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The New York Times prints a long article based on a highly classified memo written about US diplomat Joseph Wilson’s meeting with Saddam Hussein two days before (see August 6, 1990). Neither Wilson nor anyone else at the US Embassy in Baghdad leaked the memo, Wilson will aver; he believes the memo was leaked by a senior government official in Washington. The Iraqis are understandably furious at the public revelation of the events of the Hussein-Wilson meeting. When the Iraqis demand to see the US response to Hussein’s proposals as advanced in the meeting, Wilson is instructed by a senior State Department official to tell the Iraqis to “turn on CNN” for the American reply. CNN is broadcasting footage of American C-5 transport planes filled with military equipment bound for Saudi Arabia; the US is beginning its deployment of troops to the region in response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait (see August 7, 1990). (Wilson 2004, pp. 124-125)
The US launches a massive air assault against Iraq in retaliation for that country’s invasion of Kuwait (see August 2, 1990). The air assault begins the day after a UN deadline for Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait expires (see November 29, 1990). F-117 Stealth bombers hit Baghdad with an array of high-tech bombs and missiles; many of the explosions are televised live, or on briefly delayed feeds, on CNN, which launches virtually 24-hour coverage of the air strikes. In the first 48 hours of the war, 2,107 combat missions drop more than 5,000 tons of bombs on Baghdad alone, nearly twice the amount that incinerated Dresden in World War II.
'Thunder and Lightning of Desert Storm' - US Army General Norman Schwarzkopf, chief of the US Central Command (CENTCOM), announces the beginning of hostilities by transmitting the following: “Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines of the United States Central Command, this morning at 0300, we launched Operation Desert Storm, an offensive campaign that will enforce the United Nation’s resolutions that Iraq must cease its rape and pillage of its weaker neighbor and withdraw its forces from Kuwait. My confidence in you is total. Our cause is just! Now you must be the thunder and lightning of Desert Storm. May God be with you, your loved ones at home, and our country.” (US Navy 9/17/1997)
Initial Attacks Obliterate Iraqi Navy, Much of Air Force, Many Ground Installations - The attack begins with an assault of over 100 Tomahawk land attack missiles (TLAMs) launched from US naval vessels in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea, and attack helicopter strikes on Iraqi radar installations near the Iraq-Saudi Arabian border. The assaults destroy much of Iraq’s air defense and command-and-control capabilities. The missile assault is quickly followed by fighter, bomber, and assault helicopter strikes which continue pounding at Iraqi government buildings, power stations, dams, military sites, radio and television stations, and several of Saddam Hussein’s palaces. The strikes essentially obliterate the Iraqi Navy, and drastically cripple the Iraqi Air Force. (Between 115 and 140 aircraft and crews of the Iraqi Air Force flees to Iran over the course of the war, a move that surprises US commanders, who expected the aircraft and their crews to attempt to flee to Jordan, not Iran. The Iranians will never give Iraq back its aircraft, and will not release Iraqi air crews for years to come.) A US Navy review later calls the combined Navy-Marine air campaign, conducted in concert with US Air Force strikes, “successful beyond the most optimistic expectations.” The Navy later reports that “allied air forces dropped over 88,500 tons of ordnance on the battlefield.” (US Navy 9/17/1997; NationMaster 12/23/2007) Iraqi anti-aircraft counterattacks are surprisingly effective, downing around 75 US and British aircraft in the first hours of attacks. The US media does not widely report these downings, nor does it give much attention to the dozens of pilots and air crew captured as POWs. (NationMaster 12/23/2007)
'The Mother of All Battles' - Five hours after the first attacks, Baghdad state radio broadcasts a voice identified as Saddam Hussein. Hussein tells his people that “The great duel, the mother of all battles has begun. The dawn of victory nears as this great showdown begins.” (NationMaster 12/23/2007)
US Embassy Helped Locate Targets for Air Strikes - Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Wilson, the last American to leave Baghdad (see January 12, 1991), and his staff provided critical assistance to the US battle planners in choosing their initial targets. Over the months, Wilson and his staff developed a “hostage tracking system,” monitoring and recording the movements of the American hostages as they were transferred from site to site to be used as human shields in the event of a US strike (see August 4, 1990 and August 8, 1990). Wilson and his staff were able to identify some 55 sites that were being used around the country, presumably some of the most critical military and infrastructure sites in Iraq. Wilson gave that information to the Pentagon. He will later write, “I was gratified when several months later, on the first night of Desert Storm, long after the hostages had been released, many of those sites were ones hit by American bombs.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 141)
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)
A cease-fire ends a violent, bloody conflict between the Branch Davidians, a group of religious separatists in their Waco, Texas, compound, and agents from the Bureau of Tobacco, Alcohol and Firearms (BATF, sometimes abbreviated ATF), who launched a raid on the compound to serve search and arrest warrants on Davidian leader David Koresh (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and 9:30 A.M. and After, February 28, 1993). The cease-fire goes into effect after about 90 minutes of the two sides exchanging gunfire. Four BATF agents are dead and 16 are wounded, some severely. The agents retreat to a safe distance, where they mill around aimlessly; the commanders have not given the agents a plan for retreat or failure. The Davidians also withdraw inside their compound. Five Davidians, including a woman nursing her baby, are dead, and several, including Koresh, are wounded; Koresh suffers gunshot wounds in the hand and the side. (Two of the Davidians may have been killed by their fellows after being gravely wounded by BATF fire.) Three Davidians attempting to get to the main building from a warehouse on the property are apprehended by BATF agents; one is killed, one is arrested, and one escapes. In total, six Davidians are killed. (Dean M. Kelley 5/1995; PBS Frontline 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight 8/2/1996)
Media Contacts - During the raid, CNN receives calls from Davidian Steve Schneider. CNN producers verify that Schneider is indeed inside the compound, and set up an interview with Koresh for this evening (see 5:00 p.m. February 28, 1993 and After). (Carter 3/1/1993)
Negotiations and Implementation - The cease-fire takes some time to implement. Senior BATF agent James Cavanaugh succeeds in convincing Koresh and Schneider to agree to a cease-fire. Schneider has to walk through the main building to tell his people to stop firing; Cavanaugh has no direct radio link to his agents, and has to go through team leaders to tell them to stop firing. The cease-fire has been agreed upon for several minutes before the shooting finally concludes. As part of a 1996 House investigation of the Davidian debacle (see August 2, 1996), Cavanaugh will say: “I called the compound directly on the phone from the undercover house. I reached… Schneider. I told him I was an ATF agent and I wanted to talk to him about this situation. As should be expected, the activity inside the compound was very frantic, people were screaming and yelling, and there was still shooting going on both sides. Steve was very excited and very hostile. I wanted to negotiate a cease-fire, and he [Schneider] was agreeable. I am not going to be good on the time of how long it took, but it took a little while to negotiate that. He had to go throughout the compound, which is very large, telling everyone not to shoot. While he was doing this, there was still shooting going on both sides. I had to get on the command net frequency and tell the commanders on the ground there not to shoot, and they had to relay that to all 100 agents, who were around there, so it took a little time to arrange it. Once I returned to the rear command post I called back in on the telephone to the residence about 2:00 p.m. and I spoke with Steve and David Koresh about what was going on. We had long conversations about the warrant, and we also had a lot of conversations about Biblical passages and Mr. Koresh’s belief that he was the Lamb of God, who would open the Seven Seals. As you might assume, he was very hostile, very angry, and very upset.” (House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight 8/2/1996) In the following days, Koresh will tell local reporters by phone that he is shot in the “gut” and his two-year-old daughter is dead from BATF gunfire. He will also leave a message on his mother’s answering machine in Chandler, Texas, which says in part: “Hello, Mama. It’s your boy.… They shot me and I’m dying, all right? But I’ll be back real soon, OK? I’ll see y’all in the skies.” (Kantrowitz et al. 3/15/1993) The body of the Davidian slain while trying to return to the compound, Michael Schroeder, will lie untouched in a gully for four days before authorities retrieve it; those authorities will wait 11 days before informing Schroeder’s parents of his death (see March 11, 1993).
Death Toll - The four BATF agents slain in the raid are: Conway LeBleu, Todd McKeehan, Robert Williams, and Steve Willis. The six Davidians slain in the raid are Schroeder, Winston Blake, Peter Gent, Peter Hipsman, Perry Jones, and Jaydean Wendell. (Hiott 2/27/2003) (Initial reports of the death toll inside the Davidian compound range from seven to 15; those reports are later determined to be wrong.) (Terry 3/3/1993)
FBI Takes Control - Within hours of the raid’s conclusion, the FBI will take control of the situation and besiege the compound (see 12:00 p.m. February 28, 1993).
Criticism of BATF Tactics - Soon after, the FBI publicly criticizes the BATF’s decision to storm the compound in a frontal assault. “It’s against our doctrine to do a frontal assault when women and children are present,” one FBI agent says. BATF spokeswoman Sharon Wheeler explains: “We were outgunned. They had bigger firearms than we did.” But former New York City Police Commissioner Benjamin Ward says of that explanation: “‘Outgunned’ is a euphemism for ‘outplanned,’ or ‘unplanned.’ They did it backwards. The accepted way is to talk first and shoot second.” Vic Feazell, a former district attorney for the area, says of Koresh and the Davidians, “They’re peaceful and nonaggressive unless they are attacked.” By going in, guns blazing, the BATF played right into the group’s apocalyptic vision, he says. “They would see this as a holy war provoked by an oppressive government.” (Kantrowitz et al. 3/15/1993)
Standoff Will End in Fiery Conflagration - Most of the Davidians, including Koresh, will die in a fiery conflagration after a 51-day standoff with FBI agents (see April 19, 1993). After the site is secured, Texas law enforcement officials will recover over 300 firearms from the compound, as well as numerous live grenades, grenade components, and hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammunition. (US Department of Justice 7/16/1995; PBS Frontline 10/1995)
The evening after the failed raid on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993), Davidian leader David Koresh gives three interviews: two with Dallas radio station KRLD and a nationally broadcast telephone interview on CNN. (Carter 3/1/1993; Moore 1995) The interviews follow a demand from Koresh that KRLD broadcast a statement saying that federal agents are holding their fire and will not attack further, a demand that was granted. (US Department of Justice 10/8/1993) During one of the radio interviews, he says, “All that is happening here is the fulfillment of prophecy!” In the CNN interview, he tells viewers: “If the scholars of this world, if anybody, ministers that claim that God talks to them, will contact me, and I hope it’s soon. If they’ll call me and show the world what the Seven Seals are and where they’re at in the prophecies, then I’ll be satisfied. And then we’ll all come out to you.” Koresh promises to begin releasing children “two by two” if his religious message is broadcast over Dallas radio station KRLD (see March 1, 1993). The CNN interview lasts about 20 minutes, and is rebroadcast periodically throughout the night. The same evening, the syndicated television show A Current Affair conducts a telephone interview with Koresh, and broadcasts it the evening of March 1. The Current Affair program also reports a threat from Koresh’s aide Steve Schneider, who says if federal agents attempt to conduct a second raid, the Davidians will again fire on them. In 1995, author Carol Moore will explain that Koresh and some Davidians believe that the raid on their compound comprises the opening of the Fifth Seal of the Book of Revelation, one of the so-called “Seven Seals” that must be breached for the Apocalypse to begin, and that they are living the events predicted in that seal. Koresh and his most devoted followers believe that the Davidians killed during the raid were slaughtered for “preaching God’s word” and the surviving Davidians only would have to “rest a little longer” until the “remainder” also were put to death. “Thus would begin the countdown to the Apocalypse and the Second Coming of Christ,” she will write. “Davidians believed that the siege was a God-given opportunity to spread Koresh’s message to the world and that humanity was being given its last opportunity to hear God’s word and repent.” (Carter 3/1/1993; US Department of Justice 10/8/1993; Moore 1995) Koresh tells telephone interviewers that he has been shot in the stomach and is bleeding badly. But, the New York Times will report, during his Tuesday audio broadcast (see March 2, 1993), “his voice sounded strong and firm.” (Carter 3/1/1993) Former Davidian Marc Breault tells the Waco Tribune-Herald that Koresh might be indulging in what he calls a “bit of theatrics” with his claim of being wounded. “Vernon [Howell, Koresh’s given name] was always saying he was sick and near death,” Breault says. “He’s real big on stomach sickness. He always complained about his stomach, saying he was in pain because of the people’s sins.” (Verhovek 3/2/1993)
Michael Fortier, a suspected co-conspirator in the Oklahoma City bombing (see March 24, 1988 - Late 1990, March 1993, May-September 1993, February - July 1994, October 21 or 22, 1994, December 16, 1994 and After, 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, and April 19, 1995 and After), tells a CNN interviewer that neither he nor accused bomber Timothy McVeigh had any involvement in the bombing. Of McVeigh, Fortier says: “I do not believe Tim blew up any building in Oklahoma. There’s nothing for me to look back and say: ‘Yeah, that might have been. I should have seen it back then.’ There’s nothing like that.” He continues: “People cannot make a judgment on his guilt by what they read in the paper. But by what I see on TV, they have. They want his blood. In America, we believe people are innocent until proven guilty. Everyone must remember that. Whoever says, ‘Forget the judiciary system, let’s just hang him now,’ those people are not Americans. They may think they are, but they are not Americans.” Fortier refuses to speculate on the identity of the so-called “John Doe No. 2” (see April 15, 1995, 9:00 p.m. April 17, 1995, 3:00 p.m. April 17, 1995, April 18, 1995, April 20, 1995, April 21, 1995, and April 29, 1995), instead continuing to defend McVeigh. “I just want to tell him to be strong. You are not alone. Right now, he might feel like there isn’t anyone on this earth who is any way supportive of him. But there is. Everyone should be supportive of him because he’s an innocent man.” Fortier is lying about his lack of knowledge of McVeigh’s involvement, and his own (see April 23 - May 6, 1995). (Thomas 8/9/1995; Serrano 1998, pp. 243) In August 1995, Fortier will testify as to his involvement with McVeigh in the bombing plot, and will admit that McVeigh told him of his intentions to bomb the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City (see August 8, 1995).
Fox News begins broadcasting on US cable television. Fox News provides 24-hour news programming alongside the nation’s only other such cable news provider, CNN. Fox executive Roger Ailes, a former campaign adviser for Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush (see 1968, January 25, 1988, and September 21 - October 4, 1988), envisions Fox News as a conservative “antidote” to what he calls the “liberal bias” of the rest of American news broadcasting. Ailes uses many of the methodologies and characteristics of conservative talk radio, and brings several radio hosts on his channel, including Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, to host television shows. (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 47; Sherman 5/22/2011) Referring to Ailes’s campaign experience, veteran Republican consultant Ed Rollins later says: “Because of his political work, he understood there was an audience. He knew there were a couple million conservatives who were a potential audience, and he built Fox to reach them.” (Sherman 5/22/2011)
Ailes Planned for Fox News as Far Back as 1970 - Ailes began envisioning a conservative news provider to counter what he considers the mainstream media’s “liberal bias” as early as 1970, when he became heavily involved with a Nixon administration plan to plant conservative propaganda in news outlets across the nation (see Summer 1970). In 1971, he headed a short-lived private conservative television news network, Television News Incorporated (TVN—see 1971-1975), which foundered in 1975 in part because of its reporters and staffers balking at reporting Ailes-crafted propaganda instead of “straight” news. Ailes told a New York Times reporter in 1991 that he was leaving politics, saying: “I’ve been in politics for 25 years. It’s always been a detour. Now my business has taken a turn back to my entertainment and corporate clients.” But Ailes misinformed the reporter. He continued to work behind the scenes on the 1992 Bush re-election campaign, providing the campaign with attack points against Democratic contender Bill Clinton (D-AR) and earning the nickname “Deep Throat” from Bush aides. Though Ailes did do work in entertainment, helping develop tabloid television programs such as The Maury Povich Show and heading the cable business news network CNBC for three years, Ailes has continued to stay heavily involved in Republican politics ever since. Ailes became involved in the creation of Fox News in early 1996 after he left NBC, which had canceled his show America’s Talking and launched a new cable news network, MSNBC, without asking for Ailes’s involvement. Fox News is owned by News Corporation (sometimes abbreviated NewsCorp), an international media conglomerate owned by conservative billionaire Rupert Murdoch. When NBC allowed Ailes to leave, Jack Welch, the chairman of NBC’s parent company General Electric, said, “We’ll rue the day we let Roger and Rupert team up.” Murdoch has already tried and failed to buy CNN, and has already begun work on crafting news programs with hard-right slants, such as a 60 Minutes-like show that, reporter Tim Dickinson will write, “would feature a weekly attack-and-destroy piece targeting a liberal politician or social program.” Dan Cooper, the managing editor of the pre-launch Fox News, later says, “The idea of a masquerade was already around prior to Roger arriving.” Eric Burns, who will work for ten years as a Fox News media critic before leaving the network, will say in 2011: “There’s your answer right there to whether Fox News is a conventional news network or whether it has an agenda. That’s its original sin.” To get Fox News onto millions of cable boxes at once, Murdoch paid hundreds of millions of dollars to cable providers to air his new network. Murdoch biographer Neil Chenoweth will later write: “Murdoch’s offer shocked the industry. He was prepared to shell out half a billion dollars just to buy a news voice.” Dickinson will write, “Even before it took to the air, Fox News was guaranteed access to a mass audience, bought and paid for.” Ailes praised Murdoch’s “nerve,” saying, “This is capitalism and one of the things that made this country great.” (Sherman 5/22/2011; Dickinson 5/25/2011)
Using Conservative Talk Radio as Template - In 2003, NBC’s Bob Wright will note that Fox News uses conservative talk radio as a template, saying: “[W]hat Fox did was say, ‘Gee, this is a way for us to distinguish ourselves. We’re going to grab this pent-up anger—shouting—that we’re seeing on talk radio and put it onto television.’” CBS News anchor Dan Rather will be more critical, saying that Fox is a reflection of Murdoch’s own conservative political views. “Mr. Murdoch has a business, a huge worldwide conglomerate business,” Rather says. “He finds it to his benefit to have media outlets, press outlets, that serve his business interests. There’s nothing wrong with this. It’s a free country. It’s not an indictable offense. But by any clear analysis the bias is towards his own personal, political, partisan agenda… primarily because it fits his commercial interests.” (Auletta 5/26/2003)
Putting Ideology Over Journalistic Ethics, Practices - Ailes, determined not to let journalists with ethical qualms disrupt Fox News as they had his previous attempt at creating a conservative news network (see 1971-1975), brought a hand-picked selection of reporters and staffers with demonstrable conservative ideologies from NBC, including business anchor Neil Cavuto and Steve Doocy, who hosts the morning talk show “Fox and Friends.” Both Cavuto and Doocy are Ailes loyalists who, Dickinson will say, owe their careers to Ailes. Ailes then tapped Brit Hume, a veteran ABC correspondent and outspoken conservative, to host the main evening news show, and former Bush speechwriter Tony Snow as a commentator and host. John Moody, a forcefully conservative ABC News veteran, heads the newsroom. Ailes then went on a purge of Fox News staffers. Joe Peyronnin, who headed the network before Ailes displaced him, later recalls: “There was a litmus test. He was going to figure out who was liberal or conservative when he came in, and try to get rid of the liberals.” Ailes confronted reporters with suspected “liberal bias” with “gotcha” questions such as “Why are you a liberal?” Staffers with mainstream media experience were forced to defend their employment at such venues as CBS News, which he calls the “Communist Broadcast System.” He fired scores of staffers for perceived liberal leanings and replaced them with fiery young ideologues whose inexperience helps Ailes shape the network to his vision. Before the network aired its first production, Ailes had a seminal meeting with Moody. “One of the problems we have to work on here together when we start this network is that most journalists are liberals,” he told Moody. “And we’ve got to fight that.” Reporters and staffers knew from the outset that Fox, despite its insistence on being “fair and balanced” (see 1995), was going to present news with a conservative slant, and if that did not suit them, they would not be at Fox long. A former Fox News anchor later says: “All outward appearances were that it was just like any other newsroom. But you knew that the way to get ahead was to show your color—and that your color was red.” The anchor refers to “red” as associated with “red state,” commonly used on news broadcasts to define states with Republican majorities. Ailes will always insist that while his network’s talk-show hosts, such as O’Reilly, Hannity, and others, are frankly conservative, Fox’s hard-news shows maintain what he calls a “bright, clear line” that separates conservative cant from reported fact. In practice, this is not the case. Before Fox aired its first broadcast, Ailes tasked Moody to keep the newsroom in line. Early each morning, Ailes has a meeting with Moody, often with Hume on speakerphone from the Washington office, where the day’s agenda is crafted. Moody then sends a memo to the staff telling them how to slant the day’s news coverage according to the agenda of those on “the Second Floor,” as Ailes and his vice presidents are known. A former Fox anchor will later say: “There’s a chain of command, and it’s followed. Roger talks to his people, and his people pass the message on down.” After the 2004 presidential election, Bush press secretary Scott McClellan will admit, “We at the White House were getting them talking points.”
Targeting a Niche Demographic - Fox New’s primary viewership defies most demographic wisdom. According to information taken in 2011, it averages 65 years of age (the common “target demographic” for age is the 18-24 bracket), and only 1.38% of its viewers are African-American. Perhaps the most telling statistics are for the Hannity show: 86% describe themselves as pro-business, 84% believe government “does too much,” 78% are “Christian conservatives,” 78% do not support gay rights, 75% are “tea party backers,” 73% support the National Rifle Association, 66% lack college degrees, and 65% are over age 50. A former NewsCorp colleague will say: “He’s got a niche audience and he’s programmed to it beautifully. He feeds them exactly what they want to hear.” Other polls from the same time period consistently show that Fox News viewers are the most misinformed of all news consumers, and one study shows that Fox News viewers become more misinformed the more they watch the network’s programming.
Ailes's Security Concerns Affect Operations, Broadcasting - Ailes is uncomfortable in his office, a second-floor corner suite in the Fox News building at 1211 Avenue of the Americas in Manhattan. His office is too close to the street for his tastes; he believes that gay activists intend to try to harm him, either by attacks from outside the building or through assaults carried out from inside. He also believes that he is a top target for al-Qaeda assassins. Ailes barricades himself behind an enormous mahogany desk, insists on having “bombproof” glass installed in the windows, surrounds himself with heavily-armed bodyguards, and carries a firearm (he has a concealed-carry permit). A monitor on his desk shows him what is transpiring outside his office door; once, when he sees a dark-skinned man wearing what he thought was Muslim garb on the monitor, he will order an immediate lockdown of the entire building, shouting, “This man could be bombing me!” The man will turn out to be a janitor. A source close to Ailes will say, “He has a personal paranoia about people who are Muslim—which is consistent with the ideology of his network.” A large security detail escorts him daily to and from his Garrison, New Jersey home to his Manhattan offices; in Garrison, his house is surrounded by empty homes Ailes has bought to enhance his personal security. According to sources close to Ailes, Fox News’s slant on gay rights and Islamist extremism is colored by Ailes’s fear and hatred of the groups.
