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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)
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)
Jeff Cohen, the founder of the media watchdog organization Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) and a former producer for MSNBC talk show host Phil Donahue, loses almost all of his airtime on the network as the Iraq invasion approaches. Cohen, once a frequent guest on MSNBC’s various opinion and commentary shows, will reflect in his 2006 book Cable News Confidential that he argued passionately against invading Iraq, using “every possible argument that might sway mainstream viewers—no real threat, cost, instability.” However, as the run-up to war progresses, he is no longer allowed on the air. He will write: “There was no room for me after MSNBC launched ‘Countdown: Iraq’—a daily one-hour show that seemed more keen on glamorizing a potential war than scrutinizing or debating it. ‘Countdown: Iraq’ featured retired colonels and generals, sometimes resembling boys with war toys as they used props, maps and glitzy graphics to spin invasion scenarios. They reminded me of pumped-up ex-football players doing pre-game analysis and diagramming plays. It was excruciating to be sidelined at MSNBC, watching so many non-debates in which myth and misinformation were served up unchallenged.” In 2008, Cohen will write: “It was bad enough to be silenced. Much worse to see that these ex-generals—many working for military corporations—were never in debates, nor asked a tough question by an anchor.” Cohen’s recollections will be bolstered by a 2008 New York Times investigation that documents a systematic, well-organized media manipulation program by the Pentagon that successfully sells the war to the media and the American public by using so-called “independent military analysts” (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). While the Times article focuses primarily on the analysts and their Pentagon handlers, Cohen says that an equal portion of blame belongs to the media outlets themselves. “The biggest villain here is not Rumsfeld nor the Pentagon,” Cohen writes. “It’s the TV networks. In the land of the First Amendment, it was their choice to shut down debate and journalism. No government agency forced MSNBC to repeatedly feature the hawkish generals unopposed. Or fire Phil Donahue. Or smear weapons expert Scott Ritter. Or blacklist former attorney general Ramsey Clark. It was top NBC/MSNBC execs, not the Feds, who imposed a quota system on the Donahue staff requiring two pro-war guests if we booked one anti-war advocate—affirmative action for hawks.… [T]he major TV networks… were not hoodwinked by a Pentagon propaganda scheme. They were willingly complicit, and have been for decades.” (Cohen 4/28/2008)
MSNBC, the cable news channel owned by NBC, cancels Phil Donahue’s nightly talk show. MSNBC cites “disappointing ratings” for “Donahue.” The show, originally conceived as a more liberal alternative for Fox News’s overtly conservative “O’Reilly Factor,” started very slow and never came close to challenging either O’Reilly’s ratings or CNN’s Connie Chung, whose show is also in the same time slot. But in recent weeks, Donahue’s ratings have steadily increased to the point where it is the top-rated show on the network, even beating MSNBC’s flagship political show, “Hardball With Chris Matthews.”
'Tired Left-Wing Liberal' - An internal report commissioned by the network’s executives, later obtained by media analyst Rick Ellis, calls Phil Donahue “a tired, left-wing liberal out of touch with the current marketplace.” The report says that Donahue’s show presents a “difficult public face for NBC in a time of war.… He seems to delight in presenting guests who are anti-war, anti-Bush, and skeptical of the administration’s motives.” If the show continues on the air, the report warns that it could become “a home for the liberal anti-war agenda at the same time that our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity.” As Donahue exits the lineup, MSNBC brings aboard former Republican House Majority Leader Dick Armey and former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough as commentators, and radical right-wing talk show host Michael Savage and libertarian Jesse Ventura, the former governor of Minnesota, as hosts. Donahue’s time slot will be taken temporarily by the expansion of another show, “Countdown: Iraq,” to two hours. Nation columnist John Nichols writes: “Talk about adding insult to injury. Getting canceled is bad enough; getting canceled to make way for a program devoted to anticipating an unnecessary war is just plain awful.” (Carter 2/26/2003; Ellis 2/26/2003; Nichols 2/27/2003) In 2007, Donahue says he knew nothing of the internal memo at the time (see April 25, 2007). “I didn’t know about that till I read about it in the New York Times.” When asked: “What did you think? What does that say to you? That dissent is unpatriotic?” Donahue will reply, “Well, not only unpatriotic, but it’s not good for business.” (Moyers 4/25/2007)
MSNBC 'Tak[ing] the Coward's Road' - A source close to Donahue says that Donahue’s cancellation is “no coincidence.” The MSNBC executives are “scared,” the source says, “and they decided to take the coward’s road and slant towards the conservative crowd that watch Fox News.” Ellis, a veteran media analyst with strong connections in the TV news industry, writes that MSNBC, “[r]ather than building a unique voice, the news channel has opted to become a lesser alternative to the Fox News Channel.” Interestingly, the NBC report recommended against such a course: “The temptation is to chase the audience that is already out there and play to what seems to be working at Fox. But there is another road, and if we build our unique voices from within, we have a chance to develop a loyal and valuable audience.” Nichols writes, “[I]t is a pretty good bet that, now that ‘Donahue’ is going off the air, we will not soon see another show like the one where he featured [consumer advocate] Ralph Nader and [progressive columnist] Molly Ivins in front of a crowd of laid-off Enron employees.” Nichols adds that while Donahue’s show may have been conceived as a liberal alternative to O’Reilly, it was never allowed to be such: “For every program that featured Ralph Nader and Molly Ivins, there were ten where Donahue was forced to ask polite questions of second-string conservative pundits. Where his conservative competitors never worry about fairness or balance, Donahue was under constant pressure to clog his show’s arteries with deadly dull apologists for all things Bush. And when that got too boring, he was pressured to steer the show away from politics and toward the glitzy and the maudlin.” Only in its last few weeks did MSNBC allow Donahue to do what he does best—interview interesting guests in front of a live audience. The show’s ratings began climbing rapidly. Whether the show could have challenged O’Reilly or other conservative shows’ ratings can never be known.
Never Trusted the American Viewing Audience - Nichols concludes: “Now that ‘Donahue’ has been ditched, conservative commentators and network executives will tell themselves that there is no audience for progressive voices on television. They will, of course, be wrong on the broad premise—some of O’Reilly’s best shows feature feisty progressives like US [Representatives] Jan Schakowsky and Bernie Sanders. And they will be wrong more specifically about Donahue. We will never know for sure whether Phil Donahue could have seriously competed with conservative hosts like Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity. What we do now, for sure, is that MSNBC executives were never willing to trust Phil Donahue—or the American television viewing audience.” (Carter 2/26/2003; Ellis 2/26/2003; Nichols 2/27/2003)
President Bush holds a press conference—only his eighth since taking office—in which he conflates Iraq and Saddam Hussein with the 9/11 attacks and the global war on terror at least 12 times. For instance, he says: “Iraq is a part of the war on terror. It’s a country that trains terrorists; it’s a country that could arm terrorists. Saddam Hussein and his weapons are a direct threat to this country.” Perhaps his most alarming statement is, “September the 11th should say to the American people that we’re now a battlefield.” (White House 3/6/2003; Boehlert 5/4/2006; Moyers 4/25/2007) Bush insists that he has not yet decided to take military action against Iraq (see March 6, 2003). (Boehlert 5/4/2006)
Scripted and Orchestrated - Oddly, none of the 94 assembled journalists challenge Bush’s conflations, no one asks about Osama bin Laden, and no one asks follow-up questions to elicit information past the sound bites Bush delivers. There is a reason for that. In 2007, PBS’s Bill Moyers will report that “the White House press corps will ask no hard questions… about those claims,” because the entire press conference is scripted. “Sure enough, the president’s staff has given him a list of reporters to call on,” Moyers will report. Press Secretary Ari Fleischer later admits to giving Bush the list, which omits reporters from such media outlets as Time, Newsweek, USA Today, and the Washington Post. After calling on CNN reporter John King, Bush says, “This is a scripted—” and then breaks into laughter. King, like his colleagues, continues as if nothing untoward is happening. Author and media commentator Eric Boehlert will later say: “[Bush] sort of giggled and laughed. And, the reporters sort of laughed. And, I don’t know if it was out of embarrassment for him or embarrassment for them because they still continued to play along after his question was done. They all shot up their hands and pretended they had a chance of being called on.” Several questions later, Bush pretends to choose from the available reporters, saying: “Let’s see here… Elizabeth… Gregory… April.… Did you have a question or did I call upon you cold?” The reporter asks, “How is your faith guiding you?” Bush responds: “My faith sustains me because I pray daily. I pray for guidance.” Boehlert will later say: “I think it just crystallized what was wrong with the press coverage during the run up to the war. I think they felt like the war was gonna happen and the best thing for them to do was to get out of the way.” (White House 3/6/2003; Boehlert 5/4/2006; Moyers 4/25/2007)
Defending the Press's Complicity - New York Times reporter Elisabeth Bumiller, a participant in the conference, will later defends the press corps’ “timid behavior,” in Boehlert’s characterization, by saying: “I think we were very deferential because… it’s live, it’s very intense, it’s frightening to stand up there. Think about it, you’re standing up on prime-time live TV asking the president of the United States a question when the country’s about to go to war. There was a very serious, somber tone that evening, and no one wanted to get into an argument with the president at this very serious time.” (Boehlert 5/4/2006)
Compliant Media Coverage - The broadcast news media, transmitting the live feed of the conference, could not have been more accommodating, author and media critic Frank Rich will later note. “CNN flashed the White House’s chosen messages in repetitive rotation on the bottom of the screen while the event was still going on—‘People of good will are hoping for peace’ and ‘My job is to protect America.’” After the conference, Fox News commentator Greta van Susteren tells her audience, “What I liked tonight was that in prime time [Bush] said to the American people, my job is to protect the American people.” (Rich 2006, pp. 70)
Follow-Up Coverage Equally Stage-Managed - Boehlert notes that the post-conference coverage is equally one-sided. On MSNBC’s flagship news commentary show, Hardball, host Chris Matthews spends an hour discussing the conference and the upcoming invasion. Matthews invites six guests on. Five are advocates of the war, and one, given a few moments for “balance,” questions some of the assumptions behind the rationale for war. The five pro-war guests include an “independent military analyst,” retired General Montgomery Meigs, who is one of around 75 retired military officers later exposed as participants in a Pentagon propaganda operation designed to promote the war (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). (Boehlert 5/4/2006)
Some Criticism Leveled - Several journalists later write harsh critiques of the conference and the media’s complicity (see March-April 2003).
