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Jennifer McVeigh, the sister of accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, July 11-13, 1995, and August 10, 1995), is featured in an interview segment aired on Dateline NBC. She was interviewed by Jane Pauley, who spoke with her at a Buffalo, New York, hotel a few days ago. Jennifer tells Pauley about her earlier statements to the FBI (see April 21-23, 1995), saying: “I think he knows I really didn’t have a choice, but… I still wonder, still have a lot of guilt. I talked to them and maybe I somehow hurt him. That’s really the biggest thing that bothers me every day—that I love my brother to death and want nothing more than to support him and be on your side. Yet I really had no choice and if I get called to testify, it will be for the prosecution. It’s tough. You’ll be in trouble if you don’t talk to them, or you talk to them and you’re going to get your brother in trouble.” Jennifer’s statements to Pauley probably do more harm than good to her brother’s chances in court, according to reporter and author Brandon M. Stickney. She echoes her brother’s anger at the Branch Davidian tragedy (see April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1993 and After), which the prosecution will argue was one of McVeigh’s driving rationales for carrying out the bombing. And she likely angers viewers, Stickney will write, by imploring the American people to try to “understand” the reasons behind the bombing, saying, “I think [the bombing] is evil in a sense that a lot of people… lives were torn apart, a lot of people died… innocent people.” After conferring with Richard Burr, a lawyer for her brother, she continues, “I think the act itself was a tragedy for everyone involved, but maybe there’s some sort of explanation to be had—I really don’t think anything could justify the consequences—just understanding would help.” Burr attended the interview and confered with Jennifer before she answered Pauley’s questions. (Stickney 1996, pp. 271-272)
ABC News airs a documentary on the accused Oklahoma City bombers (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995, July 11-13, 1995, and August 10, 1995), entitled Rage and Betrayal: The Lives of Tim McVeigh and Terry Nichols. McVeigh, who is accused of actually detonating the bomb, gets the larger share of time. The documentary traces the family lives of both men, portraying them as unsuccessful products of broken homes and terming them “losers.” The documentary is a bit superficial and “glib,” says New York Times reviewer Walter Goodman. Another documentary, on Dateline NBC, is perhaps less superficial, Goodman writes, but host Bill Moyers presents a stronger point of view, arguing that the bombing was a political act fueled by extremists who hate the federal government. The NBC documentary spends less time on reviewing the facts of the case and more on Moyers’s position, and on the victims’ feelings, Goodman observes. (Goodman 4/11/1996)
Fox News chief Roger Ailes has hired John Prescott Ellis, a freelance Republican political advisor and an intensely loyal cousin of presidential candidate George W. Bush (R-TX), to head the network’s election-night coverage for the 2000 presidential election (see October-November 2000). During the election, Ellis is in constant contact with Bush and his senior campaign aides, speaking with Bush himself five separate times during the evening.
Calling Florida for Gore - At 7:52 p.m., Bush’s brother Jeb Bush (R-FL), the sitting governor of Florida, calls Ellis to protest when Fox “mistakenly” projects Florida as going to Al Gore (D-TN). Ellis tells Jeb Bush that he is looking at a computer “screenful of Gore.” Bush reminds Ellis, “But the polls haven’t closed in the panhandle.” Ellis replies, “It’s not going to help.” Voter News Service (VNS), the voting consortium the networks all use, rates the race a 99.5 percent certainty that Gore has won Florida, a conclusion that VNS and network officials alike later say was a mistake (see February 14, 2001). The prediction is indeed inaccurate; within minutes, Gore’s lead begins to shrink again. At 9:38 p.m., VNS issues a correction of an inaccurate vote count for Duval County, stripping Gore of a number of phantom votes, and the race is again far too close to call.