'We Work for Fox' - Sean Wilentz, a Princeton historian and Reagan biographer, will say: “Fox News is totalized: It’s an entire network, devoted 24 hours a day to an entire politics, and it’s broadcast as ‘the news.’ That’s why Ailes is a genius. He’s combined opinion and journalism in a wholly new way—one that blurs the distinction between the two.” Dickinson will write: “Fox News stands as the culmination of everything Ailes tried to do for Nixon back in 1968. He has created a vast stage set, designed to resemble an actual news network, that is literally hard-wired into the homes of millions of America’s most conservative voters. GOP candidates then use that forum to communicate directly to their base, bypassing the professional journalists Ailes once denounced as ‘matadors’ who want to ‘tear down the social order’ with their ‘elitist, horse-dung, socialist thinking.’ Ironically, it is Ailes who has built the most formidable propaganda machine ever seen outside of the Communist bloc, pioneering a business model that effectively monetizes conservative politics through its relentless focus on the bottom line.” Former Bush speechwriter David Frum will observe: “Republicans originally thought that Fox worked for us. Now we’re discovering that we work for Fox.” (Sherman 5/22/2011; Dickinson 5/25/2011)
Radio news host Amy Goodman interviews CNN vice president Frank Sesno, and asks about CNN’s practice of putting retired generals on CNN without balancing its coverage with peace activists. Sesno tells Goodman that he believes it is perfectly appropriate to have retired military officers as paid analysts to comment on foreign affairs and military issues, “as long as we identify them as what they are, as long as we believe in our editorial judgment that their judgment is straight and honest—and we judge that—and it’s not a series of talking points, yes, I think it’s appropriate.” He adds, “I think it would become inappropriate if they were our only source of information or our only source of analysis or our only source of whatever the opinion is that we’re assessing, if there were no opposing viewpoints, if you will.” Goodman asks, “If you support the practice of putting ex-military men, generals, on the payroll to share their opinion during a time of war, would you also support putting peace activists on the payroll to give a different opinion in times of war, to be sitting there with the military generals, talking about why they feel that war is not appropriate?” Senso replies: “We bring the generals in because of their expertise in a particular area. We call them analysts. We don’t bring them in as advocates. In fact, we actually talk to them about that. They are not there as advocates.” So “why not put peace activists on the payroll?” Goodman asks. Sesno retorts, “We do,” and Goodman asks, “Who?” Sesno backs off: “On payroll? No, we don’t put peace activists—we don’t—we do not choose to put a lot of people on the payroll. And we will put people on the payroll whom we choose and whom we feel is necessary to put on the payroll.” Sesno cannot recall the last peace activist that he interviewed. Given all of this, Goodman asks how, aside from “screaming in the streets and getting a picture taken,” does an antiwar voice get heard on CNN? Sesno retorts: “Well, that’s up to you. But, you know, there are a lot of ways people have of registering their opinions: through op-eds, through phone-in shows, through protest, if that’s what people are doing.” (Goodman 4/22/2008)
The US Army’s 4th PSYOPS (Psychological Operations) Group conducts a military symposium in Arlington, Virginia; during the symposium, the unit commander, Colonel Christopher St. John, calls for “greater cooperation between the armed forces and [the nation’s] media giants.” St. John discusses at some length how Army psyops personnel have worked for CNN (see April 22, 1999) and helped that news provider produce news stories. Dutch reporter Abe De Vries finds the information through a February 17 article in an official French intelligence newsletter. Virtually no mainstream American news outlets besides the San Jose Mercury News report the story. In March, CNN senior executive Eason Jordan admits that five “interns” from an Army psyops unit functioned as “observers” in three different units of the network beginning on June 7, 1999, for several weeks at a stretch. He says: “I think they came one at a time, and they worked in three parts of the company: in our radio—and I should be clear, not work, they did not work. They did not function as journalists. They were not paid. But they were in our radio department, our satellites area and our Southeast bureau.… [T]hey should not have been here, they’re not here anymore, and they will not be here ever again.” (Goodman 3/24/2000)
During an interview about CNN allowing Army psyops personnel to serve as interns inside the network (see March 24, 2000), reporter Amy Goodman asks CNN executive Eason Jordan about the network’s practice of using retired military generals and other high-ranking officers to serve as military analysts in times of war, without balancing the generals’ perspective with commentary from peace activists and antiwar leaders. Jordan says he is not aware of any such policy at CNN; however: “In wartime, we want people who understand how wars are orchestrated. We want experts who can address those issues. And if we have not put enough peace activists on the air, that’s not because we have some policy against that.” Jordan denies that the military analysts are there to discuss policy, but merely to explicate technical issues for the audience. Liberal columnist and editor Alexander Cockburn asks a hypothetical question: if indeed the Army, for example, had mounted “an incredibly successful military penetration of CNN,” and that everything Jordan is saying is complete disinformation: “[H]ow would you disprove that? Because, after all, everything that you see on CNN would buttress that conclusion. CNN was an ardent advocate of the war [in Kosovo, and] did not give a balanced point of view. They fueled at all points the Pentagon, State Department, White House approach to the war. I think you could demonstrate that far beyond the confines of your program, and it’s been done by a number of people. I’m just saying that if you looked at it objectively from afar, actually what you could see is evidence of an enormously successful PSYOPS operation. So, in a way, the burden is far more on CNN to disprove what you could conclude was a successful operation.… CNN, as an outlet, both in Iraq and now, is, to my view of thinking, devotes about 95 percent of its time in times of war to putting the US government point of view.” Jordan calls Cockburn’s hypothesizing “ridiculous.” (Goodman 3/24/2000)
After the San Jose Mercury News reports on a February symposium where the commander of an Army psyops (psychological operations) unit discussed how Army psyops personnel have worked closely with the US news network CNN (see Early February, 2000), journalist Amy Goodman discusses the issue with three guests: Dutch journalist Abe De Vries, who first broke the story; liberal columnist Alexander Cockburn, who wrote about it in the Mercury News and in his own publication, Counterpunch; and CNN senior executive Eason Jordan. De Vries says he originally read of the symposium in a newsletter published by a French intelligence organization, and confirmed it with Army spokespersons. Cockburn says that after he wrote about it in his publication, he was contacted by an “indignant” Jordan, who called the story “a terrible slur on the good name of CNN and on the quality of its news gathering.” Cockburn says that he, too, confirmed that Army psyops personnel—“interns,” Jordan told Cockburn—worked for several weeks at CNN, but the network “maintains stoutly, of course, that these interns, you know, they just were there making coffee or looking around, and they had no role in actually making news.” Goodman asks Jordan about the story, and he insists that the Army personnel were nothing more than unpaid interns who “functioned as observers” and were “always under CNN supervision. They did not decide what we would report, how we would report it, when we would report something.…[T]hey had no role whatsoever in our Kosovo coverage and, in fact, had no role whatsoever in any of our coverage.” Jordan says that allowing them into CNN was a mistake that the network will not repeat. Jordan says that the psyops personnel merely wanted “to see how CNN functioned, as a lot of people from around the world do. We have observers here from all over the world.” He insists that no one in his division—news gathering—knew about the psyops personnel serving as interns until the program was well underway, and that once they found out about it, they brought it to a halt “within a matter of days.” Cockburn points out that from De Vries’s reporting, the Army was “obviously pleased” by their ability to insert personnel inside one of the nation’s largest news organizations. Cockburn says that it isn’t a matter of the Army personnel conducting some sort of “spy novel” operation inside CNN, but a matter of building relationships: “[T]he question is really, you know, the way these things work. If people come to an office, and they make friends at the office, then the next time they want to know something, they know someone they can call up. A relationship is a much more subtle thing than someone suddenly running in and writing [CNN correspondent Christiane] Amanpour’s copy for her.” Jordan says the entire idea of the US military influencing news coverage is “nonsense” (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Goodman counters with a quote from an Army psyops training manual: “Capture their minds, and their hearts and souls will follow.… Psychological operations, or PSYOP, are planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to audiences to influence their emotions, motives, objective reasoning and ultimately the behavior of organizations, groups and individuals. Used in all aspects of war, it’s a weapon whose effectiveness is limited only by the ingenuity of the commander using it. A proven winner in combat and peacetime, PSYOP is one of the oldest weapons in the arsenal of man. It’s an important force, protector, combat multiplier and a non-lethal weapons system.” (Goodman 3/24/2000)
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)
Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, one of eight co-chairs of the Florida Bush election campaign and the state official ultimately in charge of election procedures, is introduced to the politics of the Florida presidential recount by a ringing telephone. She is awakened at 3:30 a.m. by a call from the Bush campaign chairman Donald Evans, who puts Governor Jeb Bush, George W. Bush’s brother, on the line. Governor Bush asks coldly, “Who is Ed Kast, and why is he giving an interview on national television?” Harris is unsure who Kast is for a moment. Kast is the assistant director of elections, whose division reports to her office. He is on television talking about the fine points of Florida election law (see 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000), when and how manual recounts can be requested, and, most importantly, the driving concept of “voter intent”—if a ballot shows the intent of the voter to cast a vote for a candidate, then that vote will be counted. The governor does not want the media narrative to focus on recounts and voter intent, and has already tasked his general counsel with the job of getting Kast off the air as quickly as possible. (CNN “loses” Kast’s transmission in mid-sentence minutes later.) Democrats have questioned the propriety of having the Florida official with ultimate authority over elections being a state chairman for a presidential campaign before now, and in the coming days, the question will devolve into outright accusations of partisanship and impropriety. Harris has called herself “thrilled and honored” to be part of the Bush campaign, and served as a Bush delegate during the Republican National Convention. During the campaign, she often traveled around Florida representing the ticket. Representative Robert Wexler (D-FL) says of Harris: “She is clearly a partisan Republican—and there’s nothing illegal about that. And I give everyone the benefit of the doubt, expecting them to perform their public functions appropriately. But her actions will speak volumes about whether she is qualified. If she does this fairly, fine. But if she acts as an emissary for Bush to steal this election in Florida, she will delegitimize Florida’s vote count.” Harris gives some initial media interviews on November 8, and according to a 2004 Vanity Fair article, “appear[s] overwhelmed and uninformed.” She does not know what county elections supervisors have been doing, and seems unaware of the chaos surrounding the Palm Beach County “butterfly ballot” (see November 9, 2000) and other ballot disputes. The Bush campaign senses trouble and assigns Harris a “minder,” Florida Republican lobbyist Mac Stipanovich, a former campaign advisor for Jeb Bush and a close Bush ally. Stipanovich, the Vanity Fair article will observe, “appealed to Harris’s grandiosity. (Her emails replying to Bush supporters later revealed that she had begun identifying with Queen Esther, who, in the Old Testament, saved the Jews from genocide. ‘My sister and I prayed for full armour this morning,’ she wrote. ‘Queen Esther has been a wonderful role model.’) He told her that nothing less than the course of history rested on her shoulders. ‘You have to bring this election in for a landing,’ he repeated again and again.” Under Stipanovich’s tutelage, Harris quickly learns to stay on message and repeat the given talking points. Stipanovich, who remains out of sight of the media, will later describe his daily routine with Harris to documentary filmmaker Fred Silverman, saying: “I would arrive in the morning through the garage and come up on the elevators, and come in through the cabinet-office door, which is downstairs, and then in the evening when I left, you know, sometimes it’d be late, depending on what was going on, I would go the same way. I would go down the elevators and out through the garage and be driven—driven to my car from the garage, just because there were a lot of people out front on the main floor, and, at least in this small pond, knowledge of my presence would have been provocative, because I have a political background.” (Salon 11/13/2000; Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004) Most importantly to the Bush campaign, Harris is a part of the campaign’s message propagation plan to insist that Bush has indisputably won the Florida election (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000).
Representatives Robert Wexler (D-FL) and Mark Foley (R-FL), both representing districts in the Palm Beach County area of Florida, argue about the confusing “butterfly ballot” that plagued many Palm Beach voters (see 7:00 a.m. November 7, 2000 and After and November 9, 2000) with interviewer Larry King on CNN. Much of the debate centers on the ballot design and its approval by Palm Beach elections supervisor Theresa LePore, a Democrat. (In his 2001 book Down and Dirty, author Jake Tapper will note that LePore was originally registered as a Republican, then an independent, before registering as a Democrat, and is not particularly partisan with any party.) Foley, a Bush campaign supporter, defends LePore and the ballot, saying that the entire ballot situation is caused by recalcitrant Democrats unwilling to accept defeat, while Wexler, arguing on behalf of the Gore campaign, says the ballot is illegal and cost Al Gore the votes he needed to win Florida and the presidency. Wexler accurately describes many Palm Beach voters as “hysterical” because they feared they had accidentally voted for third-party candidate Pat Buchanan and not for Gore, and says the ballot design does not comply with Florida law. “Illegal is illegal, confusion is confusion, and the presidency shouldn’t hinge on it,” Wexler says. Foley is inaccurate in saying that Buchanan has a large base of support in Palm Beach, though he jokes that some of those putative pro-Buchanan voters “may be deranged.” Foley denies Wexler’s description of “mass confusion” at the Palm Beach polling places, and notes, accurately enough, that “a Democratic supervisor of elections [LePore] approved the layout and approved the ballot.” King says that as a Democrat, Wexler “signed off” on the ballot design, drawing a retort from Wexler: “That’s not exactly so, Larry. Many people did complain to the supervisor of elections when they saw the sample ballot.” LePore, watching the discussion on television, is angered by Wexler’s charge; she later says she mailed out 655,000 sample ballots to voters, gave copies to all 150-odd candidates on the ballot, mailed copies to local Democratic and Republican representatives, and provided copies for publication in the Palm Beach Post and the Orlando Sun-Sentinel, and received no complaints whatsoever. Wexler goes on to note that LePore sent out an unprecedented voter advisory reminding voters how to cast their votes for their desired presidential candidate, “which I’ve never seen done.” LePore is further angered by Wexler’s failure to acknowledge that he was one of the people who requested the advisory. “What a liar!” LePore thinks as she watches Wexler’s comments. Wexler argues that “the presidency of the United States hangs in the balance.… The entire election system of America is on trial right now. We need to make certain it is done in a fair way.” (Adair 11/10/2000; Tapper 3/2001)
Miami-Dade County election officials vote unanimously to halt the county’s manual recount of presidential ballots (see November 7, 2000 and Before 10:00 a.m. November 19, 2000), saying the county does not have enough time to complete its recount by the November 26 deadline. Instead, they vote to recount only 10,750 “undervotes,” ballots that don’t clearly indicate a presidential choice. The decision costs Democratic candidate Al Gore a 157-vote gain from the halted recount process. That evening, a Florida State appeals court denies a motion by Democrats to force Miami-Dade County to restart the manual recount. (Whitman et al. 12/13/2000; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 12/17/2000; Leip 2008)
Opposing Beliefs - The next day, the Florida Supreme Court will also refuse to order Miami-Dade to restart the recount (see 2:45 p.m. November 23, 2000). Press reports say that the decision “dramatically reverse[s] the chances of Al Gore gathering enough votes to defeat George W. Bush.” Gore’s senior campaign advisor William Daley calls the recounts “mandatory” and calls for “the rule of law” to be upheld. For his part, Bush says: “I believe Secretary Cheney and I won the vote in Florida (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000). And I believe some are determined to keep counting in an effort to change the legitimate result.” In light of the Miami-Dade decision, the Bush campaign’s chief legal advisor James Baker invites the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature to unilaterally declare Bush the victor, saying, “One should not now be surprised if the Florida legislature seeks to affirm the original rules.”
Agitators Disrupt Recount Proceedings - The recount proceedings are disrupted and ultimately ended by a mob of Republicans, some local and some bussed and flown in from Washington by the Bush campaign. The agitators are protesting outside the Miami-Dade County election offices, shouting and attempting to interfere with the proceedings of the canvassing board. Republicans have accused a Democratic lawyer of stealing a ballot. (Kettle 11/23/2000; Guardian 11/25/2000)
Rioters Made Up of Republican Staffers, Others - Democrats accuse Republican protesters of intimidating the Miami-Dade County officials into stopping the recount. Democratic vice-presidential candidate Joe Lieberman says the demonstrations in Miami have been orchestrated by Republicans “to intimidate and to prevent a simple count of votes from going forward.” Six Democratic members of the US Congress demand the Justice Department investigate the claims, saying that civil rights have been violated in “a shocking case of undermining the right to vote through intimidation and threats of violence.” Jenny Backus, a spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee (DNC), says, “The Republicans are out of control,” and accuses them of using paid agitators to “create mob rule in Miami.” (Guardian 11/25/2000) Later investigations show that the “spontaneous protests” by Republican protesters were far more orchestrated and violent than generally reported by the press at the time. Investigative journalist Robert Parry will write that the protests, called the “Brooks Brothers Riot” because of the wealthy, “preppie” makeup of the “protesters,” helped stop the recount, “and showed how far Bush’s supporters were ready to go to put their man in the White House.” He will write that the protests should be more accurately termed a riot. At least six of the rioters were paid by the Bush recount committee, payments documented in Bush committee records only released to the IRS in July 2002 (see July 15, 2002). Twelve Republican staffers will later be identified in photographs of the rioters. The six who can be confirmed as being paid are: Bush staffer Matt Schlapp from Austin, Texas; Thomas Pyle, a staff aide to House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-TX); DeLay fundraiser Michael Murphy; Garry Malphrus, House majority chief counsel to the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Criminal Justice; Charles Royal, a legislative aide to Representative Jim DeMint (R-SC); and former Republican House staffer Kevin Smith. Another Republican is identified as Doug Heye, a staffer for Representative Richard Pombo (R-CA). At least three of the rioters—Schlapp, Malphrus, and Joel Kaplan—will later join the Bush White House. Many of the rioters were brought in on planes and buses from Washington as early as mid-November, with promises of expenses payments. On November 18, 2000, the Bush campaign told activists, “We now need to send reinforcements” to rush to Florida. “The campaign will pay airfare and hotel expenses for people willing to go.” Many of the respondents are low-level Republican staffers from Congress. “These reinforcements… added an angrier tone to the dueling street protests already underway between supporters of Bush and Gore,” Parry will write. Quoting ABC reporter Jake Tapper, Parry will write, “The new wave of Republican activists injected ‘venom and volatility into an already edgy situation.’” Signifying the tone, before the Miami riot, Brad Blakeman, Bush’s campaign director of advance travel logistics, screamed down a CNN correspondent attempting to interview a Democratic Congressman: “This is the new Republican Party, sir! We’re not going to take it anymore!” (Consortium News 11/27/2000; Parry 8/5/2002; Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004) Some of the local protesters are summoned to the Miami-Dade electoral offices by angry broadcasts over radio stations with largely Cuban-American audiences; over these radio stations, listeners hear Bush campaign lawyer Roger Stone, coordinating the radio response, say that the recounts intend to disenfranchise Hispanic voters. Republican operatives coordinate the protests by shouting orders through megaphones. (Consortium News 11/24/2000; Alterman 12/9/2010) Cuban-Americans voted heavily for Bush in the November 7 election. (Tapper 3/2001)
Details of the Riot; Staffers Assaulted and Beaten - After learning that the Miami-Dade County canvassing board was beginning to examine 10,750 disputed ballots that had not previously been counted, US Representative John Sweeney (R-NY) issues the order to “Shut it down!” (Sweeney is coordinating his efforts with a local Cuban congressman who himself is coordinating the Cuban-American mob response.) Brendan Quinn, the executive director of the New York Republican Party, tells some two dozen Republican operatives outside the Miami-Dade County election offices to storm the room on the 19th floor where the canvassing board is meeting. Tapper later writes: “Emotional and angry, they immediately make their way outside the larger room in which the tabulating room is contained. The mass of ‘angry voters’ on the 19th floor swells to maybe 80 people,” including many of the Republican activists from outside Florida, and joined by local protesters. As news organizations videotape the scene, the protesters reach the board offices and begin shouting slogans such as “Stop the count! Stop the fraud!” “Three Blind Mice!” and “Fraud, fraud, fraud!” and banging on doors and walls. The protesters also shout that a thousand potentially violent Cuban-Americans are on the way. Official observers and reporters are unable to force their way through the shouting crowd of Republican operatives and their cohorts. Miami-Dade spokesman Mayco Villafena is physically assaulted, being pushed and shoved by an unknown number of assailants. Security officials, badly outmanned, fear the confrontation will swell into a full-scale riot. Miami-Dade elections supervisor David Leahy orders the recounts stopped, saying, “Until the demonstration stops, nobody can do anything.” (Although board members will later insist that they were not intimidated into stopping, the recounts will never begin again. Leahy will later say: “This was perceived as not being an open and fair process. That weighed heavy on our minds.”) Meanwhile, unaware of the rioting, county Democratic chairman Joe Geller stops at another office in search of a sample ballot. He wants to prove his theory that some voters had intended to vote for Gore, but instead marked an adjoining number indicating no choice. He finds one and leaves the office. Some of the rioters spot Geller with the sample ballot, and one shouts, “This guy’s got a ballot!” Tapper will later write: “The masses swarm around him, yelling, getting in his face, pushing him, grabbing him. ‘Arrest him!’ they cry. ‘Arrest him!’ With the help of a diminutive DNC [Democratic National Committee] aide, Luis Rosero, and the political director of the Miami Gore campaign, Joe Fraga, Geller manages to wrench himself into the elevator.” Rosero stays behind to attempt to talk with a reporter, and instead is kicked and punched by rioters. A woman shoves Rosero into a much larger man in what Tapper will later theorize was an attempt to start a fight between Rosero and the other person. In the building lobby, some 50 Republican protesters and activists swarm Geller, surrounding him. Police escort Geller back to the 19th floor in both an attempt to save him from harm and to ascertain what is happening. The crowd attempts to pull Geller away from the police. Some of the protesters even accost 73-year-old Representative Carrie Meek (D-FL). Democratic operatives decide to leave the area completely. When the mob learns that the recounts have been terminated, they break forth in lusty cheers.
After-Party - After the riots, the Bush campaign pays $35,501.52 for a celebration at Fort Lauderdale’s Hyatt Regency, where the rioters and campaign officials party, enjoy free food and drink, receive congratulatory calls from Bush and Dick Cheney, and are serenaded by Las Vegas crooner Wayne Newton, singing “Danke Schoen,” German for “thank you very much.” Other expenses at the party include lighting, sound system, and even costumes.
Media Reportage - Bush and his campaign officials say little publicly about the riot. Some press outlets report the details behind the riots. The Washington Post later reports that “even as the Bush campaign and the Republicans portray themselves as above the fray,” national Republicans actually had joined in and helped finance the riot. The Wall Street Journal tells readers that Bush offered personal words of encouragement to the rioters after the melee, writing, “The night’s highlight was a conference call from Mr. Bush and running mate Dick Cheney, which included joking reference by both running mates to the incident in Miami, two [Republican] staffers in attendance say.” The Journal also observes that the riot was led by national Republican operatives “on all expense-paid trips, courtesy of the Bush campaign.” And, the Journal will note, the rioters went on to attempt to disrupt the recounts in Broward County, but failed there to stop the proceedings. The Journal will write that “behind the rowdy rallies in South Florida this past weekend was a well-organized effort by Republican operatives to entice supporters to South Florida,” with DeLay’s Capitol Hill office taking charge of the recruitment. No similar effort was made by the Gore campaign, the Journal will note: “This has allowed the Republicans to quickly gain the upper hand, protest-wise.” And the Journal will write that the Bush campaign worked to keep its distance from the riots: “Staffers who joined the effort say there has been an air of mystery to the operation. ‘To tell you the truth, nobody knows who is calling the shots,’ says one aide. Many nights, often very late, a memo is slipped underneath the hotel-room doors outlining coming events.” But soon, media reports begin echoing Bush campaign talking points, which call the “protests” “fitting, proper,” and the fault of the canvassing board: “The board made a series of bad decisions and the reaction to it was inevitable and well justified.” The Bush campaign says the mob attack on the elections office was justified because civil rights leader Jesse Jackson had led peaceful, non-violent protests in favor of the recounts in Miami the day before. The campaign also insists that the protests were spontaneous and made up entirely of local citizens. On November 26, Governor Marc Racicot (R-MT), a Bush campaign spokesman, will tell NBC viewers: “Clearly there are Americans on both sides of these issues reflecting very strong viewpoints. But to suggest that somehow this was a threatening situation, in my view, is hyperbolic rhetoric.”