While CBS and NBC begin covering the US strikes against Iraqi targets almost from the outset (see March 19, 2003), ABC News delays its coverage for 11 minutes after its broadcast competitors, leading Washington Post media correspondent Lisa de Moraes to mockingly declare ABC to be the “first victim” of the war. In a March 21 analysis, de Moraes will note that ABC waits while its show The Bachelor: Where Are They Now? completes its broadcast. ABC news anchor Peter Jennings shows up to lead the network’s coverage almost a half hour later than his colleagues at NBC and CBS, leading de Moraes to ask if Jennings was not aware of the “scheduled” 8 p.m. deadline laid down by President Bush. “[W]asn’t anyone at ABC News watching that MSNBC countdown clock?” she asks. It is NBC that officially breaks the news of the military strike, with correspondent Peter Arnett informing NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw of the attack at 9:32 p.m. Jennings, whom de Moraes speculates “was at a dinner party,” finally takes to the air at 10:05 p.m, just a few minutes before, de Moraes writes, “President Bush went on the air to formally cut the ribbon on the war.” An ABC News spokesman later confesses that when the war broke, “our correspondent was out of position.” De Moraes is equally bemused that Jennings left the news desk at 11:01 p.m, surprising some local affiliates who plan to continue running ABC’s national news transmission instead of their own local programming. One affiliate’s news director later says, “There was a sense that the coverage was going to continue for some time, and when it ended so abruptly it caught all of us off guard.” The next day, ABC officials Alex Wallau and David Westin issue a joint statement: “We decided around 10:55 p.m. ET last night to end Special Report coverage.… We felt that we had covered this story in Iraq to that point and that we should allow for your late local news broadcasts. We were not aware that there had been Network Alert System communications sent to your stations saying that there would not be a local news opportunity last night.” (de Moraes 3/21/2003; Rich 3/30/2003; Rich 2006, pp. 73)
The New York Times examines the influence of retired military officers in influencing public opinion on the invasion of Iraq. Reporter John Cushman, Jr writes that “a whole constellation of retired one-, two-, three- and four-star generals—including many who led the recent wars in Afghanistan, Kosovo, and the Persian Gulf—can be seen night and day across the television firmament, navigation aids for viewers lost in a narrative that can be foggier than war itself.” All of the news broadcasters, including cable news outlets CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News, and the commercial networks’ news shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC rely on retired military officers to explain to their viewers what is happening in Iraq. Cushman acknowledges the “deep perspective” that the retired officers bring to the war coverage, particularly those who led the same units now on the ground, or at least “commanded, trained, or shared barracks and beers with the current commanders.” Retired Marine General Gregory Newbold recently told an ABC News audience, “If things haven’t gone exactly according to script, they’ve gone according to plan.” Newbold helped draw up the plans for the invasion as director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Questions Raised - How much do the military analysts actually know? Cushman asks, and are they giving out more information than they should? Many of the analysts receive what Cushman calls “occasional briefings from the Pentagon” (he is apparently unaware of the Pentagon’s propaganda operation involving these selfsame analysts—see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond), and garner much of their information from public sources and from their friends and former colleagues in the military. Cushman goes on to observe that almost all of the analysts have “evident sympathies with the current commanders”; between those sympathies and their “immersion in [military] doctrines,” their objectivity is in doubt—or as Cushman delicately phrases it, their experience and bias “sometimes seem to immunize them to the self-imposed skepticism of the news organizations that now employ them.” After conducting “a detailed review of their recent remarks,” Cushman says that it is a rarity when an analyst criticizes the conduct of the war. “Instead, they tend gravely to point out the timeless risks of combat.” One sharp exception is from retired Army General Wesley Clark, the former supreme commander of NATO, who recently questioned whether the military had committed enough troops on the ground. More typical is recent remarks by retired Army General Wayne Downing, a commander in the 1991 Gulf War. Downing lavished praise on the invasion’s supreme commander, General Tommy Franks. Cushman notes that Downing “rattl[ed] off the story of his old comrade’s career as if by rote.”
Technical Details Vs. Analysis - The retired officers do “reasonably well” in explaining what Cushman calls “the nuts and bolts of an operation, the technical details of weapons, the decisions facing American and British commanders.” Their speculations about what the Iraqis might be doing and thinking are more problematic. One analyst, retired Marine General Bernard Trainor, almost seemed to invite chemical or biological retaliation from the Iraqis when he told an MSNBC audience: “If he moves, we kill him; if he stays put, we kill him. And regardless of what they’re told to do over the network, whatever is left of the command and control, unless it comes down to using chemical weapons, then the rest of it is just ancillary. If this is going to be the communication of red telephone, if you will, to tell people to launch chemical weapons—and we’re reaching that point in the operation—if they’re going to use their stuff, they’d better start thinking about it, because pretty soon we’re in downtown Baghdad.” Clark, considered the most polished and urbane of the analysts, takes a different tack, and notes repeatedly that the analysts are careful not to give away details of current operations and thus endanger American troops. All of the analysts, Cushman writes, “emphasize the gravity of what the military is up to in Iraq.” As Clark told an audience, “It’s not entertainment.” (Cushman 3/25/2003)
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 liberal news publication CounterPunch profiles the “Rumsfeld Group,” a government public relations group put together after the 9/11 attacks to manipulate the media’s reporting of the Bush administration’s war on terror (see Late May 2001). One noteworthy aspect of the profile is the success the “Rumsfeld Group” has had in working with the press to spread its message.
Benador Associates - One of the most effective “perception managers” for the Bush administration is Elena Benador, the media placement expert who runs Benador Associates. She oversees the Middle East Forum, an organization CounterPunch reporter Jeffrey St. Clair calls “a fanatically pro-Zionist paper mill,” and has close connections with some of Washington’s most influential hardliners and neoconservatives, including Michael Ledeen, Charles Krauthammer, Alexander Haig, Max Boot, Daniel Pipes, Richard Perle, and Judith Miller. Benador is given the task of getting these pro-war hawks on the air and in the press as often as possible. She does an excellent job in both getting the placements and crafting the message to ensure that they all make the same points. “There are some things, you just have to state them in a different way, in a slightly different way,” Benador explains. “If not, people get scared.”
Washington Post Particularly Compliant - Many press and television news outlets help promulgate the Pentagon’s story, but, St. Clair will note, few are as reliable or as enthusiastic as the Washington Post. He mentions the example of Private Jessica Lynch, whose story was fed for weeks by an over-the-top report from the Post that was fueled entirely by PR flacks from the Pentagon’s Combat Camera operation (see April 1, 2003 and April 3, 2003). In the months leading up to the Iraq invasion, the Post’s op-eds ran 3 to 1 in favor of attacking Iraq. St. Clair notes that in 1988, the Post shrugged off reports of Saddam Hussein gassing Iranians and his own Iraqis as “a quirk of war”; at that point, the US wanted close relations with the Hussein regime, and wanted to play down Hussein’s depredations. The Post echoed the government’s lack of interest.
Firing of Donahue - St. Clair points to MSNBC’s firing of liberal talk show host Phil Donahue on the eve of the Iraq invasion (see February 25, 2003) as another example of the Pentagon’s reach into the mainstream US media. At the behest of the Pentagon’s PR officials, MSNBC fired Donahue and replaced him with a pro-war broadcast called Countdown: Iraq. While MSNBC blamed “poor ratings” on the firing, in reality Donahue’s ratings were MSNBC’s highest. Instead, the network did not like what it called Donahue’s propensity to have “anti-war, anti-Bush” voices on his show. (Clair 8/13/2003)
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)
The federal grand jury investigating the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert CIA identity subpoenas a large amount of White House records, including Air Force One telephone logs from the week before Plame Wilson’s public outing (see July 14, 2003); records created in July 2003 by the White House Iraq Group (WHIG—see August 2002), a White House public relations group tasked with crafting a public relations strategy to market the Iraq war to the public; a transcript of press secretary Ari Fleischer’s press briefing in Nigeria currently missing from the White House’s Web site (see 3:20 a.m. July 12, 2003); a list of guests at former President Gerald Ford’s July 16, 2003 birthday reception; and records of Bush administration officials’ contacts with approximately 25 journalists and news media outlets. The journalists include Robert Novak, the columnist who outed Plame Wilson, Newsday reporters Knut Royce and Timothy Phelps (see July 21, 2003), five Washington Post reporters including Mike Allen and Dana Priest (see September 28, 2003 and October 12, 2003), Time magazine’s Michael Duffy (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), NBC’s Andrea Mitchell (see July 8, 2003 and October 3, 2003), MSNBC’s Chris Matthews (see July 21, 2003), and reporters from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and the Associated Press. The subpoenas will be accompanied by a January 26 memo from White House counsel Alberto Gonzales that will set a January 29 deadline for production of the subpoenaed documents and records. Gonzales will write that White House staffers will turn over records of any “contacts, attempted contacts, or discussion of contacts, with any members of the media concerning [former ambassador Joseph] Wilson, his trip, or his wife, including but not limited to the following media and media personnel.” White House spokeswoman Erin Healy later says, “The president has always said we would fully comply with the investigation, and the White House counsel’s office has directed the staff to fully comply.” White House press secretary Scott McClellan will say: “It’s just a matter of getting it all together.… At this point, we’re still in the process of complying fully with those requests. We have provided the Department of Justice investigators with much of the information and we’re continuing to provide them with additional information and comply fully with the request for information.” (US District Court for the District of Columbia 1/22/2004; US District Court for the District of Columbia 1/22/2004; Brune 3/5/2004; Allen 3/6/2004)
Chris Matthews, the host of MSNBC’s Hardball, asks three of the Pentagon’s most reliable “military analysts” (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond)—retired generals Montgomery Meigs, Wayne Downing, and Kenneth Allard—on his show to pillory a recent New Yorker article by Seymour Hersh that reveals Pentagon plans for an attack on Iran (see (Early January 2005)). Matthews calls the three “Hardball’s war council.” After the broadcast, Allard writes an e-mail to Pentagon public relations official Larry Di Rita, in which he says, “As you may have seen on MSNBC, I attributed a lot of what [Hersh] said to disgruntled CIA employees who simply should be taken out and shot.” (Greenwald 5/10/2008)
Two supposedly “independent” military analysts who are participating in the Pentagon’s Iraq propaganda campaign (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) take part in Pentagon-hosted media strategy sessions to maximize the efficacy of the Pentagon’s propaganda onslaught regarding the Guantanamo Bay detention facility (see July 5, 2005). Retired General Montgomery Meigs and retired Colonel Jack Jacobs (who will be praised in 2008 by NBC’s Brian Williams for his independence—see April 29, 2008) take part in a session that is documented in an internal Pentagon e-mail. Suggestions in the Jacobs/Meigs session include providing information and photographs to all network presidents; not scheduling prime-time press conferences for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld; only make Rumsfeld available to the press after priming reporters with information and photos, and ensuring that press questioning take place in places in which Rumsfeld is comfortable; and providing an “exclusive” report or analysis to the Washington Post. Both Meigs and Jacobs are routinely touted as “independent analysts” by MSNBC; both are shown to be quite reliable in providing Pentagon talking points by the Pentagon’s tracking system (see 2005 and Beyond). (Greenwald 5/9/2008)
