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Roger Ailes, the senior media consultant for the Nixon administration (see 1968), writes, or helps write, a secret memo for President Nixon and fellow Republicans outlining a plan for conservatives to “infiltrate and neutralize” the mainstream American media. The document will not be released until 2011; experts will call it the “intellectual forerunner” to Fox News, which Ailes will launch as a “fair and balanced” news network in 1996 (see October 7, 1996). John Cook, the editor of the online news and commentary magazine Gawker, will call the document the outline of a “nakedly partisan… plot by Ailes and other Nixon aides to circumvent the ‘prejudices of network news’ and deliver ‘pro-administration’ stories to heartland television viewers.” The document is entitled “A Plan for Putting the GOP on TV News.” Ailes, currently the owner of REA Productions and Ailes Communications Inc., works for the Nixon White House as a media consultant; he will serve the same function for President George H.W. Bush during his term. Ailes is a forceful advocate for using television to shape the message of the Nixon administration and of Republican policies in general. He frequently suggests launching elaborately staged events to entice favorable coverage from television reporters, and uses his contacts at the news networks to head off negative publicity. Ailes writes that the Nixon White House should run a partisan, pro-Republican media operation—essentially a self-contained news production organization—out of the White House itself. He complains that the “liberal media” “censors” the news to portray Nixon and his administration in a negative light. Cook will say the plan “reads today like a detailed precis for a Fox News prototype.” The initial idea may have originated with Nixon chief of staff H.R. Haldeman, but if so, Ailes expands and details the plan far beyond Haldeman’s initial seed of an idea. (Roger Ailes 1970; Cook 6/30/2011) In 2011, Rolling Stone journalist Tim Dickinson will write: “This is an astounding find. It underscores Ailes’s early preoccupation with providing the GOP with a way to do an end run around skeptical journalists.” (Dickinson 7/1/2011)
Focus on Television - Ailes insists that any such media plan should focus on television and not print. Americans are “lazy,” he writes, and want their thinking done for them: “Today television news is watched more often than people read newspapers, than people listen to the radio, than people read or gather any other form of communication. The reason: People are lazy. With television you just sit—watch—listen. The thinking is done for you.” Ailes says the Nixon administration should create its own news network “to provide pro-administration, videotape, hard news actualities to the major cities of the United States.” Other television news outlets such as NBC News, ABC News, CBS News, and PBS News, are “the enemy,” he writes, and suggests going around them by creating packaged, edited news stories and interviews directly to local television stations. (Years later, these kinds of “news reports” will be called “video news releases,” or VNRs, and will routinely be used by the George W. Bush administration and others—see March 15, 2004, May 19, 2004, March 2005, and March 13, 2005. They will be outlawed in 2005—see May 2005.) “This is a plan that places news of importance to localities (senators and representatives are newsmakers of importance to their localities) on local television news programs while it is still news. It avoids the censorship, the priorities, and the prejudices of network news selectors and disseminators.” Ailes and his colleagues include detailed cost analyses and production plans for such news releases. In a side note on the document, Ailes writes: “Basically a very good idea. It should be expanded to include other members of the administration such as cabinet involved in activity with regional or local interest. Also could involve GOP governors when in DC. Who would purchase equipment and run operation—White House? RNC [Republican National Committee]? Congressional caucus? Will get some flap about news management.”
Dirty Tricks - Ailes suggests planting “volunteers” within the Wallace campaign, referring to segregationist George Wallace (D-AL), whose third-party candidacy in 1968 almost cost Nixon the presidency. Ailes knows Wallace is planning a 1972 run as well, and is apparently suggesting a “mole” to either gather intelligence, carry out sabotage, or both. (Wallace’s plans for another run will be cut short by an assassination attempt—see May 15, 1972.) Ailes also suggests having his firm film interviews with Democrats who support Nixon’s Vietnam policies, such as Senators John Stennis (D-MS) and John McClellan (D-AR). Though Stennis and McClellan would believe that the interviews were for actual news shows, they would actually be carried out by Ailes operatives and financed by a Nixon campaign front group, the “Tell it to Hanoi Committee.” In June 1970, someone in the Nixon administration scuttles the plan, writing: “[T]he fact that this presentation is White House directed, unbeknownst to the Democrats on the show, presents the possibility of a leak that could severely embarrass the White House and damage significantly its already precarious relationship with the Congress. Should two powerful factors like Stennis and McClellan discover they are dupes for the administration the scandal could damage the White House for a long time to come.”
Volunteers to Head Program - Ailes writes that he wants to head any such “news network,” telling Haldeman: “Bob—if you decide to go ahead we would as a production company like to bid on packaging the entire project. I know what has to be done and we could test the feasibility for 90 days without making a commitment beyond that point.” Haldeman will grant Ailes’s request in November 1970, and will give the project a name: “Capitol News Service.” Haldeman will write: “With regard to the news programming effort as proposed last summer, Ailes feels this is a good idea and that we should be going ahead with it. Haldeman suggested the name ‘Capitol News Service’ and Ailes will probably be doing more work in this area.” Documents fail to show whether the “Capitol News Service” is ever actually implemented. (Roger Ailes 1970; Cook 6/30/2011)
Television News Incorporated - Ailes will be fired from the Nixon administration in 1971; he will go on to start a similar private concern, “Television News Incorporated” (TVN—see 1971-1975), an ideological and practical predecessor to Fox News. Dickinson will write: “More important, [the document] links the plot to create what would become Television News Incorporated—the Ailes-helmed ‘fair and balanced’ mid-1970s precursor to Fox News—to the Nixon White House itself.” (Cook 6/30/2011; Dickinson 7/1/2011) A former business colleague of Ailes’s will say in 2011: “Everything Roger wanted to do when he started out in politics, he’s now doing 24/7 with his network [Fox News]. It’s come full circle.” (Dickinson 5/25/2011)
Roger Ailes, a former media consultant to the Nixon administration (see Summer 1970) who proposed a White House-run “news network” that would promote Republican-generated propaganda over what he calls “liberal” news reporting (see Summer 1970), moves on to try the idea in the private venue. Ailes works with a project called Television News Incorporated (TVN), a propaganda venue funded by right-wing beer magnate Joseph Coors. Conservative activist and Coors confidant Paul Weyrich will later call Ailes “the godfather behind the scenes” of TVN. To cloak the “news” outlet’s far-right slant, Ailes coins the slogan “Fair and Balanced” for TVN. In 2011, Rolling Stone reporter Tim Dickinson will write: “TVN made no sense as a business. The… news service was designed to inject a far-right slant into local news broadcasts by providing news clips that stations could use without credit—and for a fraction of the true costs of production. Once the affiliates got hooked on the discounted clips, its president explained, TVN would ‘gradually, subtly, slowly’ inject ‘our philosophy in the news.’ The network was, in the words of a news director who quit in protest, a ‘propaganda machine.’” Within weeks of TVN’s inception, its staff of professional journalists eventually has enough of the overt propaganda of their employer and begin defying management orders; Coors and TVN’s top management fire 16 staffers and bring in Ailes to run the operation. The operation is never successful, but during his tenure at TVN, Ailes begins plotting the development of a right-wing news network very similar in concept to the as-yet-unborn Fox News. TVN plans to invest millions in satellite distribution that would allow it not only to distribute news clips to other broadcasters, but to provide a full newscast with its own anchors and crew (a model soon used by CNN). Dickinson will write, “For Ailes, it was a way to extend the kind of fake news that he was regularly using as a political strategist.” Ailes tells a Washington Post reporter in 1972: “I know certain techniques, such as a press release that looks like a newscast. So you use it because you want your man to win.” Ailes contracts with Ford administration officials to produce propaganda for the federal government, providing news clips and scripts to the US Information Agency. Ailes insists that the relationship is not a conflict of interest. Unfortunately for Ailes and Coors, TVN collapses in 1975. One of its biggest problems is the recalcitrance of its journalists, who continue to resist taking part in what they see as propaganda operations. Ailes biographer Kerwin Swint will later say, “They were losing money and they weren’t able to control their journalists.” In a 2011 article for the online news and commentary magazine Gawker, John Cook will write: “Though it died in 1975, TVN was obviously an early trial run for the powerhouse Fox News would become. The ideas were the same—to route Republican-friendly stories around the gatekeepers at the network news divisions.” Dickinson will write that one of the lessons Ailes learns from TVN, and will employ at Fox, is to hire journalists who put ideological committment ahead of journalistic ethics—journalists who will “toe the line.” (Dickinson 5/25/2011; Cook 6/30/2011) Ailes will go on to found Fox News, using the “fair and balanced” slogan to great effect (see October 7, 1996 and 1995).
Radio personality Rush Limbaugh hosts his own late-night television show; Roger Ailes, the Republican campaign consultant (see 1968, January 25, 1988, and September 21 - October 4, 1988), is his executive producer. On this show, Limbaugh gives his response to African-American filmmaker Spike Lee’s recommendation that African-American children be allowed to skip school to watch his biographical docudrama Malcolm X: “Spike, if you’re going to do that, let’s complete the education experience. You should tell them that they should loot the theater and then blow it up on their way out.” (Media Matters 10/27/2009) Ailes will go on to found Fox News (see October 7, 1996).
Radio personality Rush Limbaugh hosts his own late-night television show; Roger Ailes, the Republican campaign consultant (see 1968, January 25, 1988, and September 21 - October 4, 1988), is Limbaugh’s executive producer. On this show, Limbaugh notes a recent comment of Senator Strom Thurmond (R-SC), who told a gay solder that his lifestyle was “not normal” and advised the soldier to get psychiatric help. Thurmond, who ran for president in 1948 on an explicitly racist, segregationist third-party platform and who led the “Dixiecrat” exodus of Southern racists out of the Democratic Party (see March 12, 1956 and After), is praised by Limbaugh. The commentator says of Thurmond: “He is not encumbered by trying to be politically correct. He’s not encumbered by all of the—the so-called new niceties and proprieties. He just says it, and if you want to know what America used to be—and a lot of people wish it still were—then you listen to Strom Thurmond.… He got a standing ovation. Now people—people applauded that. People applaud—because—you know, Strom Thurmond can say it because he’s 90 years old and people say: ‘Ah, he’s just an old coot. He’s from the old days,’ and so forth. But that’s what most people think. They just don’t have the guts to say it. That’s why they applaud when somebody does say it that directly and that simply.” (Media Matters 10/27/2009) Ailes will go on to found Fox News (see October 7, 1996).
Fox News registers the slogan “fair and balanced” as a trademark for its news and opinion broadcasts. In 2008, authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella will note that conservative-slanted Fox News (see October 7, 1996 and December 20, 2004) lives up, in a sense, to its promise of “fair and balanced” news and opinion by “simply inviting liberal guests—not by ensuring that their ideas will receive compatible time.” They will note, “The notion of different amounts of access is important, because we know that in highly controlled settings, mere exposure to signs and symbols produces a preference for them.” Fox disproportionately exposes its audience to conservative messages and arguments more than moderate or liberal ones. As a result, the authors observe, “[a]n audience that gravitates primarily to conservative sources whose message is consistent and repetitive is more susceptible to alternate points of view in approximately equal amounts.” The authors will continue, “Fox’s claim that Fox is unbiased because it is ‘fair and balanced’ is made with a wink and a nod.” They will quote conservative editorialist Robert Bartley of the Wall Street Journal (see January 20, 2003) and conservative financier Richard Viguerie (see July 2004) to bolster their argument. (Collins 8/12/2003; Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 49)
The FBI orders reporters and photographers to leave a hill overlooking the Montana Freemen compound, currently surrounded by law enforcement authorities (see March 25, 1996), but deny that the move is a prelude to a raid against the group. “We’re trying to do everything we can to peacefully resolve the situation,” Attorney General Janet Reno says, “and we will continue those efforts.” FBI officials say they decided to evict the news media after a Fox Television news crew went to a fence around the compound the night of May 28, and attempted to negotiate for interviews without FBI knowledge. “The negotiators have their own strategy for contacting the Freemen and don’t want this kind of disruption,” says a senior official in Washington, speaking on condition of anonymity. Fox News chairman Roger Ailes complains that his journalists are being used as scapegoats, and alleges that the FBI had planned on moving the news media from the hill well before they made contact with the Freemen. (Associated Press 5/30/1996)
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)
Investigative reporters Jane Akre and her husband Steve Wilson are hired by WTVT-TV, the Tampa, Florida, Fox News affiliate, to become part of its “Investigators” team. They soon begin filming a report on bovine growth hormone (BGH), a controversial substance manufactured by Monsanto. Their four-part report finds that BGH poses numerous health risks to milk consumers, including the threat of cancer, and that Florida supermarket chains routinely lie to their customers about not selling milk that contains BGH. Akre and Wilson will later recall that the local station is thrilled with the report. But after Monsanto complains to Fox News chief Roger Ailes about the report, the station’s general manager, David Boylan, tells Akre and Wilson to redo their film: to include statements from Monsanto that the filmmakers know to be false, and to make other revisions to the story that contradict the facts. According to Akre and Wilson, one Fox lawyer tells them that “it doesn’t matter if the facts are true,” what matters is the size of the lawsuit Monsanto might file against WTVT and Fox. Boylan tells the filmmakers that the position of Fox Television is: “We paid $3 billion for these television stations. We will decide what the news is. The news is what we tell you it is.” Akre and Wilson revise the story some 70 times, none of which passes muster with the station or with network officials. The couple is variously suspended without pay, suspended with pay, locked out of their workspace, and offered money to “just go away.” In late November 1997, when they threaten to inform the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of the incident, WTVT fires them. They will file a lawsuit against WTVT and against Fox Television (see August 18, 2000). (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting 6/1998; BGH Bulletin 2004; St. Louis Journalism Review 12/1/2007) Wilson later says: “Every editor has the right to kill a story and any honest reporter will tell you that happens from time to time when a news organization’s self interest wins out over the public interest. But when media managers who are not journalists have so little regard for the public trust that they actually order reporters to broadcast false information and slant the truth to curry the favor or avoid the wrath of special interests as happened here, that is the day any responsible reporter has to stand up and say, ‘No way!’ That is what Jane and I are saying with this lawsuit.… We set out to tell Florida consumers the truth a giant chemical company and a powerful dairy lobby clearly doesn’t want them to know. That used to be something investigative reporters won awards for. As we’ve learned the hard way, it’s something you can be fired for these days whenever a news organization places more value on its bottom line than on delivering the news to its viewers honestly.” Akre will add: “We are parents ourselves. It is not right for the station to withhold this important health information and solely as a matter of conscience we will not aid and abet their effort to cover this up any longer. Every parent and every consumer have the right to know what they’re pouring on their children’s morning cereal.” (BGH Bulletin 2004) Akre and Wilson will win the Goldman Environmental Prize for their original report in 2001. (Prize 2001)
Fox News chairman Roger Ailes (see October 7, 1996), a Republican campaign consultant (see 1968, January 25, 1988, and September 21 - October 4, 1988), chooses an unlikely reporter to anchor Fox’s election night coverage: John Prescott Ellis, a freelance Republican political adviser and the first cousin of George W. Bush (R-TX), the Republican presidential candidate. (Ellis is the son of George Herbert Walker Bush’s sister, Nancy Ellis.) Ellis was originally hired to cover the party primaries. A later study of voting patterns by the University of California will determine that in areas where voters have access to Fox News, the network’s relentless pro-Bush coverage shifts some 200,000 votes from Democrat Al Gore (D-TN) to Bush, but Ailes wants to make sure his network’s coverage is favorable to Bush, and has always had Ellis in mind for the election night anchor position, for which he specifically gives Ellis a 30-day contract. Ellis is very close to Bush’s brother Jeb Bush (R-FL), the sitting governor of Florida (“Jeb” is an acronym for his full name, John Ellis Bush). Ellis recused himself from campaign coverage in a June 1999 Boston Globe column, defending George W. Bush from allegations of cocaine use, calling the Clinton-Gore administration “morally berserk,” and telling his readers, “There is no way for you to know if I am telling you the truth about George W. Bush’s presidential campaign, because in his case, my loyalty goes to him and not to you.” Instead of this posing an ethical dilemma or being seen as a conflict of interest at Fox, Ellis is Ailes’s first and only choice to anchor the network’s election coverage. (Ailes will later tell a February 2001 House committee hearing, “We at Fox News do not discriminate against people because of their family connections”—see February 14, 2001.) (Kurtz 11/14/2000; Boehlert 11/15/2000; Wittstock 11/19/2000; Associated Press 12/11/2000; Niman 12/14/2000; Moore 11/6/2006; Sherman 5/22/2011) Ellis will pre-emptively call the election for Bush, sparking the Florida recount controversy and helping propel his cousin into the White House (see November 7-8, 2000). In a response to testimony in the same February 2001 House committee hearing, Joan Konner, a journalism professor who will lead a CNN-commissioned independent study of the problems in that network’s election night coverage, will call Ellis’s hiring a substantial breach of journalistic ethics and standards. “If John Ellis had, indeed, made comments stating that his loyalties to the Bush family superceded any commitment he has to his profession or his employer, then I would judge that to be not only a perceived conflict-of-interest but a real conflict-of-interest for a journalist,” she will write in a letter to Representative John Dingell (D-MI). “While that does not disqualify an individual from any position as a journalist, it would, in my judgement, disqualify that person for any decision-making role involving reporting on his relatives during an election. Often friends and relatives are hired by journalism organizations because of their connections to the newsmakers. Their access to sources makes them valuable to the organization. However, the news organization should take every precaution against placing such an individual in an assignment that could result in bias in reporting.” (House of Representatives, Committee on Energy and Commerce 2/14/2001)
Fox News chief Roger Ailes has hired John Prescott Ellis, a freelance Republican political advisor and an intensely loyal cousin of presidential candidate George W. Bush (R-TX), to head the network’s election-night coverage for the 2000 presidential election (see October-November 2000). During the election, Ellis is in constant contact with Bush and his senior campaign aides, speaking with Bush himself five separate times during the evening.
