lying about the foreign leaders claim, and notes that Kerry accuses the Bush campaign of trying to divert attention from the Medicare controversy. Douglass concludes, “Seven months before the election, the campaign seems to be all about credibility.”
Fox News: Heavy Attack against Kerry - Fox News anchor Brit Hume begins his report by saying, “John Kerry still won’t say who those foreign leaders were, whom he claims are back—who he claims are backing him for president.” The Fox report, by Carl Cameron, begins by claiming Kerry is being “[b]attered for refusing to name foreign leaders that he claims want President Bush defeated,” says Kerry is trying to “get back on offense” by attacking the Bush administration’s failure to fully fund firefighters (an attack “few Americans believe,” Cameron asserts), and notes that Bush defenders accuse Kerry of “voting against the troops” by opposing the $87 billion to stabilize and complete the post-Saddam Iraq occupation. Cameron then quotes unnamed Republicans as calling Kerry an “international man of mystery,” a disparaging comparison to the Austin Powers movie satire, “for his various un-backed-up charges” about the foreign leaders’ support. Cameron ends the report by playing a snippet from the Kerry-Brown exchange where Kerry demanded Brown identify himself as a “registered Republican” (he does not air Brown’s response where he admits to being a Bush supporter) and with the White House’s assertion that “Kerry is making it up to attack the president.” Fox twice has Brown appear as a guest on its news broadcasts. In one, Brown says Kerry “didn’t appear to be honest” during their conversation, says, “I think Senator Kerry betrayed our country,” and calls for a congressional investigation into Kerry’s supposed claim of having “secret” deals for foreign leaders’ backing.
Television Coverage Analysis - Authors Jamieson and Cappella will write: “The strategic frames of Fox and ABC differ. On Fox, Kerry is cast as ‘battered’ and on the strategic defensive (‘Kerry tried to get back on offense and tried to turn the tables on his inquisitors,’) [emphasis added by authors]. By contrasts, ABC situates Kerry as a contender who is ‘determined not to give ground on the war over who is more truthful.’ On Fox, Kerry’s attack is portrayed as an attempt to ‘get back on offense,’ whereas the Bush response is portrayed as motivated by outrage.” Fox “focuses on Kerry’s credibility, while ABC centers on charges and countercharges about the relative truthfulness of Bush and Kerry.” Douglass attributes claims of truth or falsity to the respective campaigns, but Cameron makes blanket assertions—unattributed value judgments—about Kerry’s supposed dishonesty.
Print Media - The print media shows much of the same dichotomy in covering the Kerry-Brown exchange as do ABC and Fox. The Washington Post gives Brown a chance to again accuse Kerry of lying, but calls him “a heckler… who interrupted Kerry’s comments on health care, education and the economy to raise questions about the assertion of foreign endorsements.” The Los Angeles Times describes Brown as “abruptly” shouting over Kerry, and, when the audience tries to shout Brown down, shows Kerry asking the audience to allow Brown to speak. In these and other accounts, Jamieson and Cappella will note, “Kerry’s questioning of the questioner is set in the context of Brown’s interruption, inflammatory charges… and verbal attacks on Kerry.” On the other hand, the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page joins Fox News in ignoring Brown’s initial interruption and verbal assault on Kerry (see March 15, 2004), and instead focuses on what the Journal’s James Taranto calls “Kerry’s thuggish interrogation of the voter.” Taranto also directs his readers to coverage by Fox News and Limbaugh, who himself accuses Kerry of “browbeating” Brown.
Media Strategies to Denigrate Kerry - Jamieson and Cappella will write, “Specifically taken together, [Rush] Limbaugh, [Sean] Hannity, and the Wall Street Journal’s opinion pages marshaled four strategies to marginalize Kerry and undercut his perceived acceptability as a candidate for president: extreme hypotheticals [i.e. Kerry’s supposed ‘secret meeting’ with North Korea’s Kim Jong-il—see March 17, 2004 ], ridicule, challenges to character, and association with strong negative emotion.” Fox News and the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, for example, characterize Kerry’s response to Brown as “yelling” and “thuggish,” while other media outlets report Kerry’s response as generally restrained and civil, and Brown as the one shouting and angry. (Johnson 3/15/2004; Gold 3/15/2004; Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 5-17)
CBS’s “60 Minutes II” airs the Abu Ghraib prison photos (see March 23, 2004) having learned that the New Yorker is about to publish a piece on abuses at Abu Ghraib. Bush reportedly first learns about these photos from the television report. (CBS News 5/6/2004; Scheer 5/6/2004; Bowman 5/6/2004; Deggans 5/9/2004) Most of the photos show prisoners being forced to engage in humiliating sexual acts. For example in one photo a hooded naked man is forced to masturbate as a grinning female MP, Lynndie England, looks on, giving a thumbs-up. Another photo shows two naked hooded men, one standing, while the other is kneeling in front of him, simulating oral sex. The Bush administration will portray these forced acts of humiliation as the immature pranks of low ranking soldiers. But others will argue that the acts were ordered from above with the intent to exploit Arab culture’s conservative views with regard to sex and homosexuality (see 2002-March 2003). (Hersh 5/10/2004; Hersh 5/17/2004) A different picture shows a hooded-man with his arms spread and wires dangling from his fingers, toes, and penis. He was apparently told that if he fell off the box he would be electricuted. The tactic is known as the “The Vietnam,” an “arcane torture method known only to veterans of the interrogation trade” that had been first used by Brazilians in the 1970s. (Rejali 5/14/2004; Barry, Hirsh, and Isikoff 5/24/2004 Sources: Darius Rejali) Another picture is of Manadel al-Jamadi who was killed after being “stressed” too much (see (7:00 a.m.) November 4, 2003). (Hersh 5/10/2004; Hersh 5/17/2004) “A generation from now,” one observer notes, “historians may look back to April 28, 2004, as the day the United States lost the war in Iraq.” (Carter 11/2004)
Retired Marine General Anthony Zinni was the chief of the US Central Command until 2000, and, until just before the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration’s special envoy to the Middle East. Now he has become an outspoken critic of the administration’s war efforts in Iraq. Zinni gives an interview to CBS’s 60 Minutes, in part to promote his new biography, Battle Ready, co-authored by famed war novelist Tom Clancy.
'Dereliction of Duty' among Senior Pentagon Officials - Zinni says that senior officials at the Pentagon, from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on down, are guilty of what he calls dereliction of duty, and he believes it is time for “heads to roll.” Zinni tells correspondent Steve Kroft: “There has been poor strategic thinking in this. There has been poor operational planning and execution on the ground. And to think that we are going to ‘stay the course,’ the course is headed over Niagara Falls. I think it’s time to change course a little bit, or at least hold somebody responsible for putting you on this course. Because it’s been a failure.” In his book, Zinni writes: “In the lead up to the Iraq war and its later conduct, I saw at a minimum, true dereliction, negligence, and irresponsibility, at worse, lying, incompetence, and corruption.… I think there was dereliction in insufficient forces being put on the ground and fully understanding the military dimensions of the plan. I think there was dereliction in lack of planning.”
'The Wrong War at the Wrong Time' - Zinni calls Iraq “the wrong war at the wrong time,” and with the wrong strategy. Before the invasion, Zinni told Congress (see October 31, 2002): “This is, in my view, the worst time to take this on. And I don’t feel it needs to be done now.” The generals never wanted this war, Zinni says, but the civilians in the Pentagon and the White House did. “I can’t speak for all generals, certainly,” he says. “But I know we felt that this situation was contained (see Summer 2002-2003). Saddam was effectively contained.… And I think most of the generals felt, let’s deal with this one at a time. Let’s deal with this threat from terrorism, from al-Qaeda.”
Much Larger Force Required - Zinni was heavily involved in planning for any invasion of Iraq, going back to at least 1999 (see April-July 1999). Zinni always envisioned any such invasion as being implemented with enough ground forces to get the job done quickly and cleanly. Rumsfeld had different ideas—the invasion could be carried off with fewer troops and more high-tech weaponry. Zinni wanted around 300,000 troops: “We were much in line with General Shinseki’s view. We were talking about, you know, 300,000, in that neighborhood.” Would a larger force have made a difference? Kroft asks. Zinni replies, “I think it’s critical in the aftermath, if you’re gonna go to resolve a conflict through the use of force, and then to rebuild the country.” Rumsfeld should have anticipated the level and ferocity of violence that erupted in the aftermath of the toppling of the Hussein government, but, Zinni says, he did not, and worse, he ignored or belittled those such as Shinseki and a number of foreign allies who warned him of the possible consequences. Instead, Zinni notes, Rumsfeld relied on, among other sources, fabricated intelligence from Ahmed Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress (see September 19-20, 2001).
'Seat of the Pants Operation' - The entire reconstruction effort was, in Zinni’s mind, a seat-of-the-pants affair. “As best I could see, I saw a pickup team, very small, insufficient in the Pentagon with no detailed plans that walked onto the battlefield after the major fighting stopped and tried to work it out in the huddle,” he says, “in effect to create a seat-of-the-pants operation on reconstructing a country.” Coalition Provisional Authority head L. Paul Bremer is “a great American who’s serving his country, I think, with all the kind of sacrifice and spirit you could expect. But he has made mistake after mistake after mistake.” Bremer’s mistakes include “Disbanding the army (see May 23, 2003). De-Baathifying (see May 16, 2003), down to a level where we removed people that were competent and didn’t have blood on their hands that you needed in the aftermath of reconstruction—alienating certain elements of that society.” Zinni reserves most of the blame for the Pentagon: “I blame the civilian leadership of the Pentagon directly.”
Heads Should Roll, Beginning with Rumsfeld's - Zinni continues: “But regardless of whose responsibility I think it is, somebody has screwed up. And at this level and at this stage, it should be evident to everybody that they’ve screwed up. And whose heads are rolling on this? That’s what bothers me most.” The first one to go, Zinni says, is Rumsfeld: “Well, it starts with at the top. If you’re the secretary of defense and you’re responsible for that.”
Neoconservatives at Fault - Next up are Rumsfeld’s advisers, whom Kroft identifies as the cadre of neoconservatives “who saw the invasion of Iraq as a way to stabilize American interests in the region and strengthen the position of Israel.” Zinni says: “Certainly those in your ranks that foisted this strategy on us that is flawed. Certainly they ought to be gone and replaced.” Kroft identifies that group as including Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz; Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith; former Defense Policy Board member Richard Perle; National Security Council member Elliott Abrams; and Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby. Zinni calls them political ideologues who have hijacked US policy in Iraq: “I think it’s the worst-kept secret in Washington. That everybody—everybody I talk to in Washington has known and fully knows what their agenda was and what they were trying to do.” Like so many others who criticized them, Zinni recalls, he was targeted for personal counterattacks. After publishing one article, he says: “I was called anti-Semitic. I mean, you know, unbelievable that that’s the kind of personal attacks that are run when you criticize a strategy and those who propose it.”
Fundamental Conceptual Flaws - Zinni says the neoconservatives believed they could remake the Middle East through the use of American military might, beginning with Iraq. Instead, the US is viewed in the region as “the modern crusaders, as the modern colonial power in this part of the world.”
Changing Course - Zinni has a number of recommendations. He advises President Bush and his senior officials to reach out much more strongly to the United Nations, and to US allies, and secure the UN’s backing. Do these other countries “want a say in political reconstruction? Do they want a piece of the pie economically? If that’s the cost, fine. What they’re gonna pay for up front is boots on the ground and involvement in sharing the burden.” Many more troops are needed on the ground, and not just American troops, he says, enough to seal off the borders, protect the road networks.
Exit Strategy - Zinni says that planning for an exit is necessary because it is inevitable that the US will want to withdraw, and that time will come sooner rather than later. “There is a limit,” he says. “I think it’s important to understand what the limit is. Now do I think we are there yet?”