MSNBC reports that the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak has heard testimony from UN Ambassador John Bolton about a State Department memo identifying Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA official (see May 29, 2003 and June 10, 2003). The date of Bolton’s appearance before the grand jury is unclear. At the time of the memo, Bolton was an undersecretary in the State Department. (MSNBC 7/21/2005) Bolton failed to mention his grand jury appearance, or his involvement in the Plame Wilson leak, during Senate confirmation hearings for his nomination as UN ambassador. (Johnston 7/22/2005) State Department spokesman Sean McCormack will deny that Bolton testified before the grand jury. (Newsmax 7/28/2005) A day later, the State Department will acknowledge that Bolton was interviewed over his role in the administration’s Iraq-Niger uranium claims, another fact he omitted during his nomination hearings, but will not admit to his appearance before the grand jury. (Associated Press 7/29/2005)
In the days after Michael Steele (R-MD), an African-American, announced his candidacy for governor of Maryland, allegations have resurfaced that in 2002 he was “pelted” with Oreo cookies by Democrats at a political debate (see September 26, 2002 and After); if true, such actions would constitute a significant racial slur. However, reporting of the incident has fallen into question, and Steele himself recently denied being hit by cookies during the debate, though he did say he saw Oreos on the stage near him: “I’ve never claimed that I was hit, no. The one or two that I saw at my feet were there. I just happened to look down and see them.” Eyewitness accounts compiled by the Baltimore Sun show that the allegations are questionable at best; moreover, the Sun reports, accounts of the incident by Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert Ehrlich, Ehrlich’s communications director Paul Schurick, and Steele himself, dramatically contradict each other. Progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters compares the different accounts of the incident, and concludes that the story has grown from an almost-baseless “partisan talking point” into “a ‘fact’ reported by the media” over the last three years. Media Matters notes that several newspapers, including the Chicago Sun-Times, the Washington Post, and the Washington Times, have recently reported the incident as factual, with the Times writing that Steele was “pelt[ed] with Oreo cookies” among the “racially tinged attacks” directed at him by his Democratic opponent in 2002. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell writes: “Steele has been subjected to the worst racial slurs imaginable. At one debate, a group of black people pelted the stage with Oreos.” Between October 31 and November 16, the Washington Times asserts the incident as fact three times in its editorial pages, and twice in its news reporting. The Weekly Standard reports it three times. Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity twice asserts it as fact on his broadcast, as does one of his guests, National Review editor Rich Lowry. Deroy Murdock, another National Review contributor, asserts it as fact in one of his columns. Washington Post metro editor Marc Fisher cites it in an online chat. Mitchell cites it in the Chicago Sun-Times. The conservative American Spectator cites it as fact once. Syndicated columnist Gregory Kane cites it as fact once. The National Newspaper Publishers Association News Service editor in chief George Curry states it as fact on National Public Radio, as does the host of the NPR program, Ed Gordon. The Investors Business Daily cites it as fact in an editorial. MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson cites it as fact on the air. The Associated Press cites it as fact in an article. Media Matters also notes that the story resurfaced briefly during the August 2004 Republican National Convention, with the Baltimore Sun reporting that Steele and Ehrlich “still talk” about the incident, and the Washington Post reporting it as fact. (Segraves 11/15/2005; Media Matters 11/21/2005)
Conservative columnist Tucker Carlson, writing for MSNBC, claims that the exposure of Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA identity did not harm US national security, and offers $100 “to the first person who can prove otherwise” (see Before September 16, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 11, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, October 23-24, 2003, October 29, 2005, and February 13, 2006). Carlson goes on to note that former White House official Lewis Libby was not the first person to leak Plame Wilson’s identity to the press, as recent revelations from the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward show that Woodward knew of Plame Wilson’s CIA status well before Libby leaked it to New York Times reporter Judith Miller (see November 14, 2005). Carlson says in light of these two facts that Libby never should have been charged with anything (see October 14, 2003, November 26, 2003, March 5, 2004, and March 24, 2004), and special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald should apologize to Libby. Moreover, Carlson writes, Fitzgerald is “the enemy” of journalists and the public’s right to know; because of Fitzgerald’s subpoenas to reporters, both reporters and government sources are “spooked.… Thanks to Fitzgerald, there will be fewer leaks from the executive branch in years to come. Fewer leaks mean less information, and therefore a less informed public. We all lose.” (Carlson 11/17/2005) Carlson does not inform his readers of his family’s close ties to the Libby defense fund (see February 28, 2006).
Former MSNBC talk show host Phil Donahue, whose show was cancelled less than a month before the Iraq invasion because network executives feared he was “too liberal” for its viewers (see February 25, 2003), reflects on his show’s cancellation in an interview with PBS’s Bill Moyers. “[I] just felt, you know, what would be wrong with having one show a night, you know, say, ‘Hold it. Wait a minute. Can we afford this? Do we have enough troops? And what about General Shinseki (see February 25, 2003)? And where are all—you know, what is Guantanamo?’ I mean, ‘What’s wrong with this?’ I thought people who didn’t like my message would watch me. Because no one else was doing it. That’s why, I couldn’t get over the unanimity of opinion on cable. The drum was beating. Everybody wanted to bomb somebody. And I’m thinking, ‘Wait a minute.’ So here I go, I mean fool that I am, I rushed in.” Donahue recalls the strict ground rules that he worked under: “You could have the supporters of the president alone. And they would say why this war is important. You couldn’t have a dissenter alone. Our producers were instructed to feature two conservatives for every liberal.” Moyers says, “You’re kidding.” Donahue replies: “No, this is absolutely true… I was counted as two liberals.… I had to have two… there’s just a terrible fear. And I think that’s the right word.” Moyers recalls the words of Erik Sorenson, then the president of MSNBC, who said, “Any misstep and you can get into trouble with these guys and have the patriotism police hunt you down.” Donahue agrees: “He’s the management guy. So his phone would ring. Nobody’s going to call Donahue and tell him to shut up and support the war. Nobody’s that foolish. It’s a lot more subtle than that.” (Moyers 4/25/2007)
Joseph Wilson and his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, jointly respond to former White House press secretary Scott McClellan’s revelation that he had unknowingly misled the public as part of a White House campaign of deception surrounding the “outing” of Plame Wilson, then an undercover CIA agent (see November 20, 2007). The Wilsons quote the words of former President George H. W. Bush in labeling the Bush administration officials they believe betrayed Plame’s identity—Lewis Libby, Karl Rove, Richard Armitage, and Ari Fleischer—as “the most insidious of traitors” (see April 26, 1999). McClellan’s naming of George W. Bush as being “involved” in orchestrating the campaign of deception makes Bush, they write, a “party to a conspiracy by senior administration officials to defraud the public.” The two continue: “If that isn’t a high crime and misdemeanor then we don’t know what is. And if the president was merely an unwitting accomplice, then who lied to him? What is he doing to punish the person who misled the president to abuse his office? And why is that person still working in the executive branch?”
Criticism of Mainstream Media - The Wilsons are particularly irate at the general failure of the mainstream media, with the exception of several MSNBC pundits and reporters, to pay much attention to McClellan, instead dismissing it as “old news.” The Wilsons write: “The Washington press corps, whose pretension is to report and interpret events objectively, has been compromised in this matter as evidence presented in the courtroom demonstrated. Prominent journalists acted as witting agents of Rove, Libby and Armitage and covered up this serious breach of US national security rather than doing their duty as journalists to report it to the public.” They quote one reporter asking if McClellan’s statement was not anything more than “another Wilson publicity stunt.” The Wilsons respond: “Try following this tortuous logic: Dick Cheney runs an operation involving senior White House officials designed to betray the identity of a covert CIA officer and the press responds by trying to prove that the Wilsons are publicity seekers. What ever happened to reporting the news? Welcome to Through the Looking Glass.” They conclude with the question, again using the elder Bush’s words: “Where is the outrage? Where is the ‘contempt and anger?’” (Wilson and Wilson 11/22/2007)
MSNBC counts the number of endnotes in the 9/11 Commission report that cite detainee interrogations and finds that more than a quarter of them—441 out of over 1,700—do so. It is widely believed that the detainees were tortured while in US custody, and that statements made under torture are unreliable. One of the detainees, alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, whose interrogations are mentioned hundreds of times in the report (see After January 2004), was extensively waterboarded (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003), and a CIA manager said that up to 90 percent of the information he provided under questioning was unreliable (see August 6, 2007). The endnotes often give the sources of the information contained in the main text. MSNBC comments: “The analysis shows that much of what was reported about the planning and execution of the terror attacks on New York and Washington was derived from the interrogations of high-ranking al-Qaeda operatives. Each had been subjected to ‘enhanced interrogation techniques.’ Some were even subjected to waterboarding.” In addition, many of the endnotes that cite detainee interrogations are for the report’s “most critical chapters”—five, six, and seven—which cover the planning of the attacks and the hijackers’ time in the US. In total, the Commission relied on more than 100 CIA interrogation reports. Its Executive Director Philip Zelikow admits that “quite a bit, if not most” of its information on the 9/11 conspiracy “did come from the interrogations.” Karen Greenberg, director of the Center for Law and Security at New York University’s School of Law, says, “It calls into question how we were willing to use these interrogations to construct the narrative.” (Windrem and Limjoco 1/30/2008)
Republican strategist Roger Stone, the founder of a 527 group called “Citizens United Not Timid,” appears on MSNBC’s Tucker, a talk show hosted by conservative pundit Tucker Carlson. Stone’s organization was founded to oppose the presidential candidacy of Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), and purports to “educate the American public about what Hillary Clinton really is.” What Clinton “really is,” the organization emphasizes, is the obscenity spelled out by the group’s acronym. The group emphasizes the acronym on its Web site and on T-shirts by showing the first letters of the words in its name in boldface. Stone has appeared on Carlson’s show numerous times in recent weeks. This appearance is notable because NBC, MSNBC’s parent company, recently issued an apology for Jane Fonda’s use of the word “c_nt” on a recent Today Show appearance, when Fonda was discussing the play The Vagina Monologues. Carlson does not inform his audience of Stone’s leadership of the anti-Clinton organization. Stone has said of the organization: “[I]t’s one-word education. That’s our mission. No issues. No policy groups. No position papers. This is a simple committee with an unfortunate acronym.” Stone has said that he and a group of co-founders tried to brainstorm a name for the acronym “b_tch,” but “just couldn’t do it.” In recent days, MSNBC host Chris Matthews apologized for making sexist comments about Clinton, and MSNBC correspondent David Shuster was suspended for making objectionable comments about Clinton and her daughter Chelsea. The liberal media watchdog organization Media Matters writes, “The events of the past few weeks are part of an extensive pattern, documented by Media Matters for America, of sexism, misogyny, and other bigotry heard on MSNBC.” (Pavlus 2/20/2008) In August 2007, Stone was forced to leave the campaign of New York State Senator Joseph Bruno (R-NY) after he left a threatening, abusive, and profane telephone message for the 83-year-old father of Governor Eliot Spitzer (D-NY). (Hakim 8/22/2007)
Author and former civil litigator Glenn Greenwald writes that he is angered, but not particularly shocked, at the US mainstream media’s failure to provide in-depth, extensive coverage of the recently released 2003 torture memo (see March 14, 2003 and April 1, 2008) and another memo asserting that the Bush administration had declared the Fourth Amendment null and void in reference to “domestic military operations” inside the US (see April 2, 2008). Greenwald also notes the lack of coverage of a recent puzzling comment by Attorney General Michael Mukasey about 9/11 (see March 27, 2008). Instead, Greenwald notes, stories about the Democratic presidential campaign (including criticism over Barack Obama’s relationship with his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, and Obama’s recent bowling scores) have dominated press coverage. According to a recent NEXIS search, these various topics have been mentioned in the media in the last thirty days:
“Yoo and torture” (referring to John Yoo, the author of the two memos mentioned above)—102.