Calling Florida for Gore - At 7:52 p.m., Bush’s brother Jeb Bush (R-FL), the sitting governor of Florida, calls Ellis to protest when Fox “mistakenly” projects Florida as going to Al Gore (D-TN). Ellis tells Jeb Bush that he is looking at a computer “screenful of Gore.” Bush reminds Ellis, “But the polls haven’t closed in the panhandle.” Ellis replies, “It’s not going to help.” Voter News Service (VNS), the voting consortium the networks all use, rates the race a 99.5 percent certainty that Gore has won Florida, a conclusion that VNS and network officials alike later say was a mistake (see February 14, 2001). The prediction is indeed inaccurate; within minutes, Gore’s lead begins to shrink again. At 9:38 p.m., VNS issues a correction of an inaccurate vote count for Duval County, stripping Gore of a number of phantom votes, and the race is again far too close to call.
Calling Florida for Bush - At 2:10 a.m., Ellis sees data from VNS that shows Bush with a 51,433-vote lead, and 179,713 votes left to be counted. (The latter figure is grossly inaccurate, later data proves; over 350,000 votes actually remain to be counted.) Gore would need 63 percent of those votes to win, a scenario that is statistically unlikely. Ellis calls Jeb Bush to say that it is “statistically impossible” for Bush to lose. Around 2:15 a.m., Ellis puts the telephone down and excitedly announces to his team: “Jebbie says we got it! Jebbie says we got it!” Even though Florida is still rated “too close to call” by VNS, Fox News vice president John Moody gives the go-ahead to project Bush the winner in Florida. Fox News anchor Brit Hume makes the call for Bush at 2:16 a.m. The other networks hurriedly, and inaccurately, follow suit. (Kurtz 11/14/2000; Wittstock 11/19/2000; Associated Press 12/11/2000; Niman 12/14/2000; Shepard 1/2001; Moore 11/6/2006; Sherman 5/22/2011) Hume himself is a bit apprehensive of the call. “I must tell you, everybody, after all this, all night long, we put Bush at 271, Gore at 243,” he tells Fox viewers. “I feel a little bit apprehensive about the whole thing. I have no reason to doubt our decision desk, but there it is.” (Reaves 11/15/2000)
Other Networks Follow Suit - As Hume is announcing Bush’s “victory” in Florida, NBC News election coverage chief Sheldon Gawiser is on the telephone with Murray Edelman, the editorial director for VNS. Gawiser is considering calling Florida for Bush, and wants to discuss calling the race for Bush while citing Edelman and VNS as the sources responsible for such a call. Edelman is shocked that Gawiser wants to make any call with Bush’s lead not only very small, but dwindling. But as the two are talking, Fox’s announcement comes over NBC’s monitors, and Gawiser breaks off the call, saying: “Sorry, gotta go. Fox just called it.” At 2:17 a.m., NBC projects Bush the winner in Florida and the next president of the United States. The joint decision team for CBS and CNN, Warren Mitofsky and Joe Lenski, make the same decision a minute later. After CBS declares Bush’s victory, anchor Dan Rather tells viewers: “Let’s give a tip of the Stetson to the loser, Vice President Al Gore, and at the same time, a big tip and a hip, hip, hurrah and a great big Texas howdy to the new president of the United States. Sip it, savor it, cup it, photostat it, underline it in red, press it in a book, put it in an album, hang it on the wall—George W. Bush is the next president of the United States.” The ABC decision team resists making the call, not trusting the data (it had similar reservations about the earlier call for Gore), but according to ABC election consultant John Blydenburgh, a network executive overrides the decision team and has ABC declare Bush the projected winner at 2:20 a.m. Blydenburgh says the executive does not want ABC to look “foolish” by being the only network not to recognize Bush as the next president. The Associated Press (AP) refuses to make the call, saying that its figures show Bush with only a 30,000-vote lead, and that steadily dwindling (by 2:30 a.m., Bush’s lead, by the AP’s count, is below 19,000 votes; a glitch in the Volusia County numbers that comes in minutes after the call for Bush slashes Bush’s lead considerably, validating the AP’s reluctance to make the call). But the television broadcasts drive the story. Network pundits immediately begin dissecting Bush’s “victory” and speculating as to why Gore “lost.” (Shepard 1/2001; Moore 11/6/2006) Shortly after 3 a.m., CBS’s Ed Bradley begins informing viewers that the AP numbers show Bush with a lead of only 6,000 votes. Rather tells the viewers that if the AP is correct, the previous call for Bush may be premature. “Let’s not joke about it folks,” he says. “You have known all night long and we’ve said to you all night long that these estimates of who wins and who loses are based on the best available information we have. CBS News has the best track record in the business, over a half century plus, for accuracy on election night. But nobody’s perfect.” However, few listen to either CBS’s caveats or the AP’s refusal to call the election. (Shepard 1/2001) By 4:52 a.m., Bush’s lead has dwindled to 1,888 votes.
Fox Leads the Narrative for Bush - Gore initially concedes the race, but when the networks begin retracting their declaration and return Florida to the “too close to call” status, he retracts his concession. In their last conversation of the evening, Bush tells Ellis that Gore has taken back his concession, and says: “I hope you’re taking all this down, Ellis. This is good stuff for a book.” The morning headlines in most daily papers declare Bush the winner; much of the news coverage slams Gore as indulging in “sour grapes” for not conceding the election. Rather later says: “We’ll never know whether Bush won the election in Florida or not. But when you reach these kinds of situations, the ability to control the narrative becomes critical. Led by Fox, the narrative began to be that Bush had won the election.” In 2011, Rolling Stone reporter Tim Dickinson will write, “A ‘news’ network controlled by a GOP operative who had spent decades shaping just such political narratives—including those that helped elect the candidate’s father—declared George W. Bush the victor based on the analysis of a man who had proclaimed himself loyal to Bush over the facts.” After the election, House Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) says: “Of everything that happened on election night, this was the most important in impact. It immeasurably helped George Bush maintain the idea in people’s minds that he was the man who won the election.” (Wittstock 11/19/2000; Associated Press 12/11/2000; Niman 12/14/2000; Sherman 5/22/2011) Ellis later writes that Bush did not try to influence his coverage. “Governor Bush was, as always, considerate of my position,” Ellis will write. “He knew that I would be fried if I gave him anything that VNS deemed confidential, so he never asked for it. He made a point of getting the early exit poll data from other sources before talking to me.” (Associated Press 12/11/2000)
Criticism of Fox, Ellis - Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, later says of Ellis and Fox while the election is still in dispute: “The notion you’d have the cousin of one presidential candidate in a position to call a state, and the election, is unthinkable. Fox’s call—wrong, unnecessary, misguided, foolish—helped create a sense that the election went to Bush, was pulled back, and it’s just a matter of time before his president-elect title is restored. But that said, John Ellis is a good man, a good journalist whose judgment was overcome by excitement. He put himself in an impossible situation, but the mistake was not so much his as Rupert Murdoch’s for putting him in that position.… Everybody knows it’s a partisan channel, but its marketing slogan, ‘We report; you decide,’ is now totally obliterated by the fact that one candidate’s first cousin is actually deciding, and then they report.” (Rosenstiel is apparently unaware that Murdoch, who owns Fox News’s parent company News Corporation, did not make the call to hire Ellis.) Rosenstiel’s colleague Carl Gottlieb is less restrained, saying: “It’s beyond belief. The network should not have allowed Ellis to report on this election. As a viewer, after reading this story and reading about Ellis’s involvement in calling the race, you can’t help but get the idea that this guy’s complicit in what’s going on now down in Florida.” Murdoch will later claim that Fox News displayed “no partisanship” in its election-night coverage. Ellis will later tell a reporter: “It was just the three of us guys handing the phone back and forth—me with the numbers, one of them a governor, the other president-elect. Now that was cool. And everybody followed us.” (Wittstock 11/19/2000; Moore 11/6/2006) Ellis will also later deny telling his team that “Jebbie” gave him the go-ahead to call the election for Bush, instead saying he made the call based on his own calculations. Statistician Cynthia Talkov, the only member of Fox’s election team who actually understands the VNS statistical models, later says she never saw Ellis making any such calculations, and will say Ellis did not ask her for her opinion for his call, though every other projection that evening was made with her explicit approval. Talkov is one of the people who will confirm that Ellis received the go-ahead to call the election from Jeb Bush. A post-election analysis prepared by outside reviewers for CNN later issues sharp criticisms of the networks, noting, “On Election Day 2000, television news organizations staged a collective drag race on the crowded highway of democracy, recklessly endangering the electoral process, the political life of the country, and their own credibility.” Mitofsky, who invested election polls and developed the election night projection system the networks use, later calls Ellis’s actions “the most unprofessional election night work I could ever imagine. He had no business talking to the Bush brothers or to any other politician about what he was doing.” On the other hand, Ailes will characterize Ellis’s actions as those of “a good journalist talking to his very high-level sources on election night.” (Moore 11/6/2006)
Fox 'Investigation' Comes Up Empty - Fox News will announce an “investigation” of any conflicts of interest or unprofessional behavior concerning Ellis’s role in declaring Bush the winner, but nothing will come of any such investigation. The “investigation” will find that Ellis gave no VNS information to either George W. Bush, Jeb Bush, or any Bush campaign official, though Ellis himself will freely admit to a New Yorker reporter that he shared VNS data with both Bushes repeatedly during the evening. Such sharing of data would constitute a violation of journalistic ethics as well as possible criminal behavior. (Wittstock 11/19/2000; Moore 11/6/2006) Ailes had specifically warned his team not to share VNS information with anyone from the campaigns. (Boehlert 11/15/2000) Before the investigation is even launched, Moody will say: “Appearance of impropriety? I don’t think there’s anything improper about it as long as he doesn’t behave improperly, and I have no evidence he did.… John has always conducted himself in an extremely professional manner.” (Kurtz 11/14/2000)
Based on Voter News Service (VNS) projections from exit polling, the Associated Press projects Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic presidential candidate, as the winner of the Florida elections over Governor George W. Bush (R-TX). Gore’s victory, if confirmed, would give him the electoral votes he needs to win the US presidency. The major television networks—ABC News, CBS News, Fox News, and NBC News—call Florida for Gore between 7:50 and 8:00 p.m. (Leip 2008) In light of the predictions of a Gore victory, Bush decides to abandon his plans to watch the rest of the returns from a suite in the Austin, Texas, Four Seasons Hotel, and instead returns to the relative privacy of the governor’s mansion in Austin. (Tapper 3/2001) Florida polling places in the Central Time Zone do not close until 8:00 p.m., so the networks’ projection that Florida is going to Gore comes out 10 minutes before those polling places—all in Florida’s “Panhandle” region, a Republican stronghold—close. Bush campaign officials will later allege that the networks called Florida for Gore an hour before the polls closed, potentially discouraging some Bush voters from casting their votes. The liberal news Web site Consortium News will later observe: “Though the networks certainly could have and obviously should have waited, it is unclear that any Bush voter decided not to go to the polls because of a projection that occurred only minutes before the polls closed. It’s unlikely that more than a few late-arriving voters were even aware of Gore’s projected victory.” (Consortium News 11/22/2000) Many Florida lawmakers and officials are shocked by the pronouncement. Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) will later recall feeling that the networks are “stretching it” to make such a prediction. Broward County elections supervisor Jane Carroll will say acidly, “That’s very kind of [the networks] to just give this away.” Broward has yet to tally a single vote. Broward canvassing board chairman Judge Robert Lee is incredulous at the announcement, and like Graham and others, is disturbed that the networks would call the election before the polls are closed. As the evening goes on and the returns begin to come in, Lee wonders, “Why are they calling Florida for Gore when it’s so close?” Bush campaign strategist Karl Rove goes on the air to argue that Florida is still in play, and to complain about the networks’ choice to project Florida for Gore before the Panhandle counties have concluded their polling. The VNS voting predictions are later shown to be badly flawed, with a number of erroneous estimates, a drastic overestimation of African-American (Democratic) votes in Miami-Dade and a corresponding underestimation of Cuban-American (Republican) votes in that county, and poorly managed exit polling. (Tapper 3/2001)
The Associated Press’s projection that Vice President Al Gore won Florida’s presidential election (see 7:50 p.m., November 7, 2000) collapses in the wake of new poll results. Governor George W. Bush (R-TX), Gore’s opponent, tells reporters: “The networks called this thing awfully early, but the people actually counting the votes are coming up with a different perspective. So we’re pretty darn upbeat about things.” By 10:00 p.m., the major television networks—ABC News, CBS News, Fox News, and NBC News—begin retracting their earlier projection of Gore’s victory and revert Florida to the “too close to call” category. (Leip 2008)
Republican presidential contender George W. Bush (R-TX) appears to enjoy a late surge in Florida votes, securing what appears to be a slim but decisive lead of some 50,000 votes. Led by Fox News (see October-November 2000 and November 7-8, 2000), the four major television networks—ABC News, CBS News, Fox News, and NBC News—begin declaring Bush the projected winner of Florida and therefore the winner of the US presidential elections. By 2:20 a.m., the last of the networks has projected Bush as the winner. (Sack and Bruni 11/9/2000; Leip 2008) The Associated Press (AP) refuses to make the call, saying that its figures show Bush with only a 30,000-vote lead, and that steadily dwindling. By 2:30 a.m., Bush’s lead, by the AP’s count, is below 19,000 votes; a glitch in the Volusia County numbers that comes in minutes after the call for Bush slashes Bush’s lead considerably, validating the AP’s reluctance to make the call. But the television broadcasts drive the story. Network pundits immediately begin dissecting Bush’s “victory” and speculating as to why Gore “lost.” (Shepard 1/2001; Moore 11/6/2006) After the Fox announcement, Gore campaign manager Donna Brazile sends Gore a text message reading: “Never surrender. It’s not over yet.” But others in the campaign feel the campaign is indeed over. Gore’s brother-in-law Frank Hunger later recalls, “They were just so damn positive,” referring to the networks. “And they were talking about 50,000 votes, and we never dreamed they would be inaccurate.” The Gore campaign’s deputy campaign manager for communications, Mark D. Fabiani, will later recall: “I felt so deflated. It had been an evening where you won and then lost and winning felt a lot better than losing. You had been up and down and swung around and then dumped out on your head.” (Sack and Bruni 11/9/2000)
Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic presidential candidate, calls Republican contender George W. Bush to retract his concession of the presidential election (see 2:30 a.m. - 3:15 a.m. November 8, 2000). “Circumstances have changed dramatically since I first called you,” Gore says. “The state of Florida is too close to call.” Bush says: “Are you saying what I think you’re saying? Let me make sure I understand. You’re calling me back to retract your concession.” Gore responds, “You don’t have to be snippy about it.” Bush informs Gore that his brother, Governor Jeb Bush of Florida, has assured him he has already won Florida (see 2:15 a.m. November 8, 2000 and November 7-8, 2000). Gore replies, “Your younger brother is not the ultimate authority on this.” Instead of giving a concession speech as planned, Gore sends his campaign chairman, former Commerce Secretary William Daley, to speak to the gathering at Nashville’s War Memorial Plaza. “Our campaign continues,” Daley says. New polling data shows that Florida, still projected to go to Bush as the last needed electoral victory, is once again too close to be accurately predicted. Bush calls his cousin John Ellis, who is anchoring Fox News’s election night coverage (see October-November 2000), and says, “Gore unconceded.” Ellis responds, “You’re kidding.” Within the hour, the networks will, for the second time (see 9:30 p.m. November 7, 2000), retract their projection and classify Florida as “too close to call” (see 3:57 a.m. - 4:15 a.m. November 8, 2000). Bush campaign chairman Donald Evans orders aides to be on a 6 a.m. flight to Florida to begin contesting the recounts. Gore aides give similar orders to their personnel. (CNN 12/13/2000; Tapper 3/2001; Margolick, Peretz, and Shnayerson 10/2004; Leip 2008)
The four news networks, ABC News, CBS News, Fox News, and NBC News, retract their earlier projection that Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush has won Florida and thereby won the US presidency (see 2:15 a.m. November 8, 2000). The state is again rated as “too close to call.” (Leip 2008)
After Democratic presidential contender Al Gore withdraws his concession (see 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000) and announces his determination to press forward with his request for manual recounts (see November 10, 2000), Fox News host Tony Snow tells viewers that “his decision made the poisonous political atmosphere in Washington even more toxic. Gore has established a precedent for turning elections into legal circuses and giving the final word not to voters but to squadrons of lawyers.” (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting 11/16/2000)
The Bush White House alleges that officials and aides from the outgoing Clinton administration vandalized the White House in the last days before Bush officials took over. Conservative news site NewsMax reports that the “slovenly misfits” of the Clinton administration “left the [White House] in a shambles” in the transition between the outgoing Clinton administration and the incoming Bush administration. Clinton aides engaged in “deliberate vandalism,” the report says, and cites a General Services Administration (GSA) official estimating that it may cost up to $250,000 to repair the damage. NewsMax quotes a report by another conservative publication, the American Spectator, which itself quotes “an inspector… called in to assess the vandalism as saying that several executive desks were damaged to the point that they must be replaced, and several more offices must be repainted because of graffiti.” (Kettle 1/26/2001; NewsMax 1/26/2001) Conservative Internet gossip writer Matt Drudge reports that “White House offices [were] left ‘trashed’” and so-called “[p]orn bombs [and] lewd messages” were left behind. No explanation of what Drudge meant by the “porn bomb” allegation is ever given. (Curl 1/27/2001) The allegations of vandalism and theft will prove to be almost entirely false (see February 8, 2001, February 14, 2001, and May 18, 2001).
