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Profile: Howard Fineman
Howard Fineman was a participant or observer in the following events:
A short pre-recorded statement is broadcast on television, in which President Bush tells the nation that all appropriate security measures are being taken, and he assures people that “the United States will hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts.” [CNN, 9/12/2001; Sammon, 2002, pp. 117] The 219-word statement, lasting two minutes, was recorded about half an hour ago in a conference room at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana (see 12:36 p.m. September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 9/11/2001; Woodward, 2002, pp. 19]
Bush Says US Will Find and Punish Terrorists - Bush begins: “Freedom itself was attacked this morning by faceless cowards. And freedom will be defended.” He continues: “Make no mistake: The United States will hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts.” He reassures the public that he has been in contact with his colleagues in Washington, DC, and they “have taken all appropriate security precautions to protect the American people. Our military at home and around the world is on high alert status, and we have taken the necessary security precautions to continue the functions of your government.” He says, “[W]e will do whatever is necessary to protect America and Americans.” He concludes his statement, saying: “The resolve of our great nation is being tested. But make no mistake: We will show the world that we will pass this test. God bless.” [CNN, 9/11/2001; White House, 9/11/2001]
Bush Remains at Base after Speech Is Broadcast - After the president’s statement was recorded, Rich Del Haya, a military public relations officer at Barksdale, brought the videotape of it to a TV satellite truck outside the base. A technician there put the tape into a deck to be broadcast. However, the uplink failed twice. Finally, the third broadcast goes out to American TV screens. TV anchors emphasize that the president’s remarks are recorded, not live. “The implication,” journalist and author Bill Sammon will later write, “was that the White House had purposely delayed the airing of the tape in order to get a head start on the president’s next secret destination.” [Sammon, 2002, pp. 117; Times-Picayune, 9/8/2002] The 9/11 Commission Report will similarly state that “for security reasons,” Bush’s statement “was taped and not broadcast live.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 325] But according to Sammon: “[T]he tape delay had been a function of mere logistics—there were no cables available at Barksdale for a live feed on such short notice. In fact, Bush remained at Barksdale more than half an hour after his taped speech was aired.” [Sammon, 2002, pp. 117]
Bush's Delivery of Statement Is 'Not Reassuring' - Some commentators will later be critical of Bush’s performance in delivering his statement. Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward will write: “The president’s eyes were red-rimmed when he walked in. His performance was not reassuring. He spoke haltingly, mispronouncing several words as he looked down at his notes.” [Woodward, 2002, pp. 19] Howard Fineman of Newsweek will call the speech “the low point” in the president’s war on terrorism. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 116] Bush will comment that the “sentiment” of his speech “was right, but the setting—a sterile conference room at a military base in Louisiana—did not inspire much confidence.” [Bush, 2010, pp. 133]
Vice President Dick Cheney calls Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and urges him not to launch a 9/11 inquiry. When the call is made, Howard Fineman of Newsweek is in Daschle’s office and he hears that end of the conversation, providing important independent confirmation of Daschle’s account. Author Philip Shenon will later describe Cheney’s tone as “polite but threatening,” and Cheney reportedly tells Daschle that an investigation into 9/11 would be a “very dangerous and time-consuming diversion for those of us who are on the front lines of our response today.” Cheney also says that if the Democrats push for an investigation, the White House will portray them as undermining the war on terror. Shenon will later call this “a potent political threat” the Republicans are holding over the Democrats. President Bush repeats the request on January 28, and Daschle is repeatedly pressured thereafter. [Newsweek, 2/4/2002; Shenon, 2008, pp. 29-30, 426] Cheney will later disagree with this account: “Tom’s wrong. He has, in this case, let’s say a misinterpretation.” [Reuters, 5/27/2002]
NBC correspondent Howard Fineman says that the US intelligence community will release “three different reports” in upcoming weeks to “slow down” the administration’s push for war with Iran. Fineman says, “The intelligence community over the next few months is going to come out with three different reports on Iran about internal political problems of Iran, about the economy, and about their nuclear capability. Those are going to be key to decide what the Bush administration is going to do, and it’s the intelligence community I think trying to slow down what the president, most particularly the vice president, want to do in Iran.” [MSNBC, 10/7/2007] In fact, the intelligence community will release a National Intelligence Estimate in December that concludes Iran stopped working on a nuclear weapon in 2003, and is not a danger of having a nuclear weapon until at least 2013 (see December 3, 2007).
Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean says that the allegation of an “executive assassination wing,” as recently made by investigative reporter Seymour Hersh (see March 10, 2009), could well be a war crime if it is true. Both Dean and MSNBC host Keith Olbermann note that if true, Cheney’s actions could well violate a 1976 executive order that states in part, “No employee of the United States government shall engage in or conspire to engage in political assassination.” Dean says: “[F]ighting terrorism is not dealing with tiddlywinks. We want our government to deal with the most effective tools they have. But they also have to be legal. The executive order, really, is nothing more than direction to the executive branch and the presidency is the only one who you can even argue might have the authority to engage in assassinations. It’s an unresolved question. So, it’s potentially a war crime, it’s potentially just outright murder, and it could clearly be in violation of the Ford executive order.” In the same broadcast, author and political analyst Howard Fineman says of Hersh’s report: “In checking around in the intelligence community today, I can say this, you know, Seymour Hersh is somebody they respect. They don’t always trust. But they put it this way, as one of them said to me, ‘Look, I don’t know anything about this specifically at all, but I wouldn’t dismiss what Sy Hersh is saying without checking carefully.’ That’s their backhanded way of saying it’s worth looking into, for sure.” [MSNBC, 3/12/2009]
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