“Mukasey and 9/11”—73.
“Yoo and Fourth Amendment”—16.
“Obama and bowling”—1,043.
“Obama and Wright”—More than 3,000 (too many to be counted).
“Obama and patriotism”—1,607.
“Clinton and Lewinsky”—1,079. (Greenwald 4/5/2008)
(For the record, on March 30, Obama went bowling in Pennsylvania during a campaign stop, in the company of Senator Bob Casey (D-PA). Newsmax is among the many media outlets that provided play-by-play coverage of Obama’s abysmal performance on the lanes—he scored a 37. The site reported that Obama lost “beautifully” and was “way out of his league.”) (NewsMax 3/31/2008)
Media Attacks Obama's 'Elitism' - The Washington Post’s Howard Kurtz gives over much of his column to a discussion of Obama’s eating and bowling habits, making the argument, according to Greenwald, that Obama is “not a regular guy but an arrogant elitist.” Kurtz defends his argument by compiling a raft of “similar chatter about this from Karl Rove” and others. Bloomberg’s Margaret Carlson spent a week’s worth of columns calling Obama’s bowling his biggest mistake, a “real doozy.” MSNBC reported that Obama went bowling “with disastrous consequences.” Greenwald notes that the media “as always,” takes “their personality-based fixations from the right, who have been promoting the Obama is an arrogant, exotic, elitist freak narrative for some time.” In this vein, Time’s Joe Klein wrote of what he called Obama’s “patriotism problem,” saying that “this is a chronic disease among Democrats, who tend to talk more about what’s wrong with America than what’s right.” Greenwald notes, “He trotted it all out—the bowling, the lapel pin, Obama’s angry, America-hating wife, ‘his Islamic-sounding name.’” Greenwald calls the media fixation on Obama’s bowling and his apparent failure to be a “regular guy” another instance of their “self-referential narcissism—whatever they sputter about is what ‘the people’ care about, and therefore they must keep harping on it, because their chatter is proof of its importance. They don’t need Drudge to rule their world any longer because they are Matt Drudge now.” (Greenwald 4/5/2008)
Washington Post columnist William Arkin writes that from 1999 until late 2007, he was a military analyst for NBC News, “one of the few non-generals in that role.” Arkin writes that he worked with several generals retained by NBC and MSNBC, “and found them mostly to be valuable.” Arkin writes that “[t]he problem is not necessarily that the networks employ former officers as analysts, or that the Pentagon reaches out to them. The larger problem is the role these general play, not just on TV but in American society. In our modern era, not-so-old soldiers neither die nor fade away—they become board members and corporate icons and consultants, on TV and elsewhere, and even among this group of generally straight-shooters, there is a strong reluctance to say anything that would jeopardize their consulting gigs or positions on corporate boards.”
McCaffrey a Consistent Voice of Criticism - Retired general Barry McCaffrey (see April 21, 2003) stands out in Arkin’s recollection as one of the most consistent critics of the Pentagon, “and to this day he is among the most visible of the paid military analysts on television.” Arkin recalls McCaffrey as well-informed and sincere, but writes that “much of his analysis of Iraq in 2003 was handicapped by a myopic view of ground forces and the Army, and by a dislike of then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that was obvious and outspoken. (To be fair to McCaffrey, few former or active duty generals read the war or its aftermath correctly.)”
Analysts 'Invaluable' during Hostilities - In 2003, the reporters and camera crews embedded in the particular military units “gave an almost-live view of a war at the tactical level.” The generals were on the air to make sense of the ground-level tactical information, and translate it into a more general understanding of events and strategies. “The generals would use their knowledge and plumb their contacts to get a sense of what the divisions and corps and the coalition formations were doing at a higher level.” Arkin writes that, considering the obfuscation and deliberate deception routinely practiced by Rumsfeld and US commander General Tommy Franks, “the generals were invaluable. When they made the effort, they could go places and to sources that the rest of us couldn’t. That the Pentagon was ‘using’ them to convey a line is worrisome for the public interest but not particularly surprising.”
Pushing the Pentagon's Viewpoint - Arkin continues: “On the war itself—on the actions of the US military in March and April of 2003—there was an official line that was being pushed by the Pentagon and the White House. I’m not convinced that the generals (at least those who were serving at NBC) were trumpeting an official line that was being fed to them, but neither am I convinced that their ‘experience’ or professional expertise enabled them to analyze the war any better than non-generals or the correspondents in Washington or out in the field.” McCaffrey stands out in Arkin’s mind as one analyst who “publicly lambasted the war plan—during a time of war! In the grand scheme of things, though, I’m not sure that McCaffrey was right—and I’m not sure that having more troops then, given our assumptions about what would happen in postwar Iraq and our ignorance of the country and its dynamics, would have made much of a difference. In other words, we still could have won the battle and lost the war.”
Diminished Value as Occupation Continued - Once “major” fighting was over and other issues besides battlefield outcomes dominated the news—the disastrous occupation, the developing insurgency, the torture of prisoners—“the value of the American generals as news commentators diminished significantly,” Arkin writes. “They were no longer helping us to understand battles. They were becoming enmeshed in bigger political and public policy and partisan battles, and as ‘experts’ on the military, they should have known better not to step too far outside their lane. The networks should also have known this, and indeed they did learn eventually, as there are certainly far fewer generals on the payroll today than there were at the height of the ‘fighting.’”
A Broader Perspective - Arkin concludes: “It’s now clear that in the run-up to the war, during the war in 2003 and in its aftermath, we would have all benefited from hearing more from experts on Iraq and the Middle East, from historians, from anti-war advocates. Retired generals play a role, an important one. But for the networks, they played too big of a role—just as the ‘military’ solutions in Iraq play too big of a role, just as the military solutions in the war against terrorism swamp every other approach.” (Arkin 4/22/2008)
PBS reports on the recent revelations about a Pentagon propaganda operation that uses retired military officers as “independent military analysts” to further its goal of promoting the Iraq war and occupation (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Reporter Judy Woodruff notes, “And for the record, we invited Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, CBS, ABC and NBC to participate, but they declined our offer or did not respond.” Neither does the Pentagon send anyone to take part in the report. Woodruff discloses that PBS’s NewsHour with Jim Lehrer put five military analysts on retainer in 2003, but says that none of them attended Pentagon briefings while being paid by PBS, as so many of the other network analysts did.
Selling and Managing the War - The Center for Media and Democracy’s John Stauber says, “[S]hame on the networks who were duped this way that they didn’t show up to defend or explain their actions.” Stauber calls the Pentagon operation “a psyops campaign, an incredible government propaganda campaign whereby Donald Rumsfeld and Torie [Victoria] Clarke, the head of public relations for the Pentagon, designed a program to recruit 75, at least 75 former military officers… most of them now lobbyists or consultants to military contractors, and insert them, beginning in 2002, before the attack on Iraq was even launched, into the major networks to manage the messages, to be surrogates. And that’s the words that are actually used, ‘message multipliers’ for the secretary of defense and for the Pentagon. This program continues right up to now.” Stauber says that the Pentagon program is patently illegal (see April 28, 2008), though the Pentagon may dispute that contention. “It is illegal for the US government to propagandize citizens in this way,” he says. “In my opinion, this war could have never been sold if it were not for this sophisticated propaganda campaign. And what we need is congressional investigation of not just this Pentagon military analyst program, but all the rest of the deception and propaganda that came out of the Bush administration and out of the Pentagon that allowed them to sell and manage this war.”
Full Disclosure Needed - Former ABC news correspondent Robert Zelnick, now a professor of journalism at Boston University, says the only thing that surprised him about the New York Times report that broke the story was its length. Zelnick says that when he covered the Pentagon: “I often sought information from retired generals and admirals and colonels because I knew they were well-informed. I knew they kept in touch. I knew they had drinks at the Army-Navy Club. I know they went to Army-Navy football games on special trains together. I knew that many of them were serving as what we called Beltway bandits or consultants.” Zelnick says: “[I]f you have an admiral on who is or a general who is currently a consultant to the Pentagon, that should be disclosed right at the top of the interview. But we don’t—as networks, we didn’t have these people on because they were neutral; we had them on because they knew what they were talking about. They had spent their lives in military affairs.” Zelnick says that to conclude the Pentagon actually “recruited” analysts for ABC or another network or cable broadcaster is an overgeneralization; the Pentagon merely “recommended, perhaps, former generals or admirals to the various networks and, once they had them, they kept them informed. And I think that’s to the good. It meant that more information was available. If occasionally a general or an admiral or a colonel who was retired and used in this fashion allowed himself to be dictated to, that’s his fault. And I think any solid news person or executive editor running one of these programs would have discerned that early on and quit using him.”