Speaking Out - He is speaking out, he says, because it is his duty to do so: “It is part of your duty. Look, there is one statement that bothers me more than anything else. And that’s the idea that when the troops are in combat, everybody has to shut up. Imagine if we put troops in combat with a faulty rifle, and that rifle was malfunctioning, and troops were dying as a result. I can’t think anyone would allow that to happen, that would not speak up. Well, what’s the difference between a faulty plan and strategy that’s getting just as many troops killed?” (CBS News 5/21/2004)
The conservative lobbying and advocacy group Citizens United (CU) attempts to rebut a 60 Minutes appearance by former President Bill Clinton by buying television time to accuse Clinton of leaving the US unprepared for the 9/11 attacks. Clinton appears on the CBS newsmagazine to discuss his upcoming autobiography, My Life. In the book, Clinton says that CU president David Bossie (see May 1998) helped to create the Whitewater scandal that plagued his second presidential term and led to his impeachment by the Republican-led House of Representatives. Bossie has published a book, Intelligence Failure, blaming the Clinton administration for leaving the country vulnerable to the 9/11 attacks. Bossie recently told an interviewer that he has been working on “uncovering the truth” about the Clinton administration for a decade. “I am going to make sure people remember the facts, not just what he wants people to remember,” he said. Bossie’s organization runs a commercial in several markets listing a number of terrorist attacks during Clinton’s two terms, and accusing Clinton of leaving the nation unprepared for the 9/11 assault. The CU refutation is just one of a number of conservative attacks on Clinton over his book, possibly because Clinton shows signs of being willing to join Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA) on the campaign trail. A number of conservatives are advising the Kerry campaign to keep its distance from Clinton. (Kirkpatrick and Seelye 6/21/2004)
CBS News president Andrew Heyward refuses to air a scheduled segment of 60 Minutes II that probes the allegations of the Bush administration deliberately using forged documents to bolster its claim that Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from Niger (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003)). In a statement, the network says it would be “inappropriate to air the report so close to the presidential election.” The network also decides not to run the piece because it has admitted to using questionable documents in a recent segment showing that President Bush received preferential treatment in joining the Texas Air National Guard during the height of the Vietnam War, and shirked his Guard duties thereafter without consequence. CBS had a team of correspondents and consulting reporters working for six months on the segment, and landed the first-ever on-camera interview with Italian journalist Elisabetta Burba, the first reporter to see the forged documents that formed the basis of the uranium allegations. (The CBS reporters also interviewed Burba’s source, information peddler Rocco Martino, but chose not to air any of that footage, and do not disclose Martino’s identity in the piece. Neither does the segment explore why the FBI has so far been reluctant to interview Martino in its investigation of the fraudulent uranium allegations.) The segment is later described by Newsweek journalists Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball as a hard-hitting investigative piece that “ask[s] tough questions about how the White House came to embrace the fraudulent documents and why administration officials chose to include a 16-word reference to the questionable uranium purchase in President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union speech” (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), and by Salon reporter Mary Jacoby as “making a powerful case that in trying to build support for the Iraq war, the Bush administration either knowingly deceived the American people about Saddam Hussein’s nuclear capabilities or was grossly credulous.… The report contains little new information, but it is powerfully, coherently, and credibly reported.” One of the central aspects of the segment is anchor Ed Bradley’s interview with Dr. Jafar Dhia Jafar, the former chief of Iraq’s nuclear program. Jafar confirms to Bradley that Iraq had dismantled its nuclear program after the Gulf War in the face of United Nations inspections. “So what was going on?” Bradley asks. “Nothing was going on,” Jafar replies. He says the Bush administration was either “being fed with the wrong information” or “they were doing this deliberately.” Another powerful moment is a clip from a German interview with the former foreign minister of Niger, Allele Habibou, whose signature appears on one of the forged documents. The document was dated 2000, but Habibou had been out of the government for 11 years by that point. “I only found out about this when my grandchildren found this on the Internet. I was shocked,” he says. The story is twice as long as the usual 15-minute segments broadcast on the show. Bradley, who narrates the report, is reportedly furious at the decision not to broadcast the segment. Jacoby concludes, ”60 Minutes defied the White House to produce this report. But it could not survive the network’s cowardice—cowardice born of self-inflicted wounds.” (Isikoff and Hosenball 9/23/2004; Jacoby 9/29/2004) The story will finally run on 60 Minutes almost two years later (see April 23, 2006).
The US media learns that Iraq’s interim government reports that nearly 380 tons of powerful conventional explosives, used to demolish buildings, make missile warheads, and detonate nuclear weapons, are missing from a former military installation (see October 10, 2004). The facility, Al Qaqaa, was supposed to be under US control but in reality is “a no-man’s land,” in the words of the New York Times, “picked over by looters as recently as” October 24. UN inspectors and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had monitored the huge cache of explosives for years. The IAEA says that machine tools usable for either nuclear or non-nuclear purposes are also missing. White House and Pentagon inspectors admit that the explosives disappeared some time after the US-led invasion of Iraq. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice was informed of the missing explosives within the last month; according to the Times, “[i]t is unclear whether President Bush was informed.” US officials began answering questions about the missing explosives after reporters from the Times and CBS’s “60 Minutes” began asking questions. The CIA’s Iraq Survey Group has been asked to investigate the disappearance.
Similar Explosives Used in Other Terrorist Attacks - The immediate concern, according to US officials, is the explosives’ possible use in major bombing attacks against American and/or Iraqi forces. The explosives, mainly HMX and RDX, can be used in bombs strong enough to destroy airplanes or large buildings. The Times notes that the bomb that brought down Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland (see After December 21, 1988) used less than a pound of such explosive. Larger amounts of the same kinds of explosives were used in the November 2003 Riyadh bombings (see May 12, 2003) and a September 1999 bombing of a Moscow apartment complex (see September 9, 1999 and September 13, 1999). The explosives can also be used to trigger a nuclear weapon, the primary reason why it had been, until the invasion, monitored by UN inspectors from the IAEA.
Repeated IAEA Warnings - The IAEA had publicly warned about the danger of the Al Qaqaa explosives before the invasion, and after the overthrow of the Iraqi government, IAEA officials specifically told US officials that they needed to keep the facility locked down (see May 2003). Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita says that the missing explosives need to be kept in perspective, as US and allied forces “have discovered and destroyed perhaps thousands of tons of ordnance of all types.” Iraq’s Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Rashad Omar, tells Times and CBS reporters: “Yes, they [the 380 tons of explosives] are missing. We don’t know what happened.” Omar says that after the invasion, Al Qaqaa was the responsibility of the Coalition Provisional Authority, which served as Iraq’s de facto government until June 2004 (see June 28, 2004). “After the collapse of the regime, our liberation, everything was under the coalition forces, under their control,” he says. “So probably they can answer this question, what happened to the materials.” The CPA is defunct; Bush administration officials say they don’t know where the explosives could be. One senior official says that the Qaqaa complex was listed as a “medium priority” site on the CIA’s list of more than 500 sites that needed to be searched and secured during the invasion. “Should we have gone there? Definitely,” says one senior official. Another senior official says that US soldiers gave the Qaqaa facility a cursory inspection during the push towards Baghdad in early April, but “saw no bunkers bearing the IAEA seal.”
Refusal to Allow IAEA Inspections after Occupation - Satellite photos taken in late 2003 showed that two of the ten bunkers containing HMX had exploded, presumably from bombing during the US offensive, but eight remained relatively intact. The Bush administration refused to let the IAEA back into Iraq to inspect and verify the Qaqaa facility or any of the other stockpiles formerly monitored by IAEA officials. By May 2004, the IAEA was warning CPA officials that the facility had probably been looted (see May 2004).
More Unguarded Stockpiles - Iraq is dotted with unguarded stockpiles of explosives, say US military and administration officials. One senior administration official notes, “The only reason this stockpile was under seal is because it was located at Al Qaqaa,” where nuclear work had gone on years ago. (Glanz, Broad, and Sanger 10/25/2004)
In a New York Times editorial printed one day before the presidential election, columnist William Safire implies that Osama bin Laden is trying to influence the American electorate to vote against President Bush and for his challenger, Democratic candidate John Kerry. Safire writes that bin Laden’s recent message to American voters (see October 29, 2004) proves that “his intercession in our election” has not yet been “as successful as his pre-election panicking of Spain’s voters,” referring to a recent election where Spanish voters repudiated the conservative incumbent and elected a more liberal choice. Safire says bin Laden has echoed themes from Kerry’s campaign, specifically Kerry’s frequent assertions that Bush has not been truthful with the American people, and says the Islamist figure “delight[ed]” in the anti-Bush film Fahrenheit 911. Safire says that bin Laden’s apparent calls for some form of reconciliation or an easing of armed conflict between al-Qaeda and the West is his attempt to persuade Americans that voting for Kerry will bring about peace in the Middle East. “Generals do not call for a truce when they’re winning,” he writes. “Only warriors thrust on the defensive become conciliatory, hoping that negotiations will give them time to regroup and resupply. Bin Laden’s vain hope seems to be that the defeat of Bush will give him time to buy or steal a horrific weapon as an ‘equalizer.’” Safire goes on to accuse UN arms inspector Mohamed ElBaradei of joining with bin Laden in trying to mount an “October surprise” to defeat Bush, and details what he believes is a conspiracy between ElBaradei, the United Nations, and CBS News to publish a story concerning US troops’ failure to secure explosive devices in time to affect the election. He says the New York Times refused to hold the article until October 31, as CBS allegedly desired, and printed the article a week before. Safire writes, “If Kerry wins, the Egyptian [ElBaradei] should be chief UN inspector for life,” and he calls bin Laden’s recent videotaped message “anti-Bush overkill” that will “help ensure the president’s re-election.” (Safire 11/1/2004) Contradicting Safire’s assertions, Bruce Hoffman of the RAND Corporation says he “agrees with those who see bin Laden probably preferring the current administration.” The Christian Science Monitor quotes a senior US intelligence official as saying that bin Laden released the videotaped message to help Bush’s re-election chances: “Bin Laden knows us well enough to realize that we will take offense at him, the most reviled man in the world, criticizing our president” (see October 29, 2004 and October 29, 2004). (Feldmann 11/1/2004)
Political scientist Timothy Groseclose of UCLA and economist Jeffrey Milyo of the University of Missouri-Columbia release a study entitled “A Measure of Media Bias” that purports to document the “liberal bias” of the mainstream media. Unfortunately for Groseclose and Milyo’s conclusions, their measure of “bias” is found severely wanting, and they fail to mention the substantial body of scholarly work that challenges their theories. The study contains observations of 20 mainstream news outlets, including national newspapers, news magazines, and network and cable television news channels. (Groseclose and Milyo 12/2004; MSNBC 12/19/2005; Media Matters 12/21/2005)
Previous Positions at Conservative Institutions - Groseclose and Milyo have previously received significant funding for their research from three prominent conservative think tanks: the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI), the Heritage Foundation, and the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace. Groseclose has served as a fellow of the Hoover Institution, while Milyo received a $40,500 grant from AEI. Both were named as fellows by the Heritage Foundation. The two authored an article for the conservative American Spectator in 1996.
Flawed Study - Groseclose and Milyo, according to their study, “measure media bias by estimating ideological scores for several major media outlets” based on the frequency with which various think tanks and advocacy organizations were cited approvingly by the media and by members of Congress over a 10-year period. In order to assess media “bias,” the authors assembled the ideological scores given to members of Congress by the liberal group Americans for Democratic Action; examined the floor speeches of selected members to catalog which think tanks and policy organizations were cited by those members; used those citations as the basis for an ideological score assigned to each think tank (organizations cited by liberal members were scored as more liberal, whereas organizations cited by conservative members were scored as more conservative); then performed a content analysis of newspapers and TV programs to catalog which think tanks and policy organizations were quoted. If a news organization quoted a think tank mentioned by conservative members of Congress, then it was said to have a conservative “bias.” The authors write: “As a simplified example, imagine that there were only two think tanks, and suppose that the New York Times cited the first think tank twice as often as the second. Our method asks: What is the estimated ADA score of a member of Congress who exhibits the same frequency (2:1) in his or her speeches? This is the score that our method would assign the New York Times.” The progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters will call the methodology “bizarre,” and will write: “If a member of Congress cites a think tank approvingly, and if that think tank is also cited by a news organization, then the news organization has a ‘bias’ making it an ideological mirror of the member of Congress who cited the think tank. This, as Groseclose and Milyo define it, is what constitutes ‘media bias.’” (Groseclose and Milyo 12/2004; Media Matters 12/21/2005) In December 2005, the parent company of the Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones and Co., will question the study’s validity, noting: “[I]ts measure of media bias consists entirely of counting the number of mentions of, or quotes from, various think tanks that the researchers determine to be ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative.‘… And if a think tank is explicitly labeled ‘liberal” or “conservative’ within a story to provide context to readers, that example doesn’t count at all. The researchers simply threw out such mentions.” (Poynter Online 12/21/2005)
Classifying Organizations - Groseclose and Milyo assign “scores” to a variety of partisan and nonpartisan advocacy groups and think tanks. Some of these scores are problematic:
The National Rifle Association (NRA), widely characterized as a strongly conservative organization, scores a 49.5 on a 100-point scale, classifying it as barely conservative;
The RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research organization closely affiliated with the Defense Department, scores a 60.4, classifying it as strongly liberal;
The Council on Foreign Relations, a nonpartisan political organization featuring both Republicans and Democrats on its board and headed by a former Bush administration official, scores a 60.2, classifying it as solidly liberal;
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), an organization consistently reviled by conservative pundits, scores a 49.8, classifying it as slightly conservative;
The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks political contributions, scores a 66.9, classifying it as highly liberal;
The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a defense policy think tank chaired by former Democratic House member Dave McCurdy, scores a 33.9, classifying it as more conservative than AEI and the hard-right National Taxpayers Union.
Lack of 'Balance' Indicates Bias in Study - According to Media Matters, Groseclose and Milyo classify news stories as exhibiting a partisan bias if they fail to balance a “liberal” group’s quote with a “conservative” group’s quote, regardless of the nature of the reporting. For example, the authors cite the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which they classify as staunchly liberal, as one of the organizations most often quoted without “balancing” quotes from conservative groups. Media Matters will write, “[B]ecause there are no pro-racism groups of any legitimacy (or on Groseclose and Milyo’s list), such stories will be coded as having a ‘liberal bias.’” In contrast, stories featured in the study that quote a spokesperson from the NRA are often “balanced” by quotes from a “liberal” organization, Handgun Control, Inc., though, as Media Matters will note, that organization renamed itself the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence in 2001, and Groseclose and Milyo do not include that name in their statistics, “therefore, it is impossible to determine from reading the study if Groseclose and Milyo’s score reflects post-2001 citations by legislators and the media of the group under its new name.” Moreover, because the study only assigns partisan weight to quotes from advocacy groups or think tanks, if a story cites a member of Congress as taking a position and contrasts that position with a quote from a think tank, that story, according to the authors, is “biased” in favor of the think tank’s position. Media Matters calls this practice “miscategorization.”