Gore's Staffers Charged with Worst of Vandalism - British newspaper The Guardian repeats earlier claims that the worst of the damage was found in offices once occupied by staffers for former Vice President Al Gore, and that Gore’s wife, Tipper, has phoned Lynne Cheney, the wife of Vice President Dick Cheney, to apologize for the damage. The story is false (see January 24, 2001). (Kettle 1/26/2001)
Reports: Cut Phone Lines, Extensive Damage, Pornographic Photos - Both the Washington Post and The Guardian report allegations that computer and telephone lines were “sliced,” voice-mail messages were changed to “obscene remarks and lewd greetings,” desks were overturned, and trash strewn throughout the premises. The reports add that filing cabinets were glued shut with Superglue, pornographic photographs displayed in printers, and “filthy graffiti scrawled on at least one hallway wall.” The Spectator’s inspector adds that “[e]ntire computer keyboards will have to be replaced because the damage to them is more extensive than simply missing keys,” referring to allegations that some White House keyboards had the “W” keys pried off. The Spectator also reports tales of former Clinton staffers reportedly “laughing and giggling about the mess their former colleagues left behind.” A Bush White House official calls the White House “a pigsty” in the aftermath of the transition. “The Gore and Clinton people didn’t ‘clean out’ the place because there was nothing clean about what they did before they left.” The GSA will pursue the former Clinton officials for reimbursement and expenses. The Spectator reports that “investigators” conclude the damage was “the result of a carefully organized campaign of vandalism unlike anything ever seen in the aftermath of a presidential transition.” (NewsMax 1/26/2001; Kettle 1/26/2001; Allen 1/26/2001) The New York Daily News reports, “The destruction was so vast that a telecommunications staffer with more than a quarter-century of service was seen sobbing near his office one night last week.” (DeFrank 1/27/2001) CNN’s Paula Zahn observes: “All right, but this is the White House, for God’s sakes. We’re not talking about people living in a fraternity.” (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting 5/21/2001) Fox News is particularly vehement in its coverage. “They trash[ed] the place,” says Fox commentator Sean Hannity. ”$200,000 in furniture [was] taken out.” Fellow Fox commentator Oliver North (see May-June, 1989) adds: “We should expect from white trash what they did at the White House.… I recommend that what the Bush White House do is peel the wallpaper off that they defaced with their graffiti and ship it off to the Clinton Library so people can see it.” Fox host Bill O’Reilly says, “I mean, the price tag right now is about $200,000, so that’s a felony right there.” And O’Reilly guest Tom Schatz says, referring to the famous film about fraternity life, “They turned it into Animal House.” (Goldstein 2/8/2001; Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting 5/21/2001)
Air Force One 'Stripped Bare,' Reports Claim - The Guardian also reports that during former President Clinton’s last trip in Air Force One, the presidential jet was subjected to what it calls “an orgy of pilfering” (see January 25-27, 2001). It was “stripped bare” by aides, who reportedly took china, silverware, salt and pepper shakers, and other items, most bearing the presidential seal. (Kettle 1/26/2001) On Fox, Hannity charges, “They strip[ped] Air Force One of the china and everything else that wasn’t bolted down.” (Goldstein 2/8/2001)
Clinton Officials Admit to 'Pranks,' Bush Officials Allege Attempts at Theft - Clinton and Gore officials deny the reports of vandalism, but admit to carrying out pranks such as removing the “W” keys and affixing satirical signs to office doors that read, “Office of Strategery,” “Office of Subliminable Messages,” and “Division of Uniting.” A former Clinton official says, “It’s childish, but it’s also funny.” However, a senior Bush official accuses Clinton staffers of attempting to steal White House paintings and official seals from doors, and attempting to have those items shipped to themselves; Bush officials have ordered that all packages leaving the White House be X-rayed. (Allen 1/26/2001)
Bush Aide Documenting Damages - A Bush White House aide has been delegated to document the vandalism, videos are being taken of the damages, and White House officials are being interviewed. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer has confirmed that the administration is reviewing reports of the alleged vandalism. (NewsMax 1/26/2001) Bush himself downplays the reports, saying: “There might have been a prank or two, maybe somebody put a cartoon on the wall, but that’s okay. It’s time now to move forward.” (DeFrank 1/27/2001)
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)
Of all the media outlets that pushed the false Clinton “vandal scandal” story (see January 26, 2001), only Fox News immediately offers a true retraction. Fox had been at the forefront of repeating, and embellishing, reports of vandalism and theft carried out by Clinton staffers in the last days of their administration. After the General Services Administration (GSA) reports that none of the reports were true (see May 18, 2001), Fox acknowledges on the air that its reporting had been false. Two days later, Fox News Sunday host Tony Snow, who had accused the Clinton staffers of vandalizing and looting Air Force One (see January 26, 2001), admits his error. “OK, I’m sorry,” Snow says. “The ex-president’s pals have a legitimate beef.” Other media outlets, including NBC News, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times, fail to report on the GSA report, or to acknowledge their own errors in spreading the tales. (Lauerman and Montgomery 5/23/2001) The Washington Post does eventually report, briefly, on the GSA findings, as do some other newspapers, and Post ombudsman Michael Getler will later write, “The use of a brief news service account rather than a well-displayed, staff-written story about the GSA findings tells me that the readers who complained have better news judgment than the editors.” (American Journalism Review 7/2001)
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).
Neoconservative William Kristol, the editor of the Weekly Standard and a regular guest on network news broadcasts, says in a Fox News interview, “One person close to the debate said to me this week that it’s no longer a question of if, it’s a question of how we go after Saddam Hussein” (see October 7, 2001). (Fox News 11/24/2001) Fox’s Fred Barnes asks, “What are the consequences if the US does not finish off this Saddam Hussein as a second step in the war on terrorism?” Kristol replies, “It would mean that the president having declared a global war on terrorism didn’t follow through, didn’t take out the most threatening terrorist state in the world.” (Moyers 4/25/2007)
Fox News removes its series on the “art student spy ring” from its website after only two days, in response to pressure from The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) and others. CAMERA suggests the reporter “has something, personally, about Israel.… Maybe he’s very sympathetic to the Arab side.” (Ketcham 5/7/2002) The head of the ADL calls the report “sinister dangerous innuendo which fuels anti-Semitism.” (Perelman 12/21/2001) Yet there does not appear to be any substance to these personal attacks (and Forward magazine later reverses its stance on the spy ring (see March 15, 2002)). Fox News also never makes a formal repudiation or correction about the series. The contents of the series continues to be generally ignored by the mainstream media, but it makes a big impact inside the US government: An internal DEA communiqué from December 18 mentions the Fox report by name, and warns of security breaches in telecommunications as described in the Fox report. (Ketcham 5/7/2002)
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)
Venezuelan Vice Admiral Carlos Molina has a meeting with a US official. (The identity of this official is not known. According to the Washington Post, the official is not affiliated with the US embassy.) (Washington Post 4/18/2002, pp. A17)
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).
Secretary of State Colin Powell appears on “Fox News Sunday,” and asserts that Iraq has chemical and biological weapons stocks and that Saddam Hussein is intent on building a nuclear weapon. He cites a recent article in the New York Times by Judith Miller and Michael Gordon (see September 8, 2002) as evidence of Hussein’s nuclear ambitions. “There’s no doubt that he has chemical weapon stocks. We destroyed some after the Gulf War with the inspection regime, but there’s no doubt in our mind that he still has chemical weapon stocks and he has the capacity to produce more chemical weapons. With respect to biological weapons, we are confident that he has some stocks of those weapons, and he’s probably continuing to try to develop more. And biological weapons are very dangerous because they can be produced just about in any kind of pharmaceutical facility. With respect to nuclear weapons, we are quite confident that he continues to try to pursue the technology that would allow him to develop a nuclear weapon. Whether he could do it in one, five, six or seven, eight years is something that people can debate about, but what nobody can debate about is the fact that he still has the incentive, he still intends to develop those kinds of weapons. And as we saw in reporting just this morning, he is still trying to acquire, for example, some of the specialized aluminum tubing one needs to develop centrifuges that would give you an enrichment capability. So there’s no question that he has these weapons, but even more importantly, he is striving to do even more, to get even more.” Tony Snow, the program’s host, asks Secretary of State Colin Powell to respond to comments by former UN Chief Weapons Inspector Scott Ritter in a speech he recently made to Iraq’s parliament, in which the former weapons inspector stated: “The rhetoric of fear that is disseminated by my government and others has not to date been backed up by hard facts that substantiate any allegations that Iraq is today in possession of weapons of mass destruction or has links to terror groups responsible for attacking the United States. Void of such facts, all we have is speculation.” Powell responds: “We have facts, not speculation. Scott is certainly entitled to his opinion but I’m afraid that I would not place the security of my nation and the security of our friends in the region on that kind of an assertion by somebody who’s not in the intelligence chain any longer… If Scott is right, then why are they keeping the inspectors out? If Scott is right, why don’t they say, ‘Anytime, any place, anywhere, bring ‘em in, everybody come in—we are clean?’ The reason is they are not clean. And we have to find out what they have and what we’re going to do about it. And that’s why it’s been the policy of this government to insist that Iraq be disarmed in accordance with the terms of the relevant UN resolutions.” (Fox News 9/8/2002; Yacoub 9/8/2002; NewsMax 9/8/2002)
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)
Right-wing pundit Ann Coulter says on Fox News that Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), who has criticized the administration’s attempts to push the country towards war (see September 27, 2002), is a member of something she calls the “treason lobby.” (Unger 2007, pp. 256)
Fox News is the only national television news broadcaster to cover a speech by President Bush on Iraq. Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh calls the lack of coverage by other broadcasters the “final confirmation” of liberal bias among the news media. “If there was any remaining doubt about the networks’ editorial bias and ideological preferences,” he tells his listeners, “there shouldn’t be any longer.” (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 149-150)
Former Vice President Al Gore calls Fox News a virtual arm of the Republican Party. “Something will start at the Republican National Committee, inside the building, and it will explode the next day on the right-wing talk show network and on Fox News and in the newspapers that play this game,” Gore says. “And pretty soon they’ll start baiting the mainstream media for allegedly ignoring the story they’ve pushed into the zeitgeist” (see October 13, 2009). (Auletta 5/26/2003)
Former Green Beret Robert Bevelacqua, a Fox News military analyst and a part of the Pentagon’s propaganda operation to promote the Iraq war (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond), is, along with other analysts, briefed about Iraq’s purported stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. When he asks his briefer about “smoking gun” proof, the briefer admits, “We don’t have any hard evidence.” Bevelacqua and the other analysts are alarmed by the concession. Another analyst, retired Army lieutenant colonel Robert Maginnis, who works in the Pentagon for a military contractor, is at the same briefing. Maginnis later confirms Bevelacqua’s recollection, saying that he felt “very disappointed” and that he and the other analysts were being “manipulated” to believe in weapons that were not proven to exist. Yet Bevelacqua, Maginnis, and other analysts are firm in their on-air insistence that these weapons do indeed exist. Bevelacqua has started a new defense contracting business, the wvc3 Group, and hopes to win lucrative government contracts. “There’s no way I was going to go down that road and get completely torn apart,” he will later say. “You’re talking about fighting a huge machine.” (Barstow 4/20/2008)
The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page editor emeritus, Robert Bartley, acknowledges that Fox News’s slogan, “We report, you decide,” is a “pretense.” Bartley, a staunch conservative, writes: “Even more importantly, the amazing success of Roger Ailes at Fox News (see October 7, 1996) has provided a meaningful alternative to the Left-establishment slant of the major networks.… His news is no more tilted to the right than theirs has been on the left, and there’s no reason for him to drop his ‘we report, you decide’ pretense until they drop theirs” (see October 13, 2009). (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 49) In May 2003, ABC News president David Westin will say: “I like ‘We report. You decide.’ It’s a wonderful slogan. Too often, I don’t think that’s what’s going on at Fox. Too often, they step over the line and try and help people decide what is right and wrong.” Fox News pundit and host Bill O’Reilly will agree. Asked whether a more accurate tag line for Fox might be “We report. We decide,” he will reply, “Well, you’re probably right.” Todd Gitlin of the Columbia Journalism School will add: “I find it hard to believe many Fox viewers believe Bill O’Reilly is a ‘no-spin zone,’ or ‘We report. You decide.’ It’s a joke. In Washington it reinforces the impression of ‘we happy few who are members of the club.’ It emboldens the right wing to feel justified and confident they can promote their policies.” (Auletta 5/26/2003)
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).
Florida’s Second Court of Appeals overturns a wrongful-firing ruling against Fox Television by a lower court (see August 18, 2000), finding in favor of the network against two citizen plaintiffs who claim they were fired by Fox News for refusing to falsify a news segment they were producing for a local affiliate. In essence, the court rules that Fox, and by extension other media outlets, can legally lie to their consumers: that there is no law against distorting or falsifying the news in the US. The appeals court holds that the plaintiffs’ threat to report the network to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) does not deserve protection under Florida’s whistleblower statute, because a whistleblower must report “an employer breaking an adopted law, rule, or regulation.” The FCC has a policy against falsification of the news, but the court, in what the St. Louis Journalism Review will call “a stunningly narrow interpretation of FCC rules,” rules that the policy does not rise to the level of a “law, rule, or regulation.” Therefore, Fox Television’s Fox News Channel or any other news producer can produce willfully false stories and claim they are true, without fear of reprisal. In their court arguments, lawyers for Fox Television asserted that no rules or laws exist that prohibit distorting or falsifying news reports: that, under the First Amendment, broadcasters have the right to lie or deliberately distort news reports on the public airwaves. The attorneys did not dispute that network officials pressured the plaintiffs to produce a false story; instead, they argued that it was the network’s right to do so. Fox Television won “friend of the court” support from five major news owners: Belo Corporation, Cox Television, Gannett, Media General Operations, and Post-Newsweek Stations. (St. Louis Journalism Review 12/1/2007) After the verdict, the local Fox affiliate, WTVT-TV, airs a news report saying it is “totally vindicated” by the verdict. (Gaddy and Casten 2/28/2009)
When it becomes clear that France will oppose the US resolution at the UN for war with Iraq (see September 28, 2002 and October 26, 2002), Fox News anchor Bob Sellers sarcastically describes France as a member of the “axis of weasels.” The phrase first appeared in the New York Post (both Fox News and the Post are owned by media magnate Rupert Murdoch), and over the following days the phrase often appears in a banner at the bottom of the screen. Later in the year, Fox executive Roger Ailes will be asked if he approved of the banner; he answers: “We shouldn’t have done that, if we did. I would call that bad journalism.” The practice will continue. (Auletta 5/26/2003)
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)
Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly delivers a threat to Americans who disagree with the administration’s war policies, telling viewers: “Anyone who hurts this country in a time like this—well, let’s just say you will be spotlighted.… I will call those who publicly criticize their country in a time of military crisis, which this is, bad Americans.” (Moyers 4/25/2007)
Former Marine colonel and convicted felon Oliver North (see May-June, 1989), now a conservative radio host, is embedded with a Marine unit by Fox News. North reports “rumors” that French officials at the Embassy in Baghdad are destroying documents proving French complicity in Iraq’s chemical—and biological—weapons programs. The report is quickly proven false. Fox spokeswoman Irena Steffen tells a newspaper that North is “a military contributor to Fox. He is neither a reporter nor a correspondent.” (Auletta 5/26/2003)
As enthusiasm for the war in Iraq permeates the US business community as well as mainstream television news outlets (see March 19-20, 2003), billionaire Donald Trump predicts on Fox News that because of the war, “I think the market’s going to go up like a rocket!” (Rich 3/30/2003; Rich 2006, pp. 75)
A study by George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs examines the 600 hours of war coverage by the nation’s broadcast news organizations between the coverage of the first strikes (see March 19, 2003) and the fall of Baghdad (see April 9, 2003). The study shows that of the 1,710 stories broadcast, only 13.5 percent show any images of dead or wounded civilians or soldiers, either Iraqi or American. The study says that television news coverage “did not differ discernibly” from the heavily sanitized, Pentagon-controlled coverage of the 1991 Gulf War (see August 11, 1990 and January 3, 1991). “A war with hundreds of coalition and tens of thousands of Iraqi casualties” is transformed on US television screens “into something closer to a defense contractor’s training video: a lot of action, but no consequences, as if shells simply disappeared into the air and an invisible enemy magically ceased to exist.” A similar study by Columbia University’s Project for Excellence in Journalism finds that “none of the embedded stories (see February 2003 and March-April 2003) studied showed footage of people, either US soldiers or Iraqis, being struck, injured, or killed by weapons fired.” In fact, only 20 percent of the stories by embedded journalists show anyone else besides the journalist.
Focus on Anchors - Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write: “The conveying of actual news often seemed subsidiary to the networks’ mission to out-flag-wave one another and to make their own personnel, rather than the war’s antagonists, the leading players in the drama.… TV viewers were on more intimate terms with [CNN anchor] Aaron Brown’s and [Fox News anchor] Shep Smith’s perceptions of the war than with the collective thoughts of all those soon-to-be-liberated ‘Iraqi people’ whom the anchors kept apothesizing. Iraqis were the best seen-but-not-heard dress extras in the drama, alternately pictured as sobbing, snarling, waving, and cheering.”