'Agents of Pentagon Propaganda' - Stauber retorts that he is “shocked to hear Bob Zelnick depict and misrepresent what’s going on here. And I have to wonder, Professor Zelnick, if you even read the New York Times article very closely. This is an instant where these people were recruited by Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld as agents of Pentagon propaganda and inserted into the networks. Now, you can fault—and we should fault—the networks for not vetting these people properly, for not being much more careful about their credentials. But the fact is this program began with the Pentagon, with the Bush administration, recruiting these people to be their surrogates. And those are the words that the internal documents used. This is the Pentagon Papers of this war.” Zelnick responds that the networks had just as many analysts on their payrolls during the 1991 Gulf War, “[s]o it was something that the networks perceived was in their own interest to develop these kinds of contacts. And it was in their interest. It certainly was in my interest as a Pentagon correspondent.” Zelnick says that while the networks should always disclose their analysts’ business connections with whatever defense firms they represent, “what do we expect these guys to do after 30 or 40 years in the service, during which time they’ve risen to the ranks of the most senior officers? We would expect them to wind up as consultants or, as I said, we call them Beltway bandits. I just don’t get upset over something that’s completely natural, completely to be expected, and widely known throughout the industry.” Stauber disputes Zelnick’s characterization, and notes that the structure of the operation was guided from Rumsfeld and Clarke, not from the networks initiating contact with the Pentagon on behalf of their military analysts. “The flow was illegal government propaganda, recruiting these people, and inserting them into the news, and then hiring a company to measure and quantify how good a job they did of selling the war and managing press and public opinion. This is Goebbels-like.” (PBS 4/24/2008)
Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella, authors of the media study Echo Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment, draw some tentative conclusions about the impact that conservative talk radio, specifically the broadcasts of Rush Limbaugh, and conservative news outlets such as Fox News have on their regular listeners. They find both positive and negative effects on the audiences.
Positive Impact - The conservative broadcasters have a positive impact, Jamieson and Cappella conclude, by helping their listeners “make sense of complex social issues on which elite opinion is divided. They accomplish this when they:
Consistently frame arguments from conservative assumptions
Build a base of supportive evidence for conservative beliefs and in the process distinguish them from ‘liberal’ ones
Semantically and affectively prime key advocacy and attack points
Arm their audience to argue effectively
Minimize the likelihood of defection from conservatism by creating a sense of community among listeners who share a worldview, if not every political policy preference.”
The conservative radio hosts “protect their audience from counterpersuasion by inoculating it against opposing messages; at the same time, they increase the likelihood that the audience will try to persuade others. Conservative viewers, readers, and listeners are told by these media outlets that they are part of a much larger community… The belief that they are part of an army of others of like mind should increase their disposition to talk politics with those with whom they disagree. Finally, they stabilize the conservative base. This effect is produced at a cost: Those in the fold see ‘liberals’ and politicians as further from them—hence less worthy of support—than they actually are.”
Negative Impact - Jamieson and Cappella then turn to the negative impact on the audience. “We find other moves more problematic,” they write, “including those that:
Insulate the audience from alternative media sources by casting them as untrustworthy, ‘liberal,’ and rooted in a double standard hostile to conservatives and conservatism
Protect their audience from the influence of those opposed to the conservative message by balkanizing and polarizing their perception of opponents and their arguments
Contest only the facts hospitable to opposing views
Invite moral outrage by engaging emotion. This produces one advantage and one disadvantage: emotional involvement invites action and engagement rather than distancing and lethargy. On the downside, a steady diet of moral outrage feeds the assumption that the opponent is an enemy
Replace argument with ridicule and ad hominem [arguing against an assertion by attacking the person making the assertion, not the assertion itself]
Often invite their audiences to see the political world as one unburdened by either ambiguity or common ground across the ideological divide.
Liberals Imitating Conservatives' Success - Jamieson and Cappella conclude: “Democrats are, of course, more likely to accept the contested facts offered by their party and so are Republicans. We find it worrisome that the audiences for both Fox and Limbaugh were more likely than comparable conservatives to accept the Republican view of the contested facts in the 2004 election and more likely in the process to distort the positions of the Democratic nominees. But those who, with us, find the pro-Republican distortion among Limbaugh and Fox audiences should, with us, find the pro-Democratic distortion equally troubling among NPR listeners and CNN viewers.… What the conservative opinion media do for the Right and CNN and NPR do for the Left is increase a tendency to embrace the arguments and evidence offered by those with whom their audiences already agree. Fox and Limbaugh have also created a commercially viable model of partisan media that has elicited the sincerest form of flattery. On the Left, ‘Air America’ on radio and Countdown with Keith Olbermann on MSNBC are both experimenting with ways to translate their blend of entertainment and political advocacy into profits. Consistent with the model developed by the conservatives, Olbermann regularly features ‘Air America’ hosts.” (Jamieson and Cappella 2008, pp. 244-245)
The campaign of US Senate candidate Norm Coleman (R-MN) issues a press release claiming that Coleman’s victory is “confirmed.” Coleman’s press release is erroneous. Coleman’s campaign manager, Cullen Sheehan, issues a similarly erroneous statement that says: “Senator Coleman has, for the third time, been named the winner of the 2008 election. We look forward to the beginning of tomorrow’s recount, and to what we believe to be the ultimate conclusion of the final chapter of this year’s election—the re-election of Senator Norm Coleman.” Far from being confirmed, the recount procedure involving Coleman and his opponent Al Franken (D-MN) has not officially begun (see November 4-5, 2008). It is unclear what basis Coleman has for claiming victory, and no official entity has confirmed Coleman’s victory in the race. Franken’s campaign also issues a release announcing that the recount procedure is about to commence, noting accurately that the State Canvassing Board has refused to certify a winner and stating the campaign’s intention to support the recount. (Schmelzer 11/18/2008; Falcone 11/18/2008) MSNBC reports that Coleman “is trying to look the part of the winner [in order to be able to] call into question any lead taken by Franken in the recount.” (Todd et al. 11/19/2008) Three days later, liberal reporter Eric Hananoki will write that Coleman is going beyond taking “premature victory laps” by demanding a halt to the recount, “float[ing] false voter fraud stories,” and “smear[ing] election officials” (see November 10, 2008, November 11, 2008, and November 12, 2008). (Hananoki 11/21/2008)
Many media figures repeat a disputed claim by the Pentagon that 61 former Guantanamo detainees are again engaged in terrorist activities (see January 13-14, 2009), without noting that the figure is being challenged. The argument is being used to criticize President Obama’s announced plans to close the Guantanamo detention facility within a year (see January 22, 2009). Liberal media watchdog organization Media Matters documents a number of media outlets promulgating the claim. On Fox News, host Sean Hannity tells a guest, “But we know… 61 Gitmo detainees that have already been released, according to the Pentagon, went right back to the battlefield with their fanaticism.” On CNN, neoconservative guest Clifford May tells host Campbell Brown: “Many hundreds have been released. About 60 of them—a little more than that—have returned to the battlefield.” Brown fails to challenge the claim. Nor does MSNBC’s Chris Matthews challenge a similar assertion from Senator Christopher Bond (R-MO), who says, “we know already that more than 60 of the people who have been released have been killing our troops, our Americans and civilians on the battlefield.” (Media Matters 1/23/2009) The Boston Globe reports, “Pentagon statistics show that of the hundreds of detainees that have been released from Guantanamo since it opened in early 2002, at least 61 have returned to terrorist activities.” (Williams and Bender 1/22/2009) The Los Angeles Times reports, “The Pentagon has said that 61 former detainees have taken up arms against the US or its allies after being released from the military prison in Cuba.” (Los Angeles Times 1/23/2009) The San Francisco Chronicle reports, “Republicans also claimed that 61 detainees already released have been ‘found back on the battlefield.’” (Lochhead 1/23/2009) And an ABC News article repeats House Minority Leader John Boehner’s (R-OH) statement, “Do we release them back into the battlefield, like some 61 detainees that have been released we know are back on the battlefield?” ABC does not report that the claim is disputed. (Tapper, Crawford-Greenburg, and Khan 1/22/2009)
Conservative commentator Bill O’Reilly writes an op-ed that claims, apparently sarcastically, that former Vice President Cheney would have had reporters assassinated if he really controlled a military assassination squad. Responding to the allegations by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh that Cheney controlled an “executive assassination wing” (see March 10, 2009), O’Reilly writes: “The other day, left-wing muckraker Seymour Hersh went on MSNBC and said he had information, provided by the usual anonymous sources, that Dick Cheney was running an assassination squad out of the White House. I have but one simple observation: If Cheney really had such a crew, Hersh would have been dead a long time ago, and so would most everybody at MSNBC.” (O'Reilly 3/22/2009; Corley 3/22/2009)
Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele, guest-hosting William Bennett’s radio show, says that Republicans should not attack Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor (see May 26, 2009) over her race (see May 26, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 27, 2009, May 28, 2009, May 28, 2009, and May 28, 2009). Doing so risks damaging the Republican Party’s image, he says. Steele, who is an African-American, warns that the “liberal media,” and particularly MSNBC, will use the racially motivated attacks to paint Republicans as bigots. “MSNBC will rip everything we have to say up into shreds,” he says. “I’m excited that a Hispanic woman is in this position,” he says. Republicans should stop “slammin’ and rammin’” on Sotomayor, and instead “acknowledge” the “historic aspect” of the pick and make a “cogent, articulate argument” against her for purely substantive reasons. Steele says the party doesn’t want to “get painted as a party that’s against the first Hispanic woman” picked for the Supreme Court. Democrats have made similar attacks on conservative candidates in the past, Steele avers, and says that the “liberal media” gave Democrats an unfair advantage in such controversies. Steele does not mention two of the loudest voices in the racially-based attacks against Sotomayor, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh. Washington Post columnist Greg Sargent writes: “It’s a reminder of Steele’s predicament: He knows how badly these attacks are damaging the party and how neatly they play into the hands of Dems, but he can’t call out the leading figures launching those attacks, because that risks infuriating the base and feeding the meme that the GOP is hopelessly divided.” (Sargent 5/29/2009) Two weeks before, while hosting Bennett’s show, Steele had attacked Sotomayor’s intellect and personality, calling her “not a bell ringer” and “abrasive.” (Corley 5/29/2009) A week later, while hosting Bennett’s show, Steele will say, “God help you if you’re a white male coming before her bench” (see June 5, 2009).
The Republican National Committee plans to spend a million dollars in August on television ads opposing health care reform. One of the key elements of the ad campaign is a study released today by the Lewin Group that finds 119 million Americans would lose the coverage they currently have under the Obama administration’s health care reform proposal. MSNBC’s progressive talk show host Rachel Maddow airs video clips of Senators John Barrasso (R-WY) and Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Representatives John Boehner (R-OH), Tom Price (R-GA), Paul Ryan (R-WI), and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) all citing the Lewin study as evidence that health care reform is bad for Americans. The Lewin Group is a subsidiary of UnitedHealth Group, a health insurance provider. United Health operates a subsidiary called Ingenix, which in turn operates a consulting firm, the Lewin Group. Maddow notes that Republicans call the Lewin Group “nonpartisan and independent” when in fact it is a branch of a health care insurer. In January 2009, United Health agreed to pay $400 million to the State of New York after being charged with defrauding customers—manipulating data in order to shift medical expenses onto consumers. Former Vermont governor and Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean, himself a doctor, says the issue is “not… about Democrats versus Republicans. This is about the health insurance agency versus the American people.” (Ingenix 7/27/2009; MSNBC 7/28/2009)
Eric Boehlert, an author and editor of the progressive news watchdog organization Media Matters, writes that, in his eyes, the media is ignoring the biggest “political story of the year”: “the unhinged radical-right response to [President] Obama’s inauguration and the naked attempt to dehumanize and delegitimize him through a nonstop smear campaign,” which he says is sponsored by the Republican Party and its conservative supporters. “The misguided movement breaks all kinds of taboos in American politics,” Boehlert writes, “as well as in the press, and is redefining our political culture—for the worse. Yet the press continues to play dumb.”