Effect of the Riot - According to Parry, the riot, broadcast live on CNN and other networks, “marked a turning point in the recount battle. At the time, Bush clung to a lead that had dwindled to several hundred votes and Gore was pressing for recounts (see November 20-21, 2000). The riot in Miami and the prospects of spreading violence were among the arguments later cited by defenders of the 5-to-4 US Supreme Court ruling (see 9:54 p.m. December 12, 2000)… that stopped a statewide Florida recount and handed Bush the presidency. Backed by the $13.8 million war chest, the Bush operation made clear in Miami and in other protests that it was ready to kick up plenty of political dust if it didn’t get its way.” In the hours after the riot, conservative pundits led by Rush Limbaugh will engage in orchestrated assaults on the recount process as fraudulent and an attempt by the Gore campaign to “invent” votes. No one is ever charged with any criminal behaviors as a result of the riot. (Consortium News 11/24/2000; Milbank 11/27/2000; Barrett 12/19/2000; Parry 8/5/2002; Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004; Alterman 12/9/2010)
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)
CNN is the first major network to show the footage of the crash site. It breaks into a commercial and anchor Carol Lin says, “This just in. You are looking at… obviously a very disturbing live shot there—that is the World Trade Center, and we have unconfirmed reports this morning that a plane has crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center.” CNN then switches to Sean Murtagh, the network’s vice president of finance, who says in a live telephone interview, “I just witnessed a plane that appeared to be cruising at a slightly lower than normal altitude over New York City. And it appears to have crashed into—I don’t know which tower it is—but it hit directly in the middle of one of the World Trade Center towers. It was a jet, maybe a two-engine jet, maybe a 737… a large passenger commercial jet… It was teetering back and forth, wing-tip to wing-tip, and it looks like it has crashed into—probably, twenty stories from the top of the World Trade Center—maybe the eightieth to eighty-fifth floor. There is smoke billowing out of the World Trade Center.” (CNN 9/11/2001; Bamford 2004, pp. 16-17) Many reports do not come until a few minutes later. For instance, ABC first breaks into regular programming with the story at 8:52 a.m. (ABC News 9/14/2002) Incredibly, a NORAD timeline presented to the 9/11 Commission in 2003 claims that CNN doesn’t begin its coverage of the attacks until 8:57. (9/11 Commission 5/23/2003)
An Associated Press news alert at 9:43 a.m. states, “An aircraft has crashed into the Pentagon, witnesses say.” (Associated Press 2001 ; Miller 8/26/2002) This is apparently the first news of the crash. Initial television reports stated there had been an explosion at the Pentagon, but not that a plane caused it (see 9:39 a.m.-9:44 a.m. September 11, 2001). Minutes later, there is still uncertainty over what caused the explosion. At 9:49, CNN’s Chris Plant reports from the Pentagon, “[I]nitial reports from witnesses indicate that there was in fact a helicopter circling the building, contrary to what the AP reported, according to the witnesses I’ve spoken to anyway, and that this helicopter disappeared behind the building, and that there was then an explosion” (see (9:35 a.m.-9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (CNN 9/11/2001) It is not until 9:53 that CNN confirms, “it was a plane that crashed into the Pentagon.” (CNN 9/11/2001)
Building 7 of the World Trade Center, located across the street from the Twin Towers, caught fire after the initial attacks on the WTC. (McMillan 9/12/2001) By 4:10 in the afternoon, CNN had reported it being on fire (see 4:10 p.m. September 11, 2001). Subsequently it is reported that WTC 7 is in danger of collapsing or may have already collapsed. At around 4:15 p.m., CNN reports, “We’re getting information that one of the other buildings… Building 7… is on fire and has either collapsed or is collapsing… now we’re told there is a fire there and that the building may collapse as well.” About 12 minutes later, BBC reporter Greg Barrow, who is in New York, appears on the BBC radio channel Five Live and says, “We are hearing reports from local media that another building may have caught light and is in danger of collapse.” He adds, “I’m not sure if it has yet collapsed but the report we have is talking about Building 7.” Around this time, the area around Building 7 is being evacuated, apparently because senior firefighters have determined it is in danger of collapsing (see (4:30 p.m.) September 11, 2001). At 4:53, based on the earlier reports, the Radio Five Live show’s presenter will incorrectly claim that Building 7 has already collapsed, saying, “Twenty-five minutes ago we had reports from Greg Barrow that another large building has collapsed just over an hour ago.” (Porter 3/2/2007) Starting at 4:54, BBC television will also begin reporting that Building 7 has already collapsed (see 4:54 p.m.-5:10 p.m. September 11, 2001). In fact, it does not do so until 5:20 (see (5:20 p.m.) September 11, 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 al-Qaeda representative offers to arrange a television interview of Osama bin Laden. There are two versions of how this offer is made. According to CNN, an al-Qaeda contact of the Qatar-based Al Jazeera, with which it has a footage-sharing agreement, invites CNN and Al Jazeera to submit questions to bin Laden. CNN, worried about accusations of improper conduct, contacts the other major US television news stations and tells them it will share any footage that emerges. It also says it will only air the interview as long as it is newsworthy and not “propaganda.” CNN then draws up six questions about al-Qaeda’s role in 9/11 and the recent anthrax attacks in the US. It gives the questions to Al Jazeera, which adds another 25 and sends them to its Kabul bureau, which, in turn, passes them on to its al-Qaeda contact. The ethics of this are hotly debated in the US media, with Fox News publicly refusing to participate. Nevertheless, an Al Jazeera manager will later say: “I assure you they [Fox] contacted me to send more questions of their own. I got calls and emails from them.” Fox will later admit to the contacts, but say it would only have agreed to take part in the event of a regular interview. However, Al Jazeera media relations manager Jihad Ballout will contradict CNN’s account of the offer, saying the two organizations are approached independently, and al-Qaeda eventually chooses Al Jazeera. (Miles 2005, pp. 175-176, 179-180) The interview will take place on October 20 (see October 20, 2001).
CNN chairman Walter Isaacson orders his staff to balance the network’s coverage of civilian devastation in Afghan cities with reminders that the Taliban harbors murderous terrorists who attacked the US on 9/11. Isaacson says it “seems perverse to focus too much on the casualties or hardship in Afghanistan.” In an internal memo to his international correspondents, he writes: “As we get good reports from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, we must redouble our efforts to make sure we do not seem to be simply reporting from their vantage or perspective. We must talk about how the Taliban are using civilian shields and how the Taliban have harbored the terrorists responsible for killing close to 5,000 innocent people.” (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 10/31/2001) Inside sources later say that CNN is bowing to pressure from certain segments of its viewing audience. (Hurst 9/8/2002)
Suggested Endings Reiterate Pentagon Statements - In a corollary memo, CNN’s head of standards and practices, Rick Davis, writes: “As we get enterprising reports from our correspondents or Al Jazeera inside Afghanistan, we must continue to make sure that we do not inadvertently seem to be reporting uncritically from the perspective or vantage of the Taliban. Also, given the enormity of the toll on innocent human lives in the US, we must remain careful not to focus excessively on the casualties and hardships in Afghanistan that will inevitably be a part of this war, or to forget that it is the Taliban leadership that is responsible for the situation Afghanistan is now in.” Davis orders CNN reports from Afghanistan to end with a formulaic reminder, such as the following: “We must keep in mind, after seeing reports like this, that the Taliban regime in Afghanistan continues to harbor terrorists who have praised the September 11 attacks that killed close to 5,000 innocent people in the US.” Another suggested ending: “The Pentagon has repeatedly stressed that it is trying to minimize civilian casualties in Afghanistan, even as the Taliban regime continues to harbor terrorists who are connected to the September 11 attacks that claimed thousands of innocent lives in the US.” If relevant to the piece, the correspondent can end with the reminder that “the Pentagon has stressed that the Taliban continues to harbor the terrorists and the Taliban forces are reported to be hiding in populated areas and using civilians as human shields.” Davis concludes, “Even though it may start sounding rote, it is important that we make this point each time.” Isaacson tells reporters: “I want to make sure we’re not used as a propaganda platform. We’re entering a period in which there’s a lot more reporting and video from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. You want to make sure people understand that when they see civilian suffering there, it’s in the context of a terrorist attack that caused enormous suffering in the United States.” Presenters on CNN International are not subject to the edict. (Guardian 11/1/2001)
Correspondents Fear 'Pro-American Stamp' on CNN Reporting - Some CNN correspondents worry that the network will put an overtly “pro-American stamp” on their reports; CNN executives worry that images showing misdirected US missile attacks landing on residential areas or Red Cross warehouses could be manipulated before they come out of Afghanistan. Some have criticized network coverage of the destruction rained on Afghan cities, towns, and villages by errant US bombs, while others say such coverage is necessary to present more than one side of the issue. CNN, like other American networks, airs hours of coverage every day of President Bush and his top officials. (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 10/31/2001; Guardian 11/1/2001) In 2002, then-CNN foreign correspondent Anthony Collings will say that “the Pentagon must surely have been pleased to learn that whenever its planes killed the wrong Afghans, CNN would quickly provide PR damage control.” (Hurst 9/8/2002)
Some Pundits Agree with CNN's Position - Fox News anchor Brit Hume agrees that stories of casualties should not be emphasized, explaining, “Civilian casualties are historically, by definition, a part of war.” National Public Radio White House correspondent Mara Liasson agrees with Hume, noting, “War is about killing people; civilian casualties are unavoidable.” (Bob Zelnick 3/22/2003)
Other Networks Not Following Suit - Other US news networks do not follow CNN’s lead. Jim Murphy, executive producer of the CBS Evening News, says: “I wouldn’t order anybody to do anything like that. Our reporters are smart enough to know it has to be put in context.” NBC News vice president Bill Wheatley adds, “I’d give the American public more credit, frankly.” In Britain, the BBC has no plans to put any such reminders on its broadcasts, but a spokeswoman for that network says, “Correspondents may or may not decide to put in this sort of detail in their reports to put things in context.” (Guardian 11/1/2001)
Issue Not Relevant if Good Journalistic Standards Observed - In 2003, veteran foreign correspondent Robert Zelnick will write that the entire issue should have been moot, as long as reporters and networks followed strong standards of journalism. It is newsworthy in a tactical, a psychological, and a propagandistic sense to report civilian casualties, Zelnick will observe, especially when the targeting of civilians is deliberate. He cites examples of media coverage in Korea, Kosovo, and especially Vietnam, that galvanized public debate on those wars. “[N]o reasonable case can be made for temporizing reports of the war’s impact on the civilians that US forces were fighting to ‘save,’” he will write. On the other side, he will cite the US invasion of Panama in 1989, the 1991 Persian Gulf War, and Israel’s ongoing battles with the Palestinians as examples of wars fought with little US media coverage of civilian casualties; as a result, relatively few Americans raised objections or expressed doubts about those military actions. (Bob Zelnick 3/22/2003)
Defense Policy Board member Richard Perle, discussing the US’s planned reaction to the 9/11 attacks, says that Iraq is next on the US’s military strike list. CNN anchor John King asks, “Next phase Saddam Hussein?” and Perle replies, “Absolutely.” The day before, on ABC, Perle explained why the US had to make such a move: “Weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Saddam Hussein, plus his known contact with terrorists, including al-Qaeda terrorists, is simply a threat too large to continue to tolerate.” And what would the upshot of such an invasion be? Perle tells his CNN listeners, “We would be seen as liberators in Iraq.” (Moyers 4/25/2007)
In 2007, Walter Isaacson, chairman and CEO of CNN in the early 2000s, will say: “There was a patriotic fervor and the Administration used it so that if you challenged anything you were made to feel that there was something wrong with that.… And there was even almost a patriotism police which, you know, they’d be up there on the internet sort of picking anything a Christiane Amanpour, or somebody else would say as if it were disloyal… Especially right after 9/11. Especially when the war in Afghanistan is going on. There was a real sense that you don’t get that critical of a government that’s leading us in war time.” When CNN starts showing footage of civilian casualties in Afghanistan, people in the Bush administration and “big people in corporations were calling up and saying, ‘You’re being anti-American here.’” (Moyers 4/25/2007) So in October 2001, Isaacson sends his staff a memo, which says, “It seems perverse to focus too much on the casualties or hardship in Afghanistan.” He orders CNN to balance such coverage with reminders of the 9/11 attacks. (Kurtz 10/31/2001) Isaacson will add, “[W]e were caught between this patriotic fervor and a competitor [Fox News] who was using that to their advantage; they were pushing the fact that CNN was too liberal that we were sort of vaguely anti-American.” An anonymous CNN reporter will also later say, “Everybody on staff just sort of knew not to push too hard to do stories critical of the Bush Administration.” (Moyers 4/25/2007)
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)
CNN broadcasts an interview of Osama bin Laden conducted by Al Jazeera reporter Tayseer Allouni. The interview was recorded in October 2001 (see October 20, 2001). (Laden 2/5/2002; Miles 2005, pp. 176-177) Al Jazeera had decided not to broadcast the interview because al-Qaeda operatives intimidated Allouni, he was not allowed to ask his own questions, and the station thought the resulting product was just propaganda for bin Laden. However, Western intelligence agencies obtained the tape (see Before November 11, 2001), and news of it leaked to the media. CNN then obtained a copy and now broadcasts it, thinking this a media coup. For example, CNN executive Eason Jordan says the video is “extremely newsworthy… it not only absolutely warrants being seen, it must be seen.” It is unclear where CNN got the tape from. Author Hugh Miles will suggest that the network acquired the tape with the blessing of the US government. He will point out that National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice recently instructed news outlets not to air bin Laden messages, apparently for fear they may contain hidden signals. However, CNN is not rebuked for running excerpts from the tape. Miles will also point out that Al Jazeera’s refusal to broadcast the tape is used to attack the station in the US media, as it is “widely insinuated that the affair had been an attempt by Al Jazeera to cover up bin Laden’s confession of responsibility for 9/11.” However, in retrospect, Miles will say it is a “smear campaign by the coalition, bitter at Al Jazeera’s coverage of the war and desperate to have bin Laden’s near-confession on air, to prove their vengeful war was justified.” (Miles 2005, pp. 177-182)
Richard Shelby (R-AL), the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, leaks highly classified information to Fox News political correspondent Carl Cameron just minutes after his committee learns it in a closed-door hearing with NSA Director Michael Hayden, according to later testimony. Shelby learns that telephone calls intercepted by the NSA on September 10, 2001 warned of an imminent al-Qaeda attack, but the agency failed to translate the intercepts until September 12, the day after the 9/11 attacks (see September 10, 2001). Cameron does not report the story, but instead gives the material to CNN reporter Dana Bash. A half-hour after Cameron’s meeting with Bash, CNN broadcasts the story, citing “two Congressional sources” in its report. CNN does not identify Shelby as a source. Moments after the broadcast, a CIA official upbraids committee members who have by then reconvened to continue the hearing. USA Today and the Washington Post publish more detailed stories on the NSA intercepts the next day. White House and intelligence community officials will quickly claim that the leak proves Congress cannot be trusted with classified information, but experts in electronic surveillance will later say the information about the NSA’s intercepts contains nothing harmful because it does not reveal the source of the information or the methods used to gather it. (Lengel and Priest 8/5/2004; Waas 2/15/2007) The next day, a furious Vice President Dick Cheney will threaten Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) with termination of the White House’s cooperation with the 9/11 Congressional inquiry unless Graham and his House Intelligence Committee counterpart, Porter Goss (R-FL), push for an investigation (see June 20, 2002). Shelby will deny any involvement in the leak (see August 5, 2004).
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)
Frank Koza, chief of staff in the “Regional Targets” section of the National Security Agency, issues a secret memo to senior NSA officials that orders staff to conduct aggressive, covert surveillance against several United Nations Security Council members. This surveillance, which has the potential to wreak havoc on US relations with its fellow nations, is reportedly ordered by George W. Bush and his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice. Koza, whose section spies on countries considered strategically important to US interests, is trying to compile information on certain Security Council members in order to help the United States to win an upcoming UN resolution vote on whether to support military action against Iraq (see February 24, 2003.
Targeted Nations Include 'Middle Six' - The targeted members are the delegations from Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Mexico, Guinea, and Pakistan, who together make up the so-called “Middle Six.” These six nations are officially “on the fence,” and their votes are being aggressively courted by both the pro-war faction, led by the US and Britain, and the anti-war faction, led by France, Russia and China (see Mid-February 2003-March 2003. (Bright, Vulliamy, and Beaumont 3/2/2003) Bulgaria is another nation targeted, and that operation will apparently be successful, because within days Bulgaria joined the US in supporting the Iraq war resolution. Mexico, another fence-straddler, is not targeted, but that may be because, in journalist Martin Bright’s words, “the Americans had other means of twisting the arms of the Mexicans.” (Bright is one of the authors of the original news report.) The surveillance program will backfire with at least one country, Chile, who has its own history of being victimized by US “dirty tricks” and CIA-led coups. Chile is almost certain to oppose the US resolution. (Jones and Bright 3/6/2003) It is also likely, some experts believe, that China is an ultimate target of the spy operation, since the junior translater who will leak the Koza memo in February, Katharine Gun, is fluent in Mandarin Chinese and is unlikely to have seen the memo unless she would have been involved in translating it into that language. (Ivins 2/18/2004)
Operation Ruined US Chances of Winning Vote - Later assessment shows that many experts believe the spying operation scuttled any chance the US had of winning the UN vote, as well as the last-ditch attempt by the UN to find a compromise that would avert a US-British invasion of Iraq. (Bright, Beaumont, and Tuckman 2/15/2004)
Chile 'Surprised' to be Targeted - Chile’s ambassador to Britain, Mariano Fernandez, will say after learning of the NSA surveillance, “We cannot understand why the United States was spying on Chile. We were very surprised. Relations have been good with America since the time of George Bush, Sr.” (Bright, Vulliamy, and Beaumont 3/9/2003)
Mexico Suspected Spying - Mexico’s UN representative, Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, will tell the Observer a year later that he and other UN delegates believed at the time that they were being spied upon by the US during their meetings. “The surprising thing was the very rapid flow of information to the US quarters,” he will recall. “It was very obvious to the countries involved in the discussion on Iraq that we were being observed and that our communications were probably being tapped. The information was being gathered to benefit the United States.” (Beaumont, Bright, and Tuckman 2/15/2004)
Memo Comes Before Powell's UN Presentation - The memo comes just five days before Colin Powell’s extraordinary presentation to the UN to build a case for war against Iraq (see [complete_timeline_of_the_2003_invasion_of_iraq_442]]), and is evidence of the US’s plans to do everything possible to influence the UN to vote to authorize war with that nation. The memo says the eavesdropping push “will probably peak” after Powell’s speech. (Shane and Sabar 3/4/2003)
NSA Wants Details of Voting Plans, More - The NSA wants information about how these countries’ delegations “will vote on any second resolution on Iraq, but also ‘policies’, ‘negotiating positions’, ‘alliances’ and ‘dependencies’—the whole gamut of information that could give US policymakers an edge in obtaining results favorable to US goals or to head off surprises.” (Bright, Vulliamy, and Beaumont 3/2/2003) Bright will tell other reporters on March 9, “It’s quite clear what they were going for was not only the voting patterns and the voting plans and the negotiations with other interested parties such as the French or the Chinese, it wasn’t just the bare bones, it was also the office telephone communications and email communications and also what are described as ‘domestic coms’, which is the home telephones of people working within the UN. This can only mean that they were looking for personal information. That is, information which could be used against those delagates. It’s even clear from the memo that this was an aggressive operation. It wasn’t simply a neutral surveillance operation.” According to Bright’s sources, the orders for the program came “from a level at least as high as Condoleezza Rice, who is the President’s National Security Adviser.” (Jones and Bright 3/6/2003)
'Surge' of Covert Intelligence Gathering - Koza advises his fellow NSA officials that the agency is “mounting a surge” aimed at gaining covert information that will help the US in its negotiations. This information will be used for the US’s so-called Quick Response Capability (QRC), “against” the six delegations. In the memo, Koza writes that the staff should also monitor “existing non-UN Security Council Member UN-related and domestic comms [office and home telephones] for anything useful related to Security Council deliberations,” suggesting that not only are the delegates to be monitored in their UN offices, but at their homes as well. Koza’s memo is copied to senior officials at an unnamed foreign intelligence agency (later revealed to be Britain). Koza addresses those officials: “We’d appreciate your support in getting the word to your analysts who might have similar more indirect access to valuable information from accesses in your product lines [intelligence sources].…I suspect that you’ll be hearing more along these lines in formal channels.” The surveillance is part of a comprehensive attempt by the US to influence other nations to vote to authorize a war against Iraq; these US attempts include proffers of economic and military aid, and threats that existing aid packages will be withdrawn. A European intelligence source says, The Americans are being very purposeful about this.” (National Security Agency 1/31/2003; Bright, Vulliamy, and Beaumont 3/2/2003; Bright and Beaumont 2/8/2004)
US Media Ignores Operation - While the European and other regional media have produced intensive coverage of the news of the NSA’s wiretapping of the UN, the American media virtually ignores the story until 2004, when Gun’s court case is scheduled to commence (see February 26, 2004). Bright, in an interview with an Australian news outlet, says on March 6 that “[i]t’s as well not to get too paranoid about these things and too conspiratorial,” he was scheduled for interviews by three major US television news outlets, NBC, Fox News, and CNN, who all “appeared very excited about the story to the extent of sending cars to my house to get me into the studio, and at the last minute, were told by their American desks to drop the story. I think they’ve got some questions to answer too.” (Jones and Bright 3/6/2003) Most US print media outlets fail to cover the story, either. The New York Times, the self-described newspaper of record for the US, do not cover the story whatsoever. The Times’s deputy foreign editor, Alison Smale, says on March 5, “Well, it’s not that we haven’t been interested, [but] we could get no confirmation or comment” on the memo from US officials. “We would normally expect to do our own intelligence reporting.” The Washington Post publishes a single story about the operation, focusing on the idea that surveillance at the UN is business as usual. The Los Angeles Times fixes on claims by unnamed “former top intelligence officials” believe Koza’s memo is a forgery. (When the memo is proven to be authentic, both the Post and the Los Angeles Times refuse to print anything further on the story.) Author Norman Solomon writes, “In contrast to the courage of the lone woman who leaked the NSA memo—and in contrast to the journalistic vigor of the Observer team that exposed it—the most powerful US news outlets gave the revelation the media equivalent of a yawn. Top officials of the Bush administration, no doubt relieved at the lack of US media concern about the NSA’s illicit spying, must have been very encouraged.” (Solomon 12/28/2005)
UN to Launch Inquiry - The United Nations will launch its own inquiry into the NSA surveillance operation (see March 9, 2003).
MSNBC, the cable news channel owned by NBC, cancels Phil Donahue’s nightly talk show. MSNBC cites “disappointing ratings” for “Donahue.” The show, originally conceived as a more liberal alternative for Fox News’s overtly conservative “O’Reilly Factor,” started very slow and never came close to challenging either O’Reilly’s ratings or CNN’s Connie Chung, whose show is also in the same time slot. But in recent weeks, Donahue’s ratings have steadily increased to the point where it is the top-rated show on the network, even beating MSNBC’s flagship political show, “Hardball With Chris Matthews.”
'Tired Left-Wing Liberal' - An internal report commissioned by the network’s executives, later obtained by media analyst Rick Ellis, calls Phil Donahue “a tired, left-wing liberal out of touch with the current marketplace.” The report says that Donahue’s show presents a “difficult public face for NBC in a time of war.… He seems to delight in presenting guests who are anti-war, anti-Bush, and skeptical of the administration’s motives.” If the show continues on the air, the report warns that it could become “a home for the liberal anti-war agenda at the same time that our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity.” As Donahue exits the lineup, MSNBC brings aboard former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey and former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough as commentators, and radical right-wing talk show host Michael Savage and libertarian Jesse Ventura, the former governor of Minnesota, as hosts. Donahue’s time slot will be taken temporarily by the expansion of another show, “Countdown: Iraq,” to two hours. Nation columnist John Nichols writes: “Talk about adding insult to injury. Getting canceled is bad enough; getting canceled to make way for a program devoted to anticipating an unnecessary war is just plain awful.” (Carter 2/26/2003; Ellis 2/26/2003; Nichols 2/27/2003) In 2007, Donahue says he knew nothing of the internal memo at the time (see April 25, 2007). “I didn’t know about that till I read about it in the New York Times.” When asked: “What did you think? What does that say to you? That dissent is unpatriotic?” Donahue will reply, “Well, not only unpatriotic, but it’s not good for business.” (Moyers 4/25/2007)
MSNBC 'Tak[ing] the Coward's Road' - A source close to Donahue says that Donahue’s cancellation is “no coincidence.” The MSNBC executives are “scared,” the source says, “and they decided to take the coward’s road and slant towards the conservative crowd that watch Fox News.” Ellis, a veteran media analyst with strong connections in the TV news industry, writes that MSNBC, “[r]ather than building a unique voice, the news channel has opted to become a lesser alternative to the Fox News Channel.” Interestingly, the NBC report recommended against such a course: “The temptation is to chase the audience that is already out there and play to what seems to be working at Fox. But there is another road, and if we build our unique voices from within, we have a chance to develop a loyal and valuable audience.” Nichols writes, “[I]t is a pretty good bet that, now that ‘Donahue’ is going off the air, we will not soon see another show like the one where he featured [consumer advocate] Ralph Nader and [progressive columnist] Molly Ivins in front of a crowd of laid-off Enron employees.” Nichols adds that while Donahue’s show may have been conceived as a liberal alternative to O’Reilly, it was never allowed to be such: “For every program that featured Ralph Nader and Molly Ivins, there were ten where Donahue was forced to ask polite questions of second-string conservative pundits. Where his conservative competitors never worry about fairness or balance, Donahue was under constant pressure to clog his show’s arteries with deadly dull apologists for all things Bush. And when that got too boring, he was pressured to steer the show away from politics and toward the glitzy and the maudlin.” Only in its last few weeks did MSNBC allow Donahue to do what he does best—interview interesting guests in front of a live audience. The show’s ratings began climbing rapidly. Whether the show could have challenged O’Reilly or other conservative shows’ ratings can never be known.