Fox News - Rich will say that Fox News is the most egregious of the lot, reporting what he mockingly calls “all victory all the time.” During the time period analyzed, one Fox anchor says, “[O]bjectively speaking [it is] hard to believe things could go more successfully.” Another Fox anchor reports “extraordinary news, the city of Basra under control” even as that city is sliding into guerrilla warfare and outright anarchy. Neoconservative Fred Barnes, one of Fox’s regular commentators, calls the competition “weenies” for actually reporting US casualties. (Rich 2006, pp. 78)
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)
Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly says that those who oppose the Iraq war, such as actor Sean Penn and journalist Peter Arnett, are traitors. (Unger 2007, pp. 290)
The government of Saddam Hussein collapses as US troops take control of Baghdad. To mark the occasion, a statue of the former dictator in downtown Baghdad’s Firdos Square is pulled down, seemingly by a group of average Iraqi citizens and US soldiers. (Nessman and Espo 4/9/2003) The celebration is later revealed by the Los Angeles Times to be a psychological operation managed by US forces and not Iraqi citizens. (Zucchino 7/3/2004) The entire event is a carefully staged photo op. The tightly cropped pictures sent out by the Pentagon, and subsequently broadcast and published around the world, show what appears to be a large crowd of celebrating Iraqis. However, aerial photos show that the square is nearly empty except for a small knot of people gathered in front of the statue. The square itself is surrounded by US tanks. And there is some question as to the authenticity of the celebrating Iraqis. Al-Jazeera producer Samir Khader later says that the Americans “brought with them some people—supposedly Iraqis cheering. These people were not Iraqis. I lived in Iraq, I was born there, I was raised there. I can recognize an Iraqi accent.” (Unger 2007, pp. 302) Fox News anchors assure viewers that images of the toppling statue are sure to persuade the Arab world to see America as a liberator. Correspondent Simon Marks, reporting from Amman, Jordan, reports that “the Arab street” is angry, and it will take careful diplomacy to convince the majority of Arabs that this is not “an American war of occupation.” In response, Fox anchor David Asman, a former Wall Street Journal editorial writer, says, “There’s a certain ridiculousness to that point of view!” (Auletta 5/26/2003)
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)
Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, the Iraqi lawyer who provided intelligence leading to the rescue of Army Private Jessica Lynch (see June 17, 2003), arrives in the US with his wife and daughter. Al-Rehaief is granted political asylum under the “humanitarian parole” program, which is usually used to expedite entry into the US for medical emergencies. A spokesman for the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services says, “Quite honestly, it was the fastest way to get him and his family to safety in the United States.” Al-Rehaief is provided a job with the Livingston Group, a Washington lobbying firm headed by former US representative Bob Livingston (R-PA). He is also given a $500,000 book contract by HarperCollins, which as reporter Robert Scheer notes, is “a company owned by Rupert Murdoch, whose Fox network did much to hype Lynch’s story, as it did the rest of the war.” (Murphy 5/2/2003; Scheer 5/20/2003)
Washington Post columnist Colman McCarthy notes that there are at least a dozen retired military officers giving supposedly independent opinion and commentary on the Iraq war to the various news networks. McCarthy writes: “Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have been unhappy with the criticism of their war effort by former military men appearing on television. So am I, but for a different reason. The top people at the Pentagon are wondering why these ex-military talkers can’t follow the company line on how well the war has been fought. I’m wondering why these spokesmen for militarism are on TV in the first place.” McCarthy lists twelve: Lieutenant General Bernard Trainor, Major General Robert Scales, Lieutenant General Gregory Newbold, Major General Donald Shepperd, General Barry McCaffrey, Major General Paul Vallely, Lieutenant General Don Edwards, Lieutenant General Thomas McInerney, Colonel Tony Koren, Lieutenant Colonel Rick Francona, Major Jack Stradley, and Captain Chris Lohman. He asks rhetorically, “Did I miss anyone?” (McCarthy 4/19/2003) In 2008, after the story of the massive and systematic Pentagon propaganda operation using at least 75 retired military officers to promote the war (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) becomes public knowledge, Editor & Publisher’s Greg Mitchell answers the question, “[H]e sure did.” (Mitchell 4/20/2008)
Deploring the Military's Domination of the Airwaves - McCarthy continues: “That the news divisions of NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, and Fox sanctioned this domination by military types was a further assault on what the public deserves: independent, balanced and impartial journalism. The tube turned into a parade ground for military men… saluting the ethic that war is rational, that bombing and shooting are the way to win peace, and that their uniformed pals in Iraq were there to free people, not slaughter them. Perspective vanished, as if caught in a sandstorm of hype and war-whooping. If the US military embedded journalists to report the war from Iraq, journalists back in network studios embedded militarists to explain it. Either way, it was one-version news.” McCarthy asks why no dissenters are allowed on the airwaves to counter the military point of view, a question answered by a CNN news executive (see April 20, 2003). McCarthy answers his own question: “In wartime, presumably, the message to peace activists is shut up or shut down.”
Viewers Unaware of Analysts' Business Connections - Presciently, considering the wide range of business connections exploited by the analysts and documented in the 2008 expose, McCarthy notes: “Viewers are not told of possible conflicts of interest—that this general or that one is on the payroll of this or that military contractor. Nor are they given information on whether the retired generals are paid for their appearances.”
Militaristic Newsmen - It is not just the retired officers who provide a militarist perspective, McCarthy observes, but the reporters and anchormen themselves. With examples of ABC’s Ted Koppel and NBC’s Brian Williams donning helmets before the cameras, or Fox’s Geraldo Rivera proclaiming in Afghanistan that “[W]e have liberated this country” (and his cameraman shouting, “Hallelujah!”), “the media are tethered to the military,” McCarthy writes. “They become beholden, which leads not to Pentagon censorship, as in 1991 (see October 10, 1990), but a worse kind: self-censorship” (see September 10, 2003).
For Us or Against Us - McCarthy concludes: “George W. Bush lectured the world that you’re either with us or against us. America’s networks got the message: They’re with. They could have said that they’re neither with nor against, because no side has all the truth or all the lies and no side all the good or evil. But a declaration such as that would have required boldness and independence of mind, two traits not much linked to America’s television news.” (McCarthy 4/19/2003)
The Nation examines the use of so-called “military analysts” by the broadcast news media, retired generals and high-ranking officers brought on camera to share their knowledge and expertise regarding the invasion of Iraq. The report finds that, like Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and many other administration officials and supporters, the retired military analysts have consistently taken a pro-military, pro-administration slant that has led many of them to make consistently wrong judgments and analyzes. It will be five years before the New York Times exposes the Pentagon propaganda operation in which many of these analysts take part (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond).
Ideological and Financial Interests in Promoting the War - While many of them indeed have what one analyst, retired Lieutenant General Barry McCaffrey, calls “a lifetime of experience and objectivity,” many of them also have what the report terms as “ideological or financial stakes in the war. Many hold paid advisory board and executive positions at defense companies and serve as advisers for groups that promoted an invasion of Iraq.” As a result, the report says, these analysts’ objectivity must be questioned. McCaffrey and his colleague, retired Colonel Wayne Downing, both NBC analysts, are both on the advisory board of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, a lobbying group formed to bolster public support for the invasion. Its mission is to “engage in educational advocacy efforts to mobilize US and international support for policies aimed at ending the aggression of Saddam Hussein,” and it deliberately reaches out to influence reporting in both the US and European media. Downing has also served as an unpaid adviser to Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress, a prime source of the fraudulent propaganda and disinformation that provided a rationale for the war (see June 1992 and (1994)). NBC viewers are unaware of McCaffrey’s and Downing’s connections to these pro-war organizations.
McCaffrey and IDT - Neither are they aware of McCaffrey’s seat on the board of four defense firms—Mitretek, Veritas Capital, Raytheon Aerospace, and Integrated Defense Technologies (IDT)—all which have multimillion-dollar defense contracts. IDT is of particular interest, as stock analysts believe that its currently floundering financial state could be remedied by hefty government contracts. McCaffrey has been an outspoken critic of Rumsfeld and his war policies, but his primary objection is his repeated statement that “armor and artillery don’t count” enough in the offensive. He recently told an MSNBC audience, “Thank God for the Abrams tank and… the Bradley fighting vehicle,” and added that the “war isn’t over until we’ve got a tank sitting on top of Saddam’s bunker.” In March 2003, IDT received over $14 million in contracts relating to Abrams and Bradley machinery parts and support hardware.
Downing and Metal Storm - Downing is a board member of Metal Storm Ltd, a ballistics-technology company with both US and Australian defense contracts. According to its executive director, Metal Storm’s technologies will “provide some significant advantage” in the type of urban warfare being fought in Iraq.
Fox News and wvc3 - Fox News analysts Lieutenant Colonel William Cowan and Major Robert Bevelacqua are CEO and vice president, respectively, of the wvc3group, a defense consulting firm that serves as a liaison between arms companies and the US government. The firm recently signed a contract to promote military aviation equipment produced by a New Zealand firm. The firm promotes itself by advising potential customers of its inside contacts with the US military and the Defense Department. A message on its Web site, augmented by a sound file of loud gunfire, reads, “We use our credibility to promote your technology.” Another Fox analyst, Major General Paul Vallely, represents several information-technology firms. Vallely is most valuable, says Fox bureau chief Kim Hume, as a commentator on psychological operations.
Little Concern at the Networks - The networks are relatively uninterested in any potential conflicts of interest or possible promotions of ideological or financial agendas. Elena Nachmanoff, vice president of talent development at NBC News, dismisses any such concerns: “We are employing them for their military expertise, not their political views.” She says that the analysts play influential roles behind the cameras at NBC, helping producers decide on what to report and how to report it. But, she says, defense contracts are “not our interest.” Hume says that Fox “expect[s] the analysts to keep their other interests out of their commentary, or we stop using them.” Hume admits that Fox has never severed its connection with any analyst, though it is aware of Cowan’s, Bevelacqua’s, and Vallely’s ties to their respective defense firms. Interestingly, Vallely, the expert on so-called “psyops” warfare, developed a concept he called “MindWar,” a psychological propaganda strategy that uses, in his words, “electronic media—television and radio” in the “deliberate, aggressive convincing of all participants in a war that we will win that war.” Nation reporters Daniel Benaim, Priyanka Motaparthy, and Vishesh Kumar muse, “With the televised version of Operation Iraqi Freedom, we may be watching his theory at work—and at a tidy profit, too.” (Benaim, Motaparthy, and Kumar 4/21/2003)
The media response to President Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” event (see May 1, 2003) is overwhelmingly positive. Of his entrance in a fighter jet, the Detroit Free Press writes that Bush brought his “daring mission to a manly end.” The Washington Post’s David Broder, the dean of the Washington press corps, says that the “president has learned to move in a way that just conveys a great sense of authority and command.” (Unger 2007, pp. 304)
Matthews Lauds Bush's 'Guy' Status - One of the most effusive cheerleaders for Bush is MSNBC’s Chris Matthews. On an episode of his Hardball broadcast, Matthews gushes about Bush’s “amazing display of leadership” and his appearance as a “high-flying jet star.” Bush “deserves everything he’s doing tonight in terms of his leadership. He won the war. He was an effective commander. Everybody recognizes that, I believe, except a few critics. Do you think he is defining the office of the presidency, at least for this time, as basically that of commander in chief?” Matthews compares Bush, who sat out Vietnam in the Texas Air National Guard, with former president Dwight D. Eisenhower, who commanded US forces in Europe during World War II. But, Matthews observes: “He looks great in a military uniform. He looks great in that cowboy costume he wears when he goes West.” His “performance tonight [is] redolent of the best of Reagan.” Guest Ann Coulter, a staunch conservative, calls Bush’s performance “huge,” and adds: “It’s hard to imagine any Democrat being able to do that. And it doesn’t matter if Democrats try to ridicule it. It’s stunning, and it speaks for itself.” Democratic pollster Pat Caddell says when he first heard about it, he was “kind of annoyed” because “[i]t sounded like the kind of PR stunt that Bill Clinton would pull. But and then I saw it. And you know, there’s a real—there’s a real affection between him and the troops.… He looks like a fighter pilot.” Matthews continues, “[H]e didn’t fight in a war, but he looks like he does.” Later that night, on Keith Olbermann’s Countdown, Matthews waxes poetic about Bush’s manly qualities: “We’re proud of our president. Americans love having a guy as president, a guy who has a little swagger, who’s physical, who’s not a complicated guy like Clinton or even like [former Democratic presidential candidates Michael] Dukakis or [Walter] Mondale, all those guys, [George] McGovern [whom Matthews does not identify as a pilot during World War II]. They want a guy who’s president. Women like a guy who’s president. Check it out. The women like this war. I think we like having a hero as our president. It’s simple. We’re not like the Brits. We don’t want an indoor prime minister type, or the Danes or the Dutch or the Italians, or a [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. Can you imagine Putin getting elected here? We want a guy as president.”
'Fighter Dog' - CNN’s Wolf Blitzer refers several times to Bush’s days as a fighter pilot in the Texas Air National Guard, without referring to the swirling controversy over whether he used the Guard to get out of serving in Vietnam, and calls Bush “a one-time fighter dog.” Other media pundits and journalists use Bush’s appearance and service record to laud his performance. NBC’s Brian Williams says: “And two immutable truths about the president that the Democrats can’t change: He’s a youthful guy. He looked terrific and full of energy in a flight suit. He is a former pilot, so it’s not a foreign art farm—art form to him. Not all presidents could have pulled this scene off today.” Fox News’s Jon Scott says that Bush “made just about as grand an entrance tonight as the White House could have asked for.… Now, of course, President Bush flew fighters in the Air National Guard, but no pilot, no matter how experienced, can land on an aircraft carrier first time out. The president did take the stick for a short time during his flight, but he let another pilot handle the landing.” Fox’s Wendell Goler continues the tale of Bush actually flying the fighter plane by saying that Bush “took a 20-minute flight to the ship during which he briefly called on his skills as a pilot in the National Guard.” Goler quotes Bush as saying “he flew the plane about a third of the way from North Island Naval Air Station to the carrier Lincoln. He says the pilot asked him if he wanted to do some maneuvers, but he flew it mostly in a straight line.” (DeYoung 5/2/2003; Media Matters 4/27/2006)
Dowd's Rhetorical Excesses - One of the more extreme reactions comes from New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. She writes of the jet landing and Bush’s exit from the plane: “The tail hook caught the last cable, jerking the fighter jet from 150 mph to zero in two seconds. Out bounded the cocky, rule-breaking, daredevil flyboy, a man navigating the Highway to the Danger Zone, out along the edges where he was born to be, the further on the edge, the hotter the intensity. He flashed that famous all-American grin as he swaggered around the deck of the aircraft carrier in his olive flight suit, ejection harness between his legs, helmet tucked under his arm, awestruck crew crowding around. Maverick [a reference to the iconic action film Top Gun] was back, cooler and hotter than ever, throttling to the max with joystick politics. Compared to Karl Rove’s ‘revvin’ up your engine’ myth-making cinematic style, Jerry Bruckheimer’s movies [Bruckheimer produced Top Gun] look like Lizzie McGuire (a Disney Channel show). This time Maverick didn’t just nail a few bogeys and do a 4G inverted dive with a MiG-28 at a range of two meters. This time the Top Gun wasted a couple of nasty regimes, and promised this was just the beginning.” (Mitchell 5/3/2008)
Press Coverage and Later Response - The next day’s press coverage is equally enthusiastic. PBS reporter Gwen Ifill says Bush was “part Tom Cruise [another Top Gun reference], part Ronald Reagan.” The New York Times’s Elisabeth Bumiller calls Bush’s speech “Reaganesque.” New York Times reporter David Sanger writes that Bush’s entrance echoed the movie Top Gun. The Washington Post also reports Bush’s claim of having actually flown the fighter for a period of time. On CBS’s Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer calls the image of Bush in the flight suit “one of the great pictures of all time,” and adds, “[I]f you’re a political consultant, you can just see campaign commercial written all over the pictures of George Bush.” Schieffer’s guest, Time columnist Joe Klein, adds: “[T]hat was probably the coolest presidential image since Bill Pullman played the jet fighter pilot in the movie Independence Day.… And it just shows you how high a mountain these Democrats are going to have to climb.” Fox News anchor Brit Hume says Bush was brave for risking the “grease and oil” on the flight deck while “[t]he wind’s blowing. All kinds of stuff could have gone wrong. It didn’t, he carried it off.” Conservative radio host Laura Ingraham tells CNN viewers: “Speaking as a woman… seeing President Bush get out of that plane, carrying his helmet, he is a real man. He stands by his word. That was a very powerful moment.” (DeYoung 5/2/2003; Media Matters 4/27/2006; Mitchell 5/3/2008)
The New Yorker reports the results of an Annenberg survey of 673 mainstream news owners, executives, editors, producers, and reporters. Among the survey’s findings is the strong belief that Fox News (see 1995, October 7, 1996, and October 13, 2009)) has had a strong influence on the way broadcasters cover the news, as well as how others present the news on network and cable television programs. In 2002, when the CEO of General Electric, Jeffrey Immelt, was asked how he wanted to improve his own cable news network, MSNBC, he said: “I think the standard right now is Fox. And I want to be as interesting and as edgy as you guys are.” (Auletta 5/26/2003; Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 52)
Fox News political pundit Bill O’Reilly savages the journalists and commentators who question the official story of Army Private Jessica Lynch (see April 3, 2003). O’Reilly characterizes the Los Angeles Times’s Robert Scheer (see April 10, 2003 and After and May 30, 2003) as a “radical columnist who [sic] many perceive to be a hater of [the] USA,” “despises President Bush,” and has “anti-American motives.” The Times itself is “extremely left-wing in its editorial presentation.” The BBC, which along with the Toronto Star was one of the first news organizations to question the official story (see May 4, 2003 and May 15, 2003), “was stridently against the war in Iraq and chastised by one of its own correspondents for slanting its reports.” O’Reilly says that while he “does not know the truth in this matter… we have no reason to doubt the mission’s original report. However, if it turns out that the US military is lying, it will be a terrible scandal.” (O'Reilly 5/27/2003) As far as can be ascertained, when the more accurate chain of events is reported, essentially validating the reports by the BBC and Scheer (see June 17, 2003), O’Reilly will not respond to or investigate what he calls the potential “terrible scandal.”
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)
In an interview with Fox News’s Brit Hume, President Bush admits that he does not read news articles himself. Instead, he gets briefings from staff members. “I get briefed by Andy Card and Condi [Rice] in the morning. They come in and tell me.… I glance at the headlines just to kind of a flavor for what’s moving. I rarely read the stories, and get briefed by people who are probably read [sic] the news themselves. But like Condoleezza, in her case, the national security adviser is getting her news directly from the participants on the world stage.” It has been his “[p]ractice since day one,” he says.
His Staffers Best Source for 'Objective' News - “You know, look, I have great respect for the media. I mean, our society is a good, solid democracy because of a good, solid media. But I also understand that a lot of times there’s opinions mixed in with news. And I… I appreciate people’s opinions, but I’m more interested in news. And the best way to get the news is from objective sources. And the most objective sources I have are people on my staff who tell me what’s happening in the world.” (Fox News 9/22/2003)
'Filtered or Unfiltered' - The reaction from the media is quite critical. Slate’s Michael Kinsley writes: “To President Bush, the news is like a cigarette. You can get it filtered or unfiltered.… When he is trying to send a message to the public, Bush prefers to have it go out unfiltered. But when he is on the receiving end, Bush prefers his news heavily filtered.… George W. Bush doesn’t really want people to get the news unfiltered. He wants people to get the news filtered by George W. Bush. Or rather, he wants everyone to get the news filtered by the same people who apparently filter it for him. It’s an interesting epistemological question how our president knows what he thinks he knows and why he thinks it is less distorted than what the rest of us know or think we know. Every president lives in a cocoon of advisers who filter reality for him, but it’s stunning that this president actually seems to prefer getting his take on reality that way.” (Kinsley 10/16/2003)
'Sugar Coating' the News - Washington institution Helen Thomas, a long-time critic of the Bush administration, writes: “Bush is spoon-fed the relevant news from his staff. Top aides usually know the buttons not to push when it comes to bad news. More often they will tell the president what he wants to hear—the good news if there is any. Or they may just sugar coat the news that is tougher to swallow.” (Thomas 10/15/2003)
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)
The campaign of Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA), the leading contender in California’s gubernatorial recall election, launches a strong counterattack against a Los Angeles Times story that reported six women’s accusations that Schwarzenegger sexually assaulted them (see October 2, 2003).