Calling Florida for Bush - At 2:10 a.m., Ellis sees data from VNS that shows Bush with a 51,433-vote lead, and 179,713 votes left to be counted. (The latter figure is grossly inaccurate, later data proves; over 350,000 votes actually remain to be counted.) Gore would need 63 percent of those votes to win, a scenario that is statistically unlikely. Ellis calls Jeb Bush to say that it is “statistically impossible” for Bush to lose. Around 2:15 a.m., Ellis puts the telephone down and excitedly announces to his team: “Jebbie says we got it! Jebbie says we got it!” Even though Florida is still rated “too close to call” by VNS, Fox News vice president John Moody gives the go-ahead to project Bush the winner in Florida. Fox News anchor Brit Hume makes the call for Bush at 2:16 a.m. The other networks hurriedly, and inaccurately, follow suit. (Kurtz 11/14/2000; Wittstock 11/19/2000; Associated Press 12/11/2000; Niman 12/14/2000; Shepard 1/2001; Moore 11/6/2006; Sherman 5/22/2011) Hume himself is a bit apprehensive of the call. “I must tell you, everybody, after all this, all night long, we put Bush at 271, Gore at 243,” he tells Fox viewers. “I feel a little bit apprehensive about the whole thing. I have no reason to doubt our decision desk, but there it is.” (Reaves 11/15/2000)
Other Networks Follow Suit - As Hume is announcing Bush’s “victory” in Florida, NBC News election coverage chief Sheldon Gawiser is on the telephone with Murray Edelman, the editorial director for VNS. Gawiser is considering calling Florida for Bush, and wants to discuss calling the race for Bush while citing Edelman and VNS as the sources responsible for such a call. Edelman is shocked that Gawiser wants to make any call with Bush’s lead not only very small, but dwindling. But as the two are talking, Fox’s announcement comes over NBC’s monitors, and Gawiser breaks off the call, saying: “Sorry, gotta go. Fox just called it.” At 2:17 a.m., NBC projects Bush the winner in Florida and the next president of the United States. The joint decision team for CBS and CNN, Warren Mitofsky and Joe Lenski, make the same decision a minute later. After CBS declares Bush’s victory, anchor Dan Rather tells viewers: “Let’s give a tip of the Stetson to the loser, Vice President Al Gore, and at the same time, a big tip and a hip, hip, hurrah and a great big Texas howdy to the new president of the United States. Sip it, savor it, cup it, photostat it, underline it in red, press it in a book, put it in an album, hang it on the wall—George W. Bush is the next president of the United States.” The ABC decision team resists making the call, not trusting the data (it had similar reservations about the earlier call for Gore), but according to ABC election consultant John Blydenburgh, a network executive overrides the decision team and has ABC declare Bush the projected winner at 2:20 a.m. Blydenburgh says the executive does not want ABC to look “foolish” by being the only network not to recognize Bush as the next president. The Associated Press (AP) refuses to make the call, saying that its figures show Bush with only a 30,000-vote lead, and that steadily dwindling (by 2:30 a.m., Bush’s lead, by the AP’s count, is below 19,000 votes; a glitch in the Volusia County numbers that comes in minutes after the call for Bush slashes Bush’s lead considerably, validating the AP’s reluctance to make the call). But the television broadcasts drive the story. Network pundits immediately begin dissecting Bush’s “victory” and speculating as to why Gore “lost.” (Shepard 1/2001; Moore 11/6/2006) Shortly after 3 a.m., CBS’s Ed Bradley begins informing viewers that the AP numbers show Bush with a lead of only 6,000 votes. Rather tells the viewers that if the AP is correct, the previous call for Bush may be premature. “Let’s not joke about it folks,” he says. “You have known all night long and we’ve said to you all night long that these estimates of who wins and who loses are based on the best available information we have. CBS News has the best track record in the business, over a half century plus, for accuracy on election night. But nobody’s perfect.” However, few listen to either CBS’s caveats or the AP’s refusal to call the election. (Shepard 1/2001) By 4:52 a.m., Bush’s lead has dwindled to 1,888 votes.