Playing the Nazi Card - Boehlert takes as his springboard the relative disinterest the mainstream media shows to the repeated accusations that Obama and/or Congressional Democrats are Nazis, or Nazi sympathizers, or have Nazi-like goals and ideals (see July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 4, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 7, 2009, and August 10-11, 2009), as well as the virtually unreported use of Nazi symbols and rhetoric at anti-health care protests (see July 25, 2009, August 1, 2009, August 4, 2009, and August 8, 2009). Boehlert notes that in January 2004, the liberal advocacy organization MoveOn received weeks of negative publicity and media attention when it briefly posted two amateur video clips on its Web site submitted as part of a contest for 30-second Internet advertisements against the policies of the Bush administration. The organization removed the clips within hours and apologized for posting them, but was berated for weeks over the ads. Now, Boehlert notes, Rush Limbaugh and other prominent conservative spokespersons routinely use accusations of Nazism in their rhetorical attacks on Obama and Democrats, with virtually no acknowledgement from the press. Boehlert writes: “Despite the fact that Limbaugh has not apologized for his comments—unlike MoveOn in 2004—and is continuing to compare the Obama White House and the Democratic Party with Nazis, many in the media don’t consider it newsworthy and haven’t condemned it. And more important, journalists don’t show any signs of believing that the episode tells us anything about the radically unhinged nature of the right-wing media in this country today.” Apparently, he writes, most media analysts just consider Limbaugh’s extreme rhetoric a case of “Rush being Rush.” But, he asks, if Limbaugh is going to be considered the de facto leader of conservative thought in America, why isn’t he being challenged on his use of what Boehlert calls “his radical and outrageous rhetoric.… He went to a place that previously was considered unconscionable and unpardonable by the press.… Why isn’t Limbaugh uniformly condemned for his words?”
Accusations of Racism, Racist Pronouncements - And Limbaugh is merely one of many. Fox News commentator Glenn Beck recently accused Obama of being a “racist” and having a “deep-seated hatred of white people” (see July 28-29, 2009), and outside of the small number of progressive/liberal hosts on MSNBC and a few scattered notations in the press, the accusation was virtually ignored. “At the [Washington] Post, which obsesses over the intersection of the media and politics,” Boehlert writes, “the jaw-dropping attack by Fox News’s superstar host wasn’t considered newsworthy. That’s correct: Two of the most popular and powerful conservative voices in America have recently called out Obama as a Nazi and a racist.”
Legitimizing Extremism - Boehlert assigns part of the blame to journalists being “spooked by decades’ worth of ‘liberal media bias’ attacks” that drive them to “refuse to connect the glaringly obvious dots on display.” The extreme rhetorical attacks dovetail with what he calls “the town hall mini-mobs that are wreaking havoc across the country” and “the bizarre birther conspiracy theory” that insists Obama is not a US citizen, but some sort of “plant” from Kenya brought to America to bring down American democracy. “The three right-wing phenomena are all related,” he writes, “and they all revolve around a runaway hatred of Obama (as well as the federal government), and they’re all being fueled by the [conservative media operation], especially Fox News and Limbaugh, both of which no longer recognize common decency, let alone journalistic standards. Yet instead of putting Limbaugh on the receiving end of well-deserved scrutiny and scorn, rather than turning his comments into a political firestorm, the press plays dumb and actually goes out of its way to legitimize the worst offenders of the GOP’s hate brigade.” Boehlert condemns ABC News for inviting conservative blogger and columnist Michelle Malkin to take part in a discussion of health care reform “with Pulitzer Prize-winning writers.” Malkin, he writes, is a prime member of the “hate brigade,” helping push the increasingly angry and violent mob confrontations as well as exhorting readers to believe that the Democrats want to exterminate the elderly (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 31, 2009 - August 12, 2009, August 7, 2009, and August 10, 2009). The New Yorker recently praised Michael Savage, who routinely attacks women, gays, liberals, and minorities with the worst rhetorical excess (see January 10, 2008, February 1, 2008, February 21, 2008, March 13, 2008, April 3, 2008, June 6, 2008, June 6, 2008, August 25, 2008, October 8-10, 2008, October 21, 2008, October 22, 2008, November 10, 2008, and November 18, 2008), calling him “fun” and “addictive.”
Comparing the Statistics - Boehlert notes that in January 2004, the Indianapolis Star published five letters to the editor about the MoveOn controversy. To date, it has not published a single letter about Limbaugh’s Nazi accusations towards Obama or Democrats. In January 2004, 28 of the nation’s largest newspapers published a total of 54 stories, articles, or letters about the MoveOn controversy. To date, that group has published a combined total of six stories about Limbaugh’s Nazi allegations. No paper has printed more than one story on the topic. In January 2004, the MoveOn-Nazi story garnered 300 percent more airtime on CNN than the Limbaugh-Nazi story has received. (Boehlert 8/11/2009)
Progressive MSNBC host Rachel Maddow worries on the air about the possibility of physical violence, and perhaps even political assassinations, being perpetrated as a result of the escalating violent rhetoric surrounding the health care reform debate. In recent days, at least one Democratic lawmaker has been threatened with death (see August 11, 2009), an African-American congressman has been vilified with swastikas and racial slurs (see August 11, 2009 and August 12, 2009), and guns have been brought both openly and surreptitiously to town halls (see August 5, 2009), some with President Obama in attendance (see August 11, 2009). Maddow tells her listeners: “[O]pponents of health care reform have chosen to fight at this time with force and with threats of force. Not just fringe talk show hosts, but members of Congress telling their constituents that Barack Obama is like Hitler; members of the United States senate telling their constituents that they are right to be afraid, that health care reform really is a plot to kill the elderly (see November 23, 2008, January 27, 2009, February 9, 2009, February 11, 2009, February 18, 2009, May 13, 2009, June 24, 2009, June 25, 2009, July 10, 2009, July 16, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 21, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 23-24, 2009, July 24, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 31, 2009 - August 12, 2009, August 6, 2009, August 7, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, Shortly Before August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, and August 11, 2009). Corporate funded conservative PR operations promoting those lines of attack and then telling their activists to go put the fear of God into members of Congress (see August 6, 2009). Are we now operating in a political environment which is not just politics as usual, which is not just a rowdy debate? Has enough kerosene been poured on the flames that the possibility of violence—even assassination—is being posited as a real political tactic in the United States? It’s not a rhetorical question. It’s not even a question about rhetoric. Because there are people in this country—people in the health care field, in fact—who have faced the actual threat of assassination as a political tactic (see May 31, 2009).… As the anti-health reform protestors flirt with the same exultation of violence, that same excuses and purported justifications of violence, that echo in the extreme anti-abortion movement in this country, it is worth remembering that the possibility of American politics turning to violence and terrorism—at the fringe—is not all theoretical.” Maddow’s guest, abortion provider Dr. Warren Hern, himself a target of political assassins, tells her: “They have—the anti-abortion movement decided, more than 15 years ago, to use political assassination as a tactic, as a method of not only political expression but a way of organizing their followers and getting support and that’s what they’ve been doing. They’ve been assassinating doctors. And the question I have pointed out when they get through assassinating abortion doctors: who’s next?… [I]t’s very clear that there’s been a progression of violence increasingly toward individuals. And this is one of the frightening trends. And so, we have to be very concerned because the violent and the aggressive rhetoric and action or statements lead to more violent action and to assassination.” (MSNBC 8/13/2009)
Fox News takes out a full-page ad in the Washington Post demanding why other news networks did not cover the 9/12 rally (see September 12, 2009). “How did, ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC, and CNN miss this story?” the text reads. Huffington Post columnist Jason Linkins writes that it took him “all of 30 seconds” to find coverage on CNN and MSNBC. He writes that on September 12, “CNN ran no less than 14 reports on the Tea Party rally, beginning at approximately 7:00 a.m. During the same time period, MSNBC offered viewers four reports on the Tea Parties.” NBC, CBS, and ABC also covered the rally. “No one missed the story,” Linkins concludes. He goes on to note that ABC was the news network that debunked attempts to inflate the crowd numbers to make the rally seem larger than it really was (see September 13-14, 2009). (Linkins 9/18/2009) This afternoon, CNN anchor Rick Sanchez declares of the ad, “You lie!” Fox News defends the ad, with its vice president Michael Tammero issuing a statement that says in part, “Generally speaking, it’s fair to say that from the tea party movement… to the march on 9/12, the networks either ignored the story, marginalized it, or misrepresented the significance of it altogether.” A Fox News executive calls Sanchez a “sucker” and “a gift that keeps on giving” for his on-air reaction. CNN retorts in its own statement: “Fox News’ ad today is blatantly false regarding CNN’s coverage of the 9/12 rally. CNN provided live coverage of the rally in Washington throughout the day Saturday, Sept. 12. CNN dispatched more than a dozen personnel and multiple camera crews, including the CNN Express, to cover the event. CNN’s deputy political director Paul Steinhauser was live at Freedom Plaza, CNN correspondent Kate Bolduan live from the West Front of the Capitol and roved the crowd, CNN’s Jim Spellman provided live hits all day after traveling for weeks on the actual Tea Party Express, and CNN’s Lisa Desjardins was live from the National Mall.” (Krakauer 9/18/2009)