Candidate Apologizes - The campaign denies the accusations, but Schwarzenegger backs away from his campaign’s initial insistence that he had never acted inappropriately around women. He now says that he had “behaved badly sometimes” and “done things which were not right, which I thought [were] playful [on movie sets]. But I now recognize that I have offended people. And to those people that I have offended, I want to say to them I am deeply sorry about that, and I apologize.”
'Complex Strategy to Minimize' Impact of Allegations - Authors and media observers Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella will later write: “Schwarzenegger’s supporters engaged in a complex strategy to minimize the effect of the allegations. The response included testimonials from the candidate’s wife, newscaster and Kennedy family member Maria Shriver, that Schwarzenegger was a good father and husband and an ‘A-plus human being.’ Shriver also claimed that many of the stories had been fabricated and attacked the Los Angeles Times for the investigation and for publishing the story so close to the election.” Conservative media outlets quickly move to support Shriver’s attacks, and add a new wrinkle: that the Times was quick to print such allegations against Schwarzenegger, but was refusing to print allegations that Democratic Governor Gray Davis had engaged in abusive behavior against women on his staff. Therefore, they say, the Times is engaging in a double standard. Jamieson and Cappella will write: “The conservative claim was a standard one: the ‘liberal media’ were eager to undercut conservatives and protect ‘liberals.’ And voters were encouraged to reject the Schwarzenegger groping allegations but trust those about Davis’s supposed staff abuse.” Columnist Jill Stewart of the Los Angeles Daily News accuses the Times of “sitting on” the Davis story “since at least 1997… that [Davis] is an ‘office batterer’ who has attacked female members of his staff, thrown objects at subservients and launched into red-faced fits, screaming the f-word until staffers cower.” Fox News reports the Davis allegations, and conservative talk show hosts, led by Rush Limbaugh, repeat and embellish the story. Mainstream cable TV outlet MSNBC, in shows hosted by conservatives Joe Scarborough and Pat Buchanan, also report the Davis allegations. On Fox, Stewart accuses the Times of “journalistic malpractice” and “horrible, horrible bias.” (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 152-154)
Strategy Successful - The strategy is apparently successful, with Schwarzenegger ousting Davis and 134 other challengers in the recall election. CNN exit polls show that despite the sexual harassment charges, around 47 percent of women voters cast their ballots for Schwarzenegger. (CNN 10/8/2003)
Times Defends Reporting, Limbaugh Warns Listeners to 'Remember This Business' - Days later, the editor of the Los Angeles Times, James Carroll, will defend the Schwarzenegger sexual harassment story, describing the seven weeks of meticulous interviewing and fact-checking that went into it, and reveal that the Times had twice investigated the allegations of Davis’s supposed ‘office battering’ and found nothing to support the charges. Limbaugh, however, will remind his listeners: “The next time the LA Times or any other mainstream liberal institution starts talking to you about the aftermath in Iraq or the war on terrorism, I want you to remember this business of what they did with Schwarzenegger, and I want you to tell yourself, ‘Schwarzenegger is not an isolated episode.’ If they’re doing it there, where else are they acting as Democrat house organs?” (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 154)
Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh announces the results of a poll finding: “We have a great Gallup poll, folks. Sixty percent of conservatives, 40 percent of moderates, and 18 percent of liberals say the media is too liberal.” Authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella later write that Limbaugh “creates an interpretative frame for the information,” with Limbaugh saying, “We all know that moderates are liberals anyway, so that would be 58 percent of liberals and 60 percent of conservatives, that’s over 100 percent of the people who think the media is too liberal.” Neither Jamieson nor Cappella point out the creative mathematics and regrouping Limbaugh is performing. They do note, however, that on Fox News, commentator Tony Snow reports the same poll results, and accuses the “liberal media” of failing to report the poll in a widespread fashion. (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 149)
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)
Conservative pundits react with outrage over reports that CBS will air a documentary miniseries about former President Ronald Reagan and his family, titled The Reagans, that contains controversial, and sometimes unsourced, material some feel is unflattering to Reagan and his family. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, the Wall Street Journal op-ed page, and many commentators on Fox News object so strongly that CBS eventually alters the content of the movie and shunts it out of its lineup entirely (it will instead air on CBS’s cable provider Showtime). The movie was produced by people who “hate Reagan,” Limbaugh charges. Hannity poses the rhetorical question: “Does the whole episode expose the Reagan-hating, liberal-leaning tendencies of the mainstream press?… CBS has a history of Reagan-bashing.” The Journal observes: “[W]hat caused this particular network wall to come tumbling down was largely the new media: [the] Drudge [Report], cable, talk radio, and so on. Not only did the new media disseminate information about the script to CBS viewers, it also provided the viewers, via the immediacy of e-mail, the means to ensure that [CBS chairman Leslie] Moonves would feel their pain.” (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 72-73) Conservative pundit Pat Buchanan predicted, “Advertisers will bail on CBS’ anti-Reagan movie,” in the days before CBS’s decision. Conservative MSNBC pundit and columnist Robert Novak said of the miniseries: “CBS is serving up a new version of the Ronald Reagan story, just before Thanksgiving. That’s appropriate. With all the Hollywood liberals involved, it could be a real turkey.” And the conservative watchdog organization Media Research Center (MRC) launched a boycott targeting CBS’s potential advertisers. It decided to take action, calling on 100 major companies to review the script and consider avoiding buying ad time on the miniseries. MRC founder Brent Bozell wrote, “‘The Reagans’ appears to be a blatantly unfair assault on the legacy of one of America’s greatest leaders.” In an interview, Bozell said: “Reagan is being portrayed as a hateful, half-nut homophobe. It’s not that the historical record is being distorted. It’s that the makers of the movie are deliberately defaming him and lying about him.” None of the pundits and critics have seen any more than a brief clip CBS provided for publicity purposes.
Fictionalized Conversation - One portion of the miniseries, concerning Reagan’s position on AIDS victims, features at least some fiction. Reagan is portrayed as “uncaring and judgmental” towards AIDS patients, says a CBS News article, and in the script, Reagan turns down his wife Nancy’s plea to help them, saying, “They that live in sin shall die in sin.” Lead author Elizabeth Egloff admitted that she has no documentation of Reagan ever saying such. However, Egloff said, “we know he ducked the issue over and over again, and we know she was the one who got him to deal with that.” Reagan insiders deny Egloff’s characterization. Reportedly Nancy Reagan is angry about the miniseries.
Re-Editing for 'Fair'ness - Moonves recently told a CNBC interviewer: “Nobody’s seen the film. So any criticism now, in the middle of October for a film that isn’t finished, is rather odd, we think.” He admitted that the film was being re-edited “to present a fair picture of the Reagans.… There are things we like about the movie, there are things we don’t like about the movie, there are things we think go too far.” (CBS News 10/29/2003)
Son Speaks Out - Conservative pundit Michael Reagan, the former president’s son, celebrates the decision, calling the documentary a “smear job on my dad” and writing that to most “Hollywood liberals,” apparently including the filmmakers, “[c]onservatives, in their twisted minds, are sworn enemies of progress and everything else that’s good and decent in Hollywood’s view, you know, good things like abortion and gay Boy Scout scoutmasters and Communist dictators such as their hero Fidel Castro.… [T]he elitist liberals at CBS fall right in line with this leftist garbage, and, as they did in this instance, allowed Hollywood the liberty of creating an attack vehicle against my dad and my family and then claiming it was an historical documentary that portrays the Reagans as they really are.” Like many other conservatives, Reagan seems particularly displeased that James Brolin, the husband of liberal Hollywood star Barbra Streisand, plays his father. (Reagan 11/5/2009)
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), becomes embroiled in a legal conflict involving former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik and his mistress, Judith Regan, a book editor for another arm of Fox News’s parent company News Corporation (NewsCorp). Ailes learns that Kerik has commandeered an apartment overlooking the site of the devastated World Trade Center, intended for the use of rescue and recovery workers, as a “love nest” for his trysts with Regan. Ailes is a close friend and political ally of former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who recommended Kerik to head the Department of Homeland Security. Kerik is already being pilloried in the press for a number of other ethical and perhaps even criminal activities, and is being vetted for the DHS slot. Ailes and Giuliani do not want the Kerik-Regan affair, and the commandeered apartment, to come to the public’s notice. Court documents later say that Ailes “told Regan that he believed she had information about Kerik that, if disclosed, would harm Giuliani’s presidential campaign.” Ailes “advised Regan to lie to, and to withhold information from, [federal] investigators concerning Kerik.” The attempted cover-up will later be brought to light when NewsCorp fires Regan in 2006, and she brings a wrongful-termination suit that secures a $10.75 million settlement. Regan will not identify Ailes by name, only as a “senior executive” for NewsCorp, but other documents accidentally made public will reveal Ailes’s identity. Reportedly, Regan has her telephone conversations with Ailes on tape. NewsCorp will later claim that Regan has sent it a letter stating that “Mr. Ailes did not intend to influence her with respect to a government investigation.” Regan’s lawyer will say that NewsCorp’s claim does not reflect the entirety of Regan’s letter. Kerik himself will withdraw his name from consideration, and will later be sentenced to four years in prison for tax fraud. (Chait 2/24/2011; Martinez 2/24/2011; Buettner 2/25/2011; Sherman 5/22/2011)
ABC News and Fox News are the only major news networks to broadcast a “hard news” report on the day’s exchange between Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry and voter Cedric Brown (see March 15, 2004 and After).
CBS: Advantage Bush - CBS gives a brief synopsis of the exchange; neither NBC nor CNN devote much air time to the story. CBS anchor Dan Rather sums up the exchange by providing a brief overview of the controversy surrounding Kerry’s supposed claim of unnamed “foreign leaders” supporting his bid for the presidency (see March 8, 2004 and After and March 15, 2004) and the Bush campaign’s implication that Kerry is lying; the Kerry campaign’s response; and White House spokesman Scott McClellan’s insistence that Kerry either “name names” or admit to “making it up.” In 2008, authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella will write, “By sandwiching the Kerry perspective between an opening and closing statement focused on the Bush perspective, the CBS piece creates a net advantage for the Republicans.”
ABC: Advantage Kerry - The ABC report, by reporter Linda Douglass, goes further in asking about the Bush campaign’s motives in attacking Kerry, and asks if the Bush campaign is not trying to deflect attention from reports about Bush administration misrepresentations about the true costs of its Medicare plan (see June 2003). ABC anchor Elizabeth Varga opens by noting the Bush campaign’s “extraordinary” attack on Kerry’s “credibility,” leading into Douglass’s report, which summarizes the “foreign leaders” controversy, reports the Kerry-Brown exchange, observes that the Kerry campaign is “sidestep[ping]” the accusations that he is lying about the foreign leaders claim, and notes that Kerry accuses the Bush campaign of trying to divert attention from the Medicare controversy. Douglass concludes, “Seven months before the election, the campaign seems to be all about credibility.”
Fox News: Heavy Attack against Kerry - Fox News anchor Brit Hume begins his report by saying, “John Kerry still won’t say who those foreign leaders were, whom he claims are back—who he claims are backing him for president.” The Fox report, by Carl Cameron, begins by claiming Kerry is being “[b]attered for refusing to name foreign leaders that he claims want President Bush defeated,” says Kerry is trying to “get back on offense” by attacking the Bush administration’s failure to fully fund firefighters (an attack “few Americans believe,” Cameron asserts), and notes that Bush defenders accuse Kerry of “voting against the troops” by opposing the $87 billion to stabilize and complete the post-Saddam Iraq occupation. Cameron then quotes unnamed Republicans as calling Kerry an “international man of mystery,” a disparaging comparison to the Austin Powers movie satire, “for his various un-backed-up charges” about the foreign leaders’ support. Cameron ends the report by playing a snippet from the Kerry-Brown exchange where Kerry demanded Brown identify himself as a “registered Republican” (he does not air Brown’s response where he admits to being a Bush supporter) and with the White House’s assertion that “Kerry is making it up to attack the president.” Fox twice has Brown appear as a guest on its news broadcasts. In one, Brown says Kerry “didn’t appear to be honest” during their conversation, says, “I think Senator Kerry betrayed our country,” and calls for a congressional investigation into Kerry’s supposed claim of having “secret” deals for foreign leaders’ backing.
Television Coverage Analysis - Authors Jamieson and Cappella will write: “The strategic frames of Fox and ABC differ. On Fox, Kerry is cast as ‘battered’ and on the strategic defensive (‘Kerry tried to get back on offense and tried to turn the tables on his inquisitors,’) [emphasis added by authors]. By contrasts, ABC situates Kerry as a contender who is ‘determined not to give ground on the war over who is more truthful.’ On Fox, Kerry’s attack is portrayed as an attempt to ‘get back on offense,’ whereas the Bush response is portrayed as motivated by outrage.” Fox “focuses on Kerry’s credibility, while ABC centers on charges and countercharges about the relative truthfulness of Bush and Kerry.” Douglass attributes claims of truth or falsity to the respective campaigns, but Cameron makes blanket assertions—unattributed value judgments—about Kerry’s supposed dishonesty.
Print Media - The print media shows much of the same dichotomy in covering the Kerry-Brown exchange as do ABC and Fox. The Washington Post gives Brown a chance to again accuse Kerry of lying, but calls him “a heckler… who interrupted Kerry’s comments on health care, education and the economy to raise questions about the assertion of foreign endorsements.” The Los Angeles Times describes Brown as “abruptly” shouting over Kerry, and, when the audience tries to shout Brown down, shows Kerry asking the audience to allow Brown to speak. In these and other accounts, Jamieson and Cappella will note, “Kerry’s questioning of the questioner is set in the context of Brown’s interruption, inflammatory charges… and verbal attacks on Kerry.” On the other hand, the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page joins Fox News in ignoring Brown’s initial interruption and verbal assault on Kerry (see March 15, 2004), and instead focuses on what the Journal’s James Taranto calls “Kerry’s thuggish interrogation of the voter.” Taranto also directs his readers to coverage by Fox News and Limbaugh, who himself accuses Kerry of “browbeating” Brown.