Fox Leads the Narrative for Bush - Gore initially concedes the race, but when the networks begin retracting their declaration and return Florida to the “too close to call” status, he retracts his concession. In their last conversation of the evening, Bush tells Ellis that Gore has taken back his concession, and says: “I hope you’re taking all this down, Ellis. This is good stuff for a book.” The morning headlines in most daily papers declare Bush the winner; much of the news coverage slams Gore as indulging in “sour grapes” for not conceding the election. Rather later says: “We’ll never know whether Bush won the election in Florida or not. But when you reach these kinds of situations, the ability to control the narrative becomes critical. Led by Fox, the narrative began to be that Bush had won the election.” In 2011, Rolling Stone reporter Tim Dickinson will write, “A ‘news’ network controlled by a GOP operative who had spent decades shaping just such political narratives—including those that helped elect the candidate’s father—declared George W. Bush the victor based on the analysis of a man who had proclaimed himself loyal to Bush over the facts.” After the election, House Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) says: “Of everything that happened on election night, this was the most important in impact. It immeasurably helped George Bush maintain the idea in people’s minds that he was the man who won the election.” (Wittstock 11/19/2000; Associated Press 12/11/2000; Niman 12/14/2000; Sherman 5/22/2011) Ellis later writes that Bush did not try to influence his coverage. “Governor Bush was, as always, considerate of my position,” Ellis will write. “He knew that I would be fried if I gave him anything that VNS deemed confidential, so he never asked for it. He made a point of getting the early exit poll data from other sources before talking to me.” (Associated Press 12/11/2000)
Criticism of Fox, Ellis - Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, later says of Ellis and Fox while the election is still in dispute: “The notion you’d have the cousin of one presidential candidate in a position to call a state, and the election, is unthinkable. Fox’s call—wrong, unnecessary, misguided, foolish—helped create a sense that the election went to Bush, was pulled back, and it’s just a matter of time before his president-elect title is restored. But that said, John Ellis is a good man, a good journalist whose judgment was overcome by excitement. He put himself in an impossible situation, but the mistake was not so much his as Rupert Murdoch’s for putting him in that position.… Everybody knows it’s a partisan channel, but its marketing slogan, ‘We report; you decide,’ is now totally obliterated by the fact that one candidate’s first cousin is actually deciding, and then they report.” (Rosenstiel is apparently unaware that Murdoch, who owns Fox News’s parent company News Corporation, did not make the call to hire Ellis.) Rosenstiel’s colleague Carl Gottlieb is less restrained, saying: “It’s beyond belief. The network should not have allowed Ellis to report on this election. As a viewer, after reading this story and reading about Ellis’s involvement in calling the race, you can’t help but get the idea that this guy’s complicit in what’s going on now down in Florida.” Murdoch will later claim that Fox News displayed “no partisanship” in its election-night coverage. Ellis will later tell a reporter: “It was just the three of us guys handing the phone back and forth—me with the numbers, one of them a governor, the other president-elect. Now that was cool. And everybody followed us.” (Wittstock 11/19/2000; Moore 11/6/2006) Ellis will also later deny telling his team that “Jebbie” gave him the go-ahead to call the election for Bush, instead saying he made the call based on his own calculations. Statistician Cynthia Talkov, the only member of Fox’s election team who actually understands the VNS statistical models, later says she never saw Ellis making any such calculations, and will say Ellis did not ask her for her opinion for his call, though every other projection that evening was made with her explicit approval. Talkov is one of the people who will confirm that Ellis received the go-ahead to call the election from Jeb Bush. A post-election analysis prepared by outside reviewers for CNN later issues sharp criticisms of the networks, noting, “On Election Day 2000, television news organizations staged a collective drag race on the crowded highway of democracy, recklessly endangering the electoral process, the political life of the country, and their own credibility.” Mitofsky, who invested election polls and developed the election night projection system the networks use, later calls Ellis’s actions “the most unprofessional election night work I could ever imagine. He had no business talking to the Bush brothers or to any other politician about what he was doing.” On the other hand, Ailes will characterize Ellis’s actions as those of “a good journalist talking to his very high-level sources on election night.” (Moore 11/6/2006)
Fox 'Investigation' Comes Up Empty - Fox News will announce an “investigation” of any conflicts of interest or unprofessional behavior concerning Ellis’s role in declaring Bush the winner, but nothing will come of any such investigation. The “investigation” will find that Ellis gave no VNS information to either George W. Bush, Jeb Bush, or any Bush campaign official, though Ellis himself will freely admit to a New Yorker reporter that he shared VNS data with both Bushes repeatedly during the evening. Such sharing of data would constitute a violation of journalistic ethics as well as possible criminal behavior. (Wittstock 11/19/2000; Moore 11/6/2006) Ailes had specifically warned his team not to share VNS information with anyone from the campaigns. (Boehlert 11/15/2000) Before the investigation is even launched, Moody will say: “Appearance of impropriety? I don’t think there’s anything improper about it as long as he doesn’t behave improperly, and I have no evidence he did.… John has always conducted himself in an extremely professional manner.” (Kurtz 11/14/2000)