MSNBC airs a documentary about convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see June 2, 1997 and June 11-13, 1997), who before his execution (see 7:14 a.m. June 11, 2001) confessed to bombing the Murrah Federal Building (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) to Buffalo News reporters Lou Michel and Dan Herbeck. Michel and Herbeck went on to write a 2001 biography of McVeigh, American Terrorist: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing, based on their interviews with McVeigh. The MSNBC documentary, The McVeigh Tapes: Confessions of an American Terrorist, features excerpts drawn from the 45 hours of audio recordings made by Michel. The documentary will be broadcast on April 19, the 15th anniversary of the bombing, and features film of the bombing and its aftermath; computer-generated recreations to augment the actual audio recordings (with an actor playing McVeigh); and interviews with survivors of the bombing and family members of the slain. McVeigh told of his childhood in upstate New York (see 1987-1988), his experiences in the 1991 Gulf War (see January - March 1991 and After), his relationship with convicted co-conspirator Terry Nichols (see March 24, 1988 - Late 1990, December 23, 1997, and June 4, 1998), and of the meticulous planning and execution of the bombing. (MSNBC 4/15/1995; MSNBC 4/15/1995) One of the few moments when McVeigh’s voice became animated was when he described the moments before the bomb went off, saying, “I lit the two-minute fuse at the stoplight, and I swear to God that was the longest stoplight I’ve ever sat at in my life.” (Stanley 4/18/1995) The documentary is narrated by MSNBC talk show host Rachel Maddow. Herbeck says he understands that the documentary will evoke strong feelings. “Some people will say they don’t want to hear anything about Timothy McVeigh and we respect their feelings on that,” he says. “But others are interested in hearing what made a terrorist tick.” Michel says, “[It’s an] oral blueprint of what turned one young man into one of the worst mass-murderers and terrorists in American history.” Herbeck says their book drew similar mixed reactions: “A few of the victims were outraged by our book, and they went public with their feelings. They felt it was wrong to tell the story of a terrorist.” Maddow says she is not worried that the documentary will somehow glamorize McVeigh or make him into a martyr figure: “McVeigh is profoundly unsympathetic—even repugnant—on his own terms, you don’t need to work to make him seem that way. There’s a huge distance between the hero he is in his own mind, and how basely unheroic he seems to anyone hearing the tapes now. I personally am not a supporter of the death penalty… but hearing him talk, it’s hard not to wish him gone.” In the documentary, Jannie Coverdale, who lost her two young grandchildren in the blast, says: “I was glad when he died. I will never forgive Timothy McVeigh.” Oklahoma City Police Department official Jennifer Rodgers, one of the first responders to the bombing (see 9:02 a.m. - 10:35 a.m. April 19, 1995), says her feelings are “still raw.… It just doesn’t seem like it was really that long ago.” Maddow says the story is important even 15 years later: “The Murrah Building bombing is the worst incident of domestic terrorism we’ve ever experienced as a nation. We owe pure remembrance of the date, and commemoration of the lives lost and changed. I think it’s also an appropriate occasion to talk about the threat of domestic terrorism. How strong is the threat now, 15 years after McVeigh? Are we heeding warning signs that may be out there now?” Former President Clinton, who oversaw the federal efforts to respond to the bombing, has recently warned that ugly and frightening parallels exist between the current political tensions and the anti-government rage that preceded McVeigh’s attack, saying: “We can disagree with them [elected officials], we can harshly criticize them. But when we turn them into an object of demonization, we increase the number of threats.” Michel says: “There’s no question that the militia movement is on the rise again. Some of the same factors that caused McVeigh to believe he had become disenfranchised from mainstream society are again in the mix: growing government regulations, lack of employment. Those are things McVeigh would cite if he were alive.” (MSNBC 4/15/1995; MSNBC 4/15/1995) In the documentary, Maddow says of the date of the airing: “On this date, which holds great meaning for the anti-government movement, the McVeigh tapes are a can’t-turn-away, riveting reminder.” Washington Post reviewer Hank Steuver calls the documentary “chilling” and McVeigh’s demeanor “arrogan[t]” and unrepentant. “Maddow and company wisely decline to draw too straight a line from 1995 to 2010, but, as she indicates, it might be helpful in crazy times to study this sort of crazy head-on,” he writes. “Watching this, it’s easy to feel like that fuse is still lit.” (Stuever 4/18/2010) New York Times reviewer Alessandra Stanley says the use of an actor and computer effects “blunts its impact by relying on stagy computer graphics.… Scenes of this domestic terrorist in shackles during a prison interview or lighting a fuse inside a rented Ryder truck look neither real nor completely fake, but certainly cheesy: a violent video game with McVeigh as a methodical, murderous avatar.” (Stanley 4/18/1995) The documentary is later made available on YouTube. (911Blogger (.com) 4/20/2010)
Kurt Nimmo, writing for the right-wing conspiracy Web site Infowars (.com), calls the recent MSNBC documentary featuring the confession of convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see April 15-18, 2010) a “fairy tale.” Nimmo writes: “On the fifteenth anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, MSNBC ran a documentary supposedly detailing Timothy McVeigh’s death row ‘confession.’ The documentary—actually a fairy tale of easily debunked government propaganda hosted by the ‘progressive’ Rachel Maddow—employs alleged tape recordings of McVeigh coupled with cheesy computer simulations intended to dredge up the government version of events and thus rekindle hysteria manufactured in the 1990s concerning the threat posed by militias and patriot groups.” Nimmo says the documentary “omits a large amount of evidence that seriously undermines the government version repeated and amplified by the corporate media (see (see 1983, January 23, 1993 - Early 1994, April 1993, October 12, 1993 - January 1994, August 1994 - March 1995, August - September 1994, September 12, 1994 and After, September 13, 1994 and After, November 1994, December 1994, February 1995, March 1995, (April 1) - April 18, 1995, April 5, 1995, April 8, 1995, and Before 9:00 A.M. April 19, 1995), and recounts a number of oddities surrounding the bombing that have not yet been explained, such as the “inexplicable” absence of FBI and BATF agents in the Murrah Building the day of the bombing (eight federal agents were killed in the blast—see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), allegations that judicial and FBI officials were warned about the bombing ahead of time, and a raft of unexplained information about other possible conspirators (see April 15, 1995, 9:00 p.m. April 17, 1995, 3:00 p.m. April 17, 1995, April 18, 1995, April 20, 1995, April 21, 1995, April 29, 1995, and June 14, 1995). Nimmo calls the documentary “crude propaganda” designed to conceal what he calls the likelihood that the bombing was a government operation designed to demonize militia and anti-government organizations. He says the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), an anti-hate organization that tracks violent anti-government organizations, is one of the organizations behind the documentary, and calls the SPLC’s Mark Potok, who appears in the documentary, the organization’s “propaganda minister.” He concludes: “The OK City bombing was a false flag attack perpetuated by the government ‘to gain a political end’ and that end was to demonize political opposition. It is an effort that continues today and will expand as the political opposition gains popular support.” (Kurt Nimmo 4/25/2010)
Billionaire Donald Trump, the host of NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice, reportedly considers running for president in 2012 as a Republican. Trump has made similar claims in 1988 and 2000, but those were, according to Media Bistro, “just publicity stunts.” Trump is focusing on the “birther” controversy, claims from some on the right that President Obama is not a naturally-born American citizen. Though Obama has produced his birth certificate (see June 13, 2008) and satisfied constitutional requirements for proving his eligibility to serve as president, Trump and many “birthers” insist that he is actually a Kenyan citizen (see February 10, 2011, March 17, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 28, 2011, March 28-29, 2011, March 30, 2011, April 1, 2011, April 1, 2011, and April 1-8, 2011). Today, Trump takes part in contentious interviews on NBC’s Today Show, with Today co-host Meredith Vieira interviewing him; on MSNBC’s Morning Joe with Joe Scarborough; and an appearance later in the day on CNN. (On Morning Joe, former Governor Ed Rendell (D-PA) tells Trump, “Get off the birther stuff.”) Time magazine media critic James Poniewozik calls the Today interview “a trifecta of self-promotion for NBC Universal. It gave a platform to the star of Celebrity Apprentice, one of NBC’s few minor hits. It gave Today a buzzed-about interview… [a]nd it helped publicize an new NBC / Wall Street Journal poll that shows Trump tied for second as a hypothetical GOP presidential candidate.” Trump tells Vieira: “Three weeks ago when I started, I thought he was probably born in this country. Right now, I have some real doubts.… I have people that actually have been studying it and they cannot believe what they’re finding.” Trump is combative with the somewhat acquiescent Vieira, saying he is increasingly suspicious that Obama has “conned the world” about his citizenship. Trump refuses to let Vieira refute his allegations; for example, when Vieira attempts to tell Trump about Hawaii’s policy on what birth documents it makes available (see July 1, 2009), Trump merely talks loudly over her. She lets him go unchallenged with a number of long-debunked assertions. For example, Trump asserts that Obama’s grandmother claimed to have seen Obama born in Kenya (see October 16, 2008 and After), saying: “His grandmother in Kenya said, ‘Oh no, he was born in Kenya and I was there and I witnessed the birth.’ Now, she’s on tape and I think that tape’s going to be produced fairly soon.… The grandmother in Kenya is on record saying he was born in Kenya.” Poniewozik says that claim is on a par with a recent fraudulent “birth certificate” from Kenya made available on the Internet (see August 1-4, 2009); so, Poniewozik writes, “now millions of Today viewers are invited to take it as fact.” Trump also claims to have sent his own investigators to Hawaii, who have supposedly unearthed startling evidence of Obama’s Kenyan citizenship (see April 7, 2011), but does not give any specifics. Poniewozik concludes that NBC News anchor Brian Williams is likely “mortified” by Trump’s NBC appearance, considering how Williams and NBC News have “thoroughly worked over the birther conspiracies” and found them groundless. (NBC News 4/7/2011; Weprin 4/7/2011; Poniewozik 4/7/2011; St. Petersburg Times 4/7/2011) Trump’s claim that Obama has spent “over $2 million” defending himself from challenges to his citizenship is quickly shown to be false (see April 7-10, 2011).