Media Strategies to Denigrate Kerry - Jamieson and Cappella will write, “Specifically taken together, [Rush] Limbaugh, [Sean] Hannity, and the Wall Street Journal’s opinion pages marshaled four strategies to marginalize Kerry and undercut his perceived acceptability as a candidate for president: extreme hypotheticals [i.e. Kerry’s supposed ‘secret meeting’ with North Korea’s Kim Jong-il—see March 17, 2004 ], ridicule, challenges to character, and association with strong negative emotion.” Fox News and the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, for example, characterize Kerry’s response to Brown as “yelling” and “thuggish,” while other media outlets report Kerry’s response as generally restrained and civil, and Brown as the one shouting and angry. (Johnson 3/15/2004; Gold 3/15/2004; Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 5-17)
ABC News reporter Ted Koppel, the anchor of the network’s late-night news show Nightline, marks the first anniversary of the end of what President Bush called “major combat operations” (see May 1, 2003) by reading alound the names of the US troops who have died in Iraq, and showing their pictures as he goes through the list. After the 35-minute segment, which Koppel titles “The Fallen,” he explains the rationale behind it. “Our goal tonight was to elevate the fallen above the politics and the daily journalism,” he says. “The reading tonight of those 721 names was neither intended to provoke opposition to the war nor was it meant as an endorsement. Some of you doubt that. You are convinced that I am opposed to the war. I am not, but that’s beside the point. I am opposed to sustaining the illusion that war can be waged by the sacrifice of the few without burdening the rest of us in any way.” (CNN 5/1/2004)
Heavy Conservative Criticism - Author and media critic Frank Rich will call it “an unbelievably poignant roll call.” Others, mostly conservative pundits and lawmakers, disagree. Neoconservative pundit and editor William Kristol calls Koppel’s tribute a “stupid statement.” Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly says the show might undermine morale if it tries to “exploit casualties in a time of war,” but fails to mention his own tribute to slain soldier Pat Tillman (see April 23, 2004 and April 29, 2004) the night before. (Rich 2006, pp. 125) Brent Bozell, president of the conservative Media Research Center, criticizes what he calls the program’s “partisan nature,” and says its only goal is “to turn public opinion against the war.” (Associated Press 5/1/2004)
Station Owners Order Broadcast Censored - The Sinclair Broadcast Group, a large regional consortium of local television stations whose executives are heavy donors to Republican campaigns, orders its eight ABC affiliates not to air Koppel’s broadcast. In its statement, Sinclair writes: “The action appears to be motivated by a political agenda designed to undermine the efforts of the United States in Iraq.… Mr. Koppel and Nightline are hiding behind this so-called tribute in an effort to highlight only one aspect of the war effort and in doing so to influence public opinion against the military action in Iraq.” The statement goes on to ask why ABC does not read the names of the thousands of Americans killed in the 9/11 attacks. Sinclair spokesman Mark Hyman says the broadcast is irrelevant: “Someone who died 13 months ago—why is that news? Those people did not die last week. It’s not an anniversary of the war, it’s not Memorial Day—so why this day? If this is Memorial Day, then go ahead and do it.” Hyman goes on to say of Koppel, “I think clearly here’s a guy who is opposed to the war and is trying to stir up public opposition to it,” and says that ABC is obviously trying to boost its ratings. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) calls the Sinclair decision “deeply offensive,” writing in a letter to Sinclair Broadcast Group president and CEO David Smith: “Your decision to deny your viewers an opportunity to be reminded of war’s terrible costs, in all their heartbreaking detail, is a gross disservice to the public, and to the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. It is, in short, sir, unpatriotic. I hope it meets with the public opprobrium it most certainly deserves.” Smith replies: “Our decision was based on a desire to stop the misuse of their sacrifice to support an anti-war position with which most, if not all, of these soldiers would not have agreed. While I don’t disagree that Americans need to understand the costs of war and sacrifices of our military volunteers, I firmly believe that responsible journalism requires that a discussion of these costs must necessarily be accompanied by a description of the benefits of military action and the events that precipitated that action.” (Rizzo 4/30/2004; CNN 5/1/2004; Jay Rosen 5/1/2004; Associated Press 5/1/2004; Rich 2006, pp. 125) Jane Bright, who lost her son Sergeant Evan Ashcraft, writes in response: “The Sinclair Broadcast group is trying to undermine the lives of our soldiers killed in Iraq. By censoring Nightline they want to hide the toll the war on Iraq is having on thousands of soldiers and their families, like mine.” (Associated Press 5/1/2004) Koppel says that any suggestion by Sinclair that he is “unpatriotic” or trying to “undermine the war effort” is “beneath contempt.” (CNN 5/1/2004)
Media Watchdog Group Alleges Underlying Agenda - Robert McChesney of the media reform group Free Press says that Sinclair has an underlying motive in censoring the Nightline broadcast: “No one thinks for a second this decision has anything to do with journalism. It’s a politics-slash-business decision that Sinclair made because they don’t want to [anger] the White House.” Sinclair, a political supporter of the Bush administration, is trying to curry favor with the White House to bolster chances of gaining changes in station ownership rules, McChesney says. “The stench of corruption here is extraordinary.” (Associated Press 5/1/2004)
Political Statement? - Koppel says he has no intention of making any sort of “political statement” by airing the segment. “I don’t want it to make a political statement. Quite the contrary,” he says. “My position on this is I truly believe that people will take away from this program the reflection of what they bring to it.… Why, in heaven’s name, should one not be able to look at the faces and hear the names and see the ages of those young people who are not coming back alive and feel somehow ennobled by the fact that they were willing to give up their lives for something that is in the national interest of all of us?” New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen disagrees. “Despite what he said about it,” Rosen writes, “Ted Koppel and Nightline were making a political statement last night by reading the names of ‘the fallen’ in Iraq. And there is nothing wrong with that—although it is risky because many will object.… By refusing to air the show… Sinclair Broadcasting, the country’s largest owner of television stations, was making a political statement right back.… Nothing intrinsically wrong with that, either, although it is risky and many will object.” ABC makes a political statement by choosing to air the segment, not only on the airwaves, but on the Jumbotron in New York City’s Times Square. And ABC affiliates who decide to ignore Sinclair’s order and air the broadcast are making their own political statement. (Al Tompkins 4/30/2004; Jay Rosen 5/1/2004)
Undermining Public Support of War? - Many pundits who argue against the Nightline memorium say that to air such a segment would undermine public support for the war, an argument which Rich later answers: “If the country was as firmly in support of this war as Bush loyalists claimed, by what logic would photographs of its selfless soldiers, either of their faces or their flag-draped coffins (see April 18, 2004 and After), undermine public opinion?” (Rich 2006, pp. 125) Sue Niederer, who lost her son, Second Lieutenant Seth Dvorin, to a roadside bomb, says: “I feel it’s extremely important that the American people put a face and a name to the dead. When you just listen to a number, you don’t think about what may be behind that—that there’s a family, that there’s actually a person who has lost their life.” (CNN 5/1/2004) Tim Holmes, who lost his son, Specialist Ernest Sutphin, says of Koppel’s broadcast: “That’s something I’d like to see. I feel like people have a right to see something like that—what’s going on over there.” Marine reservist Chief Warrant Officer David Dennis adds: “Let the American people know the Marines who have died, and everyone who has died. The people need to know who it is that is going out there and making the ultimate sacrifice for them.” (Rizzo 4/30/2004) “We should be honoring all the men and women who have served,” says Ivan Medina, who lost his twin brother, Irving Medina. “My hat goes off to Nightline.” (Associated Press 5/1/2004)
Fox News Responds - Fox News reporter and anchor Chris Wallace says his network will “answer” Koppel’s broadcast by airing its own segment: “[W]e here at Fox News Sunday are going to put together our own list, a list of what we’ve accomplished [in Iraq], with the blood, sweat, and yes, lives of our military.” (Jay Rosen 5/1/2004)
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)
White House senior counsel Alberto Gonzales is questioned by the grand jury investigating the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak. (New York Times 2006) White House press secretary Scott McClellan refuses to discuss what Gonzales may have told the grand jury, saying only, “The judge was pleased to do his part to cooperate” with the investigation. (Schmidt 6/19/2004) A year later, Gonzales will tell Fox News interviewer Brit Hume that he “had no information regarding Ms. Plame [Wilson] and her role at the CIA.… I believe I first learned about it, Brit, at the same time that most Americans did, and that’s when the stories began running about her role.” Hume will ask, “So, basically, you read about it in the paper?” and Gonzales will reply, “That’s correct.” (Fox News 7/24/2005) In 2006, the media will learn that Gonzales withheld crucial White House e-mails from the investigation (see February 15, 2006).
Conservative marketing expert Richard Viguerie, writing with David Franke in America’s Right Turn, notes: “Conservatives will almost always defend Fox [News]‘s claim to be ‘fair and balanced,’ but they find it hard to do so without a smirk or smile on their face.… They proudly want to claim Fox as one if their own—it’s one of the movement’s great success stories” (see October 13, 2009). (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 49)
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)
On the evening of Election Day, Bush political chief Karl Rove appears on Fox News’s Hannity and Colmes to discuss his predictions for the elections and his observations on the day’s voting. After predicting comfortable margins of victory for President Bush, co-host Sean Hannity turns to allegations of voter fraud and efforts by Republicans to monitor votes in Ohio and other states. In Ohio, Rove says, Republicans have poll watchers on hand “in order to challenge people who are fictitious voters or felons, ineligible to vote, or people who have registered multiple times.… And we know particularly in Ohio, but in a lot of the other key battleground states, there has been a lot of voter registration fraud. We don’t want that to turn into voter fraud on Election Day.” He cites the NAACP as an organization engaging in voter fraud, and says one NAACP vote registrar registered 100 illegitimate names and was paid for his work in crack cocaine. Rove gives no evidence for this sensational claim. Hannity cites unverified stories of felons illegally voting in Florida, and Rove adds an unverified story of workers for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) bringing a sheaf of absentee ballots out of a prison in Pennsylvania and “attempting to vote them.” Absentee ballots have to be mailed personally in Pennsylvania and, Rove says, the actions by the ACORN workers to put the prisoners’ ballots into the mail were illegal. (Fox News 11/2/2004) It is unknown where Rove obtained his information. No news reports of these incidents can be found.
Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity claims, falsely, that former vice president and Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore “brought Willie Horton to the American people.” Hannity is referring to the infamous “Willie Horton” ad of the 1988 presidential campaign, a Republican campaign strategy that claimed African-American Willie Horton was released and went on to rape a white woman by Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis (see September 21 - October 4, 1988). Hannity’s statement comes in response to a recent citation of the Horton ad by Princeton University professor Cornel West, who cited the ad as an example of the Republican Party’s political exploitation of race. Hannity notes correctly that in the 1988 Democratic presidential primaries, Gore asked Dukakis about “weekend passes for convicted criminals,” referring to the Massachusetts furlough program that freed Horton. However, Gore never mentioned Horton at all. The first national mention of Horton came in the ads released by the Bush campaign and by an ostensibly independent conservative organization, the National Security Political Action Committee (NSPAC). According to progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters, Hannity has made similar claims about Gore first bringing up Horton in the past. (Media Matters 11/10/2004)
Stephen Williams, a fifth-grade teacher at a Cupertino, California public school, is prevented by school administrators from selecting passages from historical documents for his students that reinforce his belief that the US is a strictly Christian nation; in return, many media representatives accuse his school district of “banning the Declaration of Independence” from being taught. Williams describes himself as an “orthodox Christian.” He wants his students to learn that America’s “Founding Fathers” were staunch Christians who intended to create a nation based on Biblical tenets, a position not supported by the historical record. After finding few citations in school textbooks to support his beliefs, Williams began giving his students selected passages from a number of historical documents, including William Penn’s “Frame of Government in Pennsylvania,” the Delaware State Constitution, George Washington’s prayer journal, and President Bush’s statement on the recent National Prayer Day, where he told the nation, “Prayer is an opportunity to praise God for His mighty works.” Some of the parents of Williams’s students believed he was attempting to evangelize their children; one parent said, “My daughter came home one day and said, ‘Mr. Williams talks about Jesus 100 times a day.’” Williams’s principal, Patricia Vidmar, began reviewing his lesson plans and supplemental handouts to ensure that he does not proselytize religion to his students. Williams responded with a lawsuit complaining that his free speech and academic freedom had been unduly constrained. (Williams is being represented in court by the Alliance Defense Fund, which has filed several lawsuits challenging the legality of same-sex marriage.) When the national press reports Williams’s situation, conservative pundits and radio hosts begin informing, and misinforming, their listeners and readers about Williams and his teaching; many tell their audiences that the Cupertino school district is “banning the Declaration of Independence.” Fox News talk show hosts Sean Hannity and John Gibson, along with Fox News anchor Brit Hume, Fox News analyst Newt Gingrich, and MSNBC commentator Monica Crowley, all tell their audiences that the school does not allow the Declaration of Independence to be referenced in its classes. The conservative National Lawyers Association accuses Vidmar, whom it terms a “rogue school principal,” of working towards “rul[ing] that the Constitution is unconstitutional.” Some parents, district supporters, and civil liberties advocates say Williams has become a rallying point for conservative Christians eager to, in their words, rewrite American history. Ivory Madison, a legal analyst for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, says: “This is the same thing that people have been trying to do for 200 years. The only difference now is that they’re well funded, media savvy, and litigious. It’s a shame that our tax dollars have to be used for a school district to defend the Constitution.” One parent at the Cupertino school says of Williams’s teaching: “This is not about teaching history, this is about indoctrination.… [W]hat would happen if someone whose religion is not a majority religion would be doing this? It isn’t OK [for a teacher] to make a kid feel like he isn’t like you.” Another parent asked the school not to place her child in Williams’s class this year, and says, “[W]hat he’s doing isn’t teaching history. If you were teaching at a church school, that would be great. But he isn’t.” (Garofoli 12/8/2004; Media Matters 12/10/2004)
Political scientist Timothy Groseclose of UCLA and economist Jeffrey Milyo of the University of Missouri-Columbia release a study entitled “A Measure of Media Bias” that purports to document the “liberal bias” of the mainstream media. Unfortunately for Groseclose and Milyo’s conclusions, their measure of “bias” is found severely wanting, and they fail to mention the substantial body of scholarly work that challenges their theories. The study contains observations of 20 mainstream news outlets, including national newspapers, news magazines, and network and cable television news channels. (Groseclose and Milyo 12/2004; MSNBC 12/19/2005; Media Matters 12/21/2005)
Previous Positions at Conservative Institutions - Groseclose and Milyo have previously received significant funding for their research from three prominent conservative think tanks: the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI), the Heritage Foundation, and the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace. Groseclose has served as a fellow of the Hoover Institution, while Milyo received a $40,500 grant from AEI. Both were named as fellows by the Heritage Foundation. The two authored an article for the conservative American Spectator in 1996.
Flawed Study - Groseclose and Milyo, according to their study, “measure media bias by estimating ideological scores for several major media outlets” based on the frequency with which various think tanks and advocacy organizations were cited approvingly by the media and by members of Congress over a 10-year period. In order to assess media “bias,” the authors assembled the ideological scores given to members of Congress by the liberal group Americans for Democratic Action; examined the floor speeches of selected members to catalog which think tanks and policy organizations were cited by those members; used those citations as the basis for an ideological score assigned to each think tank (organizations cited by liberal members were scored as more liberal, whereas organizations cited by conservative members were scored as more conservative); then performed a content analysis of newspapers and TV programs to catalog which think tanks and policy organizations were quoted. If a news organization quoted a think tank mentioned by conservative members of Congress, then it was said to have a conservative “bias.” The authors write: “As a simplified example, imagine that there were only two think tanks, and suppose that the New York Times cited the first think tank twice as often as the second. Our method asks: What is the estimated ADA score of a member of Congress who exhibits the same frequency (2:1) in his or her speeches? This is the score that our method would assign the New York Times.” The progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters will call the methodology “bizarre,” and will write: “If a member of Congress cites a think tank approvingly, and if that think tank is also cited by a news organization, then the news organization has a ‘bias’ making it an ideological mirror of the member of Congress who cited the think tank. This, as Groseclose and Milyo define it, is what constitutes ‘media bias.’” (Groseclose and Milyo 12/2004; Media Matters 12/21/2005) In December 2005, the parent company of the Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones and Co., will question the study’s validity, noting: “[I]ts measure of media bias consists entirely of counting the number of mentions of, or quotes from, various think tanks that the researchers determine to be ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative.‘… And if a think tank is explicitly labeled ‘liberal” or “conservative’ within a story to provide context to readers, that example doesn’t count at all. The researchers simply threw out such mentions.” (Poynter Online 12/21/2005)
Classifying Organizations - Groseclose and Milyo assign “scores” to a variety of partisan and nonpartisan advocacy groups and think tanks. Some of these scores are problematic:
The National Rifle Association (NRA), widely characterized as a strongly conservative organization, scores a 49.5 on a 100-point scale, classifying it as barely conservative;
The RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research organization closely affiliated with the Defense Department, scores a 60.4, classifying it as strongly liberal;
The Council on Foreign Relations, a nonpartisan political organization featuring both Republicans and Democrats on its board and headed by a former Bush administration official, scores a 60.2, classifying it as solidly liberal;
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), an organization consistently reviled by conservative pundits, scores a 49.8, classifying it as slightly conservative;
The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks political contributions, scores a 66.9, classifying it as highly liberal;
The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a defense policy think tank chaired by former Democratic House member Dave McCurdy, scores a 33.9, classifying it as more conservative than AEI and the hard-right National Taxpayers Union.
Lack of 'Balance' Indicates Bias in Study - According to Media Matters, Groseclose and Milyo classify news stories as exhibiting a partisan bias if they fail to balance a “liberal” group’s quote with a “conservative” group’s quote, regardless of the nature of the reporting. For example, the authors cite the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which they classify as staunchly liberal, as one of the organizations most often quoted without “balancing” quotes from conservative groups. Media Matters will write, “[B]ecause there are no pro-racism groups of any legitimacy (or on Groseclose and Milyo’s list), such stories will be coded as having a ‘liberal bias.’” In contrast, stories featured in the study that quote a spokesperson from the NRA are often “balanced” by quotes from a “liberal” organization, Handgun Control, Inc., though, as Media Matters will note, that organization renamed itself the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence in 2001, and Groseclose and Milyo do not include that name in their statistics, “therefore, it is impossible to determine from reading the study if Groseclose and Milyo’s score reflects post-2001 citations by legislators and the media of the group under its new name.” Moreover, because the study only assigns partisan weight to quotes from advocacy groups or think tanks, if a story cites a member of Congress as taking a position and contrasts that position with a quote from a think tank, that story, according to the authors, is “biased” in favor of the think tank’s position. Media Matters calls this practice “miscategorization.”
Assuming Reporter, News Outlet Bias - One of the most questionable practices in the study is the assumption that if a reporter quotes a source, that reporter—or his or her news outlet—must believe the opinions expressed by that source. Media Matters will write that “most, if not all, reporters across the ideological spectrum would find [that assumption] utterly ridiculous.” (Groseclose and Milyo 12/2004; Media Matters 12/21/2005) The Dow Jones statement will find, “By this logic, a mention of al-Qaeda in a story suggests the newspaper endorses its views, which is obviously not the case.” (Poynter Online 12/21/2005) The authors say that only two mainstream news outlets, Fox News and the Washington Times, slant rightward. The study finds that Fox News’s coverage is quite moderate; in a 2005 interview on MSNBC, Milyo will say that Fox’s news coverage can be equated with the moderate Republicanism of Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME), considered the most “liberal”-leaning Republican in Congress. (MSNBC 12/19/2005)
Bias Findings at Odds with History - The study makes some odd conclusions about liberal bias: for example, the Wall Street Journal, whose op-ed page has long avowed itself as a champion of conservative thought, is characterized by the study as having more “liberal bias” than any news outlet surveyed. The authors claim that they studied only news reporting and not editorial writings, but as Media Matters will note, “the Journal is respected on both the right and the left, and it would be shocking to hear even the most rabid right-winger assert that the Journal is America’s most liberal news outlet.” (Groseclose and Milyo 12/2004; Media Matters 12/21/2005)
Methodology Flawed - In December 2005, a spokesman for Dow Jones will call the study “logically suspect and simply baffling.” The statement will note that Groseclose and Milyo only studied four months of Journal reporting, from 2002, while they studied 12 years of CBS News reporting, 11 years of National Public Radio reporting, eight years of reporting from US News and World Report, and two years of reporting from Time Magazine. The Washington Post and Washington Times were also only studied for brief periods. “Yet the researchers provide those findings the same weight as all the others, without bothering to explain that in any meaningful way to the study’s readers,” the statement will note. It will conclude, “Suffice it to say that ‘research’ of this variety would be unlikely to warrant a mention at all in any Wall Street Journal story” (see December 21, 2005).
Failure to Mention Other Studies - The authors fail to mention a large number of previous studies of “media bias.” They do, however, cite three studies that, according to Media Matters, are as “questionable” as this particular study. One assumed that since conservatives say in surveys that the media is biased, then that bias unquestionably exists. The second assumed that news magazines that sold more subscriptions in geographic areas weighted towards Democratic voters were biased in favor of Democrats. The third is an AEI study whose statistics and methodologies were found to be deeply flawed. Groseclose and Milyo ignore one of the most rigorous and exhaustive studies in recent years, a 2000 analysis by the International Communication Association, which found that newspapers and news magazines exhibited little measurable bias, and television network news broadcasts exhibited measurable but relatively insubstantial bias. That study included 59 other studies, all of which go unmentioned in the Groseclose-Milyo study.