Never Trusted the American Viewing Audience - Nichols concludes: “Now that ‘Donahue’ has been ditched, conservative commentators and network executives will tell themselves that there is no audience for progressive voices on television. They will, of course, be wrong on the broad premise—some of O’Reilly’s best shows feature feisty progressives like US [Representatives] Jan Schakowsky and Bernie Sanders. And they will be wrong more specifically about Donahue. We will never know for sure whether Phil Donahue could have seriously competed with conservative hosts like Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity. What we do now, for sure, is that MSNBC executives were never willing to trust Phil Donahue—or the American television viewing audience.” (Carter 2/26/2003; Ellis 2/26/2003; Nichols 2/27/2003)
President Bush holds a press conference—only his eighth since taking office—in which he conflates Iraq and Saddam Hussein with the 9/11 attacks and the global war on terror at least 12 times. For instance, he says: “Iraq is a part of the war on terror. It’s a country that trains terrorists; it’s a country that could arm terrorists. Saddam Hussein and his weapons are a direct threat to this country.” Perhaps his most alarming statement is, “September the 11th should say to the American people that we’re now a battlefield.” (White House 3/6/2003; Boehlert 5/4/2006; Moyers 4/25/2007) Bush insists that he has not yet decided to take military action against Iraq (see March 6, 2003). (Boehlert 5/4/2006)
Scripted and Orchestrated - Oddly, none of the 94 assembled journalists challenge Bush’s conflations, no one asks about Osama bin Laden, and no one asks follow-up questions to elicit information past the sound bites Bush delivers. There is a reason for that. In 2007, PBS’s Bill Moyers will report that “the White House press corps will ask no hard questions… about those claims,” because the entire press conference is scripted. “Sure enough, the president’s staff has given him a list of reporters to call on,” Moyers will report. Press Secretary Ari Fleischer later admits to giving Bush the list, which omits reporters from such media outlets as Time, Newsweek, USA Today, and the Washington Post. After calling on CNN reporter John King, Bush says, “This is a scripted—” and then breaks into laughter. King, like his colleagues, continues as if nothing untoward is happening. Author and media commentator Eric Boehlert will later say: “[Bush] sort of giggled and laughed. And, the reporters sort of laughed. And, I don’t know if it was out of embarrassment for him or embarrassment for them because they still continued to play along after his question was done. They all shot up their hands and pretended they had a chance of being called on.” Several questions later, Bush pretends to choose from the available reporters, saying: “Let’s see here… Elizabeth… Gregory… April.… Did you have a question or did I call upon you cold?” The reporter asks, “How is your faith guiding you?” Bush responds: “My faith sustains me because I pray daily. I pray for guidance.” Boehlert will later say: “I think it just crystallized what was wrong with the press coverage during the run up to the war. I think they felt like the war was gonna happen and the best thing for them to do was to get out of the way.” (White House 3/6/2003; Boehlert 5/4/2006; Moyers 4/25/2007)
Defending the Press's Complicity - New York Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller, a participant in the conference, will later defends the press corps’ “timid behavior,” in Boehlert’s characterization, by saying: “I think we were very deferential because… it’s live, it’s very intense, it’s frightening to stand up there. Think about it, you’re standing up on prime-time live TV asking the president of the United States a question when the country’s about to go to war. There was a very serious, somber tone that evening, and no one wanted to get into an argument with the president at this very serious time.” (Boehlert 5/4/2006)
Compliant Media Coverage - The broadcast news media, transmitting the live feed of the conference, could not have been more accommodating, author and media critic Frank Rich will later note. “CNN flashed the White House’s chosen messages in repetitive rotation on the bottom of the screen while the event was still going on—‘People of good will are hoping for peace’ and ‘My job is to protect America.’” After the conference, Fox News commentator Greta van Susteren tells her audience, “What I liked tonight was that in prime time [Bush] said to the American people, my job is to protect the American people.” (Rich 2006, pp. 70)
Follow-Up Coverage Equally Stage-Managed - Boehlert notes that the post-conference coverage is equally one-sided. On MSNBC’s flagship news commentary show, Hardball, host Chris Matthews spends an hour discussing the conference and the upcoming invasion. Matthews invites six guests on. Five are advocates of the war, and one, given a few moments for “balance,” questions some of the assumptions behind the rationale for war. The five pro-war guests include an “independent military analyst,” retired General Montgomery Meigs, who is one of around 75 retired military officers later exposed as participants in a Pentagon propaganda operation designed to promote the war (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). (Boehlert 5/4/2006)
Some Criticism Leveled - Several journalists later write harsh critiques of the conference and the media’s complicity (see March-April 2003).
A day after former ambassador Joseph Wilson appears on CNN questioning the validity of the administration’s claims about the Iraq-Niger uranium purchase (see March 8, 2003), Vice President Dick Cheney and Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley begin a campaign to discredit him. The information comes from senior sources within the State Department, the CIA, and the National Security Council (NSC), all with direct knowledge of the campaign, and from Wilson himself. The sources will say that they and other officials are directed to unearth or “invent” embarrassing information on Wilson that could be used against him in public. Aides in the Office of the Vice President and others, including the sources, prepare a “workup” on Wilson, including memos and classified material on him for Cheney and the NSC. Officials meet regularly in Cheney’s office to discuss the progress of the campaign with Cheney, Hadley, and other officials.
Visit to CIA Headquarters - According to an official in the CIA’s Counterproliferation Division (CPD), Cheney and Hadley visit the CIA the day after Wilson’s interview on CNN. Cheney’s original target for discrediting was not Wilson, but David Albright, the former UN weapons inspector who has also challenged the credibility of the Iraq-Niger claims and the rationale for invading Iraq (see March 8, 2003). Cheney asked several CIA officials to find “dirt” on Albright for use in discrediting him in the media. At the outset, the CIA official will say: “Vice President Cheney was more concerned with Mr. Albright. The international community had been saying that inspectors should have more time, that the US should not set a deadline. The vice president felt Mr. Albright’s remarks would fuel the debate.” The CIA will eventually send a “binder” to Cheney’s office containing information about Albright; it is not clear to what, if any, use that information is put.
Cheney 'Enraged' - But Wilson’s appearance on CNN and his public ridicule of the Iraq-Niger uranium claim enraged Cheney, who saw Wilson’s comments as a personal attack against him. Hadley also took an interest in Wilson’s remarks because he personally allowed the Iraq-Niger claim to remain in Bush’s State of the Union address (see 9:01 pm January 28, 2003) even after being informed that the documents the claim was based upon were forgeries. Both Cheney and Hadley view Wilson as a possible impediment to the public’s acceptance of the impending Iraq invasion. Cheney chairs a meeting in his office the day after Wilson’s appearance on CNN, attended by, among others, Hadley, White House political guru Karl Rove, Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Cheney’s deputy national security adviser John Hannah, and several officials from the CIA and State Department, including the officials who will later discuss the matter with the press. “The way I remember it,” says the CIA official, “is that the vice president was obsessed with Wilson. He called him an ‘_sshole,’ a son-of-a-b_tch. He took his comments very personally. He wanted us to do everything in our power to destroy his reputation and he wanted to be kept up to date about the progress.” Hadley says he will write an editorial about the Iraqi threat that should offset Wilson’s remarks; the State Department will redistribute a February 16, 2003 editorial by Hadley that appeared in the Chicago Tribune to newspaper editors around the country. Cheney will appear on NBC’s Meet the Press to refute the challenges to the Iraq-Niger claims (see March 16, 2003). (Leopold 2/9/2006) In 2004, Wilson will write: “I learned that a meeting right around the time of this particular CNN appearance (see March 8, 2003) led to the decision to produce a ‘workup’ on me for the Office of the Vice President. It was not made clear to me whether Dick Cheney himself attended this meeting, although I was told that senior members of his staff and quite possibly other senior Republicans, including former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, were present and that Gingrich actively participated in a strategy session, the objective of which was to figure out how to discredit me.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 326-327)
False Allegations of 'Womanizing,' Drug Use - Within days, officials in the CIA, NSC, and State Department pass on information to Cheney and Libby that purportedly shows Wilson is a “womanizer” who had occassionally used drugs in his youth; the sources later say that the allegations are entirely false. The sources will say that they are unsure the material was ever used to discredit Wilson, since after the war began on March 19, the media lost interest in Wilson’s warnings. (Leopold 2/9/2006) Wilson later writes that the meeting about him does “not include discussion of how the president and his senior staff might address the indisputable, if inconvenient, fact that the allegation I had made was true. In other words, from the very beginning, the strategy of the White House was to confront the issue as a ‘Wilson’ problem rather than as an issue of the lie that was in the State of the Union address.… The immediate effect of the workup, I am told by a member of the press, citing White House sources, was a long harangue against the two of us within the White House walls. Over a period of several months, Libby evidently seized opportunities to rail openly against me as an ‘assh_le playboy’ who went on a boondoggle ‘arranged by his CIA wife’—and was a Democratic Gore supporter to boot.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 441-442)
New Interest in Wilson - Cheney’s interest in Wilson will be renewed in May 2003 (see May 2003), when Wilson informs New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof that he was the special envoy who had gone to Niger in February 2002 to investigate the uranium claims (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002).
US broadcast and cable news outlets begin covering the first US strikes against Iraqi targets (see March 19, 2003 and March 19-20, 2003), but, as author and media critic Frank Rich will later note, their coverage often lacks accuracy. News broadcasts report “a decapitation strike” (see March 20, 2003) that lead US viewers to believe for hours that Saddam Hussein has been killed. CNN’s title card for its strike coverage reads, “Zero Hour for Iraq Arrives”; during its initial coverage, CNN features New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who credits “a slew of information from defectors” and other “intelligence sources”—those who had provided the foundation for Secretary of State Colin Powell’s “impressive speech to the United Nations” (see February 5, 2003)—with the imminent discovery and destruction of Iraq’s WMD stockpiles. “One person in Washington told me that the list could total more than 1,400 of those sites,” Miller says. Pentagon PR chief Victoria Clarke, who had created both the Pentagon’s “embed program” of reporters going into battle with selected military units (see February 2003) and the “military analysts” program of sending carefully selected retired flag officers to the press and television news programs to give the administration’s views of the war (see Early 2002 and Beyond), has overseen the construction of a briefing room for press conferences from US CENTCOM headquarters in Qatar: the $200,000 facility was designed by a production designer who had worked for, among others, Disney, MGM, and illusionist David Blaine. Clarke and the Pentagon marketing officials succeed in having their term to describe the initial assault, “shock and awe,” promulgated throughout the broadcast and cable coverage. (Fox and MSNBC will soon oblige the Pentagon by changing the name of their Iraqi coverage programming to the official administration name for the invasion, “Operation Iraqi Freedom.”) During the assault, as Rich will later write, “the pyrotechnics of Shock and Awe looked like a distant fireworks display, or perhaps the cool computer graphics of a Matrix-inspired video game, rather than the bombing of a large city. None of Baghdad’s nearly six million people were visible.” Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon later says, “If you had hired actors [instead of the network news anchors], you could not have gotten better coverage.” (Rich 2006, pp. 73-75)
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)
The toppling of the Firdos Square statue (see April 9, 2003) is presented as an iconic moment in history by many US media outlets. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld cues the news analysts by saying of the “spontaneously” celebrating Iraqis, “Watching them, one cannot help but think of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Iron Curtain.” NBC analyst Tim Russert says shortly afterwards, “Not since the fall of the Berlin Wall have I seen anything quite like this.” CNN’s Bill Hemmer says, “You think about seminal moments in a nation’s history… indelible moments like the fall of the Berlin Wall, and that’s what we’re seeing right now.” David Asman of Fox News tells viewers, “My goose bumps have never been higher than they are right now.” Fox anchor Brit Hume says, “This transcends anything I’ve ever seen.” (Rich 2006, pp. 83) Al-Jazeera news producer Samir Khader will later say: “The Americans played the media element intelligently.… It was a show. It was a media show.” Al-Jazeera producer Deema Khatib will agree. Referring to various elements shown on American news broadcasts, he will say: “I bet you they brought in those teenage guys who broke the statue, they brought them in with them, because if you notice, they are all sort of the same age, no women, and they all went in and it was the same people on the square. You couldn’t see more people gathering from the houses around. No one came down to the street to see what was happening, because people were scared. And those people who came in, how come one of them had the flag of Iraq before 1991 in his pocket? Has he been waiting there for 10 years with the flag on that square? I don’t think so. But this is not something the US media will talk about.” (Rich 2006, pp. 84) Most US news outlets dramatically cut back on their war reporting after the fall of the statue (see April 9, 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)
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)
CNN chief news executive Eason Jordan reveals on the air that he had secured the Defense Department’s approval of which “independent military analysts” (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) to give commentary on the invasion of Iraq. In 2000, Jordan vehemently denied that the Pentagon had any influence on the network’s choice of military analysts (see March 24, 2000). Jordan says: “I went to the Pentagon myself several times before the war started and met with important people there and said, for instance—‘At CNN, here are the generals we’re thinking of retaining to advise us on the air and off about the war’—and we got a big thumbs-up on all of them. That was important.” (Solomon 8/16/2007)
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)
Two days after the New York Times publishes former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s op-ed debunking the Bush administration’s claims that Iraq attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see July 6, 2003), a business acquaintance of Wilson’s tells him of an encounter he just had with conservative columnist Robert Novak. The acquaintance sees Novak in the street and, recognizing him from his frequent television appearances, asks if he can walk with him, as they are going in the same direction. The two men do not know one another. After asking Novak about the Iraq-Niger uranium claims, the acquaintance asks Novak what he thinks of Wilson. Novak responds by blurting out: “Wilson’s an assh_le. The CIA sent him. His wife, Valerie, works for the CIA. She’s a weapons of mass destruction specialist. She sent him.” Novak has just discussed Plame Wilson with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and is about to receive confirmation from White House political strategist Karl Rove (see July 8, 2003). The acquaintance is shocked by Novak’s outburst and, after parting company with Novak, goes to Wilson’s office to tell the former ambassador what Novak has said. Wilson immediately calls the head of CNN, Eason Jordan, and complains. (Novak is employed by CNN.) Jordan suggests that Wilson speak directly to Novak. After two days of missed phone calls, Novak finally speaks to Wilson, apologizes for the insult, and then, according to Wilson’s wife Valerie Plame Wilson, “brazenly asked Joe to confirm what he had already heard from an agency source: that I worked for the CIA” (see July 14, 2003). Wilson refuses, and contacts his wife. She will describe herself as “uneasy knowing that a journalist had my name and knew my true employer.” She immediately informs her superiors in the counterproliferation division, who assure her that “it would be taken care of.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 343-346; Dubose and Bernstein 2006, pp. 214; Wilson 2007, pp. 140-141; MSNBC 2/21/2007)
Well-known CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour is asked on a talk show if “we in the media, as much as in the administration, drank the Kool-Aid when it came to the [Iraq] war.” Amanpour replies, “I think the press was muzzled, and I think the press self-muzzled. I’m sorry to say, but certainly television and, perhaps, to a certain extent, my station was intimidated by the administration and its foot soldiers at Fox News. And it did, in fact, put a climate of fear and self-censorship, in my view, in terms of the kind of broadcast work we did.” Asked if there were stories not reported, she replies, “It’s not a question of couldn’t do it, it’s a question of tone. It’s a question of being rigorous. It’s really a question of really asking the questions. All of the entire body politic in my view, whether it’s the administration, the intelligence, the journalists, whoever, did not ask enough questions, for instance, about weapons of mass destruction. I mean, it looks like this was disinformation at the highest levels.” A Fox News spokeswoman says of Amanpour’s comments, “Given the choice, it’s better to be viewed as a foot soldier for Bush than a spokeswoman for al-Qaeda.” (Johnson 9/14/2003)
Victoria “Torie” Clarke, the Pentagon’s former public relations secretary who developed the Pentagon’s Iraq propaganda operation (see May 2001), joins CNN as a political and policy analyst. Her propaganda operation relied on retired military officers to serve as network analysts, promoting the administration’s Iraq policies and touting the occupation as a success. (New York Times 9/23/2003) Several months later, Clarke will also join Comcast Communications, the nation’s largest cable television corporation, as its senior adviser for communications and government affairs. (PRWatch 12/15/2003)
Hours after conservative columnist Robert Novak tells a CNN audience that he contacted Joseph Wilson to confirm that his wife was a CIA official for his July 2003 column exposing her as a CIA employee (see September 29, 2003), Wilson tells CNN’s Paula Zahn that Novak is incorrect in his characterization of events. “Bob Novak called me before he went to print with the report (see July 14, 2003) and he said a CIA source had told him that my wife was an operative,” Wilson says. “He was trying to get a second source. He couldn’t get a second source. Could I confirm that? And I said no.” After the article appeared, citing Bush administration and not CIA sources, Wilson called Novak about the article. According to Wilson, he called Novak about the discrepancy in his citation of sources (see July 14, 2003) and asked, “What was it, CIA or senior administration?” Wilson continues: “He said to me, ‘I misspoke the first time I spoke to you.’ That makes it senior administration sources.” (CNN 9/29/2003; CNN 10/1/2003)
The Pentagon sends a group of retired military generals and other high-ranking officers—part of its team of “independent military analysts” (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) on a carefully arranged tour of Iraq (see Summer 2003). The idea is to have the analysts counter the negative images being reported from Iraq about the upsurge in violence from the burgeoning insurgency. The Pentagon also wants the analysts to present a positive spin on Iraq in time to bolster President Bush’s request to Congress for $87 billion in emergency war financing. The group includes four analysts from Fox News, the Pentagon’s go-to media outlet for promulgating its propaganda and spin, one analyst from CNN and ABC, and several prominent members of research groups whose opinion articles appear regularly in the editorial pages of the largest US newspapers. The Pentagon promises that the analysts will be given a look at “the real situation on the ground in Iraq.”
Two Very Different Views of Reality - While the situation is rapidly deteriorating for the US—the American administrator, L. Paul Bremer, later writes that the US only has “about half the number of soldiers we needed here,” and has told Bush, “We’re up against a growing and sophisticated threat” at a dinner party that takes place on September 24, while the analysts are in Iraq (see September 24, 2003)—the story promoted by the analysts is starkly different. Their official presentation as constructed on a minute-by-minute basis by Pentagon officials includes a tour of a model school, visits to a few refurbished government buildings, a center for women’s rights, a mass grave from the early 1990s, and a tour of Babylon’s gardens. Mostly the analysts attend briefings, where one Pentagon official after another provide them with a very different picture of Iraq. In the briefings, Iraq is portrayed as crackling with political and economic energy. Iraqi security forces are improving by the day. No more US troops are needed to combat the small number of isolated, desperate groups of thugs and petty criminals that are spearheading the ineffective insurgency, which is perpetually on the verge of being eliminated. “We’re winning,” a briefing document proclaims. ABC analyst William Nash, a retired general, later calls the briefings “artificial,” and calls the tour “the George Romney memorial trip to Iraq,” a reference to former Republican governor George Romney’s famous claim that US officials had “brainwashed” him into supporting the Vietnam War during a tour there in 1965. Yet Nash, like the other analysts, will provide the talking points the Pentagon desires to his network’s viewers. Pentagon officials worry, for a time, about whether the analysts will reveal the troubling information they learn even on such a well-groomed and micromanaged junket, including the Army’s use of packing poorly armored Humvees with sandbags and Kevlar blankets, and the almost laughably poor performance of the Iraqi security forces. One Fox analyst, retired Army general Paul Vallely, later says, “I saw immediately in 2003 that things were going south.” But the Pentagon has no need to worry about Vallely or any of the other analysts. “You can’t believe the progress,” Vallely tells Fox News host Alan Colmes upon his return. Vallely predicts that the insurgency would be “down to a few numbers” within months. William Cowan, a retired Marine colonel, tells Fox host Greta Van Susteren, “We could not be more excited, more pleased.” Few speak about armor shortages or poor performances by Iraqi security forces. And all agree with retired general Carlton Shepperd’s conclusion on CNN: “I am so much against adding more troops.”
'Home Run' - The Iraq tour is viewed as what reporter David Barstow will call “a masterpiece in the management of perceptions.” Not only does it successfully promote the administration’s views on Iraq, but it helps fuel complaints that “mainstream” journalists are ignoring what administration officials and war supporters call “the good news” in Iraq. “We’re hitting a home run on this trip,” a senior Pentagon official says in an e-mail to the chairman and vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Richard Myers and Peter Pace. The Pentagon quickly begins planning for future trips, not just to Iraq but to Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay (see June 24-25, 2005) as well. These trips, and the orchestrated blitz of public relations events that follow, are strongly supported by the White House.
Countering 'Increasingly Negative View' of Occupation - Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita will later explain that a “conscious decision” was made to use the analysts to counteract what Di Rita calls “the increasingly negative view of the war” coming from journalists in Iraq. The analysts generally have “a more supportive view” of the administration and the war; and the combination of their military expertise and their tremendous visibility make them ideal for battling what Di Rita and other Pentagon and administration see as unfairly negative coverage. On issues such as troop morale, detainee interrogations, inadequate equipment, and poorly trained Iraqi forces, Di Rita will say the analysts “were more likely to be seen as credible spokesmen.”
Business Opportunities - Many of the analysts are not only in Iraq to take part in the Pentagon’s propaganda efforts, but to find out about business opportunities for the firms they represent. They meet with civilian and military leaders in Iraq and Kuwait, including many who will make decisions about how the $87 billion will be spent. The analysts gather inside information about the most pressing needs of the US military, including the acute shortage of “up-armored” Humvees, the billions needed to build new military bases, the dire shortage of translators, and the sprawling and expensive plans to train Iraqi security forces. Analysts Cowan and Sherwood are two of the analysts who have much to gain from this aspect of their tour. Cowan is the CEO of a new military firm, the wvc3 Group. Sherwood is the executive vice president of the firm. The company is seeking contracts worth tens of millions of dollars to supply body armor and counterintelligence services in Iraq. The company has a written agreement to use its influence and connections to help Iraqi tribal leaders in Al-Anbar province win reconstruction contracts from the Americans. “Those sheiks wanted access to the CPA,” Cowen later recalls, referring to the Coalition Provisional Authority. And he is determined to provide that access. “I tried to push hard with some of Bremer’s people to engage these people of Al-Anbar,” he recalls. Fox military analyst Charles Nash, a retired Navy captain, works as a consultant for small companies who want to land fat defense contracts. As a military analyst, he is able to forge ties with senior military leaders, many of whom he had never met before. It is like being “embedded” with the Pentagon leadership, he will recall. He will say, “You start to recognize what’s most important to them…. There’s nothing like seeing stuff firsthand.” An aide to the Pentagon’s chief of public relations, Brent Krueger, will recall that he and other Pentagon officials are well aware of their analysts’ use of their access as a business advantage. Krueger will say, “Of course we realized that. We weren’t naïve about that…. They have taken lobbying and the search for contracts to a far higher level. This has been highly honed.” (Di Rita will deny ever thinking that analysts might use their access to their business advantage, and will say that it is the analysts’ responsibility to comply with ethical standards. “We assume they know where the lines are,” he will say.) (Barstow 4/20/2008)
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)
CNN announces that conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza is a new political analyst for the network. D’Souza became active in conservative politics and punditry as an editor of the Dartmouth Review in the early 1980s, where he authored and published numerous inflammatory articles reviling, among others, blacks, Jews, and gays (see 1981, March 15, 1982, October 1982, and 1983). From Dartmouth, D’Souza went to the White House, where he served as a senior domestic policy analyst in the Reagan administration. He has served as a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the Hoover Institution, and published a number of books, including 1995’s inflammatory The End of Racism, which progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters described as advancing the idea that “low-income black people are basically ‘pathological’ and that white racism really isn’t racism at all, just a logical response to this ‘pathology.’” D’Souza’s Web site “argues that the American obsession with race is fueled by a civil rights establishment that has a vested interest in perpetuating black dependency”; in a 1995 Wall Street Journal op-ed, he argued that “[t]he best way for African-Americans to save private sector affirmative action may be to repeal the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” Two African-American conservatives, Glenn Loury and Robert Woodson, resigned from AEI after the publication of The End of Racism and another racially objectionable book, The Bell Curve, by AEI fellow Charles Murray. (Media Matters 6/8/2004)
A Pew Center for the People and the Press study finds that 35 percent of Republicans consistently watch Fox News, while 21 percent of Democrats do so. Fox has experienced the largest increase in viewers, and 52 percent of its audience defines itself as conservative. In general, Republicans consider Fox the most reliable broadcast news outlet, while Democrats consider it the least reliable. Overall, trust in mainstream news outlets, from CNN and ABC to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, has declined sharply since 2000. The biggest rise is in the number of news consumers who get their news from online, i.e. Internet, sources. (Pew Center for the People and the Press 6/8/2004; Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 237)
The press reports that according to a Justice Department investigation, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), then the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, leaked highly classified information to Fox News reporter Carl Cameron regarding al-Qaeda communications in the hours before 9/11 (see June 19, 2002). After Vice President Dick Cheney threatened the then-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Bob Graham (D-FL—see June 20, 2002), Graham and then-House Intelligence Committee chairman Porter Goss (R-FL) pushed for a Justice Department investigation into the leak. Though the FBI and the US Attorney’s Office conducted a probe, and even empaneled a grand jury, the Justice Department decided not to prosecute anyone, and instead turned Shelby’s name over to the Senate Ethics Committee, which will decline to pursue charges against him. Shelby states that he did not leak any classified information to anyone, and says he has never been informed of any specific allegations. The FBI demanded that 17 senators turn over phone records, appointment calendars, and schedules. One Senate Intelligence Committee staffer told the FBI that Shelby had leaked the information to show the shortcomings of the intelligence community in general and CIA Director George Tenet in particular. Though two senior Justice Department officials, then-Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson and then-criminal division chief Michael Chertoff, refused to approve subpoenas for journalists, Cameron confirmed to FBI investigators that he was a recipient of Shelby’s leak. He also told investigators that he saw Shelby talking with CNN’s Dana Bash; after Shelby’s discussion with Bash, Cameron divulged the information Shelby had leaked to her, and CNN broadcast the story a half-hour after the conversations. Cameron told FBI agents he was irritated that Shelby had shared the same information with a competitor, and added that he delayed broadcasting the story because he wanted to ensure that he was not compromising intelligence sources and methods. Cameron was never subpoenaed and did not testify under oath. Bash refused to cooperate with the investigation. (Lengel and Priest 8/5/2004; Waas 2/15/2007)
During a broadcast of CNN’s The Capital Gang, conservative columnist Robert Novak weighs in on the controversy surrounding a recent CBS story on George W. Bush’s National Guard service. The story relied on documents whose authenticity has been questioned. Novak says: “I’d like CBS, at this point, to say where they got those documents from.… I think they should say where they got these documents because I thought it was a very poor job of reporting by CBS.” Novak’s colleague, liberal Al Hunt, retorts: “Robert Novak, you’re saying CBS should reveal its source?… You think reporters ought to reveal sources?” Novak, tardily understanding where Hunt is going, backtracks: “No, no, wait a minute. I’m just saying in that case.” Novak has yet to publicly reveal his sources for his outing of CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003). Other reporters who were given Plame Wilson’s name, including the New York Times’s Judith Miller (see June 23, 2003) and Time’s Matthew Cooper (see September 13, 2004), have disclosed their negotiations with special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald over revealing information to his grand jury, but Novak has said nothing on the subject. (Hunt later confirms that, like the vast majority of the Washington pundit corps, he has refrained from asking Novak about the issue, because Novak is “a close friend… it’s uncomfortable.”) Democratic strategist Paul Begala, who spars regularly with Novak on CNN, concurs: “Look, he’s a friend of mine. I know that he can’t talk about it. I respect that fact, so I don’t bring it up.” (Sullivan 12/2004) Novak has spoken with the FBI and with investigators for Fitzgerald three times (see October 7, 2003, February 5, 2004, and September 14, 2004).