Based on Voter News Service (VNS) projections from exit polling, the Associated Press projects Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic presidential candidate, as the winner of the Florida elections over Governor George W. Bush (R-TX). Gore’s victory, if confirmed, would give him the electoral votes he needs to win the US presidency. The major television networks—ABC News, CBS News, Fox News, and NBC News—call Florida for Gore between 7:50 and 8:00 p.m. (Leip 2008) In light of the predictions of a Gore victory, Bush decides to abandon his plans to watch the rest of the returns from a suite in the Austin, Texas, Four Seasons Hotel, and instead returns to the relative privacy of the governor’s mansion in Austin. (Tapper 3/2001) Florida polling places in the Central Time Zone do not close until 8:00 p.m., so the networks’ projection that Florida is going to Gore comes out 10 minutes before those polling places—all in Florida’s “Panhandle” region, a Republican stronghold—close. Bush campaign officials will later allege that the networks called Florida for Gore an hour before the polls closed, potentially discouraging some Bush voters from casting their votes. The liberal news Web site Consortium News will later observe: “Though the networks certainly could have and obviously should have waited, it is unclear that any Bush voter decided not to go to the polls because of a projection that occurred only minutes before the polls closed. It’s unlikely that more than a few late-arriving voters were even aware of Gore’s projected victory.” (Consortium News 11/22/2000) Many Florida lawmakers and officials are shocked by the pronouncement. Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) will later recall feeling that the networks are “stretching it” to make such a prediction. Broward County elections supervisor Jane Carroll will say acidly, “That’s very kind of [the networks] to just give this away.” Broward has yet to tally a single vote. Broward canvassing board chairman Judge Robert Lee is incredulous at the announcement, and like Graham and others, is disturbed that the networks would call the election before the polls are closed. As the evening goes on and the returns begin to come in, Lee wonders, “Why are they calling Florida for Gore when it’s so close?” Bush campaign strategist Karl Rove goes on the air to argue that Florida is still in play, and to complain about the networks’ choice to project Florida for Gore before the Panhandle counties have concluded their polling. The VNS voting predictions are later shown to be badly flawed, with a number of erroneous estimates, a drastic overestimation of African-American (Democratic) votes in Miami-Dade and a corresponding underestimation of Cuban-American (Republican) votes in that county, and poorly managed exit polling. (Tapper 3/2001)
The Associated Press’s projection that Vice President Al Gore won Florida’s presidential election (see 7:50 p.m., November 7, 2000) collapses in the wake of new poll results. Governor George W. Bush (R-TX), Gore’s opponent, tells reporters: “The networks called this thing awfully early, but the people actually counting the votes are coming up with a different perspective. So we’re pretty darn upbeat about things.” By 10:00 p.m., the major television networks—ABC News, CBS News, Fox News, and NBC News—begin retracting their earlier projection of Gore’s victory and revert Florida to the “too close to call” category. (Leip 2008)
Republican presidential contender George W. Bush (R-TX) appears to enjoy a late surge in Florida votes, securing what appears to be a slim but decisive lead of some 50,000 votes. Led by Fox News (see October-November 2000 and November 7-8, 2000), the four major television networks—ABC News, CBS News, Fox News, and NBC News—begin declaring Bush the projected winner of Florida and therefore the winner of the US presidential elections. By 2:20 a.m., the last of the networks has projected Bush as the winner. (Sack and Bruni 11/9/2000; Leip 2008) The Associated Press (AP) refuses to make the call, saying that its figures show Bush with only a 30,000-vote lead, and that steadily dwindling. By 2:30 a.m., Bush’s lead, by the AP’s count, is below 19,000 votes; a glitch in the Volusia County numbers that comes in minutes after the call for Bush slashes Bush’s lead considerably, validating the AP’s reluctance to make the call. But the television broadcasts drive the story. Network pundits immediately begin dissecting Bush’s “victory” and speculating as to why Gore “lost.” (Shepard 1/2001; Moore 11/6/2006) After the Fox announcement, Gore campaign manager Donna Brazile sends Gore a text message reading: “Never surrender. It’s not over yet.” But others in the campaign feel the campaign is indeed over. Gore’s brother-in-law Frank Hunger later recalls, “They were just so damn positive,” referring to the networks. “And they were talking about 50,000 votes, and we never dreamed they would be inaccurate.” The Gore campaign’s deputy campaign manager for communications, Mark D. Fabiani, will later recall: “I felt so deflated. It had been an evening where you won and then lost and winning felt a lot better than losing. You had been up and down and swung around and then dumped out on your head.” (Sack and Bruni 11/9/2000)
The four news networks, ABC News, CBS News, Fox News, and NBC News, retract their earlier projection that Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush has won Florida and thereby won the US presidency (see 2:15 a.m. November 8, 2000). The state is again rated as “too close to call.” (Leip 2008)
NBC political commentator Tim Russert recommends that Democratic presidential contender Al Gore either concede the election or wrap up his challege to the reported election results (see Early Morning, November 8, 2000 and After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000) to avoid being called “a whiner.” Russert says that the election recounts are a “crisis” that must be resolved as quickly as possible. Gore “can’t extend it to too long, nor can he become a whiner about Florida at some point,” he says, and adds: “If they continue then to file lawsuits and begin to contest various areas of the state, then people will begin to suggest: ‘uh-oh, this is not magnanimous. This is being a sore loser.’ I think the vice president understands that as well.… If it starts dragging into petty politics and we get to Thanksgiving and we still don’t know who our president is, I think the public will not have much patience with the candidate they believe is dragging it out.” The progressive media watchdog Web site Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) will note that polls show strong majorities of Americans favor continuing the recount process if it will ensure the accuracy of the voting results, even weeks into the recount process. FAIR will write, “[M]ost public opinion polls suggest that citizens are taking a much more reasonable approach to the situation than some of the elite media, supporting a process that emphasizes fairness rather than speed.” (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting 11/16/2000)