Conservative Bibliography - Media Matters will write that the authors seem almost unaware that other studies of media bias exist. The study’s bibliography is heavily freighted with citations from conservative media critics such as Brent Bozell (founder of the Media Research Center) and Reed Irvine (the late founder of Accuracy in Media). The bibliography also cites an article from the hard-right Internet publication WorldNetDaily. It does not cite any entries from dozens of well-known scholarly journals of communication and media studies, most of which have examined the topic of media bias in their pages. (Groseclose and Milyo 12/2004; Media Matters 12/21/2005)
Conservative columnist Ann Coulter, in her daily syndicated column, accuses Democrats and liberals of “racism” for criticizing African-American conservatives. Coulter’s column is partly in response to recent remarks by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) that other conservatives have characterized as racist (see December 5-8, 2004). Coulter expands her criticism well beyond Reid, to accuse African-American columnist Bob Herbert of the New York Times of being a “black liberal” whose criticism of black conservatives is, in her view, racially motivated, and accuses white Times media critic Caryn James of “launching racist attacks on black conservatives” (Coulter mistakenly identifies James as African-American). Coulter begins by referring to comments by the recently deceased Washington Post columnist Mary McGrory, who called Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia “a brillant and compelling extremist” and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (see October 13, 1991) “Scalia’s puppet.” According to Coulter, McGrory’s statement “is the kind of rhetoric liberals are reduced to when they just can’t bring themselves to use the N-word.” Referring to Reid’s characterization of Thomas as the author of “poorly written” Court opinions, Coulter writes, “You’d think Thomas’ opinions were written in ebonics.” She concludes by calling Herbert and James “Uncle Toms.” The same evening, Coulter continues her attacks on Fox News, appearing as a guest on Bill O’Reilly’s broadcast. According to Coulter, liberals “feel like they have blacks on the plantation, they can say whatever they like. And, interestingly, you don’t even hear Hispanic conservatives attacked in the same way that people like Condoleezza Rice and Clarence Thomas are, and—and, I mean, just look at it. Look at what the Democrats’ minority leader in the Senate said this weekend. He praises Scalia as ‘Oh, he’s one smart guy, and his opinions, can’t dispute the logic, though I disagree with them,’ and then he says of Clarence Thomas ‘He’s an embarrassment. His opinions—they’re just poorly written.’” O’Reilly agrees, saying that Democrats who try to “demean people with whom [they] disagree with politically” are “loathsome.” Coulter says that Democrats are “enraged” about the 2004 elections, and in response “they’re lashing out at the blacks.” (Ann Coulter 12/8/2009; Media Matters 12/10/2009)
Alex Ben Lock of Television Week writes: “We have seen in the past year the rise of the Fox News Channel, founded only in 1996 (see October 7, 1996), as one of the most important news media of our culture.… Fox has engaged an even larger audience that is amazingly loyal to the FNC brand.… Fox News, in combination with a network of conservative talk radio commentators, has changed the way many Americans process news—despite or maybe because of the adamant opposition of numerous intellectuals, journalists, celebrities, and others who still can’t believe what has happened” (see October 13, 2009). (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 48)
President Bush is inaugurated for his second term. (White House 1/20/2005) Author and media critic Frank Rich will observe that Bush’s inauguration is a four-day, $40 million media extravaganza designed to “enhance the White House’s portrayal of the war in Iraq.” The official theme is “Celebrating Freedom, Honoring Service.” Rich will write, “The trick for its production was to market the military effort while keeping all of its costs off-screen so that no unpleasantness or difficult questions… might spoil the party or Bush’s message of victory around the corner.” The ceremonies are ostensibly to honor the military men and women who have served the country, and are still serving, but during his inaugural address, Bush never says the word “Iraq.” The word is hardly mentioned at the lavish ball thrown for Bush’s Christian supporters at Washington’s Ritz-Carlton hotel. And the press, especially the network and cable outlets, cooperates, running breathless takes on the sumptuous festivities; Rich will write, “Television’s ceremonial coverage of the inauguration, much of which resembled the martial pageantry broadcast by state-owned networks in banana republics, dutifully parroted the White House message that the four-day bacchanal was a salute to the troops.” One of the few dissenters, Vanity Fair writer Judy Bachrach, observes on Fox News that the military ball and prayer service will not keep troops “safe and warm” in their “flimsy” Humvees in Iraq; after a commercial break, Bachrach is no longer on set. One particular “salute to the troops,” the “Heroes Red, White, and Blue Inaugural Ball,” is not televised, and rightly so, Rich will write, calling it “surreal.” Attendees include Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, and Fox News commentator Geraldo Rivera, who jokingly equates his status as “overpaid” reporter with “underpaid hero[es]” in battle. (The audience, largely made up of injured soldiers from Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Bethesda Naval Hospital, respond to Rivera’s humor with “deafening silence,” according to one Washington Post report.) Rich points out the irony of the evening’s main entertainment act, Nile Rodgers and Chic, who “sang the lyrics ‘Clap your hands, hoo!’ and ‘Dance to the beat’ to soldiers who had lost hands and legs.” (Rich 2006, pp. 159-160)
Fox News runs a three-part series on Venezuela, narrated by Fox News’ Steve Harrigan, suggesting that the Chavez government “is moving toward totalitarian rule” and is a potential threat to the US. Miami University political science professor Anibal Romero tells Harrigan that Chavez is a “dangerous fellow. He’s a confused person. He has radical instincts. He’s deeply anti-American… and is prepared to do terrible things.” Harrigan acknowledges the president’s popularity among the country’s poor, but cites the opposition’s concerns that his popularity “does not give the president the right to do whatever he wants.” The “police, military and armed thugs have been tools used freely by Chavez to hang on to power during a coup attempt and a national strike in 2002.… Chavez has packed the Supreme Court and the army with his supporters, seized control of the country’s wealth and introduced a penal code that criminalizes dissent. Anyone who opposes him faces violence or prison.” Chavez opponents also complain that he is clamping down on the press. Ana Christina Nunez, legal counsel for Globovision, the country’s only 24-hour news channel, says, “Our own journalists don’t know whether they can show whatever it is they are trying to cover.” Harrigan also reports that Chavez is “pushing the idea that anyone can grow what they want on someone else’s land” and that he “has declared war on large landowners.” “More than 1,000 of Venezuela’s urban poor have set up bamboo shacks” on land that has “belonged to a British company for a century.” They use the land “to raise their own products for income,” he reports. The British firm’s employees show Harrington on a map how these successive invasions are eating away at the British company’s land holdings and threatening to drive the company into “bankruptcy.” Joaquin Roy, a professor at Miami University, warns that what’s happening in Venezuela could be the first step of land takeovers that could threaten US interests. (Harrigan 2/4/2005)
Fox News senior anchor Brit Hume and Fox analyst William Bennett both make the false claim that former President Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted to replace Social Security with private accounts. In fact, Roosevelt, who implemented Social Security, was in favor of “voluntary contributory annunities” to supplement Social Security benefits, but never proposed replacing Social Security with private money. Hume and Bennett both support President Bush’s plan to partially “privatize” Social Security; Bush himself has asserted, equally falsely, that Roosevelt supported privatization. On Fox’s political talk show Hannity and Colmes, Bennett tells viewers: “Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the guy who established Social Security, said that it would be good to have it replaced by private investment over time. Private investment would be the way to really carry this thing through.” That same evening, Hume tells his audience: “In a written statement to Congress in 1935, Roosevelt said that any Social Security plans should include, quote, ‘Voluntary contributory annuities, by which individual initiative can increase the annual amounts received in old age,’ adding that government funding, quote, ‘ought to ultimately be supplanted by self-supporting annuity plans.’” Hume fails to point out that Roosevelt was not talking about “supplant[ing]” Social Security with any “self-supporting annuity plans,” but instead was talking about a different fund that provided pension benefits to Americans too old (in 1935) to contribute payroll taxes to Social Security. In 1935, Edwin Witte, the director of the Committee on Economic Security, told Congress flatly that voluntary accounts were intended as a “separate undertaking” meant to “supplement” the compulsory system, not replace it. (Media Matters 2/4/2005) Days before the Fox broadcasts, Roosevelt’s grandson James Roosevelt Jr., a former Social Security associate commissioner, noted that “Bush invoked the name of my grandfather… as part of his campaign to privatize Social Security,” and added, “The implication that FDR would support privatization of America’s greatest national program is an attempt to deceive the American people and an outrage.” (Roosevelt 1/31/2005) Liberal pundit Al Franken calls on Hume to resign over his historical distortions; MSNBC host Keith Olbermann calls Hume’s statements “premeditated, historical fraud,” and Roosevelt Jr. says that “outrageous distortion… calls for a retraction, an apology, maybe even a resignation.” (Fosor 2/18/2005) Influential conservative blogger Glenn Reynolds will acknowledge that Roosevelt was not advocating for the privatization of Social Security, instead noting that Roosevelt’s plan “would have involved, essentially, a sort of government-supplied 401k plan.” (Glenn Reynolds 2/4/2005)
Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity and conservative radio host Laura Ingraham repeat the long-debunked claim that former vice president and Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore first mentioned convicted murderer and rapist Willie Horton in the context of a political campaign. Hannity and Ingraham are referring to the infamous “Willie Horton” ad of the 1988 presidential campaign, a Republican campaign strategy that falsely claimed African-American Willie Horton was released and went on to rape a white woman by Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis (see September 21 - October 4, 1988). Responding to a Democratic political strategist’s citation of the Horton ad as an example of Republican political appeals to racism, Ingraham, a guest on Hannity’s show, says the Horton ad “was Al Gore’s idea,” and Hannity says, “Al Gore brought up Willie Horton in the first—in the [Democratic] primary.” As has long been proven, Gore never mentioned Horton in the 1988 Democratic presidential primaries; instead, it was the Bush-Quayle campaign that introduced Horton to the American public. (Media Matters 2/16/2005) Hannity has charged Gore with first bringing up Horton before (see November 9, 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).
Alireza Jafarzadeh—a former spokesman of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), an organization that is listed by the State Department as a foreign terrorist organization (see August 15, 2003)—says that according to “well-placed sources” within the Iranian regime, “Iran has completed an underground tunnel-like facility in Parchin, which is now engaged in laser enrichment.” Jafarzadeh, who now heads the Washington-based think-tank Strategic Policy Consulting and regularly serves as a Fox News foreign affairs analyst, also says that “the underground site is camouflaged and built in an area of Parchin that deals with the chemical industry.” It is connected to “Iran’s secret nuclear weapons program,” he further claims. The underground facility is reportedly located in an area known as “Plan 1.” (Fox News 2/20/2005; Charbonneau 3/24/2005; Jahn 3/24/2005; Seattle Times 3/25/2005) Iran has refused to give inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) unfettered access to Parchin (see March 1, 2005), and the US alleges that Iran is testing explosive devices there that could be used in nuclear weapons.
Three days before a group of military analysts are taken to Guantanamo by the Pentagon for an orchestrated “tour” (see June 24-25, 2005), one planning e-mail from Pentagon official Dallas Lawrence gives weight to the belief that the tour was arranged to prepare the analysts to deliver scripted talking points before the cameras (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Lawrence notes the importance of scheduling the Guantanamo trip to ensure that an analyst for the American Spectator, Jed Babbin, can participate: “He is hosting a number of radio shows this summer. I would have to think he would have every member of Congress on to talk about their trip together—a definite plus for us looking to expand the echo chamber.” Babbin will respond with a Spectator article lambasting Democratic critics of Guantanamo, and will be given an invitation to appear on Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News talk show. Pentagon public relations official Lawrence Di Rita is quite pleased by Babbin’s work, and in an e-mail to other Pentagon officials, says: “We really should try to help [Babbin]. He is consistently solid and helpful.” (Greenwald 5/9/2008)
“Independent military analyst” Gordon Cucullu, a former Green Beret, is an enthusiastic participant in the Pentagon’s Iraq propaganda operation (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Cucullu has just returned from a half-day tour of the Guantanamo detention facility (see June 24-25, 2005), and is prepared to give the Pentagon’s approved message to the media.
Talking Points Covered in Fox Appearance - In an e-mail to Pentagon official Dallas Lawrence, he alerts the department to a new article he has written for conservative Website FrontPage, and notes that he has appeared on an early-morning broadcast on Fox News and delivered the appropriate talking points: “I did a Fox & Friends hit at 0620 this morning. Good emphasis on 1) no torture, 2) detainees abuse guards, and 3) continuing source of vital intel.” (Greenwald 5/9/2008)
Op-Ed: Pampered Detainees Regularly Abuse Guards - In the op-ed for FrontPage, entitled “What I Saw at Gitmo,” he writes that the US is being “extraordinarily lenient—far too lenient” on the detainees there. There is certainly abuse going on at Guantanamo, Cucullu writes—abuse of soldiers by the detainees. Based on his three-hour tour of the facility, which included viewing one “interrogation” and touring an unoccupied cellblock, Cucullu says that the detainees “fight their captors at every opportunity” and spew death threats against the soldiers, their families, and Americans in general. The soldiers are regularly splattered with “feces, urine, semen, and spit.” One detainee reportedly told another, “One day I will enjoy sucking American blood, although their blood is bitter, undrinkable.” US soldiers, whom Cucullu says uniformly treat the detainees with courtesy and restraint (see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003), are constantly attacked by detainees who wield crudely made knives, or try to “gouge eyes and tear mouths [or] grab and break limbs as the guards pass them food.” In return, the detainees are given huge meals of “well-prepared food,” meals which typically overflow from two styrofoam containers. Many detainees insist on “special meal orders,” and throw fits if their meals are not made to order. The level of health care they are granted, Cucullu says, would suit even the most hypochondriac American. Cucullu writes that the detainees are lavished with ice cream treats, granted extended recreational periods, live in “plush environs,” and provided with a full array of religious paraphernalia. “They are not abused, hanged, tortured, beheaded, raped, mutilated, or in any way treated the way that they once treated their own captives—or now treat their guards.” The commander, Brigadier General Jay Hood, tells Cucullu that such pampered treatment provides better results than harsher measures. “Establishing rapport” is more effective than coercion, Hood says, and, in Cucullu’s words, Hood “refers skeptics to the massive amount of usable intelligence information [the detainees] produce even three years into the program.” In conclusion, Cucullu writes, the reader is “right to worry about inhumane treatment” at Guantanamo, but on behalf of the soldiers, not the detainees. (Cucullu 6/27/2005)
Fourteen Marines die in Iraq. Hours after their deaths, William Cowan, a retired Marine colonel and Fox News analyst (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) who has grown increasingly uncomfortable with what he will later call the Pentagon’s “twisted version of reality” being pushed on analysts in briefings, telephones the Pentagon to advise officials that his upcoming comments on Fox “may not all be friendly.” He is then given a private briefing, quickly arranged by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s senior aides. But Cowan then tells Fox host Bill O’Reilly that it has been “a bad week” in Iraq, that many military officials he has talked to were “expressing a lot of dismay and disappointment at the way things are going,” and the US is “not on a good glide path right now” in Iraq. The repercussions are almost immediate. According to Cowan, he is “precipitously fired from the analysts group” for this appearance. The Pentagon “simply didn’t like the fact that I wasn’t carrying their water.” Cowan later recalls: “Suddenly, boom, I never got another telephone call, I never got another e-mail from them.… I was just booted off the group. I was fired.” Cowan will say that he and other analysts were given special access only “as long as they thought I was serving their purposes.… I drink nobody’s Kool-Aid.” The next day, the other analysts take part in a conference call with General James Conway, the director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where he urges them not to let the Marines’ deaths erode support for the war. Conway is blunt, saying directly that the US citizenry is the main target of Pentagon propaganda. “The strategic target remains our population,” he tells them. “We can lose people day in and day out, but they’re never going to beat our military. What they can and will do if they can is strip away our support. And you guys can help us not let that happen.” An analyst chimes in, “General, I just made that point on the air.” Conway says, “Let’s work it together, guys.” (Barstow 4/20/2008; Kurtz 4/21/2008)
Wayne Simmons, a former CIA operative, appears on the Hannity & Colmes show to offer his assessment of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. He calls Chavez “a college-educated, militarily trained, lethal murderer, treacherous letch, who has… threatened not only the United States and the West, but armed himself with the revolutionary armed forces of Colombia.” “He specializes in murder, mayhem, extortion, and so on,” he adds. Simmons also accuses Chavez of being “in bed with Castro” and alleges that he is part of “the Bolivarian neo-communist regime movement that… will not be satisfied until they have penetrated every government from Ecuador to Panama, Colombia, and so on… .” When asked by Colmes whether the US should “assassinate him,” Simmons replies, “Well, listen, if a stray bullet from a hunter in Kentucky should find its way between… this guy’s eyes,… no American should lose any sleep over it.” Colmes then asks if “assassinating a leader of another country [would] be the Christian thing to do,” to which Simmons responds: “Listen, this is not about Christians. I’m a Christian, as well, but I’m about protecting this country and protecting Americans.… I absolutely would [support his assassination]—he should have been killed a long time ago.… this guy needs to go.” When Hannity and Holmes insist that assassinating Chavez would be against the law, Simmons compares Chavez to Adolf Hitler warning that the Venezuelan president “absolutely has the possibility of becoming [a Hitler] in South America.” (Fox 8/24/2005)
Fox News analyst Dan Senor, the former spokesman for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq (White House 10/1/2006; Greenwald 5/10/2008) , writes an article for the neoconservative magazine Weekly Standard about the upcoming trial of captured Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein. Senor writes that the trial will provide “a peek into the depths of human evil and, embarrassingly, if incidentally, into the concurrent indifference of Western nations to Iraqi suffering. Thus far, the accountability of Nuremberg, the Hague, Rwanda, and Sierra Leone has eluded Arab-Muslim leaders. This is about to change.” Senor also says that part of Hussein’s trial strategy will be to attempt to create sympathy for his “humiliation” that will translate into “a spike in the insurgency…” He notes that “an increase in violence is anticipated by Commanding General George Casey too.” (Senor 10/2/2005) According to Pentagon documents released as part of the New York Times investigation into the Pentagon propaganda operation surrounding Iraq (see May 9, 2008), Senor routinely asks the advice of Pentagon public relations official Larry Di Rita about what he should say on his television broadcasts, and submits articles such as this to Di Rita for editing directions. (Greenwald 5/10/2008)
In the days after Michael Steele (R-MD), an African-American, announced his candidacy for governor of Maryland, allegations have resurfaced that in 2002 he was “pelted” with Oreo cookies by Democrats at a political debate (see September 26, 2002 and After); if true, such actions would constitute a significant racial slur. However, reporting of the incident has fallen into question, and Steele himself recently denied being hit by cookies during the debate, though he did say he saw Oreos on the stage near him: “I’ve never claimed that I was hit, no. The one or two that I saw at my feet were there. I just happened to look down and see them.” Eyewitness accounts compiled by the Baltimore Sun show that the allegations are questionable at best; moreover, the Sun reports, accounts of the incident by Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert Ehrlich, Ehrlich’s communications director Paul Schurick, and Steele himself, dramatically contradict each other. Progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters compares the different accounts of the incident, and concludes that the story has grown from an almost-baseless “partisan talking point” into “a ‘fact’ reported by the media” over the last three years. Media Matters notes that several newspapers, including the Chicago Sun-Times, the Washington Post, and the Washington Times, have recently reported the incident as factual, with the Times writing that Steele was “pelt[ed] with Oreo cookies” among the “racially tinged attacks” directed at him by his Democratic opponent in 2002. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell writes: “Steele has been subjected to the worst racial slurs imaginable. At one debate, a group of black people pelted the stage with Oreos.” Between October 31 and November 16, the Washington Times asserts the incident as fact three times in its editorial pages, and twice in its news reporting. The Weekly Standard reports it three times. Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity twice asserts it as fact on his broadcast, as does one of his guests, National Review editor Rich Lowry. Deroy Murdock, another National Review contributor, asserts it as fact in one of his columns. Washington Post metro editor Marc Fisher cites it in an online chat. Mitchell cites it in the Chicago Sun-Times. The conservative American Spectator cites it as fact once. Syndicated columnist Gregory Kane cites it as fact once. The National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service editor in chief George Curry states it as fact on National Public Radio, as does the host of the NPR program, Ed Gordon. The Investors Business Daily cites it as fact in an editorial. MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson cites it as fact on the air. The Associated Press cites it as fact in an article. Media Matters also notes that the story resurfaced briefly during the August 2004 Republican National Convention, with the Baltimore Sun reporting that Steele and Ehrlich “still talk” about the incident, and the Washington Post reporting it as fact. (Segraves 11/15/2005; Media Matters 11/21/2005)
Retired Army General Paul Vallely, a military analyst employed by Fox News (see Early 2002 and Beyond, Late September 2003, April 14-16, 2006, and April 18, 2006), says that former ambassador Joseph Wilson revealed his wife’s status as a CIA official over a year before she was exposed by conservative columnist Robert Novak (see July 14, 2003). Vallely’s claims are published by WorldNetDaily (WND), an online conservative news site, after Vallely makes the claims on an ABC Radio talk show hosted by conservative commentator and blogger John Batchelor. Fox News has described Vallely as an expert on psychological warfare (see April 21, 2003). Vallely says Wilson openly discussed his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, as a CIA official between three and five times in 2002, while the two waited to appear on various Fox News broadcasts. Both Vallely and Wilson served as analysts for Fox News during the US’s run-up to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. Vallely says the first time Wilson discussed his wife’s CIA status was in the spring of 2002. “He was rather open about his wife working at the CIA,” Vallely says. “He was a total self promoter,” Vallely continues. “I don’t know if it was out of insecurity, to make him feel important, but he’s created so much turmoil, he needs to be investigated and put under oath.” Vallely also says that several acquaintances of his at the CIA have said Wilson routinely introduced his wife as a CIA official at Washington cocktail parties and social events. “That was pretty common knowledge,” he says. “She’s been out there on the Washington scene many years.” If she were a covert agent, Valley says (see Fall 1992 - 1996), “he would not have paraded her around as he did.” Vallely concludes, “This whole thing has become the biggest non-story I know, and all created by Joe Wilson.” Conservative lawyer Victoria Toensing agrees that Plame Wilson is most likely not a covert agent for the agency. WND does not report Wilson’s response to Vallely’s charges, and in several critical references to a Vanity Fair interview given by the Wilsons (see January 2004) the blog misidentifies the date of the interview publication as 2005, not 2004. (Moore 11/5/2005)
CIA Confirmed Plame Wilson's Covert Status - The CIA has repeatedly confirmed Plame Wilson as a covert official, and many observers both inside and outside the agency have noted the extensive damage caused by her exposure (see Before September 16, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, October 23-24, 2003, and February 13, 2006).