Columnist and media observer Allan Wolper notes that while conservative columnist Robert Novak, who outed CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson apparently at the behest of the White House (see July 14, 2003), continues to “spout… off in his syndicated column, he keeps a secret he would not permit any politician to get away with.” Wolper is writing of Novak’s continued refusal to divulge whether he was subpoenaed by the grand jury investigating the case, or if he testified before that grand jury. Wolper calls it an “untenable ethical position,” and bolsters his position with observations from media ethicists such as Robert Steele, the director of ethics for the Poynter Institute of Media Studies. “If he has a justifiable reason to withhold that information, he should give a reason why,” Steele says. “Otherwise, he is undermining his credibility as an honest broker of ethical journalism. If he were on the other side, he would challenge journalists for not saying anything.” Novak is defended by, among others, Washington Post reporter and assistant managing editor Bob Woodward, who says: “Bob Novak has taken a stand that is supported by many in the press. He is protecting his sources. He has done nothing that is illegal or improper.” (Wolper is unaware as of this writing that Woodward has his own secondary involvement in the case, having been himself told of Plame Wilson’s identity several times before (see June 13, 2003, June 23, 2003, and June 27, 2003).) Wolper notes that while Novak has refused to speak about subpoenas or testimonies, Post reporters Glenn Kessler and Walter Pincus have both given sworn depositions to the grand jury (see June 22, 2004 and September 15, 2004). Wolper writes, “They might have been able to fight off their subpoenas if their lawyers had known whether Novak… had been called by the grand jury.” Aside from Kessler and Pincus, Time reporter Matthew Cooper (see July 17, 2003) testified after being threatened with jail (see May 21, 2004, August 24, 2004, July 6, 2005, and July 13, 2005), and New York Times reporter Judith Miller is facing jail rather than testify (see December 2004). “Novak has an obligation to own up,” Wolper writes. Instead, “Novak continues to live a charmed life in journalism, writing his column and appearing regularly on CNN, where he is never challenged.” CNN media critic Jeff Greenfield says of Novak’s case, “I haven’t thought it through. I don’t want to talk about it, because I have no opinion on it.” Jack Nelson, the retired bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times, says: “This whole thing is really strange. Novak was the guy who wrote the column that exposed the CIA agent, and yet they don’t seem to be going after him.” (Wolper 12/1/2004)
In an e-mail to a variety of Pentagon officials, an unnamed lieutenant colonel exults that the Pentagon’s Iraq propaganda operation using military analysts to promote the administration’s war policies is producing a “big payback.” He then writes, “There are about 50 retired military analysts that are part of this group… these are the folks that end up on FOX, CNN, etc. interpreting military happenings. These calls are conducted frequently and offer HUGE payback… these end up being the people who carry the mail on talk shows.” (Greenwald 5/10/2008)
An investigation by the New York Times reveals that the government’s use of “video news releases,” or so-called “fake news” reports provided by the government and presented to television news viewers as real news (see March 15, 2004), has been used by far more government agencies than previously reported. The Times report finds that VNRs from the State Department, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and the Agriculture Department are among the agencies providing VNRs to local television news broadcasters. Previous media reports focused largely on the VNRs provided by the Department of Health and Human Services to tout the Bush administration’s Medicare proposals. The Times finds that “at least 20 federal agencies, including the Defense Department and the Census Bureau, have made and distributed hundreds of television news segments in the past four years.… Many were subsequently broadcast on local stations across the country without any acknowledgement of the government’s role in their production.… [T]he [Bush] administration’s efforts to generate positive news coverage have been considerably more pervasive than previously known. At the same time, records and interviews suggest widespread complicity or negligence by television stations, given industry ethics standards that discourage the broadcast of prepackaged news segments from any outside group without revealing the source.”
VNRs Presented as Actual News - While government VNRs are generally labeled as being government productions on the film canister or video label, the VNRs themselves are designed, the Times writes, “to fit seamlessly into the typical local news broadcast. In most cases, the ‘reporters’ are careful not to state in the segment that they work for the government. Their reports generally avoid overt ideological appeals. Instead, the government’s news-making apparatus has produced a quiet drumbeat of broadcasts describing a vigilant and compassionate administration.” The VNRs often feature highly choreographed “interviews” with senior administration officials, “in which questions are scripted and answers rehearsed. Critics, though, are excluded, as are any hints of mismanagement, waste or controversy.”
Benefits to All except News Consumers - The Times explains how VNRs benefit the Bush administration, private public relations firms, networks, and local broadcasters: “Local affiliates are spared the expense of digging up original material. Public relations firms secure government contracts worth millions of dollars. The major networks, which help distribute the releases, collect fees from the government agencies that produce segments and the affiliates that show them. The administration, meanwhile, gets out an unfiltered message, delivered in the guise of traditional reporting.” News viewers, however, receive propaganda messages masquerading as real, supposedly impartial news reports.
Ducking Responsibility - Administration officials deny any responsibility for the use of VNRs as “real” news. “Talk to the television stations that ran it without attribution,” says William Pierce, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services. “This is not our problem. We can’t be held responsible for their actions.” But the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has disagreed, calling the use of government-produced VNRs “covert propaganda” because news viewers do not know that the segments they are watching are government productions (see May 19, 2004). However, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Justice Department (see March 2005) have called the practice legal, and instructed executive branch agencies to merely ignore the GAO findings.
Creative Editing - The Times gives an example of how seamlessly government-produced propaganda can be transformed into seemingly real news segments. In one segment recently provided by the Agriculture Department, the agency’s narrator ends the segment by saying, “In Princess Anne, Maryland, I’m Pat O’Leary reporting for the US Department of Agriculture.” The segment is distributed by AgDay, a syndicated farm news program shown on some 160 stations; the segment is introduced as being by “AgDay’s Pat O’Leary.” The final sentence was edited to state: “In Princess Anne, Maryland, I’m Pat O’Leary reporting.” Final result: viewers are unaware that the AgDay segment is actually an Agriculture Department production. AgDay executive producer Brian Conrady defends the practice: “We can clip ‘Department of Agriculture’ at our choosing. The material we get from the [agency], if we choose to air it and how we choose to air it is our choice.” The public relations industry agrees with Conrady; many large PR firms produce VNRs both for government and corporate use, and the Public Relations Society of America gives an annual award, the Bronze Anvil, for the year’s best VNR.
Complicity by News Broadcasters - Several major television networks help distribute VNRs. Fox News has a contract with PR firm Medialink to distribute VNRs to 130 affiliates through its video feed service, Fox News Edge. CNN distributes VNRs to 750 stations in the US and Canada through its feed service, CNN Newsource. The Associated Press’s television news distributor does the same with its Global Video Wire. Fox News Edge director David Winstrom says: “We look at them and determine whether we want them to be on the feed. If I got one that said tobacco cures cancer or something like that, I would kill it.” TVA Productions, a VNR producer and distributor, says in a sales pitch to potential clients, “No TV news organization has the resources in labor, time or funds to cover every worthy story.” Almost “90 percent of TV newsrooms now rely on video news releases,” it claims. The reach can be enormous. Government-produced VNRs from the Office of National Drug Control Policy reached some 22 million households over 300 news stations. And news stations often re-record the voiceover of VNRs by their own reporters, adding to the illusion that their own reporters, and not government or PR employees, are doing the actual reporting.
Office of Broadcasting Services - The State Department’s Office of Broadcasting Services (OBS) employs around 30 editors and technicians, who before 2002 primarily distributed video from news conferences. But in early 2002, the OBS began working with close White House supervision to produce narrated feature reports promoting American policies and achievements in Afghanistan and Iraq, and supporting the Bush administration’s rationale for invading those countries. Between 2002 and now, the State Department has produced 59 such segments, which were distributed to hundreds of domestic and international television broadcasters. The State Department says that US laws prohibiting the domestic dissemination of propaganda don’t apply to the OBS. Besides, says State Department spokesman Richard Boucher: “Our goal is to put out facts and the truth. We’re not a propaganda agency.” State Department official Patricia Harrison told Congress last year that such “good news” segments are “powerful strategic tools” for influencing public opinion. The Times reports that “a review of the department’s segments reveals a body of work in sync with the political objectives set forth by the White House communications team after 9/11.” One June 2003 VNR produced by the OBS depicts US efforts to distribute food and water to the people of southern Iraq. The unidentified narrator condluded, “After living for decades in fear, they are now receiving assistance—and building trust—with their coalition liberators.” OBS produced several segments about the liberation of Afghan women; a January 2003 memo called the segments “prime example[s]” of how “White House-led efforts could facilitate strategic, proactive communications in the war on terror.” OBS typically distributes VNRs through international news organizations such as Reuters and the Associated Press, which then distribute them to major US networks, which in turn transmit them to local affiliates.
The Pentagon Channel and 'Hometown News' - In 2004, the Defense Department began providing The Pentagon Channel, formerly an in-house service, to cable and satellite operators in the US. The content is provided by Pentagon public relations specialists who produce “news reports” identical to those produced by local and national news broadcasters. And the content is free. The Pentagon Channel’s content is supplemented by the Army and Air Force Hometown News Service (HNS), a 40-man unit that produces VNRs for local broadcasters focusing on the accomplishments of “hometown” soldiers. Deputy director Larry Gilliam says of the service, “We’re the ‘good news’ people.” Their reports, tailored for specific local stations, reached 41 million households in 2004. But the service’s VNRs sometimes go beyond celebrating a hometown hero. Weeks after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, HNS released a VNR that lauded the training of military policemen at Missouri’s Fort Leonard Wood, where many of the MPs involved in the scandal were trained. “One of the most important lessons they learn is to treat prisoners strictly but fairly,” the “reporter” in the segment says. A trainer tells the narrator that MPs are taught to “treat others as they would want to be treated.” Gilliam says the MP report had nothing to do with the Pentagon’s desire to defend itself from accusations of mistreatment and prisoner abuse. “Are you saying that the Pentagon called down and said, ‘We need some good publicity?’” Gilliam asks the Times reporter. He answers his own question, “No, not at all.” (Barstow and Stein 3/13/2005)
Congress Bans Use of Government VNRs - Two months after the Times article is published, Congress will ban the use of government VNRs for propaganda purposes (see May 2005).
Pentagon official Dallas Lawrence, tracking military analyst Donald Shepperd’s performance on CNN (see June 24-27, 2005) as part of the Pentagon’s Iraq propaganda operation (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond), gives his one-word assessment of Shepperd’s performance: “Yes!!!!!” (Greenwald 5/9/2008)
With criticism of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility reaching new heights, new allegations of abuse from UN human rights experts, Amnesty International receiving plenty of media exposure for calling the facility “the gulag of our times” (see May 25, 2005), and many calling for the facility’s immediate closure, the Pentagon counters by launching the latest in its propaganda counteroffensive designed to offset and blunt such criticism (see April 20, 2008). The Pentagon and White House’s communications experts place a select group of around ten retired military officers, all who regularly appear on network and cable news broadcasts as “independent military analysts,” on a jet usually used by Vice President Dick Cheney, and fly them to Cuba for a carefully orchestrated tour of the facility. (Barstow 4/20/2008)
A Four-Hour Tour - During the three-hour flight from Andrews Air Force Base to Cuba, the analysts are given several briefings by various Pentagon officials. After landing, but before being taken to the detention facility, they are given another 90-minute briefing. The analysts spend 50 minutes lunching with some of the soldiers on base, then begin their tour. They spend less than 90 minutes viewing the main part of the Guantanamo facility, Camp Delta; in that time, they watch an interrogation, look at an unoccupied cellblock, and visit the camp hospital. They spend ten minutes at Camp V and 35 minutes at Camp X-Ray. After less than four hours in Guantanamo’s detention facilities, they depart for Washington, DC. (Greenwald 5/9/2008) This is the first of six such excursions, all designed to prepare the analysts for defending the administration’s point of view and counter the perception that Guantanamo is a haven for abusive treatment of prisoners. During the flight to the facility, during the tour, and during the return flight, Pentagon officials hammer home the message they want the analysts to spread: how much money has been spent on improving the facility, how much abuse the guards have endured, and the extensive rights and privileges granted to the detainees.
Producing Results - The analysts provide the desired results. All ten immediately appear on television and radio broadcasts, denouncing Amnesty International, challenging calls to close the facility, and assuring listeners that the detainees are being treated humanely. Donald Shepperd, a retired Air Force general, tells CNN just hours after returning from Guantanamo, “The impressions that you’re getting from the media and from the various pronouncements being made by people who have not been here in my opinion are totally false.” The next morning, retired Army General Montgomery Meigs appears on NBC’s flagship morning show, Today, and says: “There’s been over $100 million of new construction [at Guantanamo]. The place is very professionally run.” Transcripts of the analysts’ appearances are quickly circulated among senior White House and Pentagon officials, and cited as evidence that the Bush administration is winning the battle for public opinion. (Barstow 4/20/2008)
Within hours of returning from a Pentagon-sponsored “fact-finding” trip to the Guantanamo detention facility (see June 24-25, 2005), CNN military analyst Don Shepperd, as planned (see June 25, 2005), extolls the virtues of the Pentagon’s handling of detainees on a lineup of CNN news broadcasts. As per his most recent briefing, he does not mention the case of Mohammed al-Khatani (see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003), who has suffered extensive brutality at the hands of his captors. Instead, his “analyses” are so uniformly laudatory that, as commentator Glenn Greenwald will observe, they are “exactly what it would have been had [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld himself written the script.” After returning from his half-day visit, he participates in a live telephone interview with CNN anchor Betty Nguyen. He opens with the observation: “I tell you, every American should have a chance to see what our group saw today. The impressions that you’re getting from the media and from the various pronouncements being made by people who have not been here, in my opinion, are totally false. What we’re seeing is a modern prison system of dedicated people, interrogators and analysts that know what they are doing. And people being very, very well-treated. We’ve had a chance to tour the facility, to talk to the guards, to talk to the interrogators and analysts. We’ve had a chance to eat what the prisoners eat. We’ve seen people being interrogated. And it’s nothing like the impression that we’re getting from the media. People need to see this, Betty.… I have been in prisons and I have been in jails in the United States, and this is by far the most professionally-run and dedicated force I’ve ever seen in any correctional institution anywhere.” Shepperd watched an interrogation, and he describes it thusly: “[T]hey’re basically asking questions. They just ask the same questions over a long period of time. They get information about the person’s family, where they’re from, other people they knew. All the type of things that you would want in any kind of criminal investigation. And these were all very cordial, very professional. There was laughing in two of them that we…” Nguyen interrupts to ask, “Laughing in an interrogation?” and Shepperd replies: “In the two of them that we watched. Yes, indeed. It’s not—it’s not like the impression that you and I have of what goes on in an interrogation, where you bend people’s arms and mistreat people. They’re trying to establish a firm professional relationship where they have respect for each other and can talk to each other. And yes, there were laughing and humor going on in a couple of these things. And I’m talking about a remark made where someone will smirk or laugh or chuckle.” In another CNN interview three days later, Shepperd reiterates and expands upon his initial remarks, and says of the detainees: “[W]e have really gotten a lot of information to prevent attacks in this country and in other countries with the information they’re getting from these people. And it’s still valuable.” CNN does not tell its viewers that Shepperd is president of The Shepperd Group, a defense lobbying and consulting firm. (CNN 6/24/2005; Greenwald 5/9/2008)
Retired Air Force General Donald Shepperd, a CNN news analyst, returns from a “fact-finding” trip to Guantanamo Bay (see June 24-25, 2005) prepared to provide Pentagon talking points to CNN audiences. Shepperd is remarkably candid about his willingness to serve as a Pentagon propagandist, writing in a “trip report” he files with his handlers, “Did we drink the ‘Government Kool-Aid?’—of course, and that was the purpose of the trip.” He acknowledges that “a one day visit does not an expert make” (Shepperd and his fellow analysts spent less than four hours touring the entire facility, all in the company of Pentagon officials), and notes that “the government was obviously going to put its best foot forward to get out its message.” He adds that “former military visitors are more likely to agree with government views than a more appropriately skeptical press.” Shepperd also sends an e-mail to Pentagon officials praising the trip and asking them to “let me know if I can help you.” He signs the e-mail, “Don Shepperd (CNN military analyst).” Shepperd’s e-mail is forwarded to Larry Di Rita, a top public relations aide to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Di Rita’s reply shows just how much control the Pentagon wields over the analysts. Di Rita replies, “OK, but let’s get him briefed on al-Khatani so he doesn’t go too far on that one.” Di Rita is referring to detainee Mohammed al-Khatani (see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003), who had been subjected to particularly brutal treatment. Shepperd will, as planned, praise the Guantanamo detainee program on CNN in the days and hours following his visit to the facility (see June 24-25, 2005). (Greenwald 5/9/2008) He will say in May 2008: “Our message to them as analysts was, ‘Look, you got to get the importance of this war out to the American people.’ The important message is, this is a forward strategy, it is better to fight the war in Iraq than it is a war on American soil.” (Folkenflik 5/1/2008)
Conservative columnist Robert Novak storms off the set of CNN’s Strategy Session, apparently unwilling to discuss his outing of CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003). Novak, discussing an unrelated matter with Democratic strategist James Carville, says, “Just let me finish what I’m going to say, James, please. I know you hate to hear me.” Carville says to host Ed Henry: “He’s gotta show these right-wingers that he’s got backbone, you know. The Wall Street Journal editorial page is watching you. Show ‘em you’re tough.” Novak stands up, saying, “Well, I think that’s bullsh_t, and I hate that.” He says to Henry, “Just let it go.” Novak then walks off the set. Later in the broadcast, Henry apologizes to viewers, saying: “I had told him in advance that we were going to ask him about the CIA leak case. He was not here for me to be able to ask him about that. Hopefully, we’ll be able to ask him about that in the future.” (Media Matters 8/4/2005)
Although Mayor Nagin will not officially announce the mandatory evacuation for another hour, the Louisiana Police issues a news release at 8:17 am this morning, announcing that that New Orleans is now under a mandatory evacuation order, along with several other nearby parishes. (Louisiana State Police 8/28/2005) CNN announces the mandatory evacuation around this time as well, reporting that Mayor Nagin will make the official announcement within the hour. (CNN 8/28/2005)
CNN airs commentary from three of its “independent military analysts,” some of whom will later be cited as participants in the Pentagon’s Iraq propaganda operation (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). The analysts are retired Army Brigadier General James “Spider” Marks (whom CNN will later fire for conflicts of interest—see July 2007), retired Air Force Major General Donald Shepperd, and retired US Army Brigadier General David Grange. The topic is Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and whether he should resign. After Marks confirms that Rumsfeld repeatedly refused requests from field commanders to send more troops into Iraq during critical battlefield moments (see April 16, 2006), CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer raises the issue of other retired generals calling for Rumsfeld’s resignation.
Grange - Grange dismisses the resignation demands as coming from “a small number of general officers…” Grange says he does not have a close relationship with Rumsfeld, but admits that he participates in “occasional” briefings with Rumsfeld and Pentagon officials. Grange says “it would be inappropriate [for Rumsfeld] to step down right now,” and adds that it really isn’t the generals’ business to make any such recommendations.
Shepperd - Blitzer plays the commentary of retired Army Major General Paul Eaton, who blames Rumsfeld for not putting “enough boots on the ground to prosecute” the Iraq war and has also called for Rumsfeld’s resignation, then asks Shepperd for his commentary. Shepperd, one of the most reliable of the Pentagon’s “independent analysts” (see June 24-25, 2005), says while Rumsfeld made some “misjudgments,” he should not resign. Like Grange, he questions the “propriety” of the retired generals’ speaking out on the subject. “It steps over, in my opinion, the line of the role of military general officers, active or retired, calling for the resignation of a duly appointed representative of the government by a duly elected government. That’s the problem I have with all of this. And it’s hard to have a rational discussion because you quickly get into, is the war going well or not, do we or do we not have enough troops, when the question is one of propriety about these statements.”
Marks - Marks adds his voice to the chorus, saying that “it’s not the place of retired general officers or anyone to make that statement.…[T]he country’s at war. You need to rally around those doing their best to prosecute it.” Though Marks stands with both Grange and Shepperd in defending Rumsfeld from calls for his resignation, he does note that he retired from the Army in part because of Rumsfeld’s cavalier treatment of two of his close friends, retired General Eric Shinseki (see February 25, 2003 and February 27, 2003) and General David McKiernan. (CNN 4/16/2006)
CNN’s Wolf Blitzer interviews one of its military analysts, retired Army General James “Spider” Marks. Blitzer asks Marks if Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ever rejected “recommendations from military commanders for more troops.” Marks replies: “Sure. Oh, absolutely. I mean, that’s been documented if you read General [Tommy] Franks’s book [American Soldier], and the current book, Cobra II [by Michael Gordon and another military analyst, Bernard Trainor], indicates very, very clearly, and in fact, that is in fact what happened. We requested the 1st Cavalry Division. That was denied. At a very critical point in the war, I might say. The metric that was established then was success against the Republican Guard and Saddam [Hussein]‘s forces when clearly the desired end state was what’s going to happen after the forces have been dealt with, and what do you do when you’ve got this military presence in Iraq. Clearly, the presence of more combat forces on the ground would have been needed.” (CNN 4/16/2006) Later, during a Pentagon briefing of a gathering of military analysts, Rumsfeld will claim that he never denied any such troop increases, but that commanders such as Marks refused to accept additional troops (see Late December, 2006).