Assuming Reporter, News Outlet Bias - One of the most questionable practices in the study is the assumption that if a reporter quotes a source, that reporter—or his or her news outlet—must believe the opinions expressed by that source. Media Matters will write that “most, if not all, reporters across the ideological spectrum would find [that assumption] utterly ridiculous.” (Groseclose and Milyo 12/2004; Media Matters 12/21/2005) The Dow Jones statement will find, “By this logic, a mention of al-Qaeda in a story suggests the newspaper endorses its views, which is obviously not the case.” (Poynter Online 12/21/2005) The authors say that only two mainstream news outlets, Fox News and the Washington Times, slant rightward. The study finds that Fox News’s coverage is quite moderate; in a 2005 interview on MSNBC, Milyo will say that Fox’s news coverage can be equated with the moderate Republicanism of Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME), considered the most “liberal”-leaning Republican in Congress. (MSNBC 12/19/2005)
Bias Findings at Odds with History - The study makes some odd conclusions about liberal bias: for example, the Wall Street Journal, whose op-ed page has long avowed itself as a champion of conservative thought, is characterized by the study as having more “liberal bias” than any news outlet surveyed. The authors claim that they studied only news reporting and not editorial writings, but as Media Matters will note, “the Journal is respected on both the right and the left, and it would be shocking to hear even the most rabid right-winger assert that the Journal is America’s most liberal news outlet.” (Groseclose and Milyo 12/2004; Media Matters 12/21/2005)
Methodology Flawed - In December 2005, a spokesman for Dow Jones will call the study “logically suspect and simply baffling.” The statement will note that Groseclose and Milyo only studied four months of Journal reporting, from 2002, while they studied 12 years of CBS News reporting, 11 years of National Public Radio reporting, eight years of reporting from US News and World Report, and two years of reporting from Time Magazine. The Washington Post and Washington Times were also only studied for brief periods. “Yet the researchers provide those findings the same weight as all the others, without bothering to explain that in any meaningful way to the study’s readers,” the statement will note. It will conclude, “Suffice it to say that ‘research’ of this variety would be unlikely to warrant a mention at all in any Wall Street Journal story” (see December 21, 2005).
Failure to Mention Other Studies - The authors fail to mention a large number of previous studies of “media bias.” They do, however, cite three studies that, according to Media Matters, are as “questionable” as this particular study. One assumed that since conservatives say in surveys that the media is biased, then that bias unquestionably exists. The second assumed that news magazines that sold more subscriptions in geographic areas weighted towards Democratic voters were biased in favor of Democrats. The third is an AEI study whose statistics and methodologies were found to be deeply flawed. Groseclose and Milyo ignore one of the most rigorous and exhaustive studies in recent years, a 2000 analysis by the International Communication Association, which found that newspapers and news magazines exhibited little measurable bias, and television network news broadcasts exhibited measurable but relatively insubstantial bias. That study included 59 other studies, all of which go unmentioned in the Groseclose-Milyo study.
Conservative Bibliography - Media Matters will write that the authors seem almost unaware that other studies of media bias exist. The study’s bibliography is heavily freighted with citations from conservative media critics such as Brent Bozell (founder of the Media Research Center) and Reed Irvine (the late founder of Accuracy in Media). The bibliography also cites an article from the hard-right Internet publication WorldNetDaily. It does not cite any entries from dozens of well-known scholarly journals of communication and media studies, most of which have examined the topic of media bias in their pages. (Groseclose and Milyo 12/2004; Media Matters 12/21/2005)
Investigative reporters for CBS and other mainstream outlets find ties between faux journalist “Jeff Gannon” (see January 26, 2005) and White House political guru Karl Rove. Gannon, a conservative Internet “reporter” and gay male escort whose real name is James Guckert, says he only met Rove once, at a White House Christmas party. But the ties between Gannon/Guckert and Rove run much deeper. Circumstantial evidence includes the ease with which Gannon/Guckert obtained White House press corps day passes, and the fact that Rove has talked with the extremist Internet political organization GOPUSA, which owns Talon News. Gannon/Guckert formerly wrote for Talon. Both GOPUSA and Talon are owned by Bobby Eberle, a Texas Republican and business associate of conservative direct-mail guru Richard Viguerie. Bobby Eberle has boasted of Talon’s “conservative slant” and GOPUSA’s “instant built-in bias.” Gannon/Guckert also played a key role in the defeat of former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) in his 2004 bid to keep his Senate seat (see Summer 2003 - November 2004). CBS political editor Dotty Lynch calls Gannon/Guckert and Talon News “mini-Drudge Reports: a ‘news’ source which partisans use to put out negative information, get the attention of the bloggers, talk radio, and then the [mainstream media] in a way that mere press releases are unable to achieve.” (Lynch 2/18/2005) Eberle has posted what author and media critic Frank Rich later calls “effusive thanks on the Web to both [talk show host G. Gordon] Liddy and Karl Rove ‘for their assistance, guidance, and friendship.’” (Rich 2006, pp. 171)
The media discovers a study from late 2004 purporting to show that the mainstream media in the US is heavily biased towards liberal views (see December 2004 and December 14, 2005). On December 19, MSNBC host Tucker Carlson, a conservative, interviews one of the study’s authors, Jeffrey Milyo of the University of Missouri-Columbia. Milyo repeats the study’s contention that news outlets such as CBS News, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal are heavily liberal in their coverage. Carlson calls the statement “terrifying.” Milyo repeats the assertion often made by conservatives that most reporters “tend to be about as liberal as the voters in Berkeley, California.… And the same is true in academia too, by the way, and you know, so that doesn’t mean that those preconceptions or biases or favoritism infects the job that people do.” (MSNBC 12/19/2005) The study is also cited on the December 19 edition of Fox News’s morning show, Fox and Friends (Fox News 12/19/2005; Media Matters 12/21/2005) , and that evening on Fox’s Special Report with Brit Hume. (Fox News 12/19/2005) Several other press outlets, such as CBS News, the Memphis, Tennessee Commercial Appeal, and Investors Business Daily also report on the study. (Media Matters 12/21/2005) On December 20, CNN commentator Jack Cafferty tells viewers: “Let’s talk about media bias. It’s real, according to a new study led by the University of California at Los Angeles, which shows there is a strong liberal bias. Well, there’s a bulletin. Researchers found out that of 20 main media outlets, 18 scored to the left of center. The most liberal of all were the news pages of the Wall Street Journal, not the editorial pages, the news pages. Followed two, three, and four by the CBS Evening News, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times. In this study, only Special Report with Brit Hume over there on the F-word network [Fox News] and the Washington Times scored to the right of the average voter. The most centrist media outlets in the country, The News Hour With Jim Lehrer and USA Today.” (CNN 12/20/2005)
CBS’s 60 Minutes airs a half-hour interview with Italian journalist Elisabetta Burba, the first reporter to obtain the now-infamous forged documents that purported to show that Iraq attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). The now-defunct 60 Minutes II had planned to show the segment just before the November 2004 elections, but questions from right-wing bloggers and commentators about another 60 Minutes II segment—one that showed President Bush did not fulfill his Texas Air National Guard duties during the Vietnam War—led CBS executives to pull the segment (see Late September 2004). (Isikoff and Hosenball 9/23/2004; Rich 2006, pp. 142-143; CBS News 4/23/2006) CBS News president Andrew Heyward refused to air the story during the last week of September 2004, saying it would be “inappropriate” to air it during the last weeks of the 2004 presidential election campaign. Media observer Mary Jacoby says the CBS report contains little new information, but “is powerfully, coherently, and credibly reported.” She calls CBS “cowardly” for not airing the segment when it was originally scheduled. (Jacoby 9/29/2004) Author Jane Hamsher, the owner of the progressive blog FireDogLake, writes that the 60 Minutes segment is “a simple, direct narrative that will reach millions of Americans and let them know that they have been duped.” The segment does not delve into the outing of CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson, staying strictly with the Iraq-Niger uranium claims, and, she writes, demonstrates that the officially sanctioned “investigations” into the claims were little more than “partisan hatchet jobs.” (Jane Hamsher 4/23/2006)
CBS News notes the storm of controversy surrounding the recent report by investigative journalist Jason Leopold that White House political strategist Karl Rove has been indicted (see May 12, 2006 and May 13, 2006). CBS columnist Vaughn Ververs notes: “Had either of these stories appeared on the front page of the New York Times, or in Newsweek magazine, we would be in the throes of a media feeding frenzy. The Sunday show slates would have been hurriedly rearranged to capitalize on this new ‘bombshell’ and America would have woken up this morning to watch Rove make the quick walk-and-duck from his front door to his waiting car. But so far, Leopold’s story stands alone.”
Flat Denials - No mainstream media Web site has yet confirmed Leopold’s reporting, which he has claimed includes statements from “a half-dozen White House aides and two senior officials who work at the Republican National Committee,” and White House officials, along with Rove’s lawyers and spokesmen, are flatly denying the reports: Rove’s spokesman Mark Corallo tells journalists, “The story is a complete fabrication,” and calls it “both malicious and disgraceful.” Ververs notes Leopold’s unusual step of promising to reveal his sources if the story turns out not to be true (see May 15, 2006). (Ververs 5/15/2006; New York Sun 5/15/2006)
Rove's Lawyer Not at Office, but at Veterinarian - Rove’s lawyer Robert Luskin tells a reporter that, instead of spending May 12 at his offices dealing with an indictment, he spent that day at the veterinarian’s office having his cat treated. The cat’s medical tests, Luskin says, found that “the stools were free of harmful parasites, which is more than I can say for this case.” Leopold’s report is “bizarre,” Luskin adds. “There was no meeting, no communication with Fitzgerald’s team of any kind.” Washington Post reporter and media observer Howard Kurtz notes that many in the media are beginning to report on Leopold’s past, which includes drug addiction, a felony conviction, and previous inaccurate reporting. Leopold’s publisher at Truthout.org, Marc Ash, tells Kurtz, “Jason is a character, but he’s been straight with me and I’ve checked him out very carefully.” (Kurtz 5/22/2006)
Defending Leopold - Progressive author and blogger Joshua Frank, who describes himself as a friend of Leopold’s, notes that Leopold has become a target for Bush and Libby supporters. Leopold has written candidly about what Frank calls his “checkered” past—misrepresenting himself to gain a position at the Los Angeles Times, stealing from a New York record company to support a cocaine habit—but Leopold never served jail time, unlike some press reports claimed, and Frank considers him a reliable reporter. “Had Jason broke his latest story for the Wall Street Journal or New York Times, it’s unlikely he’d be subject to the same ridicule,” Frank writes. “But when an indy writer gets a major scoop before anybody in the mainstream major media does, animosity is sure to follow. And that’s why the outcome of this saga will either legitimize independent media, or devastate it.” Frank notes that Truthout.org has said that three “reporters from mainstream media” have “shared with us off-the-record confirmation and moral support.” Leopold himself says: “I am amazed that the blogosphere would lend credence to the statements of people who have consistently lied about Rove’s role in this case. This is a White House that denied Rove’s involvement in the leak. This is a White House that has lied and lied and lied. And yet the first question that people ask is ‘why would Rove’s spokesman lie?’ Because they can, because they do, and because they have. This is an administration that has attacked and discredited their detractors. I am amazed that not a single reporter would actually do any real investigative work and get to the bottom of this story. Surely, there must be another intrepid reporter out there that has sources beyond a spokesman.” (Joshua Frank 5/17/2006)
Orchestrated Response? - Truthout’s Ash will later write that he believes it was Corallo who gave Ash’s phone number to the Post’s Kurtz for Kurtz’s story (see May 21, 2006); Corallo knew Kurtz was writing a story about how, in Corallo’s words, the mainstream media had to “follow up on the lunacy and these frauds who are passing themselves off as legitimate journalists.” Both Ash and criminal lawyer Jeralyn Merritt believe that Corallo is working with Kurtz, to some extent, to orchestrate the Post’s response to the Rove indictment story. (Jeralyn Merritt 5/21/2006)
Retired AT&T technician Mark Klein (see December 15-31, 2005 and July 7, 2009), working with a civil liberties group about his knowledge of governmental illegality in eavesdropping on Americans’ telephone and Internet communications (see Early January 2006), gives an interview for CBS’s flagship news program 60 Minutes. The interview is conducted by Steve Kroft. Klein later describes the interview as “good [and] solid,” and says it should make for a “blockbuster news story.” Klein has agreed to give CBS an “exclusive,” so he gives no interviews for the next four months while CBS fails to run the story. “I was silent during the entire 2006 election period,” Klein will write. Klein’s lead attorney, civil rights lawyer Jim Brosnahan, is astonished at CBS’s failure to run the segment, telling Klein the network has “no good reason” for not broadcasting it. CBS will never air the segment featuring Klein. Klein will later write, “It seems obvious to me that someone higher up at CBS had killed the story for political reasons, but could not tell us that, so they put us off without explanation.” Klein will later grant interviews to ABC and PBS; those interviews will be aired. (Klein 2009, pp. 62-63)
Veteran CBS war correspondent Bob Simon discusses the media’s enthusiasm for a war with Iraq before the March 2003 invasion, and its credulity, with PBS host Bill Moyers. (Moyers 4/25/2007) CBS News describes Simon as “the most honored journalist in international reporting.” A regular contributor to CBS’s flagship news program 60 Minutes, Simon has won 18 Emmy awards and a Lifetime Achievement Emmy in September 2003. (CBS News 6/8/2007) He did one of the first broadcast news examinations of the Bush administration’s propaganda efforts to sell the war with Iraq to the American public. (Simon 12/6/2002) Simon says that foreign journalists had a perspective that Washington-based journalists did not. “From overseas we had a clearer view,” he explains. “I mean we knew things or suspected things that perhaps the Washington press corps could not suspect. For example, the absurdity of putting up a connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda.” Moyers asks: “Absurdity. The Washington press corps cannot question an absurdity?” Simon replies: “Well, maybe the Washington press corps based inside the belt wasn’t as aware as those of us who are based in the Middle East and who spend a lot of time in Iraq. I mean when the Washington press corps travels, it travels with the president or with the secretary of state… [i]n a bubble. Where as we who’ve spent weeks just walking the streets of Baghdad and in other situations in Baghdad just were scratching our heads. In ways that perhaps that the Washington press corps could not.” Simon and his camera crew had been captured and brutalized by Hussein’s forces for 40 days during the 1991 Gulf War, and, Moyers notes, Simon “was under no illusions about Saddam Hussein.… It didn’t make sense to Simon that the dictator would trust Islamic terrorists.” Simon explains his reasoning: “Saddam as most tyrants, was a total control freak. He wanted total control of his regime. Total control of the country. And to introduce a wild card like al-Qaeda in any sense was just something he would not do. So I just didn’t believe it for an instant.” (Moyers 4/25/2007)
CBS News fires retired Army Major General John Batiste as a paid “military analyst” after Batiste takes part in an advertisement that criticizes the Iraq strategy of President Bush. CBS says Batiste’s participation violates the network’s standards of not being involved in advocacy. CBS spokeswoman Linda Mason says if Batiste had appeared in an advertisement promoting Bush’s policies, he would have been fired as well. “When we hire someone as a consultant, we want them to share their expertise with our viewers,” she says. “By putting himself… in an anti-Bush ad, the viewer might have the feeling everything he says is anti-Bush. And that doesn’t seem like an analytical approach to the issues we want to discuss.” Batiste retired from the military in 2003, and since then has been an outspoken critic of the conduct of the war. In the advertisement, for the VoteVets Political Action Committee, Batiste said: “Mr. President, you did not listen. You continue to pursue a failed strategy that is breaking our great Army and Marine Corps. I left the Army in protest in order to speak out. Mr. President, you have placed our nation in peril. Our only hope is that Congress will act now to protect our fighting men and women.” (United Press International 5/11/2007; Montopoli 5/11/2007) Two days after the ad aired, CBS fires Batiste. (Oregon Salem-News 5/16/2007) Batiste, an Iraq veteran who describes himself as a “diehard Republican,” tells MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann that he and his colleagues at VoteVets are “patriots… VoteVets is not an antiwar organization. We’re focused on what’s best for this country. We’re focused on being successful and winning the effort against global terrorism.” He says he agreed to make the ad with VoteVets “because I care about our country, and I care about our soldiers and Marines and their families.” He says that because he is retired, he has the freedom to speak out. (MSNBC 5/10/2007) The progressive political organization MoveOn.org calls the firing “censorship, pure and simple.” The Oregon Salem-News notes that CBS routinely employs analysts and commentators who advocate for the Bush administration, including former White House communications director Nicolle Wallace, who is, the Salem-News writes, “known for using her position to push White House talking points.” Wallace is also a consultant for the presidential campaign for Senator John McCain (R-AZ), and according to the Salem-News, CBS did not object when Wallace appeared on its broadcasts to promote his candidacy. (Oregon Salem-News 5/16/2007) Batiste is not a participant in the Pentagon’s propaganda operation to promote the Iraq war that uses retired military officers as “independent analysts” to echo and elaborate on Pentagon and White House talking points (see April 20, 2008, Early 2002 and Beyond, and May 1, 2008).