Conservative author and pundit Ann Coulter, in an interview with Fox News host Bill O’Reilly, says that the entire “birther” controversy is the fault of President Obama and MSNBC. Obama released his “long form” birth certificate earlier in the day, in an attempt to settle the “controversy” once and for all (see April 27, 2011). Some right-wing opponents have fueled the idea that Obama is not a “true” American citizen since the beginning of the 2008 presidential campaign (see July 20, 2008, August 1, 2008 and After, August 15, 2008, October 8-10, 2008, October 8, 2008, October 9, 2008, October 16, 2008 and After, November 10, 2008, December 3, 2008, August 1-4, 2009, May 7, 2010, Shortly Before June 28, 2010, Around June 28, 2010, January 18, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 24, 2011, March 27-28, 2011, March 28, 2011, April 5, 2011, and April 27, 2011). “[W]e were right, they were wrong,” Coulter says, meaning that the conservative establishment has, in her view, consistently denounced “birtherism” as a distraction and a non-issue. She correctly notes that the controversy began among a small cadre of angry Hillary Clinton supporters during the 2008 Democratic primary, and goes on to say: “And then I think it was a lot of liberals who were pretending to be conservatives or, on MSNBC.… But MSNBC, there’s nothing secret about MSNBC. They cover it approximately 55 minutes of every hour. And, yeah, you didn’t hear anything about it at all on Fox News, so they were the ones promoting it, because it made conservatives look crazy.” Fox News has often promoted “birther” viewpoints on a variety of its news and opinion shows (see April 27, 2011). O’Reilly, who has kept his distance from the “birther” controversy (see July 29, 2009 and April 26, 2011), says that many people hate Obama so intensely that they simply become blinded. Coulter responds that many uninformed, apolitical Americans may well believe that Obama “seems foreign” in the way “all liberals do.” (Alvarez 4/27/2011)
MSNBC talk show host Ed Schultz calls right-wing talk show host Laura Ingraham a “right-wing slut” on his radio broadcast. He issues an emotional apology shortly thereafter and is voluntarily suspended from MSNBC for a week. Schultz is discussing the recent spate of tornadoes in Missouri, and the criticisms of President Obama’s response to the tornadoes from some conservatives such as Ingraham. He says to his listeners: “President Obama is going to be visiting Joplin, Missouri, on Sunday but you know what they’re talking about, like this right-wing slut, what’s her name? Laura Ingraham? Yeah, she’s a talk slut. You see, she was, back in the day, praising President Reagan when he was drinking a beer overseas. But now that Obama’s doing it, they’re working him over.” The next day, Schultz delivers a seven-minute apology on his MSNBC show and then leaves the air, replaced by MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts. Schultz says in part: “On my radio show yesterday I used vile and inappropriate language when talking about talk show host Laura Ingraham. I am deeply sorry and I apologize. It was wrong, uncalled for, and I recognize the severity of what I said. I apologize to you, Laura, and ask for your forgiveness. It doesn’t matter what the circumstances were. It doesn’t matter that it was on radio and I was ad-libbing. None of that matters. None of that matters. What matters is what I said was terribly vile and not of the standards that I or any other person should adhere to. I want all of you to know tonight that I did call Laura Ingraham today and did not make contact with her and I will apologize to her as I did in the message that I left her today. I also met with management here at MSNBC, and understanding the severity of the situation and what I said on the radio and how it reflected terribly on this company, I have offered to take myself off the air for an indefinite period of time with no pay. I want to apologize to Laura Ingraham. I want to apologize to my family, my wife. I have embarrassed my family. I have embarrassed this company.… This is the lowest of low for me.… I stand before you tonight to take full responsibility for what I said and how I said it, and I am deeply sorry.… In this moment, I have failed. And I want you to know that I talked to my sons especially about character and about dignity and about the truth. And I tell you the truth tonight that I am deeply sorry and I tell them every day that they have to live up to standards if they want to be a successful human being in life. And I have let them down. I have never been in this position before to the point where it has affected so many people. And I know that I have let a lot of people down. To the staff here at MSNBC, I apologize for embarrassing the company and the only way that I can really make restitution for you is to give you a guarantee, and the only way that I can prove my sincerity in all of this is if I never use those words again. Tonight, you have my word that I won’t. Laura Ingraham, I am sorry. Very sorry. I’ll be back with you in the coming days.” Ingraham posts on Twitter that she accepts Schultz’s apology. Mediaite’s Tommy Christopher writes: “Schultz’s apology was as full and heartfelt as any I have ever seen from a media figure (as it should have been).… More than anything, Schultz seemed to grasp the gravity of what he had said, and his shame and embarrassment were palpable as he asked Ingraham for forgiveness.” (Sarlin 5/25/2011; Christopher 5/25/2011; ABC News 3/5/2012)
US Representative Allen West (R-FL), a hard-right African-American conservative who won the 2010 race for his seat with a large contingent of “tea party” support, accuses black Democrats of being “overseers” on what he calls a “21st century plantation.” West says he is a “modern-day Harriet Tubman” leading people away from the “plantation.” West, discussing unemployement issues among black Americans with Fox News host Laura Ingraham, says: “So you have this 21st Century plantation… where the Democrat party [sic] has forever taken the black vote for granted, and you have established certain black leaders who are nothing more than the overseers of that plantation. And now the people on that plantation are upset because they’ve been disregarded, disrespected, and their concerns are not cared about. So I’m here as the modern-day Harriet Tubman to kind of lead people on the Underground Railroad away from that plantation into a sense of sensibility.” West, a member of the heavily Democratic Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), agrees with Ingraham when she says that Democratic members of the CBC such as Maxine Waters (R-CA) and Barbara Lee function as “plantation boss[es].” He adds civil rights leaders Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton to his list of “overseers,” and accuses Jackson, Sharpton, and others of bowing to the wishes of white liberals. “What you end up having—I’m going to be brutally honest—is that white liberals have turned over to certain leaders or ‘perceived leaders’ in the black community, like a Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, or Maxine Waters or Barbara Lee, and said, you know, pacify and keep the black community firmly behind us, regardless of the failures of our social welfare policies.” Black Democrats have done nothing to address the issue of rampant unemployment among African-Americans, he says: “That’s the absence of this ‘leadership’ in the black community, which as I say are nothing more than overseers of this 21st century plantation.” West later issues a statement clarifying his “Harriet Tubman” analogy: “Harriet Tubman is known for her efforts to rescue slaves and bring them off of the plantations to freedom. It took one person to begin a process which eventually led to the end of slavery. Today in the black community, we see individuals who are either wedded to a subsistence check or an employment check. Democrat [sic] physical enslavement has now become liberal economic enslavement, which is just as horrible. When unemployment is at more than 15 percent in the black community and we see the vicious cycle of fatherless children generation after generation, we need to find a new path. I am willing to stand up for the conservative principles that I believe can help move our community forward.” Lee spokeswoman Kristal DeKleer responds, “Congressman West’s comments are absurd on their face, and are simply another in a long stream of incendiary comments designed to fan the flames of the extreme right while they continue to do nothing to create jobs and address the tremendous disparities we face in this nation.” Waters says of West’s comments: “It’s a little bit outrageous. It’s a little bit ridiculous” and “hard to respond to.” Waters also notes that she and other CBC members were at a CBC-sponsored job fair in Atlanta, where West’s brother Arlen West, unemployed for two months, came looking for a job; according to Waters, Arlen West told job fair staffers that when he asked his brother for assistance in finding a job, Allen West advised him to go to the CBC job fair. West, interviewed by MSNBC’s Ed Schultz, says that his brother’s incendiary rhetoric is “not productive.” Asked about his advice to his brother, West tells Schultz’s producers in a statement that he has “stood by” his brother like millions of other Americans have been forced to do, saying that he has given his brother “suggestions and encouragement” on finding a job. He then blames “the economic policies of President Obama” for his brother’s inability to find a job along with others in “the black community.” In a rejoinder, Schultz says to West, “You have not offered one jobs initiative” during his time as a congressman. “You have not put your name to one effort to get Americans back to work, other than to sit on the sidelines and heckle the president, and heckle the Democrats, and complain about the economy, but you haven’t done a damn thing about it. In fact, you told your brother to go to a jobs fair that was hosted by the Democrats. So hypocritical, isn’t it?” (Steinhauer 5/4/2010; Bendary 8/18/2011; Carmia 8/18/2011; MSNBC 8/18/2011)
MSNBC suspends conservative author and commentator Pat Buchanan for racist material in his most recent book, Suicide of a Superpower (see October 18, 2011 and After). The suspension is indefinite. Buchanan has faced heavy criticism from many civil rights organizations and activists after his book was released; it contains such chapter titles as “The End of White America” and “The Death of Christian America.” The activist group Color of Change has mounted a campaign to have Buchanan suspended from the airwaves. MSNBC president Phil Griffin says that the suspension is indefinite, and will not speculate on when or if Buchanan will return to the network. Griffin says of the suspension, “When Pat was on his book tour, because of the content of the book, I didn’t think it should be part of the national dialogue, much less part of the dialogue on MSNBC.” (Ferguson 1/7/2012; Associated Press 1/7/2012; Martel 1/7/2012) Griffin adds: “Since then [the book tour] the issue has become the nature of some of the statements in the book.… Pat and I are going to meet soon and discuss it… a decision will be made.” He calls Buchanan “a good guy,” but says “[s]ome of his ideas are alarming.” (Carter 1/7/2012) Buchanan has engaged in a number of racially inflammatory comments and actions in the past. In 2009, he launched a number of racially couched attacks on Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor before she was confirmed for the high court (see May 28, 2009, May 31, 2009, and June 12, 2009); in one attack on Sotomayor, he asserted that America was “a country built basically by white people” (see July 16, 2009). That same year, he took part in a political event along with a number of white supremacist figures (see June 20, 2009). Buchanan has repeatedly argued that President Obama is an “affirmative action” president, whose every success can be traced to that program in some form (see October 13, 2009). Buchanan has spoken at events sponsored by the openly white supremacist political party American Third Position (see October 15, 2009 and After). Recently Buchanan apologized for calling Obama “your boy” on an MSNBC talk show hosted by Joe Scarborough. Buchanan first gained public notice with the racially fueled remarks and programs he began as a young communications aide in the Nixon administration (see April 1969). (Ferguson 1/7/2012; Associated Press 1/7/2012; Martel 1/7/2012) Color of Change issues the following statement: “ColorOfChange.org welcomes MSNBC’s decision to indefinitely suspend Pat Buchanan. However, it’s time for MSNBC to permanently end their relationship with Pat Buchanan and the hateful, outdated ideas he represents. We appreciate this first step and urge MSNBC to take the important final step to ensure that their brand is no longer associated with Buchanan’s history of passing off white supremacy ideology as mainstream political commentary.” (Ferguson 1/7/2012)
MSNBC commentator and contributor Pat Buchanan, recently given an indefinite suspension from the network because of racially inflammatory content in his most recent book (see January 7, 2012), blames “militant gay[s],” “people of color,” and “the hard left” for his suspension. Appearing on Fox News host Sean Hannity’s radio show, Buchanan says: “Look, for a long period of time the hard left, militant gay rights groups, militant—they call themselves civil rights groups, but I’m not sure they’re concerned about civil rights—people of color, Van Jones, these folks and others have been out to get Pat Buchanan off TV, deny him speeches, get his column canceled. This has been done for years and years and years and it’s the usual suspects doing the same thing again. But my view is, you write what you believe to be the truth.” Buchanan is referring to Van Jones, an African-American who was an Obama administration advisor on “green jobs” before being attacked for his political beliefs by Buchanan and other conservatives, and subsequently being asked to leave the administration (see September 6, 2009). (Think Progress 1/11/2012) Interviewed by radio host Hugh Hewitt, Buchanan claims that he was never suspended, and that he took a leave of absence for medical reasons, saying: “Well, you know I’ve had some medical issues at the end of the year which were pretty problematic, and so I’ve sort of been out of speaking and things like that.… On Drudge Report, somebody said I’ve been suspended. I don’t know anything about that. I hope to get back full up here in January, but I’ve been out for a couple of months.” Statements made by MSNBC president Phil Griffin confirm that Buchanan was indeed suspended from the network. Some blogs are reporting that MSNBC has already replaced Buchanan with Robert Traynham, a black conservative who once worked for former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA). Traynham was publicly “outed” as gay while he worked for Santorum, who is strongly opposed to gay rights. (David Badash 1/9/2012; Crugnale 1/10/2012)
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