At a pretrial hearing on a motion to quash the Libby defense team’s subpoenas of journalists and media organizations (see May 8, 2006), lawyers for the New York Times, Time magazine, and NBC News agree to turn over notes, memos, and documents pertaining to their journalists’ involvement in the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak. The Washington Post and CNN have already turned over materials requested by the defense. During the hearing, Lewis Libby’s lawyers indicate that their trial strategy will be to attack the credibility of those journalists, and claim that it was the journalists, not Libby, who lied to special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigators and the FBI. “I do respect the important role that the press plays in our society but want to give Mr. Libby the information he needs for a fair trial,” Judge Reggie Walton says during the hearing. Robert Bennett, the lawyer representing former Times reporter Judith Miller, says during the hearing that the defense’s efforts amount to nothing more than “a massive fishing expedition.” He adds, “They just want to romp through her records,” and argues that Libby’s lawyers already have all the relevant information, since Miller has already provided some information from her notebooks. “The only thing that has not been produced are things that they are not entitled to” under federal rules of evidence, such as “records of people unrelated to the case and other sources about other subjects. They have everything relevant to this case,” Bennett says. For their side, Libby’s lawyers argue that Libby’s right to a fair trial outweighs any considerations that might be given to journalists’ right to protect their sources. One of Libby’s lawyers, William Jeffress, says his job isn’t to prove anything from either the reporters’ statements or his client’s, but merely to raise “reasonable doubt” in the minds of jurors. In the days after the hearing, Walton looks over notes, drafts, and records from those journalists turned over to him by the Times, Time magazine, and NBC News, in order to find any information related to Libby’s perjury and obstruction case. Walton orders Time to turn over drafts of reporter Matthew Cooper’s first-person account of his grand jury testimony (see May 26, 2006). (Locy 5/13/2006; Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press 5/17/2006; Smith 5/17/2006; Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press 11/19/2009)
The Pentagon holds a private briefing for a select group of military analysts (see January 14, 2005) on the topic of the Haditha shootings and investigations, involving several US Marines shooting two dozen unarmed Iraqi civilians. After the briefing, one analyst, retired General Jeffrey McCauseland, appears on CNN to discuss the shootings. He e-mails a Pentagon official (whose name is redacted from the e-mail) after his appearance and says: “Just wanted to thank you again because the material you sent me very early this morning was very useful in trying to explain what is going on and trying to put the best possible face on it. You are a pro…” (Greenwald 5/12/2008)
A study by the Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media is presented at the October 2006 conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. The study features an in-depth examination of the iconic toppling of the Firdos Square statue of Saddam Hussein (see April 9, 2003, April 9, 2003, and April 10, 2003). The study notes that “wide-angle shots show clearly that the square was never close to being a quarter full [and] never had more than a few hundred people in it (many of them reporters).” But after the initial two-hour live broadcast of the statue’s fall, US broadcasters chose to repeat tightly focused shots that, in author Frank Rich’s words, “conjured up a feverish popular uprising matching the administration’s prewar promise that Americans would see liberated Iraqis celebrating in the streets” (see November 18-19, 2001, 2002-2003, August 3, 2002, and September 9, 2002). According to the study, some version of the statue-toppling footage played every 4.4 minutes on Fox News between 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. the day of the statue’s fall, and every seven minutes on CNN. (Rich 2006, pp. 83-84; Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication 10/22/2006)
CNN’s Walter Isaacson recalls the mindset in much of the media during the months preceding the Iraq invasion. In an interview with PBS’s Bill Moyers, Isaacson notes that there was a great deal of censorship in the media, both self-imposed and from corporate executives reaching down into the newsrooms. Stories critical of the Bush administration or the war were not well tolerated, Isaacson recalls. “[T]here was even almost a patriotism police… sort of picking anything a [CNN international reporter] Christiane Amanpour (see September 10, 2003) or somebody else would say as if it were disloyal. There was a real sense that you don’t get that critical of a government that’s leading us in wartime… big people in corporations were calling us saying, ‘You’re being anti-American here.’” The compliant Isaacson sent his staff a memo reminding them not to focus on civilian casualties in Afghanistan, saying it seemed “perverse to focus too much on the casualties or hardship in Afghanistan.” He also ordered his reporters to “balance” stories on civilian casualties with reminders of the 9/11 attacks. Isaacson recalls, “I felt if we put into context, we could alleviate the pressure of people saying, ‘Don’t even show what’s happening in Afghanistan.’” (Unger 2007, pp. 254; Moyers 4/25/2007)
CNN fires one of its “independent military analysts” (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond), retired Army general James “Spider” Marks, for using his position to help secure government contracts for his business. In 2004, Marks was hired as an analyst by CNN; about the same time, he took a senior management position at McNeil Technologies, where his job is to land military and intelligence contracts. As per CNN’s requirements, Marks disclosed that he received income from McNeil. But he was not required to describe what his job entailed, and CNN did not check any further. “We did not ask Mr. Marks the follow-up questions we should have,” CNN will admit in a written statement. For himself, Marks will say that it was no secret at CNN that his job at McNeil is about landing government contracts. “I mean, that’s what McNeil does,” he will say. But CNN will deny being aware of McNeil’s military business or what Marks does for the company. Marks was bidding on Pentagon contracts at the same time he was analyzing and commenting on the Pentagon’s military strategies for CNN, a clear conflict of interest. CNN will say that Marks should have been disqualified from working for the network as an analyst. During the summer and fall of 2006, for example, Marks regularly commented on the conditions in Iraq—lavishing glowing praise on the US military and the White House—while working to secure a $4.6 billion Pentagon contract for McNeil. In December 2006, Marks became president of a McNeil spin-off that won the huge contract. Marks will claim that he kept his analysis separate from his contracting work—“I’ve got zero challenge separating myself from a business interest”—but when CNN learns about his role in landing the contract, the network fires him. CNN will say, “We saw the extent of his dealings and determined at that time we should end our relationship with him.” (Barstow 4/20/2008)
The Transportation Security Agency (TSA) issues a national security bulletin based on four recent incidents in San Diego, Milwaukee, Houston, and Baltimore. The bulletin creates the impression of imminent terrorist plots targeting the aviation sector. The TSA warns that terrorists are testing the possibility of smuggling bomb components on to an airplane. TSA spokeswoman Ellen Howe says the agency has noticed an increase in unusual items in checked and carry-on luggage, including “wires, switches, cell phone components, and dense clay-like substances” - including a block of cheese. (International Herald Tribune 7/25/2007) The incidents all turn out to have innocent explanations. On July 27, Brian Todd of CNN reports “That bulletin for law enforcement eyes only told of suspicious items recently found in passenger’s bags at airport checkpoints, warned that they may signify dry runs for terrorist attacks… it turns out none of that is true.” One such case was that of Sara Weiss, who was detained in San Diego after two ice packs covered in tape and containing clay were allegedly found in her baggage. Weiss, who works for a faith-based organization, was also carrying a survey about Muslim Americans. Weiss says she was held for three hours and questioned by San Diego Harbor Police and two other men who did not identify themselves. She says she was asked if she knew Osama bin Laden, which she described as “a ridiculous question.” Todd reports “The FBI now says there were valid explanations for all four incidents in that bulletin, and a US government official says no charges will be brought in any of these cases.” The FBI maintains “they were right” in putting the bogus reports on the TSA bulletin, which is distributed to law enforcement agencies nationwide. The TSA says that security officers must be trained in identifying suspicious packages, even when those packages turn out to be innocuous. (Edwards and Juliano 7/27/2007) Defense for the TSA bulletin comes from a number of sources. “This is what TSA should be doing whether it turns out to be a whole bunch of harmless coincidences or part of a plot,” says James Carafano, a security expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation who in the past called for TSA’s abolition. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, also a critic of the TSA, agrees the agency is handling this appropriately: “To stay ahead of potential threats to our aviation system it must use all of the intelligence available as part of its daily operations.” However, the bulletin is questioned by San Diego Harbor Police Chief Kirk Sanfilippo who says officers found two ice packs wrapped in clear tape, not duct tape, and there was no clay inside. “It was not a threat. It was not a test run,” Sanfilippo says. “The whole thing was very explainable and understandable.” (International Herald Tribune 7/25/2007) He characterizes the bulletin as “a little bit off.” Local TSA Security Director and chief of the airport police Michael J. Aguilar says it was quickly determined the ice packs contained the usual blue gel. Aguilar says he doesn’t know why the TSA memo, issued in Washington, reported the substance as clay. (Schmidt and Kucher 7/25/2007)
Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the presumptive Republican nominee for president, repeatedly conflates the two main warring branches of Islam in statements made while visiting the Middle East. The quickly planned trip was designed to showcase McCain’s foreign policy sagacity, and contrast him with his Democratic opponents Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Barack Obama (D-IL), whose relative lack of experience in foreign policy is being negatively portrayed by the McCain campaign.
Allegations of Cooperation between Iran and al-Qaeda - McCain twice says while in Jordan that it is “common knowledge” that Iran, a Shi’ite-led theocracy, is training al-Qaeda terrorists and sending them into Iraq to wreak havoc. Al-Qaeda is a Sunni organization. Sunni Muslims have contended for primacy with Shi’ite Muslims for centuries; much of the violence in Iraq is between Sunni and Shi’ite insurgents. “We continue to be concerned about Iranian[s] taking al-Qaeda into Iran, training them and sending them back,” he says in one instance, and adds: “Well, it’s common knowledge and has been reported in the media that al-Qaeda is going back into Iran and receiving training and are coming back into Iraq from Iran. That’s well known. And it’s unfortunate.” His traveling companion, Senator Joseph Lieberman (D-CT), whispers a correction in McCain’s ear, and McCain promptly corrects himself, “I’m sorry, the Iranians are training extremists, not al-Qaeda.”
Criticism of McCain - The Democratic National Committee responds to McCain’s statements by saying: “After eight years of the Bush administration’s incompetence in Iraq, McCain’s comments don’t give the American people a reason to believe that he can be trusted to offer a clear way forward. Not only is Senator McCain wrong on Iraq once again, but he showed he either doesn’t understand the challenges facing Iraq and the region or is willing to ignore the facts on the ground.” (Cooper 3/18/2008; Edwards 3/18/2008)
Previous Similar Comments - McCain made a similar statement the day before while calling in to conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt’s talk show, saying, “As you know, there are al-Qaeda operatives that are taken back into Iran, given training as leaders, and they’re moving back into Iraq.” Hewitt did not correct the error. (Town Hall (.com) 3/17/2008) And on February 28, McCain told an audience in Texas, “But al-Qaeda is [in Iraq], they are functioning, they are supported in many times, in many ways by the Iranians.” (ThinkProgress (.org) 3/20/2008) McCain’s own campaign notes that McCain “immediately corrected” the error—a misstatement, as McCain made the mistake three different times in two days—and attacks the Democrats for McCain’s blunder by stating, “Democrats have launched political attacks today because they know the American people have deep concerns about their candidates’ judgment and readiness to lead as commander in chief.”
Media Reaction - Many in the mainstream media forgive or ignore McCain’s repeated gaffe. The Atlantic Monthly’s Marc Ambinder calls it “momentary confusion” on McCain’s part, again ignoring the fact that McCain made the same mistake three times in two days. (Ambinder 3/18/2008) ABC’s Jake Tapper blames the blunder on “jet lag.” (Tapper 3/18/2008) Both the Associated Press and CNN misreport McCain’s statement. Associated Press reporter Alfred de Montesquiou inaccurately reports that McCain “voiced concern that Tehran is bringing militants over the border into Iran for training before sending them back to fight US troops in Iraq, and blamed Syria for allegedly continuing to ‘expedite’ a flow of foreign fighters.” (de Montesquiou 3/18/2008) And CNN’s Emily Sherman rewrites McCain’s statement, reporting, “During a press conference in Amman, Jordan, the Arizona senator also said there is a continued concern that Iran may be training Iraqi extremists in Iran and then sending them back into Iraq.” (Sherman 3/18/2008)
As reported by progressive media watchdog site Media Matters, conservative radio host Michael Savage repeats the false assertion that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is a Muslim, a trope repeated by many conservative radio hosts (see January 22-24, 2008). In reality, Obama is a practicing Christian and a member of the United Church of Christ. The allegations that Obama is, or ever was, a Muslim have been debunked by, among others, CNN, the Chicago Tribune, and the Associated Press. Savage again lies to his listeners by telling them another oft-repeated falsehood, that Obama was educated in a radical Islamist “madrassah” during a childhood stint in Indonesia. Savage tells his listeners: “Look who we inherited in this country, from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Barack Hussein Obama, in one generation. A war hero to—a war hero who commanded the Allied operations against Nazi Germany was running for the presidency then. Now we have an unknown stealth candidate who went to a madrassas in Indonesia and, in fact, was a Muslim.… Yes, check it out.” (Media Matters 4/7/2008) Weeks before, Savage told his listeners that Obama and his former pastor supported the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese, and Obama would bring chaos and devastation to the United States on a scale not seen since the Civil War (see March 13, 2008).
The 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)
Author and civil litigator Glenn Greenwald writes of today’s revelations about the Pentagon’s six-year Iraq propaganda operation (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) that the new information serves as “a far greater indictment of our leading news organizations than the government officials” who actually perpetrated the program. Greenwald writes: “In 2002 and 2003, when Americans were relentlessly subjected to their commentary, news organizations were hardly unaware that these retired generals were mindlessly reciting the administration line on the war and related matters. To the contrary, that’s precisely why our news organizations—which themselves were devoted to selling the war both before and after the invasion by relentlessly featuring pro-war sources and all but excluding anti-war ones—turned to them in the first place.” The New York Times, which published the expose, still relies on the same military analysts for commentary and insight about the war in Iraq who are revealed as Pentagon supporters in its own reporting. And considering the reporting from five years previously (see March 25, 2003 and April 19, 2003), Greenwald notes that neither the Times nor anyone else should be particularly shocked at the unveiling of such a propaganda operation. What Greenwald does find “incredible” is the refusal of the news organizations to comment on the Times story. “Just ponder what that says about these organizations,” Greenwald writes: “[T]here is a major expose in the [Times] documenting that these news outlets misleadingly shoveled government propaganda down the throats of their viewers on matters of war and terrorism and they don’t feel the least bit obliged to answer for what they did or knew about any of it.” Only CNN provided any substantive response, but denied any knowledge of their analysts’ connections to either the Pentagon or to defense firms. Greenwald concludes, “The single most significant factor in American political culture is the incestuous, extensive overlap between our media institutions and government officials.” (Greenwald 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)
CNN media critic Howard Kurtz writes a scathing op-ed expressing his dismay at the extent of the Pentagon’s secret propaganda operation to sell the Iraq war, and its use of retired military officers to promote its agenda and make its case on nightly news broadcasts (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Kurtz observes: “It’s hardly shocking that career military men would largely reflect the Pentagon’s point of view, just as Democratic and Republican ‘strategists’ stay in touch with aides to the candidates they defend on the air. But the degree of behind-the-scenes manipulation—including regular briefings by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other officials—is striking, as is the lack of disclosure by the networks of some of these government and business connections. With an aura of independence, many of the analysts used their megaphones, and the prestige of their rank, to help sell a war that was not going well.… [T]he networks rarely if ever explored the outside roles of their military consultants.” While both the Pentagon and the various networks have defended their use of the military analysts, and the networks have tried to explain their failure to examine their analysts’ connections to an array of defense firms—“it’s a little unrealistic to think you’re going to do a big background check on everybody,” says Fox News executive producer Marty Ryan—the reality, as Kurtz notes, is far less aboveboard. Kurtz adds, “The credibility gap, to use an old Vietnam War phrase, was greatest when these retired officers offered upbeat assessments of the Iraq war even while privately expressing doubts,” a circumstance reported on the part of numerous analysts in the recent New York Times expose. (Kurtz 4/21/2008)
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)
CNN president Jim Walton responds to a letter from Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) demanding an explanation of his network’s involvement in the recently revealed Pentagon propaganda operation (see April 24, 2008). Walton says that his network fully cooperated with the New York Times’s investigation of the operation (see April 20, 2008), but CNN was not a part of any such operation. Indeed, Walton claims, “[m]ilitary analysts, and the handful of generals on CNN, contribute only a small portion to CNN’s overall coverage.” He acknowledges that CNN was not always as alert as it should have been to its analysts’ financial connections to defense contractors, and notes that the network fired one of its analysts after discovering “the extent of his dealings” (see July 2007). Walton concludes by assuring DeLauro that the network is committed to “protecting the public trust” and holds itself to “the highest ethical standards” of journalism. (Walton 5/2/2008 )
President Bush, speaking to the Israeli Knesset in Jerusalem on the 60th anniversary of Israel’s founding, accuses Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, and other Democrats of favoring “appeasement” of terrorists in the same way some Western leaders “appeased” Nazi Germany’s Adolf Hitler in the days before World War II. Bush does not name Obama or any other official specifically, but White House aides soon acknowledge Bush intended the remarks to apply to Obama. Bush tells the Knesset: “Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared, ‘Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.’ We have an obligation to call this what it is—the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.… There are good and decent people who cannot fathom the darkness in these men and try to explain their words away. This is natural. But it is deadly wrong. As witnesses to evil in the past, we carry a solemn responsibility to take these words seriously. Jews and Americans have seen the consequences of disregarding the words of leaders who espouse hatred. And that is a mistake the world must not repeat in the 21st century.” CNN calls the remarks “a not-so-subtle attempt to continue to raise doubts about Obama with Jewish Americans,” and a follow-up to similar remarks made by Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, who has charged that Obama enjoys the support of Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas. Obama called McCain’s Hamas allegation a “smear” and says of Bush’s remarks: “It is sad that President Bush would use a speech to the Knesset on the 60th anniversary of Israel’s independence to launch a false political attack. It is time to turn the page on eight years of policies that have strengthened Iran and failed to secure America or our ally Israel.… George Bush knows that I have never supported engagement with terrorists, and the president’s extraordinary politicization of foreign policy and the politics of fear do nothing to secure the American people or our stalwart ally Israel.” Obama’s campaign says Obama favors “tough, direct presidential diplomacy with Iran without preconditions, and is willing to meet with the leaders of all nations, friend and foe.” Obama has never said he favors talks with any radical group such as Hamas, which both he and the US State Department have labeled a terrorist organization. (CNN 5/15/2008)
Angry Responses from Democratic Lawmakers - The response from Democratic lawmakers, Bush administration critics, and Democratic supporters is quick and angered. One of the harshest responses is from Senator Joe Biden (D-DE), the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a former presidential contender himself. Biden minces few words by saying: “This is bullsh_t, this is malarkey. This is outrageous, for the president of the United States to go to a foreign country, to sit in the Knesset… and make this kind of ridiculous statement.” Of Bush, Biden says: “He is the guy who has weakened us. He has increased the number of terrorists in the world. It is his policies that have produced this vulnerability that the US has. It’s his [own] intelligence community [that] has pointed this out, not me.” He also notes that Bush’s Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have both suggested opening dialogues with their enemies. “If he thinks this is appeasement, is he going to come back and fire his own cabinet?” Biden asks. “Is he going to fire Condi Rice?” Biden later says he regrets the use of the profanity, but then says that Bush is engaging in “long-distance swiftboating” of Obama, referring to Bush’s 2004 campaign strategy of telling false stories about his Democratic challenger Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and Kerry’s Vietnam service. Kerry says that Bush “is still playing the disgusting and dangerous political game Karl Rove perfected, which is insulting to every American and disrespectful to our ally Israel. George Bush should be making Israel secure, not slandering Barack Obama from the Knesset.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says: “Not surprisingly, the engineer of the worst foreign policy in our nation’s history has fired yet another reckless and reprehensible round. For the president to make this statement before the government of our closest ally as it celebrates a remarkable milestone demeans this historic moment with partisan politics.” For a brief time, the White House attempts to deny that Bush was referring to Obama, a denial that Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) does not believe. “There is no escaping what the president is doing,” he says. “It is an attack on Senator Obama’s position that we should not be avoiding even those we disagree with when it comes to negotiations and diplomacy.” Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), also a Democratic presidential contender, says: “President Bush’s comparison of any Democrat to Nazi appeasers is both offensive and outrageous on the face of it, especially in light of his failures in foreign policy. This is the kind of statement that has no place in any presidential address and certainly to use an important moment like the 60th anniversary celebration of Israel to make a political point seems terribly misplaced. Unfortunately, this is what we’ve come to expect from President Bush. There is a very clear difference between Democrats and Republicans on foreign policy and that difference will be evident once we take back the White House.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says that Bush’s remarks are “beneath the dignity of the office of the president and unworthy of our representation” at the celebration of Israel’s 60th anniversary. Referring to McCain, Pelosi says, “I would hope that any serious person that aspires to lead the country, would disassociate themselves from those comments.” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) says: “The tradition has always been that when a US president is overseas, partisan politics stops at the water’s edge. President Bush has now taken that principle and turned it on its head: for this White House, partisan politics now begins at the water’s edge, no matter the seriousness and gravity of the occasion. Does the president have no shame?” (Politico 5/15/2008; Politico 5/15/2008; Politico 5/15/2008)
Other Responses - Democratic columnist and political strategist Paul Begala writes: “George W. Bush is unworthy of the presidency. He is a disgrace to himself, our nation, and the high office he holds.” Bush “dishonor[ed] himself”, Begala continues, “by using one of the world’s most important pulpits to launch a false and vicious political attack against Barack Obama.” Begala notes that he is a staunch supporter of Israel, and writes: “It is especially appalling to supporters of Israel that Mr. Bush would stand on a hilltop in Jerusalem to invoke the Holocaust in order to make a cheap and deeply dishonest political point. I am a person of faith, so it is especially galling that a man who calls himself a brother in faith would stand in the Holy Land and violate one of the Commandments God gave to Moses: ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.‘… As an American I am ashamed that such a man represents me.” (Begala 5/15/2008) The Boston Globe publishes an editorial accusing Bush of breaking “an unwritten rule against partisan politicking on foreign shores. He also displayed confusion about his own policies—and about the cause of his calamitous foreign policy failures.” Like others, the Globe notes that Bush officials have engaged in talks with Iran, and says that by overthrowing Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, the Bush administration has done a great deal “to enable Iran.” The Globe compares Obama’s foreign policy to the “tough and prudent statecraft in the mold of Bush’s father and his secretary of state, James Baker.” The Globe concludes: “Maybe the worst thing about Bush’s Knesset attack on Obama is that it shows how oblivious Bush still is to his own failings. His unilateral military ventures, his disdain for international treaties and organizations, his refusal to negotiate with Iran when the regime in Tehran was eager to cut a deal with the United States—these mistakes produced the disasters that Obama or another successor will have to overcome.” (Boston Globe 5/16/2008) Columnist Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes: “President Bush went on foreign soil today, and committed what I consider an act of political treason: Comparing the candidate of the US opposition party to appeasers of Nazi Germany—in the very nation that was carved out from the horrific calamity of the Holocaust. Bush’s bizarre and beyond-appropriate detour into American presidential politics took place in the middle of what should have been an occasion for joy.” As others observe, Bunch writes that Bush crossed a line that previous presidents have tried to avoid: criticizing members of the opposing party on foreign soil. He writes: “As a believer in free speech, I think Bush has a right to say what he wants, but as a president of the United States who swore to uphold the Constitution, his freedom also carries an awesome and solemn responsibility, and what this president said today is a serious breach of that high moral standard.… [W]hat Bush did in Israel this morning goes well beyond the accepted confines of American political debate. When the president speaks to a foreign parliament on behalf of our country, his message needs to be clear and unambiguous. Our democracy may look messy to outsiders, and we may have our disagreements with some sharp elbows thrown around, but at the end of the day we are not Republicans or Democrats or liberals or conservatives. We are Americans.” (Bunch 5/15/2008)
Republican Responses - Few Republicans speak publicly regarding Bush’s comments. One who is willing to do so is Ed Gillespie, an advisor to the White House. He attempts to deny that Bush meant the remarks to apply to Obama—a denial soon contradicted by other White House officials—then claims that Bush and the White House want to stay out of the presidential campaign. Instead, Gillespie says: “The president is stating American policy and his policy toward Iran and toward Hezbollah and toward al-Qaeda.… We are happy to allow for Senator Obama and others to express their own points of view on these things.” McCain refuses to distance himself from the remarks, and instead attacks Obama for expressing a willingness to open talks with Iran. McCain does not note that Bush administration diplomats have held three rounds of discussions with Iranian officials in the last year. (Henry 5/16/2008)
Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella, authors of the media study Echo Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment, draw some tentative conclusions about the impact that conservative talk radio, specifically the broadcasts of Rush Limbaugh, and conservative news outlets such as Fox News have on their regular listeners. They find both positive and negative effects on the audiences.
Positive Impact - The conservative broadcasters have a positive impact, Jamieson and Cappella conclude, by helping their listeners “make sense of complex social issues on which elite opinion is divided. They accomplish this when they:
Consistently frame arguments from conservative assumptions
Build a base of supportive evidence for conservative beliefs and in the process distinguish them from ‘liberal’ ones
Semantically and affectively prime key advocacy and attack points
Arm their audience to argue effectively
Minimize the likelihood of defection from conservatism by creating a sense of community among listeners who share a worldview, if not every political policy preference.”
The conservative radio hosts “protect their audience from counterpersuasion by inoculating it against opposing messages; at the same time, they increase the likelihood that the audience will try to persuade others. Conservative viewers, readers, and listeners are told by these media outlets that they are part of a much larger community… The belief that they are part of an army of others of like mind should increase their disposition to talk politics with those with whom they disagree. Finally, they stabilize the conservative base. This effect is produced at a cost: Those in the fold see ‘liberals’ and politicians as further from them—hence less worthy of support—than they actually are.”
Negative Impact - Jamieson and Cappella then turn to the negative impact on the audience. “We find other moves more problematic,” they write, “including those that:
Insulate the audience from alternative media sources by casting them as untrustworthy, ‘liberal,’ and rooted in a double standard hostile to conservatives and conservatism
Protect their audience from the influence of those opposed to the conservative message by balkanizing and polarizing their perception of opponents and their arguments
Contest only the facts hospitable to opposing views
Invite moral outrage by engaging emotion. This produces one advantage and one disadvantage: emotional involvement invites action and engagement rather than distancing and lethargy. On the downside, a steady diet of moral outrage feeds the assumption that the opponent is an enemy
Replace argument with ridicule and ad hominem [arguing against an assertion by attacking the person making the assertion, not the assertion itself]
Often invite their audiences to see the political world as one unburdened by either ambiguity or common ground across the ideological divide.