CBS News reveals the identity of the infamous Iraqi defector, “Curveball,” whose information was used by the Bush administration to build its case for Iraqi biological weapons. Curveball’s real identity is Rafid Ahmed Alwan, an Iraqi who defected to Germany in November 1999, where he requested asylum at a refugee center near Nuremberg (see November 1999). The evidence Curveball provided was detailed, compelling, and completely false, but instrumental in driving the US towards invading Iraq. Former senior CIA official Tyler Drumheller, who was unable to convince either his superiors in the agency or senior officials in the White House that Curveball was untrustworthy (see September 2002), says of Curveball’s contribution to the rhetoric of war, “If they [the Bush administration] had not had Curveball they would have probably found something else. ‘Cause there was a great determination to do it. But going to war in Iraq, under the circumstances we did, Curveball was the absolutely essential case.” CBS reporter Bob Simon says Curveball is “not only a liar, but also a thief and a poor student instead of the chemical engineering whiz he claimed to be.” The CIA eventually acknowledged Alwan as a fraud. The question remains, why did he spin such an elaborate tale? Drumheller thinks it was for the most prosaic of reasons. “It was a guy trying to get his Green Card, essentially, in Germany, playing the system for what it was worth. It just shows sort of the law of unintended consequences.” Alwan is believed to be still living in Germany, most likely under an assumed name. (CBS News 11/4/2007)
Over $1 billion in weapons and material given by the US military to Iraqi security forces cannot be found or accounted for, according to a new report issued by the Defense Department’s Inspector General. Tractor trailers, tank recovery vehicles, crates of machine guns, and rocket-propelled grenades make up just some of the “lost” weapons and munitions. CBS News characterizes the report as detailing “a massive failure in government procurement revealing little accountability for the billions of dollars spent purchasing military hardware for the Iraqi security forces.” The report gives numerous specifics, including the fact that of 13,508 weapons—pistols, assault rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, machine guns, and more—12,712, or almost 90%, cannot be found or accounted for. One Defense Department official, Claude Bolton, the assistant secretary for acquisition, logistics, and technology, has already submitted his resignation, and Congress is expected to investigate. (Strickler 12/6/2007) The US intelligence community has previously concluded that thousands of weapons given by the US to Iraqi security forces wound up in the hands of insurgents. One instance cited by an intelligence source describes a US military contractor somehow losing track of an entire shipment of Glock pistols. The Defense Department is conducting a massive bribery investigation centered around a military base in Kuwait, involving dozens of high-level US officers and private military contractors. House Armed Service Committee members lambasted what they called the “culture of corruption” surrounding billions in Iraq war contracts. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), the committee’s ranking minority member and a presidential candidate, says, “The number of folks who have enormous responsibility to this country are involved has, I think, made this a real tragedy for our country.” (Keteyian 9/20/2007)
The various news networks cited in this day’s New York Times expose of their involvement in a overarching Pentagon propaganda campaign to promote the Iraq war by using retired military officers as “independent military analysts” (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) say that, by and large, they were unaware of their analysts’ connections with both the administration and with defense contractors. (Many analysts used their access to the Pentagon and the networks to drum up business for themselves and their firms.) The networks say they are always concerned about conflicts of interest, but it is up to the analysts to disclose any such possible conflicts. As for the analysts, they say that the networks had only a dim awareness of their connections either with defense firms or the Pentagon. The networks don’t realize, the analysts claim, how frequently they meet with senior Defense Department officials or what is discussed. One NBC analyst, Rick Francona, says, “I don’t think NBC was even aware we were participating.” Many analysts say that the networks did not inquire deeply into their outside business interests and any potential conflicts of interest. “None of that ever happened,” says former NBC analyst Kenneth Allard. “The worst conflict of interest was no interest.” Allard and others say their network liaisons raised no objections when the Pentagon began paying for their trips to Iraq, a clear ethical violation for any serious news organization. The networks’ responses are limited at best: ABC says it is the analysts’ responsibility to keep them informed of any conflicts of interest; NBC says it has “clear policies” that ensure their analysts are free of conflicts; CBS declines to comment; a Fox News spokeswoman says that network’s executives “refused to participate” in the Times article. As for CNN, it requires its military analysts to disclose in writing all outside sources of interest, but like the other networks, it does not provide its analysts with specific ethical guidelines such as it provides to its full-time employees. In mid-2007, CNN fired one analyst for his conflicts of interest (see July 2007). (Barstow 4/20/2008)
The New York Times receives 8,000 pages of Pentagon e-mail messages, transcripts and records through a lawsuit. It subsequently reports on a systematic and highly orchestrated “psyops” (psychological operations) media campaign waged by the Defense Department against the US citizenry, using the American media to achieve their objectives. At the forefront of this information manipulation campaign is a small cadre of retired military officers known to millions of TV and radio news audience members as “military analysts.” These “independent” analysts appear on thousands of news and opinion broadcasts specifically to generate favorable media coverage of the Bush administration’s wartime performance. The group of officers are familiar faces to those who get their news from television and radio, billed as independent analysts whose long careers enable them to give what New York Times reporter David Barstow calls “authoritative and unfettered judgments about the most pressing issues of the post-Sept. 11 world.” However, the analysts are not nearly as independent as the Pentagon would like for Americans to believe. Barstow writes: “[T]he Bush administration has used its control over access and information in an effort to transform the analysts into a kind of media Trojan horse—an instrument intended to shape terrorism coverage from inside the major TV and radio networks.… These records reveal a symbiotic relationship where the usual dividing lines between government and journalism have been obliterated.”
Administration 'Surrogates' - The documents repeatedly refer to the analysts as “message force multipliers” or “surrogates” who can be counted on to deliver administration “themes and messages” to millions of Americans “in the form of their own opinions.” According to the records, the administration routinely uses the analysts as, in Barstow’s words, “a rapid reaction force to rebut what it viewed as critical news coverage, some of it by the networks’ own Pentagon correspondents.” When news articles revealed that US troops in Iraq were dying because of inadequate body armor (see March 2003 and After), a senior Pentagon official wrote to his colleagues, “I think our analysts—properly armed—can push back in that arena.” In 2005, Ten analysts were flown to Guantanamo to counter charges that prisoners were being treated inhumanely; the analysts quickly and enthusiastically repeated their talking points in a variety of television and radio broadcasts (see June 24-25, 2005).
Ties to Defense Industry - Most of the analysts, Barstow writes, have deep and complex “ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air.” The analysts and the networks almost never reveal these business relationships to their viewers; sometimes even the networks are unaware of just how deep those business connections extend. Between then, the fifty or so analysts “represent more than 150 military contractors either as lobbyists, senior executives, board members or consultants. The companies include defense heavyweights, but also scores of smaller companies, all part of a vast assemblage of contractors scrambling for hundreds of billions in military business generated by the administration’s war on terror. It is a furious competition, one in which inside information and easy access to senior officials are highly prized.” Some of the analysts admit to using their special access to garner marketing, networking, and business opportunities. John Garrett, a retired Marine colonel and Fox News analyst, is also a lobbyist at Patton Boggs who helps firms win Pentagon contracts, including from Iraq. In company promotional materials, Garrett says that as a military analyst he “is privy to weekly access and briefings with the secretary of defense, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other high level policy makers in the administration.” One client told investors that Garrett’s access and experience helps him “to know in advance—and in detail—how best to meet the needs” of the Defense Department and other agencies. Garrett calls this an inevitable overlap between his various roles, and says that in general, “That’s good for everybody.”
Exclusive Access to White House, Defense Officials - The analysts have been granted unprecedented levels of access to the White House and the Pentagon, including:
hundreds of private briefings with senior military officials, including many with power over contracting and budget matters;
private tours of Iraq;
access to classified information;
private briefings with senior White House, State Department, and Justice Department officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.
Conversely, analysts who do not cooperate take a risk. “You’ll lose all access,” says CBS military analyst and defense industry lobbyist Jeffrey McCausland.
Quid Pro Quo - Fox News analyst and retired Army lieutenant colenel Timur Eads, who is vice president of government relations for Blackbird Technologies, a rapidly growing military contractor, later says, “We knew we had extraordinary access.” Eads confirms that he and other analysts often held off on criticizing the administration for fear that “some four-star [general] could call up and say, ‘Kill that contract.’” Eads believes that he and the other analysts were misled about the Iraqi security forces, calling the Pentagon’s briefings about those forces’ readiness a “snow job.” But Eads said nothing about his doubts on television. His explanation: “Human nature.” Several analysts recall their own “quid pro quo” for the Pentagon in the months before the invasion (see Early 2003). And some analysts were far more aboveboard in offering quid pro quos for their media appearances. Retired Army general Robert Scales, Jr, an analyst for Fox News and National Public Radio, and whose consulting company advises several firms on weapons and tactics used in Iraq, asked for high-level Pentagon briefings in 2006. In an e-mail, he told officials: “Recall the stuff I did after my last visit. I will do the same this time.”
Repeating White House Talking Points - In return, the analysts have, almost to a man, echoed administration talking points about Iraq, Afghanistan, and Iran, even when some of them believed the information they were given was false or inflated. Some now acknowledge they did so—and continue to do so—for fear of losing their access, which in turn jeopardizes their business relationships. Some now regret their participation in the propoganda effort, and admit they were used as puppets while pretending to be independent military analysts. Bevelacqua says, “It was them saying, ‘We need to stick our hands up your back and move your mouth for you.’” Former NBC analyst Kenneth Allard, who has taught information warfare at the National Defense University, calls the campaign a sophisticated information operation aimed, not at foreign governments or hostile populaces, but against the American people. “This was a coherent, active policy,” he says (see Late 2006). The Pentagon denies using the military analysts for propaganda purposes, with spokesman Bryan Whitman saying it was “nothing other than an earnest attempt to inform the American people.” It is “a bit incredible” to think retired military officers could be “wound up” and turned into “puppets of the Defense Department,” Whitman says. And other analysts, such as McCausland, say that they never allowed their outside business interests to affect their on-air commentaries. “I’m not here representing the administration,” McCausland says. Some say they used their positions to even criticize the war in Iraq. But according to a close analysis of their performances by a private firm retained by the Pentagon to evaluate the analysts, they performed to the Pentagon’s complete satisfaction (see 2005 and Beyond).