According to media analyses performed by the Center for American Progress (CAP) and by the team of Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Paul Waldman, the Sunday talk show coverage of the Bush-Gore conflict in Florida between November 12 and December 10 is heavily skewed towards painting George W. Bush as the legitimate president (see After 3:30 a.m. November 8, 2000) and Al Gore the losing contender who continues to carry on after having legitimately lost the election. On December 3 and December 10, panelists on ABC’s This Week refer to Bush’s future presidency 27 times. Tim Russert, the host of NBC’s Meet the Press, does so 19 times and calls Bush’s running mate Dick Cheney the “vice president.” In a December 3 interview, Russert asks Cheney if he feels Gore is being a “sore loser” (see November 24, 2000 and After). On December 3, ABC’s Sam Donaldson attempts to get Gore’s running mate, Joseph Lieberman, to concede the election on-air. ABC’s Cokie Roberts attempts to get a concession from Gore campaign representative George Mitchell. Jamieson and Waldman later determine that in the five Sunday shows aired by the three networks during this time period, the word “concede” appears in 23 questions. In 20 of these questions, the hypothetical conceder is Gore. In the other three questions, the hypothetical conceder is no one. Similarly, the hosts and guests on these talk shows, and on other network news broadcasts, frequently warn of “dire consequences” to America’s constitutional democracy if the Florida question is not settled immediately. The hosts also issue frequent warnings that the citizenry’s patience is at “the breaking point,” though polls consistently show that most Americans are content to let the recall process work itself out. CAP later notes, “The Baker-Bush team [referring to James Baker, the head of the Bush campaign’s ‘quick response’ recount team—see Mid-Morning, November 8, 2000] worked hard to create this crisis atmosphere in the hopes of increasing the pressure on Gore to relent for the good of the country, the markets, and the maintenance of world peace.” During this time period, Russert tells viewers, “We could have chaos and a constitutional crisis.” NBC’s Tom Brokaw tells viewers: “If the Florida recount drags on, the national markets are at risk here. National security is involved.” Pundits on ABC’s This Week warn of “turmoil” if Gore does not concede; pundits on CBS’s Face the Nation remark on “spinning out of control.” Columnist David Broder says this period of US history is worse than the turmoil the country weathered after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. (Alterman 12/9/2010)
The US House Committee on Energy and Commerce holds a hearing on the news networks’ election night decision to project George W. Bush the winner of the Florida election, and thereby the winner of the US presidential election (see November 7-8, 2000). One of the matters at hand is Fox News’s choice to have its election night coverage anchored by John Prescott Ellis, President Bush’s cousin and an intensely partisan Bush supporter (see October-November 2000). The chairman of the committee is W.J. “Billy” Tauzin (R-LA).
Opening Statements - In his opening statement, Tauzin tells the assemblage that the hearing is to “give us a real sense of what went wrong in terms of the election night coverage of the presidential election of November 2000.” He notes that news coverage issues have been raised in every election since the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon election. Early calls—the practice of news outlets to “call,” or project, winners in states before elections in other states have closed—have long been acknowledged as having a “deletorious” effect on voting, and the use of “exit polling”—polls of voters taken outside polling booths—have proven both “valuable” and “dangerous.” Voter News Service (VNS), the independent consortium that provided polling and other data to the networks and press agencies for their use during their election coverage, uses exit polling to help those news outlets “project” winners in races. Tauzin spends much of his opening statement attacking VNS and the use of exit polling as the “source” of the election night dissension, and says that on the whole, VNS data “produces statistical biases in favor of Democrats in this case today and against Republicans, that the statistical flaws tend to overstate the Democratic vote in the exit poll and understate the Republican vote.” Tauzin says that investigations have “discovered no evidence of intentional bias, no evidence of intentional slanting of this information,” and instead says the entire problem rests with VNS and its use of exit polling data. In their opening statements, many Republicans echo Tauzin’s remarks. Ranking minority member John Dingell (D-MI) calls the election night coverage “a monumental screw-up which I think has embarrassed an awful lot of people.” Dingell repeats Tauzin’s claim that no evidence of intentional bias has been found—calling such allegations “inflammatory”—and says that the focus of future hearings should be on the issue of voter disenfranchisement. Having said all that, he goes on to say that the networks’ decision to call Florida for Bush in the early hours of November 8, 2000 was premature, and lent itself to later allegations that attempts by Democratic challenger Al Gore were baseless and troublesome. Cliff Stearns (R-FL) accuses the networks of trying to influence Florida voters in the Panhandle, a traditionally Republican stronghold, by prematurely calling the state for Gore eight minutes before polls closed in that region. In questioning, Sherrod Brown (D-OH) notes the almost-immediate appearance of the “Sore Loserman” campaign (derived from the names of the Democratic candidates, Gore and Joe Lieberman), which attempted, successfully, to paint attempts by the Gore campaign to force vote recounts as attempts to “steal” the election.