Liberals Imitating Conservatives' Success - Jamieson and Cappella conclude: “Democrats are, of course, more likely to accept the contested facts offered by their party and so are Republicans. We find it worrisome that the audiences for both Fox and Limbaugh were more likely than comparable conservatives to accept the Republican view of the contested facts in the 2004 election and more likely in the process to distort the positions of the Democratic nominees. But those who, with us, find the pro-Republican distortion among Limbaugh and Fox audiences should, with us, find the pro-Democratic distortion equally troubling among NPR listeners and CNN viewers.… What the conservative opinion media do for the Right and CNN and NPR do for the Left is increase a tendency to embrace the arguments and evidence offered by those with whom their audiences already agree. Fox and Limbaugh have also created a commercially viable model of partisan media that has elicited the sincerest form of flattery. On the Left, ‘Air America’ on radio and Countdown with Keith Olbermann on MSNBC are both experimenting with ways to translate their blend of entertainment and political advocacy into profits. Consistent with the model developed by the conservatives, Olbermann regularly features ‘Air America’ hosts.” (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 244-245)
Roger Ailes, a powerful Republican campaign consultant (see 1968, January 25, 1988, and September 21 - October 4, 1988) and the founder and chairman of Fox News (see October 7, 1996), realizes that Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) is going to win the upcoming presidential election (see November 4, 2008). In preparation, Ailes begins hiring an array of conservatives to join his network (see November 3, 2003, July 2004, and October 26, 2009), many of whom he intends to groom for the 2012 presidential race. By the time the election is over, Ailes will have hired Karl Rove, the Bush administration’s political guru, and former Governor Mike Huckabee (R-AR), an unsuccessful Republican presidential candidate. (Ailes is able to woo both Rove and Huckabee away from CNN, which also offers them positions as paid commentators.) Soon, Ailes will hire several more possible Republican contenders, including the Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin (R-AK), former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA), former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), and former UN Ambassador John Bolton. Ailes fully intends to use Fox News as a platform for launching Republican presidential bids (see May 22, 2011), but his decision to hire Rove, Huckabee, Palin, and the others is also business-driven. A close friend of his will explain: “It would be easy to look at Fox and think it’s conservative because Rupert [Murdoch, the media executive who owns the Fox networks] and Roger are conservative and they program it the way they like. And to a degree, that’s true. But it’s also a business. And the way the business works is, they control conservative commentary the way ESPN controls the market for sports rights. If you have a league, you have a meeting with ESPN, you find out how much they’re willing to pay, and then everyone else agrees to pay the same amount if they want it.… It’s sort of the same at Fox. I was surprised at some of what was being paid until I processed it that way. If you’re ABC and you don’t have Newt Gingrich on a particular morning, you can put someone else on. But if you’re Fox, and Newt is moving and talking today, you got to have him. Otherwise, your people are like: ‘Where’s Newt? Why isn’t he on my channel?’” Ailes met secretly with Palin in September 2008, and will continue to court her for Fox after the campaign, even loaning her a private jet owned by Murdoch’s News Corporation. CNN will decline to offer her a position, and Ailes, through programming chief Bill Shine, will negotiate a three-year, $3 million deal to have Palin as a regular contributor and a host of prime-time specials. Amid all of this, Ailes does not want Fox News to be seen as an arm of the Republican Party (see December 2002 and October 11, 2009). (Sherman 5/22/2011) In 2010, the press will report that Fox News has “exclusive rights” to broadcast and interview four presumed 2012 Republican candidates, Palin, Gingrich, Huckabee, and Santorum (see September 27, 2010).
Author and reporter David Neiwert appears on CNN’s Newshour program to discuss a recent article he co-wrote for Salon that revealed details of Governor Sarah Palin’s (R-AK) support from far-right militia and secessionist groups in Alaska (see October 10, 2008). Palin is now running on the Republican presidential ticket with John McCain (R-AZ). CNN interviewer Rick Sanchez is particularly interested in discussing Palin’s connections with the Alaskan Independence Party (AIP), a political third party in Alaska that advocates an array of far-right initiatives, including the secession of Alaska from the United States. Sanchez notes that between 1995 and 2002 Palin’s husband Todd was a member of the AIP, and according to Neiwert’s article Sarah Palin has had her political career shaped by AIP leaders such as Mark Chryson. Neiwert explains the AIP to Sanchez, saying, “Well, what we have known about the AIP for some time is that they were basically the Alaskan contingent and the ‘Patriot Movement,’ which, in the lower 48 states, manifested itself as people who form militias, tax protesters, constitutionalists, and that sort of thing.” Neiwert refuses to directly compare the AIP to the ideology of the far-right militia groups that spawned Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), as Sanchez asks, but says that McVeigh and the AIP “basically come from the same sort of ideological background.” Neiwert does not consider the AIP a particularly violent group, and calls it “a pretty benign organization,” but affirms that most AIP members “despise” the US government. He notes that Chryson told him and co-author Max Blumenthal that Todd Palin was never particularly active in the AIP, saying, “Basically, he signed up, joined the party, and then was not active at all.” He also confirms that Sarah Palin was most likely not a member of the AIP, but, as Sanchez says, “[S]he does have some ties to either members or its causes.” Palin rose to power in Wasilla, Alaska, through the auspices of the AIP, Neiwert says, both as a city council member and later as mayor (see Mid and Late 1996). Sanchez runs a video clip of Palin’s videotaped address to the AIP convention in 2008 (see March 2008). Sanchez confirms that Palin attended the convention personally in 2006, because, Neiwert says, “she was campaigning there for governor. And the AIP did not have a gubernatorial candidate that year. And its members essentially endorsed Sarah as their party’s standard-bearer.” Neiwert then explains Chryson’s program of “infiltrating” AIP members into positions of power in both Republican and Democratic parties, and notes that the Salon article quoted Chryson as being particularly proud of having “infiltrated” Palin into such a high level of influence. “[T]he AIP has specifically had a program of infiltration aimed at getting members and their sort of camp followers promoting within the other political parties,” he says. “And, obviously, the Republican Party is a lot closer in Alaska to the AIP than the Democratic Party is.” The McCain campaign sends a message to CNN during the Neiwert interview from campaign spokesman Michael Goldfarb that reads: “CNN is furthering a smear with this report, no different than if your network ran a piece questioning Senator [Barack] Obama’s religion. No serious news organization has tried to make this connection. And it is unfortunate that CNN would be the first.” Sanchez notes that CNN has been trying for hours to get the McCain-Palin campaign to prepare a response to the Neiwert interview, which begins after 3:00 p.m. EST. Neiwert notes that the AIP is not a religious organization, saying: “Some of the members are very definitely fundamentalist Christians, but the AIP, itself, is not involved in religious issues, except to the extent that it is involved with the Constitution Party of the United States. This is the larger national umbrella that they organize under. And the Constitution Party is definitely a theocratic party.” (CNN 10/14/2008) After the interview, Neiwert posts on a liberal blog, Crooks & Liars, that like CNN, he attempted to elicit a response or rejoinder from the McCain-Palin campaign and received no response until the broadcast. Neiwert notes that his interview was not in any way a “smear,” because “[a] smear by definition is untrue. However, everything in our story is fully documented. We’ve even posted the relevant documents here so readers can judge the accuracy of the story for themselves.” He also notes that the interview said nothing about Palin’s faith or religious beliefs, but was strictly “about her conduct as a public official.” He concludes, “If Team McCain wants to convince anyone this is merely a ‘smear,’ they’re going to have to demonstrate some falsity or distortion first.” Neiwert says that some Palin defenders respond with the accusation that he is attempting to find Palin “guilt[y] by association.” He counters: “But ‘guilt by association,’ by definition, involves an entirely irrelevant association.… Palin’s associations with the ‘Patriot’ right, however, are entirely relevant, because they reflect directly on her conduct as a public official and her judgment. They also, I should add, reflect on a deeper level the kind of right-wing populism she’s been indulging in recent weeks.” (Neiwert 10/14/2008) In the days after this interview appears, the McCain-Palin campaign will confirm that Sarah Palin has been a registered Republican since 1982, and claim that she was never a member of AIP. AIP chairperson Lynette Clark will later say that AIP party officials’ recollection of Palin as an official AIP member is mistaken, and will reiterate that she and AIP support Palin fully in her bid for the vice presidency. (Tapper 9/1/2008; Alaskan Independence Party 9/3/2008)
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)
Los Angeles Times columnist James Rainey lambasts CNN for what he calls an attempted “smear” against Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin (R-AK). Rainey is referring to a segment recently aired on CNN (see October 14, 2008) that interviewed author and columnist David Neiwert, who recently co-wrote an article about Palin’s connections to the far-right, secessionist Alaskan Independence Party (AIP—see October 10, 2008). Palin has already demanded that the McCain-Palin campaign issue a statement repudiating the CNN segment, a decision the campaign did not acquiesce to (see October 15, 2008); it is unclear whether Rainey had any knowledge of Palin’s demand, though McCain campaign spokesman Michael Goldfarb sent a message to CNN calling the segment “a smear” that was aired during the segment itself. Rainey writes that the Neiwert interview was little more than “a reheated, overwrought, and misleading story that seemed designed to yoke Sarah Palin and her husband to the most extreme secessionists in Alaska.” He acknowledges that Palin’s husband Todd Palin once belonged to the AIP, and writes, “[H]is wife, the governor and now Republican vice presidential nominee, has been friendly with some of its members.” (The article by Neiwert and co-author Max Blumenthal goes into significant detail about how AIP leaders such as Mark Chryson have steered Palin’s rise to power from her days as a Wasilla city council member.) Rainey accurately notes that neither Neiwert, Blumenthal, nor CNN have shown that Palin has echoed the AIP’s central platform call for Alaska’s secession from the United States. He calls Alaskan politics “eccentric,” and says that in Alaska, the AIP “is not so far out on the fringe. An AIP member won the governorship in 1990. And party members have been in the thick of the state’s public life for decades. Members run the gamut from states-rights enthusiasts to radical secessionists who have advocated extreme measures to free Alaska from the United States.” Rainey criticizes CNN interviewer Rick Sanchez for “front-loading” his segment with “outrageous pronouncements from AIP founder Joe Vogler, now deceased,” including Voger’s famous pronoucement: “The fires of hell are frozen glaciers compared to my hatred for the American government. And I won’t be buried under their damn flag.” Rainey draws a comparison to Democratic candidate Barack Obama (D-IL)‘s “old pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.,” then writes, “[T]o my knowledge, no direct connection between Vogler and Gov. Palin has been reported.” (Rainey 10/15/2008) In a rejoinder published on the liberal news blog Crooks and Liars, Neiwert notes that in the CNN interview, he was careful not to associate Palin directly with far-right radicals such as Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), as Sanchez attempted to do, and notes, “Part of covering and writing about the Patriot movement involved listening and watching carefully to distinguish them, because to some extent, you had to give the mainstream conservatives the benefit of the doubt when it came to their actual intent in getting involved with these groups.” However, Neiwert goes on to say, the connections between Palin and the AIP are quite strong and well detailed. He also notes that AIP vice chairman Dexter Clark said flatly in 2007 that Palin “was an AIP member before she got the job as a mayor of a small town (see Mid and Late 1996)—that was a non-partisan job. But you get along to go along—she eventually joined the Republican Party, where she had all kinds of problems with their ethics, and well, I won’t go into that. She also had about an 80 percent approval rating, and is pretty well sympathetic to her former membership.” He also notes that Clark later disavowed his claim of Palin’s membership in the AIP. However, Neiwert writes, “it’s clear that Clark and many others within the AIP viewed Palin as ‘one of ours.’ And as we have demonstrated, they did so with good cause.” He concludes that it is a “cold reality that Palin has a real history of empowering these extremists, and pandering to their conspiratorial beliefs, from her position of public office. And the question is whether that would continue from a position of real power in the White House.” (Neiwert 10/15/2008)
Many media figures repeat a disputed claim by the Pentagon that 61 former Guantanamo detainees are again engaged in terrorist activities (see January 13-14, 2009), without noting that the figure is being challenged. The argument is being used to criticize President Obama’s announced plans to close the Guantanamo detention facility within a year (see January 22, 2009). Liberal media watchdog organization Media Matters documents a number of media outlets promulgating the claim. On Fox News, host Sean Hannity tells a guest, “But we know… 61 Gitmo detainees that have already been released, according to the Pentagon, went right back to the battlefield with their fanaticism.” On CNN, neoconservative guest Clifford May tells host Campbell Brown: “Many hundreds have been released. About 60 of them—a little more than that—have returned to the battlefield.” Brown fails to challenge the claim. Nor does MSNBC’s Chris Matthews challenge a similar assertion from Senator Christopher Bond (R-MO), who says, “we know already that more than 60 of the people who have been released have been killing our troops, our Americans and civilians on the battlefield.” (Media Matters 1/23/2009) The Boston Globe reports, “Pentagon statistics show that of the hundreds of detainees that have been released from Guantanamo since it opened in early 2002, at least 61 have returned to terrorist activities.” (Williams and Bender 1/22/2009) The Los Angeles Times reports, “The Pentagon has said that 61 former detainees have taken up arms against the US or its allies after being released from the military prison in Cuba.” (Los Angeles Times 1/23/2009) The San Francisco Chronicle reports, “Republicans also claimed that 61 detainees already released have been ‘found back on the battlefield.’” (Lochhead 1/23/2009) And an ABC News article repeats House Minority Leader John Boehner’s (R-OH) statement, “Do we release them back into the battlefield, like some 61 detainees that have been released we know are back on the battlefield?” ABC does not report that the claim is disputed. (Tapper, Crawford-Greenburg, and Khan 1/22/2009)
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)
Several media outlets report discredited Republican claims that the Obama administration’s “cap-and-trade” global warming initiative would cost American taxpayers over $3,000 per year. Fox News anchors Eric Shawn and Alisyn Camerota (see October 13, 2009), CNN producer Ted Barrett, and the Washington, DC, newspaper Roll Call repeat the claim, which originated in a March 23 House Republican Conference (HRC) “talking points” press release. (GOP (.gov) 3/23/2009; Media Matters 4/6/2009) The claim points to a 2007 study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but one of the study’s authors, John Reilly, says the Republicans’ interpretation of it is wrong (see March 24 - April 2, 2009). Reilly says the average household cost of $3,128, as calculated by the HRC, is “nearly 10 times the correct estimate” based on his study’s cap-and-trade model. The HRC’s error is further shown by a March 30 analysis conducted by the St. Petersburg Times. (Adair 3/30/2009; Media Matters 4/6/2009) Both Reilly and the Times show that the average annual cost per household will be closer to $340. On Fox News’s America’s News HQ, Shawn claims “this cap-and-trade, or as the Republicans call it, cap-and-tax—could add $3,000 a year on our electric bills.… [T]hat’s about—$290 or so a month. I mean, imagine the American public, everyone watching right now—all of us—getting an extra 300 bucks or so a month tacked on to our utility bills.” Camerota tells viewers of Fox News’s America’s Newsroom that the cap-and-trade proposal “would be $3,100 per US household.” Roll Call’s Jay Heflin publishes a claim by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) that “the effort equates to a ‘light switch tax’ of up to $3,128 each year for families” without informing readers of Reilly’s and the Times’s differing analysis. (Media Matters 4/6/2009; Heflin 4/6/2009) Similarly, on CNN’s Political Ticker blog, Barrett repeats a similar claim, writing, “Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell praised the Senate for having ‘slammed the door on using the fast-track process to jam through a new national energy tax’ that Republicans say will cost families $3,000 a year in higher energy costs.” (Barrett 4/1/2009; Media Matters 4/6/2009)
CNN reports that millions could be saved per year by the so-called “end of life” discussions that the Obama health care proposal would have Medicare pay for, without a loss in the quality or availability of care. According to a recent study cited by CNN, $76 million per year could be saved “if half of the people who die from cancer annually had end-of-life conversations with their doctors.… [P]atients who reported having those talks had 36 percent lower health care costs in the final week of life.” Most of the savings would come from patients who do not want extraordinary measures taken to preserve their lives, but because hospitals have no such instructions, when a dying patient “codes,” or lapses into a terminal state, hospital doctors by default will use extraordinary methods to resuscitate them. Dr. Arthur Kellerman, chairman of the emergency medicine department at Emory University, says that many aging parents and grandparents avoid such discussions because of the strain they might place on their children and grandchildren. And the younger relatives often avoid these discussions because they don’t want to appear ungrateful or grasping. As for doctors: “There are a lot of my colleagues who don’t bother having that conversation. They just intubate them, and ship them up to an ICU, and say ‘next,’” Kellerman says. “Ultimately, it drives up costs, it degrades their quality of life, and you have less money and less resources available for people who really are salvageable and have a whole lot more time left on Earth.” Kellerman says when his own mother was at the end of his life, he had to use his position as a doctor to ensure that “do not call 911, do not send her to the hospital” was written on her chart so that she would be able to die in her nursing home. “You end up with a daughter at two in the morning, and Grandma is in respiratory failure, and we’re having a conversation in a family room in the ER about what Grandma wants,” Kellerman adds. “That conversation should have been with that grandmother and her daughter and her doctor and should have happened two years earlier, and it would have been easier on everybody.” The study shows that 60 percent of elderly patients prefer that their doctors not use extraordinary measures to preserve their lives. “Everybody wants their parents to live forever, everyone wants to live forever,” says Kellerman. “But the fact is that won’t happen, and you do need to think and plan ahead.” (CNN 7/23/2009)
The mainstream media shows little interest in reporting that the just-released CIA report on torture (see August 24, 2009) does not prove that torture works as a method of eliciting actionable intelligence from detainees, according to Washington Post columnist and blogger Greg Sargent, writing on the Post’s political blog “The Plum Line.” Sargent notes that when former Vice President Dick Cheney was asserting that the then-classified memos did indeed show that torture worked, “[t]he mainstream media trumpeted Cheney’s lies about what the documents show. But now that they’ve been made public and they contradict his claims, most reporters seem to have lost interest.” He also notes the coverage given to Cheney’s claim that the report proves torture was effective (see August 24, 2009). Sargent backs up his claim with analysis of the media coverage provided by the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Associated Press, and CNN; the Times was the only source to directly address Cheney’s claims, but, as Sargent observes, “this came in the 13th paragraph in an article not directly focused on Cheney’s claims.” He goes on to note that only ABC News and the Washington Independent devoted stand-alone stories to Cheney’s claims not being proven. (Roth 8/25/2009; Sargent 8/25/2009) CNN reported, “Cheney says documents show interrogations prevented attacks… and yielded crucial information about al-Qaeda.” Sargent notes that Cheney didn’t say that at all, but rather he said “that the same individuals who were tortured also happened to yield the most important evidence about al-Qaeda. He’s not saying that the docs proved torture was responsible for producing that info” (emphasis in the original). Sargent credits Cheney with “masterful obfuscation,” and says that CNN was “being played for chumps.” (Sargent 8/25/2009; CNN 8/25/2009) Sargent observes: “To be fair, there was tons of news yesterday. Maybe the news orgs will get around to doing big takeouts on this. But come on, Cheney and his daughter Liz were granted tons of print space and air time to claim for weeks that these docs would prove torture worked. Seems fair to expect aggressive, stand-alone stories about what they do—and don’t—prove in the real world.” And reporter Zachary Roth concludes, “[N]o doubt, when Cheney or his daughter want to go public with their next set of self-justifying crap, they’ll be welcomed as authorities, as if none of this ever happened.” (Sargent 8/25/2009; Roth 8/25/2009)
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)
Following a reassessment by top US Army Allied Commander General Stanley A. McChrystal, and on the advice of Vice President Joe Biden and White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, President Obama reconsiders the military endeavor that might modify US strategy in Afghanistan. The result is a scaling back of political and economic development reforms in the strife-torn zone. During recent television news program appearances, Obama seemed to question the primary assertion that the current US approach is the proper means for achieving the US goal of hunting down al-Qaeda and its close allies.
Scaling Back Military Operations - In what White House officials call a “strategic assessment,” Obama seems to be favoring scaled-down attacks utilizing small Special Operations teams and armed Predator drones, thus averting the need for additional troops, according to US officials and experts. The renewed debate is said to have shocked some, while leaving military officials scrambling to estimate how drastic the changes could be. The shift in the White House position is said to have also come about after Obama ordered 21,000 additional US troops to help with last month’s Afghan national election, a ballot broadly seen as counterfeit. However, Obama has also questioned McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy, asking whether it is worth committing extra troops. Reports indicate that the administration might opt for a narrower objective that primarily focuses on disrupting al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other extremist groups, a strategy that would require fewer than the 68,000 troops presently approved for the war. During a recent appearance on CNN, Obama asked, “Are we pursuing the right strategy?” while on NBC’s Meet the Press, he stated he would only expand the counterinsurgency endeavor if it aided the goal of defeating al-Qaeda. “I’m not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan… or sending a message that America is here for the duration,” Obama said. It is unclear how many additional troops McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy would require, and the dissenting view advocating a more limited Afghanistan mission not only has been strengthened by Afghan election irregularities but also growing doubts about the war among Congressional Democrats as well as the US citizenry.
'Buyer's Remorse' - During a recent meeting with the Canadian prime minister, Obama signaled that a deeper administration review was in progress. “It’s important that we also do an assessment on the civilian side, the diplomatic side, the development side, that we analyze the results of the election and then make further decisions moving forward,” he said. A defense analyst and regular military adviser speaking on condition of anonymity says the Obama administration is suffering from “buyer’s remorse for this war.” (Barnes 9/22/2009)
Mary Matalin, the former press adviser for then-Vice President Dick Cheney, makes two false statements on CNN: the Bush administration inherited both a failing economy and the 9/11 attacks from the Clinton administration. The US entered a period of steep recession three months after Bush’s first term began, and the 9/11 attacks occurred eight months after Bush took office. On CNN’s State of the Union, Matalin says, “I was there, we inherited a recession from President Clinton, and we inherited the most tragic attack on our own soil in our nation’s history.” A month ago, former Bush administration press secretary Dana Perino made a similar claim about the timing of the 9/11 attacks on Fox News (see November 24, 2009). Lee Fang of the progressive news Web site Think Progress writes of the two statements, “Former Bush administration officials seem intent on misrepresenting history to pretend that the country never suffered its worst terror attack in history under Bush’s watch.” (Media Matters 12/27/2009; Fang 12/27/2009)
The Washington, DC, Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously holds that provisions of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA—see February 7, 1972, 1974, and May 11, 1976) violate the First Amendment in the case of a nonprofit, unincorporated organization called SpeechNow.org. SpeechNow collects contributions from individuals, but not corporations, and attempted to collect contributions in excess of what FECA allows. In late 2007, SpeechNow asked the Federal Election Commission (FEC) if its fundraising plans would require it to register as a political committee, and the FEC responded that the law would require such registration, thus placing SpeechNow under federal guidelines for operation and fundraising. In February 2008, SpeechNow challenged that ruling in court, claiming that the restrictions under FECA were unconstitutional. FECA should not restrict the amount of money individuals can donate to the organization, it argued, and thusly should not face spending requirements. It also argued that the reporting limits under FECA are unduly burdensome. The district court ruled against SpeechNow, using two Supreme Court decisions as its precedents (see January 30, 1976 and December 10, 2003), and ruled that “nominally independent” organizations such as SpeechNow are “uniquely positioned to serve as conduits for corruption both in terms of the sale of access and the circumvention of the soft money ban.” SpeechNow appealed that decision. The appeals court reverses the decision, stating that the contribution limits under FECA are unconstitutional as applied to individuals. The reporting and organizational requirements under FECA are constitutionally valid, the court rules. The appeals court uses the recent Citizens United ruling as justification for its findings on contribution limits (see January 21, 2010). (Liptak 3/28/2010; Federal Elections Commission 2012; Moneyocracy 2/2012) The FEC argued that large contributions to groups that made independent expenditures could “lead to preferential access for donors and undue influence over officeholders,” but Chief Judge David Sentelle, writing for the court, retorts that such arguments “plainly have no merit after Citizens United.” Stephen M. Hoersting, who represents SpeechNow, says the ruling is a logical and welcome extension of the Citizens United ruling, stating, “The court affirmed that groups of passionate individuals, like billionaires—and corporations and unions after Citizens United—have the right to spend without limit to independently advocate for or against federal candidates.” (Liptak 3/28/2010) Taken along with another court ruling, the SpeechNow case opens the way for the formation of so-called “super PACs,” “independent expenditure” entities that can be run by corporations or labor unions with monies directly from their treasuries, actions that have been banned for over 60 years (see 1925 and June 25, 1943). The New York Times will later define a super PAC as “a political committee whose primary purpose is to influence elections, and which can take unlimited amounts of money, outside of federal contribution limits, from rich people, unions, and corporations, pool it all together, and spend it to advocate for a candidate—as long as they are independent and not coordinated with the candidate.” Super PACs are not required by law to disclose who their donors are, how much money they have raised, and how much they spend. CNN will later write, “The high court’s decision allowed super PACs to raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, associations, and individuals, then spend unlimited sums to overtly advocate for or against political candidates.” OpenSecrets, a nonpartisan organization that monitors campaign finance practices, later writes that the laws underwriting Super PACs “prevent… voters from understanding who is truly behind many political messages.” (Liptak 3/28/2010; Federal Elections Commission 2012; OpenSecrets (.org) 2012; CNN 3/26/2012; Kavanagh, Slotnik, and Schulten 5/22/2012)
The National Tea Party Federation expels conservative radio host and Tea Party Express spokesman Mark Williams over a fictional letter he wrote on his blog last week. Williams’s satirical post purported to be written by “Colored People” to former President Abraham Lincoln, and contained numerous comments that many feel are explosively racist (see July 15, 2010). NTPF spokesman David Webb tells a CBS interviewer, “We, in the last 24 hours, have expelled Tea Party Express and Mark Williams from the National Tea Party Federation because of the letter that he wrote.” Webb calls the post “clearly offensive.” Williams removed the post shortly after posting it. Apparently Williams wrote the post in reaction to a recent NAACP resolution demanding that tea party organizations take measures to stop racism from within the movement (see July 13, 2010). Williams refuses to discuss the dismissal, and cancels a scheduled appearance on CNN to discuss his future in the tea party movement. However, he seems to blame Webb for the controversy. In a statement on his blog, Williams writes: “That careless individual tea partier who assumed the mantel [sic] of ‘leadership’ did so long enough to turn a critical and serious movement and delicate peace [sic] with skeptical groups into a World Wrestling style personality conflict with me at the center. There are internal political dramas amongst the various self-anointed tea party ‘leaders,’ and some of the minor players on the fringes see the Tea Party Express and Mark Williams as tickets to a booking on ‘Fact [sic] the Nation.’” NAACP president Benjamin Jealous tells a CNN reporter that the organization’s reaction to Williams’s expulsion is “Good riddance,” and praises Webb for “self-policing” the tea party movement, saying, “As the movement grows up, you have to act responsibly and they have to keep doing what they just did to Mark Williams and make it clear there is no space for bigots here, period.” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) says of the incident: “There are some members who have used the tea party—whether it’s the tea party itself, there are some individuals who have tried to exacerbate racial tensions in this country. I have seen some virulent fliers that have been directed at our members, clearly referencing race, the president’s race, and race generally” (see March 24-25, 2010). Asked for a reaction, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) refuses to comment, saying, “I am not interested in getting into that debate.” (CNN 7/18/2010; Huffington Post 7/18/2010) In the past, Williams has called President Obama the “racist in chief” (see September 14, 2009) and “our half white, racist president” (see September 2009). He has called Muslims “animals” who worship a “monkey god” (see May 14, 2010), and labeled the NAACP “racists” who are like “slave trader[s]” (see July 14, 2010).