Enthusiastic Cooperation - The analysts are paid between $500 and $1,000 per appearance by the networks, but, according to the transcripts, they often speak as if the networks and the media in general are the enemy. They often speak of themselves as operating behind enemy lines. Some offered the Pentagon advice on how to outmaneuver the networks, or, as one said to then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, “the Chris Matthewses and the Wolf Blitzers of the world.” Some alerted Pentagon officials of planned news stories. Some sent copies of their private correspondence with network executives to the Pentagon. Many enthusiastically echoed and even added to administration talking points (see Early 2007). (Barstow 4/20/2008) Several analysts say that based on a Pentagon briefing, they would then pitch an idea for a segment to a producer or network booker. Sometimes, the analysts claim, they even helped write the questions for the anchors to ask during a segment. (Barstow 4/21/2008)
Consequences and Repercussions - Some of the analysts are dismayed to learn that they were described as reliable “surrogates” in Pentagon documents, and some deny that their Pentagon briefings were anything but, in the words of retired Army general and CNN analyst David Grange, “upfront information.” Others note that they sometimes disagreed with the administration on the air. Scales claims, “None of us drink the Kool-Aid.” Others deny using their access for business gain. Retired general Carlton Shepperd says that the two are “[n]ot related at all.” But not all of the analysts disagree with the perception that they are little more than water carriers for the Pentagon. Several recall being chewed out by irate defense officials minutes after their broadcasts, and one, retired Marine colonel Wiliam Cowan of Fox News, recalls being fired—by the Pentagon, not by Fox—from his analyst position after issuing a mild criticism of the Pentagon’s war strategies (see August 3-4, 2005). (Barstow 4/20/2008)
Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) asks five different television news networks for explanations of their roles in the Pentagon propaganda operation recently revealed by the New York Times (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). DeLauro sends letters to Steve Capus, the president of NBC News; David Westin, president of ABC News; Sean McManus, president of CBS News and Sports; Roger Ailes, president of Fox News; and Jim Walton, president of CNN News Group. Her letters, which use fundamentally the same wording, conclude: “When the American people turn on their TV news, they expect coverage of the Iraq War and military issues to be using analysts without conflicts of interests. When you put analysts on the air without fully disclosing their business interests, as well as relationships with high-level officials within the government, the public trust is betrayed. Now that the full extent of the Department of Defense’s domestic propaganda program has been revealed, I strongly encourage you to make the necessary policy changes to ensure proper vetting of those you wish to put on the air so that the viewers can get the objective analyses they deserve.” (US House of Representatives 4/24/2008) As of mid-May, only two of those networks—CNN and ABC News—will respond to DeLauro (see May 2, 2008 and April 29, 2008).
PBS reports on the recent revelations about a Pentagon propaganda operation that uses retired military officers as “independent military analysts” to further its goal of promoting the Iraq war and occupation (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Reporter Judy Woodruff notes, “And for the record, we invited Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, CBS, ABC and NBC to participate, but they declined our offer or did not respond.” Neither does the Pentagon send anyone to take part in the report. Woodruff discloses that PBS’s NewsHour with Jim Lehrer put five military analysts on retainer in 2003, but says that none of them attended Pentagon briefings while being paid by PBS, as so many of the other network analysts did.
Selling and Managing the War - The Center for Media and Democracy’s John Stauber says, “[S]hame on the networks who were duped this way that they didn’t show up to defend or explain their actions.” Stauber calls the Pentagon operation “a psyops campaign, an incredible government propaganda campaign whereby Donald Rumsfeld and Torie [Victoria] Clarke, the head of public relations for the Pentagon, designed a program to recruit 75, at least 75 former military officers… most of them now lobbyists or consultants to military contractors, and insert them, beginning in 2002, before the attack on Iraq was even launched, into the major networks to manage the messages, to be surrogates. And that’s the words that are actually used, ‘message multipliers’ for the secretary of defense and for the Pentagon. This program continues right up to now.” Stauber says that the Pentagon program is patently illegal (see April 28, 2008), though the Pentagon may dispute that contention. “It is illegal for the US government to propagandize citizens in this way,” he says. “In my opinion, this war could have never been sold if it were not for this sophisticated propaganda campaign. And what we need is congressional investigation of not just this Pentagon military analyst program, but all the rest of the deception and propaganda that came out of the Bush administration and out of the Pentagon that allowed them to sell and manage this war.”
Full Disclosure Needed - Former ABC news correspondent Robert Zelnick, now a professor of journalism at Boston University, says the only thing that surprised him about the New York Times report that broke the story was its length. Zelnick says that when he covered the Pentagon: “I often sought information from retired generals and admirals and colonels because I knew they were well-informed. I knew they kept in touch. I knew they had drinks at the Army-Navy Club. I know they went to Army-Navy football games on special trains together. I knew that many of them were serving as what we called Beltway bandits or consultants.” Zelnick says: “[I]f you have an admiral on who is or a general who is currently a consultant to the Pentagon, that should be disclosed right at the top of the interview. But we don’t—as networks, we didn’t have these people on because they were neutral; we had them on because they knew what they were talking about. They had spent their lives in military affairs.” Zelnick says that to conclude the Pentagon actually “recruited” analysts for ABC or another network or cable broadcaster is an overgeneralization; the Pentagon merely “recommended, perhaps, former generals or admirals to the various networks and, once they had them, they kept them informed. And I think that’s to the good. It meant that more information was available. If occasionally a general or an admiral or a colonel who was retired and used in this fashion allowed himself to be dictated to, that’s his fault. And I think any solid news person or executive editor running one of these programs would have discerned that early on and quit using him.”
'Agents of Pentagon Propaganda' - Stauber retorts that he is “shocked to hear Bob Zelnick depict and misrepresent what’s going on here. And I have to wonder, Professor Zelnick, if you even read the New York Times article very closely. This is an instant where these people were recruited by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld as agents of Pentagon propaganda and inserted into the networks. Now, you can fault—and we should fault—the networks for not vetting these people properly, for not being much more careful about their credentials. But the fact is this program began with the Pentagon, with the Bush administration, recruiting these people to be their surrogates. And those are the words that the internal documents used. This is the Pentagon Papers of this war.” Zelnick responds that the networks had just as many analysts on their payrolls during the 1991 Gulf War, “[s]o it was something that the networks perceived was in their own interest to develop these kinds of contacts. And it was in their interest. It certainly was in my interest as a Pentagon correspondent.” Zelnick says that while the networks should always disclose their analysts’ business connections with whatever defense firms they represent, “what do we expect these guys to do after 30 or 40 years in the service, during which time they’ve risen to the ranks of the most senior officers? We would expect them to wind up as consultants or, as I said, we call them Beltway bandits. I just don’t get upset over something that’s completely natural, completely to be expected, and widely known throughout the industry.” Stauber disputes Zelnick’s characterization, and notes that the structure of the operation was guided from Rumsfeld and Clarke, not from the networks initiating contact with the Pentagon on behalf of their military analysts. “The flow was illegal government propaganda, recruiting these people, and inserting them into the news, and then hiring a company to measure and quantify how good a job they did of selling the war and managing press and public opinion. This is Goebbels-like.” (PBS 4/24/2008)
Former CBS News president Andrew Heyward calls the recently revealed Pentagon propaganda program for the promotion of the Iraq war (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) “a deliberate attempt to deceive the public,” adding, “Analysts whose real allegiance was to the Pentagon and who apparently were given at least special access for that allegiance were presented as analysts whose allegiance was to the networks and, therefore, the public.” Heywood left CBS News in 2005. Former Army Major General John Batiste calls the operation “a very deliberate attempt on the part of the administration to shape public opinion.” Batiste, who commanded an infantry division in Iraq before retiring from the military in 2005 to speak out against Bush administration policies in the Middle East, was an analyst for CBS News for a brief time. However, unlike the analysts in the propaganda operation, Batiste was never invited to any Pentagon briefings and thus not exposed to the full brunt of the Pentagon’s public relations messaging offensive. “It also sounded to me as if they were parroting administration talking points,” he says. “It sounded very much to me like I was up against an information operation. I had no idea that it was so extensive.” National Public Radio’s managing editor, Brian Duffy, says that in light of the revelations about the propaganda operation, NPR is reviewing its policies towards using retired military officers as analysts and “asking more rigorous questions about anyone that we’re paying as a consultant.” (Folkenflik 5/1/2008)
The story of the Pentagon’s propaganda operation—using military analysts in media outlets to promote the administration’s policies in Iraq (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond)—is going remarkably unreported in those selfsame media outlets. Political bloggers are keeping the story alive, and Democratic congressmen are beginning to call for investigations (see April 28, 2008 and May 6, 2008)), but remarkably little about the operation has appeared either in the mainstream press or on broadcast news shows. One such lawmaker, Senator John Kerry (D-MA), says that he “decided to push this issue hard because ever since the New York Times expose appeared, the silence has been deafening.” Kerry says there needs to be a “thorough investigation” into government contracts and “whether Americans’ tax dollars were being used to cultivate talking heads to sell the administration’s Iraq policy.” But unlike the pre-Internet paradigm, this story may not be so quick to disappear. Tom Rosenstiel, the director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, says, “We are in a time when stories can have a second life.” Political bloggers on the Internet, who keep chipping away at stories long after they have disappeared from the headlines, can give stories another chance, says Rosenstiel, citing the example of bloggers reviving the story of the US attorney firings in 2007 (see November 8, 2007). Rosenstiel says that his organization tracked the mainstream media for a week after the Times story was printed. Out of around 1,300 news stories, only two touched on the Pentagon analysts report, and both of those were on PBS’s Newshour (see April 24, 2008). Independent television analyst Andrew Tyndall says it would be too much to expect for any broadcast news outlets to engage in the story over the airwaves, as they almost never do what he calls “self-criticism stories,” but, he says, “this is really the sort of thing that all of the networks should have addressed online.” Virtually the only mainstream response from the broadcast news has been a short piece from NBC anchorman Brian Williams, who responded on his blog ten days after the Times story ran, and generally extolled the virtues of the analysts with whom he had worked (see April 29, 2008). Former CBS editorial director Dick Meyer, who oversaw CBS’s “Public Eye” blog before it was discontinued due to cutbacks, says that would have been the perfect place to examine the story. “This controversy about military analysts would have been right in our ballpark,” says Meyer, who now works for National Public Radio. “It’s irresponsible for a modern news organization to not have some kind of readers’ advocate, some kind of public editor function,” he says. (Calderone and Zenilman 5/8/2008)
Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), the Republican candidate for vice president with presidential contender John McCain (R-AZ), learns of a recent CNN report about her ties with the secessionist Alaskan Independence Party (AIP—see October 14, 2008) and the Salon.com article that sparked the report (see October 10, 2008). Palin is on a campaign jet en route to New Hampshire when she sees part of the segment, along with a graphic on the bottom of the screen touting “The Palins and the Fringe.” The segment discusses her husband Todd Palin’s former membership in the AIP, and her own videotaped message to the 2008 AIP convention (see March 2008). During a rally this afternoon, someone on the rope line shouts a question about the AIP. Palin determines that the campaign is not working hard enough to downplay her connections to the AIP, and quickly sends an email to Steve Schmidt, the campaign’s chief strategist, and to campaign manager Rick Davis and senior adviser Nicolle Wallace. The email, titled simply “Todd,” reads: “Pls get in front of that ridiculous issue that’s cropped up all day today—two reporters, a protestor’s sign, and many shout-outs all claiming Todd’s involvement in an anti-American political party. It’s bull, and I don’t want to have to keep reacting to it.… Pls have statement given on this so it’s put to bed.” Palin is worried in part because her vice-presidential debate with Democratic contender Joseph Biden (D-DE) is coming up in hours, and she has no desire to delve into the Palins’ associations with the AIP during it. Five minutes after Palin sends the email, she receives a reply from Schmidt, saying: “Ignore it. He [Todd Palin] was a member of the aip? My understanding is yes. That is part of their platform. Do not engage the protestors. If a reporter asks say it is ridiculous. Todd loves america.” Palin is unsatisfied, sending another email to the three original recipients and cc’ing it to five other campaign staffers, including her personal assistant. CBS News will later report: “Palin’s insertion of the five additional staffers in the email chain was an apparent attempt to rally her own troops in the face of a decision from the commanding general with which she disagreed. Her inclusion of her personal assistant was particularly telling about her quest for affirmation and support in numbers, since the young staffer was not in a position to have any input on campaign strategy.” Palin writes: “That’s not part of their platform and he was only a ‘member’ bc independent alaskans too often check that ‘Alaska Independent’ box on voter registrations thinking it just means non partisan. He caught his error when changing our address and checked the right box. I still want it fixed.” Palin is misrepresenting the nature of Alaskan voter registration documents: they contain the full name of the Alaskan Independence Party, not “Alaska independent,” as she seems to assert. Schmidt sees Palin’s second email as an attempt to mislead the campaign and sends a longer response about the AIP, which says: “Secession. It is their entire reason for existence. A cursory examination of the website shows that the party exists for the purpose of seceding from the union. That is the stated goal on the front page of the web site. Our records indicate that todd was a member for seven years. If this is incorrect then we need to understand the discrepancy. The statement you are suggesting be released would be innaccurate. The innaccuracy would bring greater media attention to this matter and be a distraction. According to your staff there have been no media inquiries into this and you received no questions about it during your interviews. If you are asked about it you should smile and say many alaskans who love their country join the party because it speeks to a tradition of political independence. Todd loves his country[.] We will not put out a statement and inflame this and create a situation where john has to adress this.” CBS will call Schmidt’s pushback against Palin’s insistence on a correction “particularly blunt in that it implicitly questioned her truthfulness. Furthermore, his unwillingness to budge an inch on the matter was a remarkable assertion of his power to pull rank over the candidate herself.” Palin does not respond to the email. (CBS News 7/1/2009) The McCain-Palin campaign will issue a brief statement denying that Palin was ever a registered member of the AIP. “Governor Palin has been a registered Republican since 1982,” campaign spokesman Brian Rogers will say. “As you know, if she changed her registration, there would have been some record of it. There isn’t.” AIP chairperson Lynette Clark will confirm Rogers’s statement. (Tapper 9/1/2008; Alaskan Independence Party 9/3/2008)
An Indiana University study shows that the three American broadcast networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC, systematically favored Republicans in their election news coverage from 1992 through 2004. The study is presented by two professors in the Department of Telecommunications, Maria Elizabeth Grabe and Erik Bucy, and is published in book form, entitled Image Bite Politics: News and the Visual Framing of Elections. The Indiana University press release notes, “Their research runs counter to the popular conventional notion of a liberal bias in the media in favor of Democrats and against Republican candidates.” Grabe says: “We don’t think this is journalists conspiring to favor Republicans. We think they’re just so beat up and tired of being accused of a liberal bias that they unknowingly give Republicans the benefit in coverage. It’s self-censorship that journalists might be imposing on themselves.”