Focus on Fox - Henry Waxman (D-CA) is the first to mention Fox News. He reads from a Los Angeles Times editorial, quoting: “Suppose that a first cousin of Al Gore had been running one of the network news teams issuing election night projections. Suppose that having previously recused himself from a columnist job saying his objectivity would suffer from family loyalty, this cousin had chatted with Gore six times on Election Day. Suppose the same cousin had been the first to declare Gore as the winner in Florida on election night, helping coax the rival networks to follow suit, leading George W. Bush to call up Gore in order to concede, thereby helping to create that Gore was the duly elected president of the United States long before all the votes had been counted. Can anybody reasonably doubt that the pundits would be working themselves into a nonstop lather charging the liberal media as accessories to grand larceny? Can we imagine, say, Rupert Murdoch’s Fox news channel right-leaning heads dropping the subject?” Waxman says this was absolutely the case, but with Fox News and John Ellis, not Gore and an imaginary Gore cousin at another network. “[O]f everything that happened on election night this was the most important in impact. It created a presumption that George Bush won the election. It set in motion a chain of events that were devastating to Al Gore’s chances and it immeasurably helped George Bush maintain the idea in people’s minds than he was the man who won the election.” Several other Democrats echo Waxman’s statements.
Issues with Florida Election Practices - Peter Deutsch (D-FL) cites issues of rampant voter disenfranchisement of African-Americans, a traditionally Democratic voting bloc, with over 100,000 ballots, mostly from African-American voters, apparently not counted. Deutsch says flatly that “there is no question, it is no longer debatable that if the vote in Florida were counted, Al Gore would be president of the United States.” Bobby Rush (D-IL) cites a large number of incidents where minority group voters were “harassed by police departments” in Florida and in other states besides. In many instances these voters were stopped from voting entirely; in others, their votes were not counted. Other Democrats, such as Eliot Engel (D-NY), echo Deutsch’s and Rush’s concerns; Engel says: “Al Gore was not the only one who lost that night. The American people lost that night, and the news media also lost that night.”
Testimony regarding Independent Review of Election Night Coverage - The first witness is Joan Konner, a professor of journalism at Columbia. Konner led a panel commissioned by CNN “to look at what went wrong in [CNN’s] television coverage of the presidential election 2000.” Her panel submitted a report on the election night coverage to CNN, and CNN provided that report to the committee. “[S]omething went terribly wrong,” she says. “CNN executives, correspondents, and producers themselves describe election night coverage as a debacle, a disaster, and a fiasco; and in our report we agree.” She blames the problems with CNN’s coverage on “excessive speed and hypercompetition, combined with overconfidence in experts and a reliance on increasingly dubious polls. We have stated that the desire to be first or at least not to be consistently behind the others led the networks to make calls unwisely based on sketchy and sometimes mistaken information.” The choice to create, fund, and use VNS by all the networks was primarily a cost-cutting decision, she says, but that choice was a mistake: “Relying on a single source eliminates the checks and balances built into a competitive vote-gathering and vote system. It eliminates the possibility of a second source for validating key and possible conflicting information.” Another member of the panel, James Risser of Stanford University, notes that the report’s findings apply equally to other networks along with CNN.