Fox News, Conservative Blogs Report Claims - Three days after Vallely’s claims appear on WND, Fox News reports Vallely’s statements. (Hume 11/8/2005) And a day after the WND article, Batchelor announces on prominent conservative blog RedState that another analyst will confirm Vallely’s claims. Batchelor says that on November 7, Vallely and retired Air Force General Thomas McInerney will “repeat and expand upon Vallely’s memory that Joe Wilson more than once in 2002 in the green room at Fox New Channel in Washington, DC, boasted about his wife the ‘CIA desk officer.’ McInerney has the same memory and more, since both he and Vallely were on FNC between 150 and 200 times in 2002 each.” (John Batchelor 11/6/2005)
Wilson Demands Retraction, Counters Claim - Wilson’s attorney, Christopher Wolf, e-mails both Vallely and WND demanding that they retract Vallely’s statements, writing that “the claim that Ambassador Wilson revealed to you or to anyone that his wife worked for the CIA is patently false.” In the e-mail, Wolf includes a message Wilson sent him: “This is slanderous. I never appeared on [TV] before at least July 2002 and only saw him maybe twice in the green room at Fox. Vallely is a retired general and this is a bald faced lie. Can we sue? This is not he said/he said, since I never laid eyes on him till several months after he alleges I spoke to him about my wife.”
Vallely Modifies Original Claim, Others Refuse to Confirm - Progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters notes that in subsequent days, Vallely modifies his original claims, backing down to claim that Wilson revealed his wife’s CIA status on “only one occasion,” which “probably was in that summer, early fall” of 2002. And promises that two other military analysts, retired generals McInerney and Barry McCaffrey, will back up his claims go unfulfilled, as neither is willing to publicly state that Wilson ever spoke to them about his wife. Vallely later says he has not spoken to the FBI about his claims, and tells conservative talk show host Sean Hannity that he waited two years to make the claims because “I figured Joe Wilson would self-destruct at some point in time.” He tells Hannity that he has been “upset” by Wilson’s opposition to the Bush administration’s strategy in Iraq. (Media Matters 11/9/2005) Batchelor’s promise that fellow conservative commentator Victor Davis Hansen will also confirm the claim also goes unfulfilled. (John Batchelor 11/6/2005) WND notes, “But contrary to a report, Hanson said Wilson did not disclose his wife’s CIA employment” during their conversations. (Moore 11/8/2005)
Fox News Schedule Shows Vallely, Wilson Never Appeared Together - Progressive blogger John Amato and former CIA agent Larry Johnson pore through the Fox News schedule for the time period Vallely cites—the spring of 2002—and find that Vallely and Wilson never appeared together during that time. Johnson writes: “They were never in the studio on the same day, much less the same program. Vallely is lying or maybe having a senior moment.” (John Amato 11/7/2005)
The media discovers a study from late 2004 purporting to show that the mainstream media in the US is heavily biased towards liberal views (see December 2004 and December 14, 2005). On December 19, MSNBC host Tucker Carlson, a conservative, interviews one of the study’s authors, Jeffrey Milyo of the University of Missouri-Columbia. Milyo repeats the study’s contention that news outlets such as CBS News, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal are heavily liberal in their coverage. Carlson calls the statement “terrifying.” Milyo repeats the assertion often made by conservatives that most reporters “tend to be about as liberal as the voters in Berkeley, California.… And the same is true in academia too, by the way, and you know, so that doesn’t mean that those preconceptions or biases or favoritism infects the job that people do.” (MSNBC 12/19/2005) The study is also cited on the December 19 edition of Fox News’s morning show, Fox and Friends (Fox News 12/19/2005; Media Matters 12/21/2005) , and that evening on Fox’s Special Report with Brit Hume. (Fox News 12/19/2005) Several other press outlets, such as CBS News, the Memphis, Tennessee Commercial Appeal, and Investors Business Daily also report on the study. (Media Matters 12/21/2005) On December 20, CNN commentator Jack Cafferty tells viewers: “Let’s talk about media bias. It’s real, according to a new study led by the University of California at Los Angeles, which shows there is a strong liberal bias. Well, there’s a bulletin. Researchers found out that of 20 main media outlets, 18 scored to the left of center. The most liberal of all were the news pages of the Wall Street Journal, not the editorial pages, the news pages. Followed two, three, and four by the CBS Evening News, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times. In this study, only Special Report with Brit Hume over there on the F-word network [Fox News] and the Washington Times scored to the right of the average voter. The most centrist media outlets in the country, The News Hour With Jim Lehrer and USA Today.” (CNN 12/20/2005)
On Fox News, neoconservative spokesman William Kristol accuses special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald of attempting to besmirch and discredit the White House. Kristol says: “The [Valerie Plame Wilson] leak story is absurd, but I now think the whole prosecution is absurd. I now think it’s a politically motivated attempt to wound the Bush administration.… He is now out to discredit the Bush administration.” (Jane Hamsher 4/9/2006)
The Chicago Tribune editorial staff pens an op-ed calling on Vice President Dick Cheney to answer for his role in “the surreptitious disclosure of classified information related to the war in Iraq,” and, it adds, “not in the friendly venue of Fox News.” The editorial is apparently sparked by recent information from special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald that shows Cheney and President Bush deliberately released selected classified information to manipulate public perceptions about the war (see April 5, 2006, and April 9, 2006). The Tribune says that Cheney should hold “an unscripted news conference in which the vice president confronts all the questions that have been raised,” and notes, “For him to remain silent amid the current turmoil suggests that he—or the president—has something to hide.” (Chicago Tribune 4/11/2006)
After several of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s former generals go public with devastating critiques of Rumsfeld’s strategies and planning in Iraq in what comes to be nicknamed the “Generals’ Revolt,” Rumsfeld determines to use the Pentagon’s “military analysts” (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) to counter the storm of negative publicity. He has his aides summon a clutch of analysts for a briefing with him (see April 18, 2006); his office reminds one aide that “the boss” wants the meeting fast “for impact on the current story.” Pentagon officials help two Fox analysts, former generals Thomas McInerney and Paul Vallely, write an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal entitled “In Defense of Donald Rumsfeld.” Vallely sends an e-mail to the Pentagon, “Starting to write it now,” and soon thereafter adds, “Any input for the article will be much appreciated.” Rumsfeld’s office quickly forwards Vallely a list of talking points and specifics. Shortly thereafter, a Pentagon official reports, “Vallely is going to use the numbers.” But on April 16, the New York Times, which has learned of the plan, publishes a front-page story about it, sending Pentagon officials into damage-control mode. They describe the session with McInerney and Vallely as “routine,” and issue internal directives to keep communications with analysts “very formal.” One official warns subordinates, “This is very, very sensitive now.” (Barstow 4/20/2008; Kurtz 4/21/2008)
The Pew Center for the People and the Press finds that 34 percent of Republicans consistently watch Fox News, while 20 percent of Democrats do so. These numbers are generally consistent with study results from two years before (see June 8, 2004). (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 237)
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)
Several military analysts who serve as part of the Pentagon’s propaganda campaign to push the Iraq war and occupation (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) emphasize their willingness to cooperate with the program even as they come to believe that they are being manipulated and deceived. NBC analyst Kenneth Allard, who has taught information warfare at the National Defense University, will later say that he has discerned an ever-widening gap between what he and his fellow analysts are being told and what subsequent investigation and book analyses will later reveal. Allard will say, “Night and day, I felt we’d been hosed.” Yet Allard continues to repeat Pentagon talking points on NBC. Other analysts feel fewer qualms. Thomas McInerney, a retired Air Force general and Fox News analyst, writes to the Pentagon regarding the talking points they have given him: “Good work. We will use it.” (Barstow 4/20/2008)
John Garrett, a retired Marine colonel, Fox News analyst (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond), and lobbyist who helps defense firms win Pentagon contracts in Iraq, contacts the Pentagon just before President Bush announces the “surge” in Iraq (see January 10, 2007). Garrett tells Pentagon officials, “Please let me know if you have any specific points you want covered or that you would prefer to downplay.” (Barstow 4/20/2008)
Roger Ailes, the founder and chairman of Fox News (see October 7, 1996), makes a joke to an audience of news executives: “It is true that Barack Obama is on the move,” he says. “I don’t know if it’s true that President Bush called [Pakistani President Pervez] Musharraf and said, ‘Why can’t we catch this guy?’” The joke is a deliberate conflation between the names of presidential candidate Barack Obama (D-IL) and Osama bin Laden. Ailes has Steve Doocy and the other hosts of his network’s morning news show Fox and Friends begin making similar jokes. Fox insiders will later note that while the banter between Doocy, Brian Kilmeade, and Gretchen Carlson appears to be mostly ad-libbed, it is actually highly structured; Ailes uses the show as one of the primary vehicles to get his daily message into what reporter Tim Dickinson will call “the media bloodstream.” Ailes meets with Doocy, Kilmeade, and Carlson every day before the 6:00 a.m. start; a former Fox News deputy will later say: “Prior to broadcast, Steve Doocy, Gretchen Carlson—that gang—they meet with Roger. And Roger gives them the spin.” Doocy is the first Fox News figure to publicly state that Obama attended a radical Islamist madrassa as a child, a falsification that begins circulating on the Internet around this same time (see October 1, 2007). (Sherman 5/22/2011)
Fox News takes an alternate view from most news outlets in reporting Lewis Libby’s convictions on four out of five felony charges (see March 6, 2007). In its news crawler on the bottom of the television broadcast, it reports, “Scooter Libby found not guilty of lying to FBI investigators.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 295)
Conservative columnist Stu Bykofsky writes an editorial in the Philadelphia Daily News entitled, “To Save America, We Need Another 9/11.” In it, he writes: “One month from the [next 9/11] anniversary, I’m thinking another 9/11 would help America. What kind of a sick bastard would write such a thing? A bastard so sick of how splintered we are politically—thanks mainly to our ineptitude in Iraq—that we have forgotten who the enemy is.” He identifies the enemy as “global terrorists who use Islam to justify their hideous sins.” He laments how impatient and fickle many Americans are, and longs for the “community of outrage and national resolve” in the US shortly after 9/11. “America’s fabric is pulling apart like a cheap sweater. What would sew us back together? Another 9/11 attack.… Is there any doubt they are planning to hit us again? If it is to be, then let it be. It will take another attack on the homeland to quell the chattering of chipmunks and to restore America’s righteous rage and singular purpose to prevail.” (Bykofsky 8/9/2007) Bykofsky appears on Fox News the next day to discuss his editorial. Host John Gibson is not outraged and in fact agrees with Bykofsky’s central idea. Gibson says, “I think it’s going to take a lot of dead people to wake America up.” (Fox News 8/10/2007)
Former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich says that the US should sabotage Iran’s gasoline refinery as part of its efforts to bring down the Iranian government. Gingrich also is harshly critical of the Bush administration for its failure to deal more strongly with Iraq, saying, “I can’t imagine why they put up with this. I mean, either General Petraeus is wrong and the military spokesman’s wrong, or the current policies we have are stunningly ineffective.” He then gives his own prescription for regime change in Iran: “We should finance the students. We should finance a Radio Free Iran. We should covertly sabotage the only gasoline refinery in the country. We should be prepared, once the gasoline refinery is down, to stop all of the gasoline tankers and communicate to the Iranian government that if they want to move equipment into Iran—into Iraq, they’re going to have to walk.” Gingrich adds, “I think we are currently so timid and our bureaucracies are so risk-avoiding—it took enormous leadership by President Reagan and by Bill Casey to reenergize the CIA in the early ‘80s. And we’ve now been through a long period of beating up the intelligence community and having lawyers say, You can’t do this, you can’t do that.” (Fox News 9/25/2007)
On Fox News’s O’Reilly Factor, Christian activist and Republican strategist Christine O’Donnell says that scientists have succeeded in grafting functioning human brains onto mice. O’Donnell and medical researcher Dr. William Morrone are guests of host Bill O’Reilly, who discusses conservatives’ opposition to stem cell research. O’Reilly begins by noting that researchers in Oregon have succeeded in cloning monkey embryos, which he describes as the first step towards cloning human embryos for the harvesting of stem cells. Morrone favors cloning research because of “the pathology and… the pain” that people suffering from multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and other ailments are forced to endure. Morrone is not in favor of cloning human embryos, but he is optimistic that cloning research might lead to new ways to harvest stem cells without destroying existing embryos. O’Donnell has a different view: she says that the Oregon researchers “proudly stated” their intention to clone human beings, and says that human cloning is the real, secretive goal of all such research. O’Reilly then states that human cloning is possible now: “They can clone humans now if they wanted to.… Everybody knows that scientists have enough knowledge to clone a human being if they wanted to,” a statement to which O’Donnell agrees. She then adds: “They are—they are doing that here in the United States. American scientific companies are cross-breeding humans and animals and coming up with mice with fully functioning human brains. So they’re already into this experiment.” Morrone interjects, “That’s an exaggeration,” but his objections are overridden by O’Reilly asking him: “[D]o you understand her concern that there are people who are unethical who will do this kind of stuff for whatever reason? Do you understand her concern?” He gives O’Donnell the last word in his segment, and she concludes: “[I]t is inevitable. This really is about human cloning, about dignity versus commodity. And we already answered that question.” (Fox News 11/15/2007) O’Donnell’s assertions will receive little attention until almost three years later, when she wins the Republican primary for the US Senate in Delaware (see September 13, 2010) and the media begins recounting some of her less mainstream political and scientific views. That recounting will speculate that O’Donnell may be misremembering a 2005 report of scientists successfully growing human brain cells within mice; reporter Eric Kleefeld will write that it “is not the same as an actual functioning human brain, but a demonstration that human brain cells can be made from stem cells.” (Kleefeld 9/16/2007)
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