Focusing on 'Image Bites' - Grabe and Bucy focused on visual coverage of presidential candidates. Between 1992 and 2004, they found, candidates were shown more visually over the years, in what the authors call “image bites,” while their verbal statements, or “sound bites,” steadily decreased in average length. Grabe and Bucy examined 62 hours of broadcast news coverage, totaling 178 newscasts, between Labor Day and Election Day over four US presidential elections between 1992 and 2004. Cable news outlets such as CNN and Fox News were not included in the study. The professors are now examining broadcast coverage for the 2008 election.
Favoritism in Visual Coverage - According to the press release: “Grabe and Bucy found the volume of news coverage focusing exclusively on each party—one measure of media bias—favored Republicans. Their research found there were more single-party stories about Republicans overall and in each election year except 1992. When they studied the time duration of these stories, no pattern of favoritism was evident. But they did spot differences when they studied visual coverage, that is, with the volume turned down.” Grabe and Bucy note: “Reporters do exercise control over production decisions. The internal structure of news stories—their placement in the newscast, editing techniques and manipulations related to camera angles, shot lengths, eyewitness perspectives and zoom movements—is at the volition of news workers, free of the influence of image handlers.”
Editing Techniques Favor Republicans - The authors examined several “visual packaging techniques” used in editing a film of a candidate. Two techniques worthy of note were the “lip-flap shot,” in which a reporter narrates over a video of the candidate talking, and the “Goldilocks effect,” wherein a candidate gets the last word in a piece and thus is better remembered by viewers. The “lip-flap shot” is considered so negative for a candidate that it is considered a “violation of professional television news production standards,” according to the authors. Both techniques were employed to the benefit of Republicans, the authors report. Democrats were more apt to be subjected to “lip-flapping,” while Republicans more often got the last word in (except in 2004, when the “Goldilocks effect” was relatively even-handed). Other techniques that are considered detrimental to candidates are extreme close-ups, with a face filling the screen, and long-distance shots. In general, both techniques were used to affect Democrats more often than Republicans. And Republicans garnered more favorable views with such techniques as low-angle camera shots, which the authors say demonstrably “attribute power and dominance to candidates in experimental studies.” Most professional cameramen and journalists are trained not to use low-angle or high-angle shots, says Grabe, and instead to favor more neutral eye-level shots. She notes: “It takes the same amount of time to rig a camera for a low-angle shot as for a more neutral eye-level shot. It doesn’t take any extra effort to be professionally unbiased. There is evidence that the pattern favoring Republicans is stable across networks, because there are no statistically significant differences between them.”
Impact on Poll Numbers - The impact of these negative and positive “packaging” techniques on daily polls was measurable, Grabe says: “When negative packaging over time spiked for a candidate, public opinion generally went down. You can observe the same inverse trend. When detrimental packaging subsides, public opinion is at its highest point. In experimental research, these production features have been shown to have an impact—now we have indications that they have broad impact on public opinion.”
Conclusion - Bucy concludes: “Visuals are underappreciated in news coverage. You can have a negative report. You can have the journalist being opinionated against the candidate. But if you’re showing favorable visuals, that outweighs the net effect on the viewer almost every single time.” (University of Indiana 2/24/2009)
Fox News takes out a full-page ad in the Washington Post demanding why other news networks did not cover the 9/12 rally (see September 12, 2009). “How did, ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC, and CNN miss this story?” the text reads. Huffington Post columnist Jason Linkins writes that it took him “all of 30 seconds” to find coverage on CNN and MSNBC. He writes that on September 12, “CNN ran no less than 14 reports on the Tea Party rally, beginning at approximately 7:00 a.m. During the same time period, MSNBC offered viewers four reports on the Tea Parties.” NBC, CBS, and ABC also covered the rally. “No one missed the story,” Linkins concludes. He goes on to note that ABC was the news network that debunked attempts to inflate the crowd numbers to make the rally seem larger than it really was (see September 13-14, 2009). (Linkins 9/18/2009) This afternoon, CNN anchor Rick Sanchez declares of the ad, “You lie!” Fox News defends the ad, with its vice president Michael Tammero issuing a statement that says in part, “Generally speaking, it’s fair to say that from the tea party movement… to the march on 9/12, the networks either ignored the story, marginalized it, or misrepresented the significance of it altogether.” A Fox News executive calls Sanchez a “sucker” and “a gift that keeps on giving” for his on-air reaction. CNN retorts in its own statement: “Fox News’ ad today is blatantly false regarding CNN’s coverage of the 9/12 rally. CNN provided live coverage of the rally in Washington throughout the day Saturday, Sept. 12. CNN dispatched more than a dozen personnel and multiple camera crews, including the CNN Express, to cover the event. CNN’s deputy political director Paul Steinhauser was live at Freedom Plaza, CNN correspondent Kate Bolduan live from the West Front of the Capitol and roved the crowd, CNN’s Jim Spellman provided live hits all day after traveling for weeks on the actual Tea Party Express, and CNN’s Lisa Desjardins was live from the National Mall.” (Krakauer 9/18/2009)
President Obama makes the rounds of the Sunday morning network news talk shows to discuss health care reform, in what ABC News calls “an unprecedented presidential blitz of media appearances.” Obama appears for interviews on Sunday morning shows from ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and Univision. In recent days, he has also appeared on CBS’s 60 Minutes, and will soon appear on CBS’s Late Night with David Letterman. However, the White House refuses to include Fox News in Obama’s appearances. When asked about the apparent snub, White House spokesman Josh Earnest replies, “We figured Fox would rather show ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ than broadcast an honest discussion about health insurance reform,” referring to the Fox network’s decision not to air Obama’s September 9 speech to a joint session of Congress on its regular broadcasting stations (see September 9, 2009). Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace says of the Obama White House, “They are the biggest bunch of crybabies I have dealt with in my 30 years in Washington.” Earnest responds that Wallace’s Fox News is not a legitimate news outlet, saying: “Fox is an ideological outlet where the president has been interviewed before and will likely be interviewed again. Not that the whining particularly strengthens their case for participation any time soon.” (Media Matters 9/18/2009; Karl 9/19/2009)
A New York Times/CBS News poll shows that the 18 percent of Americans identifying themselves as tea party supporters are wealthier and more well-educated than the general public. They tend to be Republican, white, male, married, and older than 45. They tend to be more conservative than “mainstream” Republicans, and describe themselves as “very conservative” and President Obama as “very liberal.” Most Republicans term themselves as “dissatisfied” with Washington, but tea party supporters tend to classify themselves as “angry.” Most tea partiers tend to describe their individual or household tax burden as “fair,” though they tend to dislike taxation in general. Most send their children to public schools. Most support Medicare and Social Security, though they support the idea of smaller government. Where they tend to diverge from the general public is in their deep pessimism about the direction of the country, and their conviction that the Obama administration is bent on helping the poor at the expense of the middle class and the wealthy. The vast majority of tea party supporters say Obama does not share American values and knows little about the problems of people like themselves. A quarter of the responding supporters say that Obama favors blacks over whites, as opposed to 11 percent of the general public, and they are more likely than the general public to believe that “too much has been made of the problems facing black people.” Three things primarily fuel their anger at Washington: health care reform, government spending, and their feeling that Washington lawmakers ignore their concerns. Retired Florida lawyer Elwin Thrasher says in an interview: “The only way they will stop the spending is to have a revolt on their hands. I’m sick and tired of them wasting money and doing what our founders never intended to be done with the federal government.” Over 90 percent of tea party supporters believe the country is heading down the wrong path, as contrasted with some 60 percent of the general population, and almost 90 percent say Obama is doing a poor job heading the country. That same percentage say he has mishandled health care, the economy, and the federal deficit. Ninety-two percent say Obama wants to make the US a socialist state. Retired medical transcriber Kathy Mayhugh says: “I just feel he’s getting away from what America is. He’s a socialist. And to tell you the truth, I think he’s a Muslim and trying to head us in that direction, I don’t care what he says” (see October 1, 2007, December 19, 2007, January 11, 2008, January 22-24, 2008, April 18, 2008, June 27, 2008, October 10-11, 2008, September 24, 2010, and April 27, 2011). While most Americans blame the Bush administration or Wall Street for the current economic status, a majority of tea party supporters blame Congress, focusing much of that blame on Congressional Democrats. They vote almost unanimously Republican. Fifty-seven percent of tea party supporters say they hold a favorable opinion of former President George W. Bush, while almost the same percentage of the general public see Bush unfavorably. Most tea party supporters say they want to focus on economic issues ahead of social issues such as gay rights and abortion restrictions, and say the movement should focus first on shrinking the federal government, ahead of reducing the deficit or lowering taxes. Almost 75 percent of tea party supporters say domestic program spending should be reduced, though most do not want Medicare or Social Security cut. California tea party supporter Jodine White, 62, says of her view on federal spending: “That’s a conundrum, isn’t it? I don’t know what to say. Maybe I don’t want smaller government. I guess I want smaller government and my Social Security.… I didn’t look at it from the perspective of losing things I need. I think I’ve changed my mind.” (Zernike and Thee-Brenan 4/14/2010)
Republican pundit Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska, discusses the recent primary victory of US Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell (R-DE—see September 13, 2010) with Fox News host Bill O’Reilly. Palin advises O’Donnell to use Fox News, and only Fox, to get her message out. O’Reilly notes that GOP strategist Karl Rove, who has been critical of O’Donnell’s candidacy, has said O’Donnell is unprepared to talk to moderate voters about her often-extremist positions, and thusly, her staff has been reluctant to appear on news programs such as his O’Reilly Factor. Palin says this is the wrong course, and compares O’Donnell’s campaign to her own 2008 campaign for vice president when her advisers told her to stay away from the media. “She’s going to have to learn very quickly to dismiss what her handlers want,” Palin says. “Go with her gut, get out there speak to the American people, speak through Fox News.” (Gibson 9/16/2010) Shortly thereafter, O’Donnell cancels a scheduled appearance on the September 19 edition of CBS’s Face the Nation, with no explanation. “They just emailed us and said she needed to cancel,” says the show’s executive producer, Mary Hager. Politico’s Ben Smith speculates that O’Donnell “may now be heeding the advice bestowed earlier this week by Sarah Palin: ‘Speak through Fox.’” Smith also notes that O’Donnell has drawn fire for her extreme comments on a variety of subjects, from condom use to her stated belief that scientists have inserted human brains into mice (see November 15, 2007). (Smith 9/16/2010)
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) releases a video showing Delaware Republican primary winner Glen Urquhart (R-DE) comparing believers in the separation of church and state to Nazis. Urquhart is running for the House seat vacated by moderate Republican Mike Castle (R-DE), who lost a contentious Delaware Senate primary to right-wing candidate Christine O’Donnell (see September 13, 2010). Both O’Donnell and Urquhart are backed by state and national “tea party” organizations. The DCCC is attempting to portray O’Donnell, Urquhart, and others as right-wing extremists. The video shows Urquhart speaking directly to the cameras, saying that the idea of the separation of church and state originated not with the Founding Fathers, but with Adolf Hitler: “Do you know, where does this phrase separation of church and state come from? Does anybody know?… Actually, that’s exactly, it was not in [Thomas] Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists. He was reassuring that the federal government wouldn’t trample on their religion. The exact phrase ‘separation of church and state’ came out of Adolf Hitler’s mouth, that’s where it comes from. Next time your liberal friends talk about the separation of church and state ask them why they’re Nazis.” Urquhart’s spokesman David Anderson says the candidate has repeatedly apologized for the remarks, and says Urquhart “believes 100 percent in religious freedom for all Americans.” He was merely speaking out against what he calls the “oppression of religious freedom in the name of separation of church and state.… The phrase he used was unfortunate, and he apologized for it.” (Berman 9/17/2010; Montopoli 9/17/2010) CBS News notes that Jefferson indeed used the phrase “separation of church and state” in his letter to the Danbury, Connecticut, Baptist Association, writing, “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church & state.” (Montopoli 9/17/2010; Jefferson 9/17/2010)
Lara Logan, CBS’s chief foreign correspondent and a veteran war reporter, is beaten and sexually assaulted by a mob celebrating the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarek in Cairo. Logan and her colleagues, including a small security force, are surrounded by over 200 people during a celebration in Tahrir Square. Logan is separated from her group and subjected to what CBS calls “a brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating.” She is rescued by a group of women and 20 Egyptian soldiers, and returns to the United States the next day for medical treatment. The network does not release full details of her injuries, and Logan’s family asks that her privacy be respected while she recovers. (Farhi 2/15/2011)
Fellow Journalist Accuses Logan of Trying to 'Become a Martyr' - Within days, American commentators and pundits begin blaming Logan for bringing her injuries upon herself. Nir Rosen, a journalist and foreign policy scholar, posts a series of comments on Twitter accusing Logan of trying to upstage CNN’s Anderson Cooper, who days before had been beaten by a crowd of Egyptians while covering the protests in Cairo. Rosen writes: “Lara Logan had to outdo Anderson. Where was her buddy McCrystal?” referencing General Stanley McChrystal (see September 22, 2009), who once led American troops in Afghanistan and whom Logan has defended in her reporting. Rosen then goes on to say that had Cooper also been sexually assaulted, he would have found it amusing: “Yes yes its wrong what happened to her. Of course. I don’t support that. But, it would have been funny if it happened to Anderson too.” Reacting to her defense of McChrystal, he posts, “Jesus Christ, at a moment when she is going to become a martyr and glorified we should at least remember her role as a major war monger,” and finishes his Twitter blast with, “Look, she was probably groped like thousands of other women, which is still wrong, but if it was worse than [sic] I’m sorry.” Rosen quickly issues an apology and deletes some of his posts, calling his comments “a thoughtless joke” and saying that he “added insult to Ms. Logan’s injury.” Within 24 hours, he steps down from his position as a fellow of New York University’s Center on Law and Security. In a statement, the center’s executive director Karen Greenberg says that Rosen “crossed the line with his comments about Lara Logan.” She continues: “I am deeply distressed by what he wrote about Ms. Logan and strongly denounce his comments. They were cruel and insensitive and completely unacceptable. Mr. Rosen tells me that he misunderstood the severity of the attack on her in Cairo. He has apologized, withdrawn his remarks, and submitted his resignation as a fellow, which I have accepted. However, this in no way compensates for the harm his comments have inflicted. We are all horrified by what happened to Ms. Logan, and our thoughts are with her during this difficult time.” Rosen then sends an email claiming that Logan received undue media attention because she is white: “Had Logan been a non-white journalist, this story would have never made it to the news. Ahmed Mahmoud, an Egyptian journalist, was killed in cold blood and nobody ever heard of him. Dozens of other women were harassed.” (Geraghty 2/15/2011; Goldberg 2/15/2011; Roberts and Argetsinger 2/16/2011; Huffington Post 2/16/2011) A columnist for the conservative National Review, Jim Geraghty, calls Rosen’s comments “appalling.” (Geraghty 2/15/2011) Rosen will attempt to explain his comments about Logan in an article for Salon (see February 17, 2011).