Media Panel - After much questioning of the CNN panel, a second panel is sworn in. This panel includes: Fox News chairman Roger Ailes; CBS president Andrew Heyward; CNN chairman Tom Johnson; NBC president Andrew Lack; ABC president David Westin; VNS director Ted Savaglio; VNS editorial director Murray Edelman; and the Associated Press’s president, Louis Boccardi. In an opening statement, Savaglio admits that VNS made “errors” in vote tabulation and predictives based on “flaws” in the statistical analyses. Two major errors were made on election night, Savaglio says, the first leading to the incorrect awarding of Florida to Gore early in the evening, and the second provision of data that indicated Bush had a statistically insurmountable lead in Florida that did not include an accurate tabulation of votes cast in Volusia County as well as errors in other county tabulations and estimates. Boccardi says that the Associated Press used VNS-provided data in the erroneous Gore projection, but “takes full responsibility” for the error. The Associated Press did not join in with the second, Fox News-led projection of Bush’s victory. “[T]he race was too close to call” at that point, he says. “It would be right to surmise that the pressure on AP at that moment [to join the networks in calling the election for Bush] was enormous.” Heyward testifies that CBS, like CNN, hired an independent panel to assess its election coverage, and has a number of improvements to be made for future coverage. “Our method of projecting winners, one that, as you have heard, has produced only six bad calls in over 2,000 races since the 1960s, failed us this time; and as a well-known candidate would say, failed us big time in the very state that held the key to this election,” he says. He also notes that charges by Republican committee members that there is an inherent bias in the statistical models against Republicans “has been rejected by every single outside expert who examined each of the networks, even those experts, and you heard from them today, who are the most highly critical of us.” Lack asks why there was not more media coverage and examination of other voting-related problems, from “ineffective voting machines” and “confusing ballots” to allowing felons to vote.
Ailes's Statement - Ailes blames VNS for Fox’s “mistakes” in its reporting, saying: “As everyone knows, Voter News Service, a consortium with a good track record, gave out bad numbers that night. In the closest race in history the wheels apparently came off a rattle trap computer system which we relied on and paid millions for.” He claims, “Through our self-examination and investigation we have determined that there was no intentional political favoritism in play on election night on the part of Fox News.” Ailes does not mention his choice to use Ellis as Fox’s election night anchor in his verbal statement, but in a written statement he submits to the committee, he says that Ellis was not the person who made the final decision to declare Florida for Bush. The news division’s vice president, John Moody, made the final call. As for hiring Ellis, he praises Ellis’s professionalism and experience, and writes: “We at Fox News do not discriminate against people because of their family connections. I am more than happy to give you examples of offspring of famous politicians who are employed at Fox News.” He also says that he was aware that Ellis was speaking to both George W. and Jeb Bush throughout the night, and writes: “Obviously, through his family connections, Mr. Ellis has very good sources. I do not see this as a fault or shortcoming of Mr. Ellis. Quite the contrary, I see this as a good journalist talking to his very high level sources on election night.” Though Ellis has freely admitted to sharing VNS data with both Bushes, Ailes writes, “Our investigation of election night 2000 found not one shred of evidence that Mr. Ellis revealed information to either or both of the Bush brothers which he should not have, or that he acted improperly or broke any rules or policies of either Fox News or VNS.” He concludes: “[I]n my heart I do believe that democracy was harmed by my network and others on November 7, 2000. I do believe that the great profession of journalism took many steps backward.”
Questioning the Media Representatives - Almost immediately, Ailes raises the question of skewed exit polling that appears to favor Democrats, though experts have refuted these claims in just-given testimony, and Savaglio has just said that exit polls exhibit no such bias. Ailes tells the panel: “I do know that when Republicans come out of polls and you ask them a question they tend to think it’s none of your business and Democrats want to share their feelings. So you may get some bias there that is inadvertent, just because it’s a cultural thing and unless you send the Republicans to sensitivity training you’re not going to get them to do that.” Tauzin says that a study of VNS results tends to bear out Ailes’s claim. Westin says if there is bias in exit polling, it cuts both ways, an observation with which Tauzin also agrees. Savaglio admits that after midnight, VNS provided substantially inaccurate information to the networks that led them to conclude Bush had a slight but insurmountable lead in Florida. Lack denies the rumor that Jack Welch, the CEO of NBC’s parent company General Electric, made the decision for NBC News to follow Fox’s lead in declaring Bush the presumptive winner in Florida. Waxman accepts Lack’s denial, but notes that he has been told Welch’s command to declare Bush the winner is preserved on videotape, “filmed by NBC’s advertising and promotions department.” Lack says if the tape exists, he will provide it to the committee. Bart Stupak (D-MI) asks the representatives directly if they believe any bias towards one party or another exists in their networks’ coverage, and all answer strongly in the negative. Heyward says that rumors of networks such as his trying to “slant” their coverage to give the idea of an “inevitable” Gore victory are entirely negative, and says: “[C]ertainly we displayed the popular vote graphic 15 times between 7 and 11. President Bush was ahead every single time; on the electoral count, 75 out of 100 times.