Dr. Laura Schlessinger, a conservative radio host whose Dr. Laura show combines political commentary with medical and personal “life” advice, claims she will leave the airwaves after engaging in a lengthy on-air “rant” where she uses a racial slur multiple times. Schlessinger begins by welcoming an African-American woman, “Jade,” as a caller. Jade says she is resentful of her husband, who is white, using racial slurs and derogatory language with his family members, “who start making racist comments as if I’m not there or if I’m not black.” Schlessinger says that Jade may be “hypersensitive,” and after a brief exchange, says: “I think that’s—well, listen, without giving much thought, a lot of blacks voted for [President] Obama simply ‘cause he was half-black. Didn’t matter what he was gonna do in office, it was a black thing. You gotta know that. That’s not a surprise. Not everything that somebody says [is racist].” Jade asks, “How about the n-word?” Schlessinger responds: “Black guys use it all the time. Turn on HBO, listen to a black comic, and all you hear is ‘n_gger, n_gger, n_gger.‘… I don’t get it. If anybody without enough melanin says it, it’s a horrible thing; but when black people say it, it’s affectionate. It’s very confusing.” Schlessinger takes a commercial break after asking Jade to stay on the line, and upon her return, Jade says: “I was a little caught back by the n-word that you spewed out, I have to be honest with you. But my point is, race relations—” Schlessinger interjects, “Oh, then I guess you don’t watch HBO or listen to any black comedians.” Jade replies: “But that doesn’t make it right.… [R]acism has come to another level that’s unacceptable.” Schlessinger again overrides Jade’s comments, saying: “Yeah. We’ve got a black man as president and we have more complaining about racism than ever. I mean, I think that’s hilarious.” Jade says, “But I think, honestly, because there’s more white people afraid of a black man taking over the nation.” Schlessinger notes that those people are “afraid,” and after another exchange concerning Obama’s election, she accuses Jade of having a “[c]hip on your shoulder. I can’t do much about that.… Yeah. I think you have too much sensitivity… and not enough sense of humor.” It is all right to use racial slurs, Schlessinger says: “It’s—it depends how it’s said. Black guys talking to each other seem to think it’s okay.… So, a word is restricted to race. Got it. Can’t do much about that.” Jade, by this point clearly offended by the conversation, says, “I can’t believe someone like you is on the radio spewing out the ‘n_gger’ word, and I hope everybody heard it.” Schlessinger retorts, “I didn’t spew out the ‘n_gger’ word.” Jade responds, “You said, ‘N_gger, n_gger, n_gger.’” Schlessinger responds: “Right, I said that’s what you hear.… I’ll say it again… n_gger, n_gger, n_gger is what you hear on” black comedy broadcasts, and accuses Jade of trying to take her words “out of context. Don’t double N—NAACP me.… Leave them in context.” After concluding the call, Schlessinger tells her listeners: “Can’t have this argument. You know what? If you’re that hypersensitive about color and don’t have a sense of humor, don’t marry out of your race. If you’re going to marry out of your race, people are going to say: ‘Okay, what do blacks think? What do whites think? What do Jews think? What do Catholics think?’ Of course there isn’t a one-think per se. But in general there’s ‘think.’ And what I just heard from Jade is a lot of what I hear from black-think—and it’s really distressting [sic] and disturbing. And to put it in its context, she said the n-word, and I said, on HBO, listening to black comics, you hear ‘n_gger, n_gger, n_gger.’ I didn’t call anybody a n_gger. Nice try, Jade. Actually, sucky try.… Ah—hypersensitivity, okay, which is being bred by black activists. I really thought that once we had a black president, the attempt to demonize whites hating blacks would stop, but it seems to have grown, and I don’t get it. Yes, I do. It’s all about power. I do get it. It’s all about power and that’s sad because what should be in power is not power or righteousness to do good—that should be the greatest power.” (Media Matters 8/12/2010; RTT News 8/18/2010) The audio of the exchange between Schlessinger and Jade, and Schlessinger’s concluding remarks, is apparently deleted from the audio recording which is later posted on Schlessinger’s Web site. (Media Matters 8/12/2010)
Apology - The next day, Schlessinger begins her show with an apology, saying in part: “I talk every day about doing the right thing. And yesterday, I did the wrong thing. I didn’t intend to hurt people, but I did. And that makes it the wrong thing to have done. I was attempting to make a philosophical point, and I articulated the n-word all the way out—more than one time. And that was wrong. I’ll say it again—that was wrong. I ended up, I’m sure, with many of you losing the point I was trying to make, because you were shocked by the fact that I said the word. I, myself, realized I had made a horrible mistake, and was so upset I could not finish the show. I pulled myself off the air at the end of the hour. I had to finish the hour, because 20 minutes of dead air doesn’t work. I am very sorry. And it just won’t happen again.… The caller in question… called for help from me, and didn’t get it, because we got embroiled in the n-word, and I’m really sorry about that, because I’m here for only one reason and that’s to be helpful, so I hope Jade or somebody who knows her is listening, and hope she will call me back and I will try my best to be helpful, which is what she wanted from me in the first place and what she did not get.” (Media Matters 8/12/2010) “Jade,” the nickname of Nita Hanson, tells a CNN interviewer that she never intends to speak with Schlessinger again, saying, “There’s nothing she can do for me.” She says the entire episode was “still very hurtful,” and says she was confused by Schlessinger’s rant. “I thought I had said something wrong.” She has her own ideas as to why Schlessinger apologized: “I think she apologized because she got caught.” The racial epithet Schlessinger is “never okay” to use, Hanson says. “It’s a very hateful word.” (Boedeker 8/19/2010) Civil rights leader Reverend Al Sharpton refuses to accept Schlessinger’s apology. During a CNN interview about the incident, Sharpton says that Schlessinger’s comment that people should consider not marrying outside of their race “despicable,” and adds, “She said the word over and over, and in a very animated way, I might add, but that she actually, if you listen carefully to the logic of what she was saying was that the n-word was not offensive.” (CNN 8/13/2010)
Calls for Resignation - On August 13, the National Urban League, a politically moderate civil rights organization, issues a statement asking Talk Radio Network to drop Schlessinger from its syndicated broadcast schedule, and asks her to educate herself about racism. NUL president Marc H. Morial says: “The problem is not simply that Dr. Schlessinger used the n-word repeatedly, though that is offensive enough. Her comments to the caller showed a breathtaking insensitivity and ignorance about racial dynamics in the United States.” Morial notes that in her rant, an African-American caller complained that her white husband’s friends use racial slurs and racially demeaning comments, to which Schlessinger responded that the caller was “hypersensitive”; Morial says that Schlessinger’s most revealing comment was: “I don’t get it. If anybody without enough melanin says it, it’s a horrible thing, but when black people say it, it’s affectionate. It’s very confusing.” Morial says: “As she said, she doesn’t get it, and she is very confused about what constitutes racism. It’s beyond comprehension that Dr. Schlessinger would consider [the caller] ‘hypersensitive’ for being offended by the use of the n-word. We should be long past the point in this country where anyone should be advised to laugh off or ignore racist comments. I hope the Talk Radio Network agrees that we’ve had enough of negative racial attitudes, and drops the Dr. Laura show from syndication.” (National Urban League 8/13/2010)
Defending Schlessinger - One of the few public figures to openly defend Schlessinger is former Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), who issues a number of Facebook and Twitter posts in Schlessinger’s defense. “Does anyone seriously believe that Dr. Laura Schlessinger is a racist?” she asks on Facebook. “Anyone, I mean, who isn’t already accusing all conservatives, Republicans, tea party Americans, etc., etc., etc. of being racists?” A Twitter post reads, “Dr. Laura: don’t retreat… reload!” and says the “activists” seeking Schlessinger’s resignation are not “American” and “not fair.” (Jason Easley 8/18/2010; Penrice 8/20/2011)
Resignation, Claim that Her First Amendment Rights are under Attack by 'Special Interest Groups' - Eight days after her on-air rant, Schlessinger announces that she will conclude her radio show at the end of 2010. She explains: “I was attempting to make a philosophical point, and I articulated the n-word all the way out—more than one time. And that was wrong. I’ll say it again—that was wrong.” She tells CNN talk show host Larry King: “I want to be able to say what’s on my mind and in my heart and what I think is helpful and useful without somebody getting angry or some special-interest group deciding this is a time to silence a voice of dissent.… I decided it was time to move on to other venues where I could say my piece and not have to live in fear anymore.” Schlessinger claims that her First Amendment right to free speech is being constrained: “My contract is up at the end of the year, and I have made the decision not to do radio anymore. The reason is, I want to regain my First Amendment rights. I want to be able to say what’s on my mind and in my heart and what I think is helpful and useful without somebody getting angry, some special interest group deciding this is the time to silence a voice of dissent and attack affiliates, attack sponsors. I’m sort of done with that.” (Washington Post 8/17/2010; RTT News 8/18/2010; O'Connor 8/27/2010) Political commentator John Ridley calls Schlessinger’s claims that her “First Amendment” rights are being “trampled” “absurd.” On CNN, Ridley says: “The First Amendment, and a lot of people say this all the time, it pertains to the government impeding freedom of religion, freedom of speech.… No one’s impeding her First Amendment rights. If she wants to retire, that’s fine, but to say that for some reason someone disagrees with her, that she’s being maligned or in some way shoved off the airwaves, to me is absurd. You know, that’s her idea of an apology, to victimize herself.” (Media Matters 8/17/2010) The president of Media Matters for America, the progressive media watchdog organization, Eric Burns, applauds Schlessinger’s decision. Burns says: “Dr. Laura’s radio career ended in disgrace tonight because of the bigoted, ugly, and hateful remarks made on her show. Americans have had enough. Listeners are now holding hosts, affiliates, and sponsors accountable for the offensive and inexcusable content on the airwaves.” The New York Times notes that Schlessinger has repeatedly weathered criticism for her anti-homosexual comments and false claims that “huge” numbers of male homosexuals are “predatory on young boys.” (O'Connor 8/27/2010)
No Departure - Instead of leaving the airwaves as she claims she will do, Schlessinger will move her show from broadcast radio to satellite radio’s Sirius XM (see November 26, 2010).
Billionaire Donald Trump, the host of NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice, reportedly considers running for president in 2012 as a Republican. Trump has made similar claims in 1988 and 2000, but those were, according to Media Bistro, “just publicity stunts.” Trump is focusing on the “birther” controversy, claims from some on the right that President Obama is not a naturally-born American citizen. Though Obama has produced his birth certificate (see June 13, 2008) and satisfied constitutional requirements for proving his eligibility to serve as president, Trump and many “birthers” insist that he is actually a Kenyan citizen (see February 10, 2011, March 17, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 28, 2011, March 28-29, 2011, March 30, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 1, 2011, and April 1-8, 2011). Today, Trump takes part in contentious interviews on NBC’s Today Show, with Today co-host Meredith Vieira interviewing him; on MSNBC’s Morning Joe with Joe Scarborough; and an appearance later in the day on CNN. (On Morning Joe, former Governor Ed Rendell (D-PA) tells Trump, “Get off the birther stuff.”) Time magazine media critic James Poniewozik calls the Today interview “a trifecta of self-promotion for NBC Universal. It gave a platform to the star of Celebrity Apprentice, one of NBC’s few minor hits. It gave Today a buzzed-about interview… [a]nd it helped publicize an new NBC / Wall Street Journal poll that shows Trump tied for second as a hypothetical GOP presidential candidate.” Trump tells Vieira: “Three weeks ago when I started, I thought he was probably born in this country. Right now, I have some real doubts.… I have people that actually have been studying it and they cannot believe what they’re finding.” Trump is combative with the somewhat acquiescent Vieira, saying he is increasingly suspicious that Obama has “conned the world” about his citizenship. Trump refuses to let Vieira refute his allegations; for example, when Vieira attempts to tell Trump about Hawaii’s policy on what birth documents it makes available (see July 1, 2009), Trump merely talks loudly over her. She lets him go unchallenged with a number of long-debunked assertions. For example, Trump asserts that Obama’s grandmother claimed to have seen Obama born in Kenya (see October 16, 2008 and After), saying: “His grandmother in Kenya said, ‘Oh no, he was born in Kenya and I was there and I witnessed the birth.’ Now, she’s on tape and I think that tape’s going to be produced fairly soon.… The grandmother in Kenya is on record saying he was born in Kenya.” Poniewozik says that claim is on a par with a recent fraudulent “birth certificate” from Kenya made available on the Internet (see August 1-4, 2009); so, Poniewozik writes, “now millions of Today viewers are invited to take it as fact.” Trump also claims to have sent his own investigators to Hawaii, who have supposedly unearthed startling evidence of Obama’s Kenyan citizenship (see April 7, 2011), but does not give any specifics. Poniewozik concludes that NBC News anchor Brian Williams is likely “mortified” by Trump’s NBC appearance, considering how Williams and NBC News have “thoroughly worked over the birther conspiracies” and found them groundless. (NBC News 4/7/2011; Weprin 4/7/2011; Poniewozik 4/7/2011; St. Petersburg Times 4/7/2011) Trump’s claim that Obama has spent “over $2 million” defending himself from challenges to his citizenship is quickly shown to be false (see April 7-10, 2011).
Donald Trump, the billionaire entrepeneur and television show host who, it is rumored, may run for the Republican nomination for president in 2012, tells CNN’s Candy Crowley that he does not “like to talk about” the “birther” issue “too much.” Trump has relentlessly attacked President Obama’s citizenship—the central tenet of the “birther” issue—in recent weeks (see February 10, 2011, March 17, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 28, 2011, March 28-29, 2011, March 30, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 1-8, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 7-10, 2011, and April 7, 2011). The media watchdog blog Mediaite credits Crowley with a game attempt to “challenge Trump’s tenuous grasp of the facts surrounding President Obama’s birth, but like most conspiracy theorists, there’s no evidence too strong to ignore or too weak to believe, as long as it supports your delusion.” Trump “simply ignore[s]” the facts Crowley presents, Mediaite reports. (Christopher 4/10/2011)
Billionaire Donald Trump, the host of NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice and a rumored candidate for the Republican presidential nomination for 2012, tells a CNN interviewer to “stop asking me about a birth certificate,” referring to his relentless assault on President Obama’s alleged lack of US citizenship (see February 10, 2011, March 17, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 28, 2011, March 28-29, 2011, March 30, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 1-8, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 7, 2011, April 7-10, 2011, April 7, 2011, and April 14-15, 2011). In a recent CNN interview, Trump said he “does not like” talking about Obama’s birth certificate (see April 10, 2011). “You have to stop asking me about a birth certificate,” he says. “You’ve got to stop asking the questions. The problem is every time I go on a show—like as an example, this morning—the first question you asked me is about the birth certificate. I think my strength is jobs, the economy, and protecting our nation from OPEC, China, and the other countries that are ripping us off.” In earlier interviews, Trump has said he is “proud” to discuss the “birther” allegations. Interviewer Ali Velshi calls the birther claims “ludicrous,” and when Trump tells him to stop asking about the birth certificate, Velshi responds: “We’ll stop asking you the questions when you stop saying that President Obama can’t prove he is born in the United States. Is that a deal?” (Summers 4/21/2011)
Republican presidential contender Ron Paul (R-TX) again denies any involvement in the racist, anti-Semitic, and homophobic content printed in his newsletters for 16 years (see 1978-1996). CNN anchor Sanjay Gupta describes Paul as “kind of prickly” over the accusations of racism in the newsletters, and notes that “his story appears to have changed over the years.” In 1996, Paul admitted writing much of the newsletters’ content, admitted to the positions taken in the newsletters, and called questions about his newsletters “gutter politics” (see May 22 - October 11, 1996). He began denying their content, and his involvement in his newsletters, in 2001 (see October 1, 2001). In 2007 and 2008, he freely admitted supporting the implicitly racist John Birch Society (JBS—see July 22, 2007, August 4, 2008 and December 2011). He denied knowing anything about the newsletters’ objectionable content in 2008 (see January 8-15, 2008 and January 16, 2008) when the questions arose during that year’s presidential contests; Paul supporters accused rival libertarians of smearing Paul’s character (see January 12-15, 2008). In May 2011, Paul was one of five Republican presidential candidates to take part in a debate sponsored in part by the JBS and a racist militia group (see May 5, 2011). Today, Paul walks out of an interview with CNN reporter Gloria Borger rather than continue to answer her questions about his newsletters. He tells Borger that he read the newsletters published under his name “on occasion,” and implies that he was too busy with his medical practice to pay close attention to the newsletters. “You know, I didn’t write them and I don’t endorse those views and I’ve explained it many times,” he tells Borger. “I never read that stuff. I never—I would never—I came—I was probably aware of it 10 years after it was written, and it’s been going on 20 years that people have pestered me about this, and CNN does every single time. So when are you going to wear yourself out?” Paul says even asking about the newsletters is not legitimate, and instead the media should just accept his denials and move on. Borger says such questioning is legitimate because “[t]hese things are pretty incendiary, you know.” Paul retorts, “Because of people like you.” When Borger presses the issue, Paul walks away and refuses to answer further questions. Conservative blogger Erick Erickson of RedState (.com), who is not a Paul supporter, asks Gupta why in 2008 Paul “allowed neo-Nazi Web sites to fundraise for him. We can ask him why three years ago he went on Iranian TV to say that Israelis had set up concentration camps to indiscriminately kill Palestinians.… But I think a more relevant question is, if we can’t go back and ask him these questions from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, why then he—can he go back to the ‘90s and attack [fellow Republican presidential candidates] Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney or Rick Perry for things? They wrote it. Does he believe this is a legitimate double standard?… Ron Paul supporters frequently attacked Barack Obama for sitting in Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s church (see January 6-11, 2008) and Barack Obama has denied ever hearing Jeremiah Wright’s sermons. How is Ron Paul’s denial of knowing these things any different from going after Barack Obama for the Reverend Wright matter? There is none. They can’t defend that.” (CNN 12/21/2011) Note: Erickson is referring to a specific sermon of Wright’s, where he denounced what he called America’s “white arrogance.” Obama did not hear the sermon because he was not in Illinois at the time (see August 1, 2008 and After).
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)
The liberal news Web site Think Progress cites the two-year anniversary of the SpeechNow.org v. Federal Elections Commission ruling (see March 26, 2010), which allowed the creation of “super PACs,” or “independent expenditure” organizations. Think Progress writes, “Combined with the unlimited corporate expenditures enabled by the Supreme Court’s earlier Citizens United decision (see January 21, 2010), this case brought the campaign finance system to where it is now: more than $80 million spent already this cycle by super PACs and more than two-thirds of their funding coming from just 46 rich donors.” $67 million of the $80 million spent so far comes from 46 extraordinarily wealthy citizens. Almost all of them are owners and/or senior executives of oil and energy companies, hoteliers, and financial executives. Almost all are white and male. And almost all of them contribute to conservative and Republican-supporting groups (see February 21, 2012). John Dunbar of the Center for Public Integrity says, “We’re looking at a singularly weird phenomenon.” The super PAC supporting Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney (R-MA), himself a former financial services CEO, is primarily funded by Wall Street executives, mostly private equity and hedge fund executives. One major Romney contributor, hedge fund manager John Paulson, has contributed $1 million. Paulson made enormous profits in 2008 by investing funds in ventures based on the mortgage industry collapse. Viveca Novak of the Center for Responsive Politics says, “The financial sector is one where there’s a lot of money, and it’s a sector with which Romney is very familiar, so it’s not surprising that it would be a big source of contributions.” Other Republican candidates such as Newt Gingrich (R-GA), Rick Santorum (R-PA), and Ron Paul (R-TX) also garner big contributions from billionaires. Gingrich is primarily funded by casino owner Sheldon Adelson, who makes much of his money in Las Vegas and China’s Macau. Paul has the backing of billionaire Peter Thiel, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, and Santorum is primarily supported by billionaire Foster Friess (see February 16-17, 2012)—arguably all three candidates’ campaigns are being supported by single donors who decide whether their campaigns will continue by virtue of granting or withholding donations. Attorney Paul S. Ryan of Campaign Legal Center says: “We’ve had a small group of donors maintain the viability of certain candidates. It’s an Alice in Wonderland situation. It defies logic.… American elections are funded by a very narrow range of special interests, and that has the effect of making our democracy look a lot more like a plutocracy.” Thomas Mann of the Brookings Institution says it is sometimes difficult to discern the motivations behind billionaires’ funding of certain candidates, but billionaire Harold Simmons, who made his fortune in leveraged buyouts and corporate takeovers, says he is funding conservative super PACs because President Obama is a “socialist.” The Wall Street Journal has noted that Simmons and others like him would profit greatly if their industries were less regulated by government agencies. If Republicans do well in the November elections, Simmons told the Journal that “we can block that crap [regulations].” Conservative super PACs are far outstripping the super PAC backing the Obama re-election campaign as well as other Democrats running for office. Mann says, “The pool of billionaires who can throw tens of millions into the game—and are inclined to do so—is concentrated on the right.” Obama has so far been reluctant to get involved in his super PAC’s fundraising activities, but recent statements by his campaign indicate that White House aides will try to help Priorities USA Action, the Obama super PAC, raise more money in the near future. Obama campaign manager Jim Messina says the Obama campaign is in danger of being overwhelmed by the fundraising from conservative billionaires. CNN states that the most notable effect of super PAC funding might not be on the presidential race, but on “downticket” races for Congress. Much smaller outlays of super PAC money can have extraordinary impacts on such races. Dunbar says, “An individual donor and a super PAC could go off to some district in Kentucky and just completely destroy some candidate because he doesn’t favor what’s good for your business.” (Think Progress 3/26/2012; CNN 3/26/2012; Stone 6/16/2012)
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