Right-Wing Columnist: Logan Herself to Blame for Assault at Hands of Muslim 'Animals' - Right-wing pundit and columnist Debbie Schlussel claims that Logan’s assault is typical of how Muslims celebrate anything. She captions her blog post with the tagline, “Islam Fan Lara Logan Gets a Taste of Islam,” and writes: “Hey, sounds like the threats I get from American Muslims on a regular basis. Now you know what it’s like, Lara.” Schlussel goes on to mock Logan’s request for privacy concerning the incident, and seemingly blames Logan for deciding to try to cover the celebration: “So sad, too bad, Lara. No one told her to go there. She knew the risks. And she should have known what Islam is all about. Now she knows. Or so we’d hope. But in the case of the media vis-a-vis Islam, that’s a hope that’s generally unanswered. This never happened to her or any other mainstream media reporter when Mubarak was allowed to treat his country of savages in the only way they can be controlled. Now that’s all gone. How fitting that Lara Logan was ‘liberated’ by Muslims in Liberation Square while she was gushing over the other part of the ‘liberation.’ Hope you’re enjoying the revolution, Lara!” Schlussel updates her blog post with a denial that she supported any “‘sexual assault’ or violence against Lara Logan,” insults her critics’ reading ability, and restates her belief that the assault on Logan is emblematic of Muslims around the world, whom she repeatedly calls “animals.” (Debbie Schlussel 2/15/2011; Williams 2/15/2011)
Right-Wing Blogger: Logan's 'Liberal' Beliefs Caused Attack - Right-wing pundit Jim Hoft of the influential blog Gateway Pundit blames Logan’s “liberal belief system” for her attack, and, like Schlussel, blames Logan for the attack. Hoft writes: “Why did this attractive blonde female reporter wander into Tahrir Square last Friday? Why would she think this was a good idea? Did she not see the violence in the square the last three weeks? Did she not see the rock throwing?… Did her colleagues tell her about the Western journalists who were viciously assaulted on the Square? Did she forget about the taunts from the Egyptian thugs the day before? What was she thinking? Was it her political correctness that about got her killed? Did she think things would be different for her?… Lara Logan is lucky she’s not dead.” Like Schlussel, Hoft refuses to retract or apologize for his post, and says “the far left” is at fault for reacting badly “when their tenets are questioned. It must be hard when someone holds a mirror up and you see that your twisted agenda has caused such havoc and pain around the world. These warped individuals must have missed that day of school when they talked about playing with fire.” Hoft calls a report on his commentary by progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters “a dishonest smear job.” (Jim Hoft 2/16/2011; Dimiero 2/16/2011) Commenters on Hoft’s blog post take his comments even further. One says Logan must have “the IQ of a tree stump.” Another chortles that she is now an “in-bedded reporter.” Another says, “I only wish it would have happened to [CBS news anchor] Katie Couric.” Another commenter says, “Shame that this is the only cure for a brain dead liberal!” And one commentator, echoing Schlussel, writes, “Hey, if you can’t handle rape, stay out of a Muslim country.” A number of commenters deny that Logan is a victim, because, as one writes, she “knowingly walked into” the situation and therefore is herself to blame, and one says for Logan to expect “a free pass” for being a woman in an Islamic society is cause enough for her to be assaulted. Many commenters question the entire incident, claiming that it is a “liberal fantasy” designed to give conservatives an opportunity to portray conservatives as racist and misogynistic. (Jim Hoft 2/16/2011) Progressive blogger and pundit Bob Cesca responds to both Hoft and Schlussel: “There aren’t sufficient obscenities to describe Hoft and others his filth. Like Debbie Schlussel, for example.” (Bob Cesca 2/16/2011)
The New York Times publishes the results of a recent poll it conducted in conjunction with CBS News. The poll finds a general “lack of passion” among Republican voters for any particular 2012 presidential contender. However, one of the poll’s findings is buried deep in the story: Forty-seven percent of Republican voters believe that President Obama was born in another country (therefore making him not a US citizen and ineligible for the presidency). Twenty-two percent say they do not know where he was born, and 32 percent say he was born in the United States (see June 13, 2008, August 21, 2008, and October 30, 2008). Within hours, the section about Republicans doubting Obama’s birthplace is removed from the online version of the Times article with no explanation. (Rutenberg 4/22/2011; Boehlert 4/22/2011; Amato 4/23/2011)
Representative Michele Bachmann (R-MN) tells a CBS News viewing audience that the Obama administration is lying when it says the US government would default on its loans if Congress refuses to raise the US debt ceiling. Bachmann accuses the Obama administration of using “scare tactics” to push for a debt-ceiling increase. Bachmann has said previously that Congress should not raise the debt ceiling (see April 30, 2011). Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and other Obama adminstration members, along with a bevy of economists and financial leaders including Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and former Chairman Alan Greenspan, have urged Congress to raise the debt ceiling by August 2 to avoid the US defaulting on its outstanding loans and engendering what many call an economic catastrophe (see May 20, 2011). The US Treasury has used accounting steps, what it calls “extraordinary measures,” to avoid default since the nation reached its debt limit on May 16. The final deadline for the US to raise its debt limit is August 2. Bernanke and others have said that even a brief US default could cause an uproar in the global economy. But Bachmann says she has “no intention” of voting for a hike to the limit, saying instead: “It isn’t true that the government would default on its debt. Because, very simply, the Treasury secretary can pay the interest on the debt first, and then, from there, we have to just prioritize our spending.” Face the Nation host Bob Schieffer asks Bachman: “Experts inside and outside the government say that, if we don’t raise the debt ceiling, we face the United States having to default on its financial obligations. Are you saying these are scare tactics? Or are you saying that’s not true? How can you say that?” Bachmann replies: “It is scare tactics. Because, Bob, the interest on the debt isn’t any more than 10 percent of what we’re taking in. In fact, it’s less than that. And so the Treasury secretary can very simply pay the interest on the debt first, then we’re not in default.… What it means is we have to seriously prioritize. It would be very tough love. But, I have been here long enough in Washington, DC, that I’ve seen smoke and mirrors time and time again.” Bachmann says if elected president, she would end the nation’s deficit problem by making extreme cuts in spending. “I would begin very seriously by cutting spending,” she says. “President Obama, again, he spent a trillion dollar stimulus program that’s been an abject failure. We need to seriously cut back on spending first and foremost, and then prioritize.” Her only recommendation to handle the job crisis is to cut corporate tax rates; she explains: “We have one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world; we need to drop that significantly, so that we have a pro-business, pro-job creation environment. So if we cut back the corporate tax rate, if we would zero out the capital gains rates, allow for 100 percent expensing when a job creator buys equipment for their business, that would go a long way toward job creators recognizing that this is a pro-business environment.” She says that the administration’s health care package, which she calls “Obamacare,” will cost “800,000 jobs.” Schieffer says, “That is data that other people would question,” and she retorts by saying the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), not she herself, has made that claim. A recent analysis by the St. Petersburg Times’s PolitiFact showed that Bachmann’s claim of “Obamacare” costing 800,000 jobs is an “exaggeration” of the CBO’s figures, and is “misleading.” Bachmann dodges questions about the elimination of the minimum wage, which she has advocated since 2005, and the elimination of farm subsidies, from which she and her family have benefited. (Madison 6/26/2011)
President Obama tells CBS News interviewer Scott Pelley that he cannot guarantee Social Security recipients will get paid on August 3 if Congressional Republicans block the government from raising its debt ceiling by August 2. If the debt ceiling is not raised by that date, the US will go into default on the debt it owes to other nations. “I cannot guarantee that those checks go out on August 3rd if we haven’t resolved this issue,” he says, “because there may simply not be the money in the coffers to do it.” The Obama administration and a large number of economists and financial leaders have warned of economic catastrophe if America defaults on its debt (see May 20, 2011); many Congressional Republicans, led by the House Tea Party Caucus, have refused to consider the idea of raising the debt ceiling (see April 30, 2011 and June 26, 2011), and some even welcome the idea of a debt default. Many Republicans and Democrats are attempting to use the debt ceiling issue to work out a larger economic approach to long-term deficit reduction. Republicans want huge federal spending cuts, mostly from social safety-net programs such as Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, while Democrats want smaller spending cuts balanced by increased revenue through tax increases on the wealthy and the closing of corporate tax loopholes. Obama warns: “[T]his is not just a matter of Social Security checks. These are veterans checks, these are folks on disability and their checks. There are about 70 million checks that go out.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) states flatly that Congressional Republicans have no intention of attempting to work with Democrats or the Obama administration to balance the budget or reduce the deficit, saying, “After years of discussions and months of negotiations, I have little question that as long as this president is in the Oval Office, a real solution is probably unattainable.” However, McConnell says Congressional Republicans would work to avoid default. “The president has presented us with three choices: smoke and mirrors, tax hikes, or default,” McConnell says in remarks on the Senate floor. “Republicans choose none of the above. I had hoped to do good, but I refuse to do harm. So Republicans will choose a path that actually reflects the will of the people, which is to do the responsible thing and ensure that the government doesn’t default on its obligations.” Obama says he would refuse to sign a short-term debt ceiling increase, a tactic advocated by Republican strategists who want to bring the issue up again, and perhaps force another economic crisis, in the middle of the 2012 presidential campaign. “This is the United States of America and, you know, we don’t manage our affairs in three-month increments,” Obama tells reporters. “You know, we don’t risk US default on our obligations because we can’t put politics aside.” (Daly 7/12/2011; Daily Mail 7/13/2011) The next day, McConnell offers an “alternative” debt ceiling plan which many see as fraught with political costs for Obama and Congressional Democrats (see July 13, 2011).
In an interview with CBS News’s Scott Pelley, House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) says that he got “98 percent” of what he wanted in a deal with Senate Democrats and the White House in the just-concluded debt ceiling extension legislation. Boehner says he and his House Republicans successfully blocked a comprehensive “grand bargain” with the Obama administration because, as he says, the “president was insisting on more taxes [and] never got serious about the kind of spending cuts that were necessary in order to get America back on a sound fiscal footing.” He tells Pelley that he “walked away” from Obama’s final proposal. “We had a lot of productive conversations, a lot of tense conversations,” Boehner says. “But it became pretty clear to me that I wasn’t going to be for higher taxes, and the president wasn’t going to cut spending as he should.… I told the president: ‘I’m not going there. I can’t do that.’” Boehner says that he has no intention at this time of ever supporting revenue increases of any sort, whether it be tax increases, closing of corporate tax loopholes, or other ways to bring more revenue into federal government; instead, he hopes that the future focus of Congressional debate “will be on reducing expenditures coming out of Washington.” Asked if Republicans would ever support tax increases, Boehner says: “I think that would be a stretch. It doesn’t seem likely to me that that would be recommended, much less supported, but I’ve been surprised before.” He concludes: “When you look at this final agreement that we came to with the White House, I got 98 percent of what I wanted. I’m pretty happy.” Sixty-six House Republicans voted against Boehner’s final plan, though it passed both chambers and was signed into law by Obama hours before the US would have defaulted on its debt. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the deal cuts federal deficits by $2.1 trillion over 10 years while also raising the debt limit by an equal amount. The deal also creates a joint, bicameral committee of legislators charged with finding additional cuts. (Pelley 8/1/2011; Strauss 8/1/2011) Days later, Standard & Poor’s cuts the US credit rating (see August 5, 2011). Republicans, including Boehner, will blame Obama for the legislation and the resulting credit reduction (see August 6-9, 2011).
Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum (R-PA), enjoying a surge of popularity among Iowa caucus voters, makes what many perceive as a racially biased attack on poor black Americans. At a campaign stop in Sioux City, Iowa, Santorum points to African-Americans as being the major recipients of federal economic assistance, and tells a largely white audience that he does not want to “make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money.” The federal social welfare system is being used to exploit its beneficiaries, Santorum says, according to a CBS News transcript, and adds: “It just keeps expanding—I was in Indianola a few months ago and I was talking to someone who works in the Department of Public Welfare here, and she told me that the state of Iowa is going to get fined if they don’t sign up more people under the Medicaid program. They’re just pushing harder and harder to get more and more of you dependent upon them so they can get your vote. That’s what the bottom line is.… I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money; I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.” Santorum’s original question was about reducing foreign influence on American culture. Asked about his statement by CBS reporter Scott Pelley, Santorum says he is not aware of the context of his remark, but says he recently watched the documentary Waiting for Superman, which examines American public schools. Apparently referring to his own statement, he says: “I’ve seen that quote, I haven’t seen the context in which that was made. Yesterday I talked for example about a movie called, um, what was it? ‘Waiting for Superman,’ which was about black children and so I don’t know whether it was in response and I was talking about that.” (The film depicts students from a variety of races, and does not focus on a particular racial group.) He adds: “Let me just say that no matter what, I want to make every lives [sic] better—I don’t want anybody—and if you look at what I’ve been saying, I’ve been pretty clear about my concern for dependency in this country and concern for people not being more dependent on our government, whatever their race or ethnicity is.” (Think Progress reporter Marie Diamond calls Santorum’s response “bizarre.”) CBS finds that 84 percent of Iowa’s welfare recipients are white; only 9 percent of Iowans on welfare are black. Nationally, 39 percent of welfare recipients are white, 37 percent black, and 17 percent Hispanic. The poverty statistics between the three races are heavily skewed, with 27.4 percent of blacks living in poverty, 26.6 percent of Hispanics, and 9.9 percent of whites. Diamond writes, “Santorum’s decision to single out black welfare recipients plays right into insulting—and inaccurate—stereotypes of the kind of people some voters might expect to want a ‘handout.’” (Madison 1/2/2012; Webster 1/2/2012; Diamond 1/3/2012)
Appeal to Conservative Iowa Voters? - Raw Story’s Stephen C. Webster writes that Santorum may be trying to appeal to conservative Iowan voters with his thinly veiled racial attack. Ninety-one percent of Iowans are white. (Webster 1/2/2012)
Santorum Claims He Said 'Blah,' Not 'Black' - Two days after making the remark, and one day after acknowledging to Pelley that he had intended to single out blacks in his statement, Santorum denies using the word “black” in his statement, and denies making any racial allusion. He tells CNN’s John King: “I’ve looked at that quote, in fact I looked at the video. In fact, I’m pretty confident I didn’t say black. I started to say is a word and then sort of changed and it sort of—blah—mumbled it and sort of changed my thought.” On Fox News, Santorum says: “I don’t single out on any group of people, that’s one thing I don’t do. I don’t divide people by group and race and class. I believe that in no people in this country. And I condemn all forms of racism. There’s no one that’s been out here working, as you know, in the inner city, and with people of all different races.” He says that the criticism over the remark is from “someone trying to cause trouble.” (Jones 1/3/2012; Seitz-Wald 1/5/2012) Conservative blogger Ed Morrissey pins the blame on CBS for using the word “black” in its transcript of Santorum’s remarks. According to Morrissey’s interpretation of the video, Santorum said, stumbling over the key word, “I don’t want to make [pause] lives, people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money.” CBS “put words in [Santorum’s] mouth,” Morrissey accuses. (Ed Morrissey 1/3/2012) Mediaite’s Tommy Christopher says there is room for doubt that Santorum used the word, and writes that Santorum said, “I don’t want to make… mmbligh… people’s lives better.” Christopher believes that Santorum may have intended to say the word “black,” but choked it off in mid-word. Christopher embeds a video clip from CBS in his article, and concludes, “The viewer can judge, but even as an LGBT-friendly liberal, I’m inclined to give Santorum the benefit of the doubt here.” (Christopher 1/3/2012) NPR also reported Santorum as using the word “black” in his comment. (Robbins 1/3/2012) The National Urban League takes the stance that Santorum indeed singled out blacks for his criticism. NUL president Marc Morial accuses Santorum of pandering to racists in the GOP, and says: “Senator Santorum is perpetuating a thoroughly false and destructive racial stereotype in a desperate attempt to score political points. He is appealing to the lowest common denominator within the electorate and quite frankly should be ashamed of himself.… Social safety net programs serve families in dire circumstances from all walks of life. Many of those who now find themselves in need, whatever their ethnic background, are the very people who have contributed into these programs throughout their entire working lives. By falsely suggesting that people of color are a disproportionate drain on resources provided mainly by whites, Santorum deliberately fans the flames of racial divisiveness.” Morial notes that in 2005, Santorum admitted that he earned over $162,000 a year as a US senator and lived in a $643,361 home, but depended on his parents, retired federal employees, for financial assistance. Morial notes, “Most people receiving assistance are not earning six-figure salaries and living in a lavish suburban mansion.” (National Urban League 1/3/2012) The NAACP’s Benjamin Jealous, appearing on a show hosted by MSNBC’s Ed Schultz, later says that it is obvious Santorum did say “black people” and Santorum’s denials “defy logic.” Jealous says Santorum’s comments were “divisive, wrong, and based on stereotypes.” The vast majority of SNAP recipients are non-blacks, Jealous says, “and yet, when [Santorum] thinks public assistance, he thinks black, and that’s just unfortunate.” (MSNBC 1/5/2012) Think Progress’s Alex Seitz-Wald will later write, “There’s ample video evidence suggesting that Santorum did, in fact, say ‘black,’ but Santorum’s denial is especially surprising considering that he seemed to acknowledge making the comments earlier yesterday.” (Seitz-Wald 1/5/2012) NewsOne’s Terrell Jermaine Starr later writes that it is obvious Santorum said “black,” and observes: “Rick Santorum must think we’re stuck on stupid.… [E]ven if he was referring to ‘blah people,’ from which demographic do they come? Is this racial category (if ‘blah people’ are a race at all) on the US Census?” (Starr 1/5/2012) Santorum will later claim that he actually said the word “plives,” and not “black.” He will explain that he was briefly tongue-tied while trying to say “people’s lives,” and had no intention of saying “black people’s lives.” He will also claim that he has done more in black communities “than any Republican in recent memory.” (Diamond 1/10/2012)
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).
Speaking at an Idaho campaign rally, Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum (R-PA) implies he is opposed to government-funded public schools. “We didn’t have government-run schools for a long time in this country, for the majority of the time in this country,” he tells his listeners. “We had private education. We had local education. Parents actually controlled the education of their children. What a great idea that is.” He refuses to answer questions as to whether he wants to end public funding for public schools, but as CBS News reports, his antagonism for public schools is clear in his remarks. In March, he told an audience: “Just call them what they are. Public schools? That’s a nice way of putting it. These are government-run schools.” Santorum home-schools his seven children; however, between 2001 and 2004, he enrolled them in Pennsylvania’s Cyber Charter School, a publicly-funded school, while he and his family lived in Virginia, and failed to pay over $100,000 in tuition fees and charges that the state and the local district were forced to absorb. (Mencimer 1/4/2012; Montopoli 2/15/2012) In 2011, Santorum said that public schools were a means that Democrats used to “socialize” children away from their parents and towards their way of thinking (see January 7, 2011).
In two separate interviews on CNN and CBS, respectively, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) blasts talk show host Rush Limbaugh for his three-day tirade against Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke (see February 29, 2012), March 1, 2012, and March 2, 2012). He tells a CNN host: “His remarks are totally unacceptable. Totally and completely unacceptable. And there’s no place for it.” On CBS, he says, “Those statements were unacceptable in every way and should be condemned by everyone, no matter what their political leanings are.” So far, McCain is almost the only Republican lawmaker aside from Ron Paul (R-TX) to publicly criticize Limbaugh for his attacks on Fluke (see March 2, 2012, March 2, 2012, March 4, 2012, and March 4, 2012). (CNN 3/5/2012; CBS News 3/5/2012; Seitz-Wald 3/5/2012)
Radio host Don Imus condemns fellow host Rush Limbaugh for what Imus calls his “insincere” apology to Sandra Fluke, the law student he vilified for three days on his radio show (see February 29, 2012, March 1, 2012, and March 2, 2012). Imus joins Fluke and others in not viewing Limbaugh’s apology (see March 3, 2012) as sincere (see March 5, 2012). Imus was suspended from the air in 2009 over his characterization of a female, primarily African-American basketball team as “nappy-headed ho’s” and fired from CBS News (see April 13, 2007). Imus accuses Limbaugh of engaging in a “vile personal attack” against Fluke, and notes that it was “sustained” over three days. Imus calls Limbaugh’s apology “lame,” and says that Limbaugh’s statement that he had no intention of personally attacking Fluke is ridiculous, considering he did little else but attack her over a three-day period. Imus says if he employed Limbaugh, he would force him to apologize in person to Fluke. But Limbaugh is “an insincere pig” and a “pinhead,” Imus says, and will not apologize because he lacks the courage and the integrity to do so. “He has no guts,” Imus says, and should be fired. (Media Matters 3/5/2012; Rosenberg 3/5/2012)
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (R-MA) criticizes President Obama’s foreign-policy stance while preparing for a trip to Great Britain, and an unnamed Romney advisor tells a British reporter that Obama does not understand the US’s and the United Kingdom’s shared “Anglo-Saxon heritage.” Critics accuse the advisor of making a racially insensitive remark. Romney accuses Obama of “appeasing” the enemies of the US, and his advisors tell reporters that if elected, Romney will abandon what they call Obama’s “left-wing” coolness towards the UK. One advisor says: “We are part of an Anglo-Saxon heritage, and [Romney] feels that the special relationship is special.… The White House didn’t fully appreciate the shared history we have.” In a speech to a Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) assemblage in Nevada, Romney says: “If you do not want America to be the strongest nation on earth, I am not your president. You have that president today.” Romney says he will preside over a new “American century” in which the US acts as the world’s policeman and will not hesitate to “wield our strength.” He adds, “I will not surrender America’s leadership in the world.” Two Romney advisors augment his remarks to a collection of British reporters. “In contrast to President Obama, whose first instinct is to reach out to America’s adversaries, the governor’s first impulse is to consult and co-ordinate and to move closer to our friends and allies overseas so they can rely on American constancy and strength,” one says. The other says: “Obama is a left-winger. He doesn’t value the NATO alliance as much, he’s very comfortable with American decline and the traditional alliances don’t mean as much to him. He wouldn’t like singing ‘Land of Hope and Glory.’” The two advisors reference the criticism from some on the right about Obama’s removal of the bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office (see June 29, 2009), saying Romney would seek to restore the bust. One says Romney sees the replacement of the bust as “symbolically important,” and the other adds that the restoration would be “just for starters.… He is naturally more Atlanticist.” Some in Great Britain’s government view the Obama administration as less receptive to British concerns than the previous Bush administration. However, when reporters press Romney’s advisors as to what specific changes to US policy Romney would make as president, they are unable to respond. One says, “I’m not sure what our policy response is.” They cite Romney’s opposition to Islamist terrorism and Iran’s supposed intention to build nuclear weapons as examples of Romney’s focus as president. Romney’s advisors speak on the condition of anonymity because Romney campaign officials have asked that they not criticize Obama to representatives of the foreign media. When a Romney advisor attacked Obama in an interview by the German press last month, Obama reminded the Romney campaign that “America’s political differences end at the water’s edge.” (Swaine 7/24/2012)
Romney Campaign Denies Making Remarks - The day after the remarks are made public, the Romney campaign attempts to distance the candidate from the remarks, including issuing denials that the remarks were not actually made. Romney’s press secretary Andrea Paul disputes that the comments were made as reported, and says such remarks do not reflect Romney’s beliefs: “It’s not true. If anyone said that, they weren’t reflecting the views of Governor Romney or anyone inside the campaign.” CBS News reports, “Saul did not comment on what specifically was not true.” (The Washington Post and the National Journal cite Romney spokesperson Amanda Hennenberg, and not Saul, as issuing the denial. CBS and The Guardian report that it is Saul who issues the denial.) Romney attacks Vice President Joseph Biden for being critical of the remarks (see July 25, 2012), saying that Biden should not have given credence to the remarks and accusing him of trying to “divert voters’ attention with specious shiny objects.” Romney spokesperson Ryan Williams says in a statement: “Today, the race for the highest office in our land was diminished to a sad level when the vice president of the United States used an anonymous and false quote from a foreign newspaper to prop up their flailing campaign. The president’s own press secretary has repeatedly discredited anonymous sources, yet his political advisors saw fit to advance a falsehood. We have more faith in American voters, and know they will see this latest desperate ploy for what it is.” After the remarks were reported, Daily Telegraph reporter Jon Swaine posted on Twitter identifying the comments as coming from a “member of [Romney’s] foreign policy advisory team.” The Washington Post’s Rachel Weiner says the Telegraph has a “looser” policy on anonymous quotes than most American press outlets, and often prints “rumors and blind quotes.” However, the Telegraph stands by its reporting. Al-Monitor reporter Laura Rozen notes that conservative British commentator Nile Gardiner is the co-chair of Romney’s Europe Working Group, has close connections to the Telegraph, and frequently uses the term “Anglo-Saxon.” Gardiner denies being the source of the comment, and says when Telegraph reporters contacted him for an interview, he referred them to Romney’s communications team. (Madison 7/25/2012; Weiner 7/25/2012; Gabbatt 7/25/2012; Reinhard and Miller 7/25/2012) The liberal news Web site Talking Points Memo reports that according to the Telegraph, no one from the Romney campaign has asked the newspaper to retract its reporting. And the Romney campaign refuses to answer questions about what specifically it believes to be false, i.e. whether the quote itself was fabricated or the sentiment expressed by the advisor was inaccurate. (McMorris-Santoro 7/25/2012; Reinhard and Miller 7/25/2012) The Atlantic Wire’s Connor Simpson writes that he believes the Romney campaign will soon fire the advisor who made the remark. (Simpson 7/25/2012)
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