… The video [shown by the commission at the beginning of the hearing] that gave the impression that the networks were saying Gore’s got it in the bag I believe was misleading, yes.” Westin agrees with Heyward, and says the networks generally gave the impression of “a much more balanced, much closer race throughout the night.” Under questioning by Gene Green (D-TX), Ailes contradicts previously presented evidence and says no one at the election desk, Ellis or anyone else, was in contact with “Austin” (meaning the Bush campaign and George W. Bush personally) at all that night. (House of Representatives, Committee on Energy and Commerce 2/14/2001)
A letter addressed to news anchor Tom Brokaw at NBC News is mailed from Princeton, New Jersey. It is postmarked September 18, 2001, which means it is dropped into a mailbox either some time after 5 p.m. on September 17 or some time before 5 p.m. on September 18. The letter contains deadly anthrax spores and a short message in slanting block letters:
THIS IS NEXT
TAKE PENACILIN NOW
DEATH TO AMERICA
DEATH TO ISRAEL
ALLAH IS GREAT
There is no return address and the word penicillin is misspelled. The letter is opened on October 12, turned over to the FBI the same day, and tests positive for anthrax the next day. Several days later, an employee at the New York Post is diagnosed with cutaneous anthrax. An unopened letter is found at the Post’s editorial office, addressed to “Editor.” It also is found to contain real anthrax and the exact same message as the Brokaw letter, and was postmarked on the same day and from the same location. That same week, an employee at CBS News and the infant son of an ABC News employee are diagnosed with anthrax infections, but no letters are found in their New York offices. It is presumed those letters are mailed with the other two, but are thrown away. Also, several employees at a Florida building containing the offices of the Sun, a tabloid, get sick with anthrax infections. However, no letter is found there either. The victims at the Sun suffer from the more deadly inhalation anthrax instead of cutaneous anthrax, suggesting that letter could be sent separately. That letter appears to be directed at the National Enquirer, another tabloid owned by the same company as the Sun, but was redirected to the Sun due to a recent relocation of the Enquirer’s offices. (Revkin and Canedy 12/5/2001; Foster 9/15/2003) A second wave of anthrax letters follows in early October (see October 6-9, 2001).
Five major US television networks agree to self-censor their news broadcasts of statements by Osama bin Laden and his associates. The agreement, made by ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and Fox News, comes after a conference call between National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and the heads of the networks; Rice’s call comes after White House press secretary Ari Fleischer warns reporters that statements from suspected terrorists could contain anything from incitement to coded messages, and asks them not to print full transcripts of bin Laden’s messages (see October 10, 2001). (BBC 10/11/2001; Rich 2006, pp. 31) Rice asks that, instead of automatically airing bin Laden videotapes, news executives should carefully review the tapes and remove any “inflammatory language” before broadcasting. (Current Events 11/9/2001) The networks say they will now review them first, and edit or censor them as needed. While the American news networks are willing to comply with Rice’s recommendation, the Arab news network Al Jazeera disagrees: chief editor Ibrahim Halil says, “I don’t think the United States, which taught the world about freedom of expression, should now begin to limit it.” Al Jazeera has been the first to broadcast many of the statements in question, broadcasts which were often picked up by American news networks and shown in their entirety. (BBC 10/11/2001)
'A Silky Form of Censorship' - According to the New York Times, the five networks have never before consulted one another as a group and made such a collective policy decision about news coverage. The executives deny that they were threatened or pressured by Rice or any other White House officials: “Ms. Rice made no specific request of news organizations, other than that we consider the possible existence of such messages in deciding whether and how to air portions of al-Qaeda statements,” says an ABC spokesman. They also deny that the decision amounts to censorship. CBS says it is committed to “responsible journalism that informs the public without jeopardizing American lives.” CBS president Andrew Heyward says: “The issue… was raised by the transmission of unedited, extended propaganda messages from a terrorist group… with the will to kill thousands of people. No network wants to serve as the platform for that propaganda.” And Fox News chairman Roger Ailes notes that “[Rice] was very, very careful to talk about freedom of the press and not to suggest how we do our job.” Matthew Felling of the Center for Media and Public Affairs, a media watchdog group, has a different view. He calls the decision “a silky form of censorship.” Network executives say that the likelihood of bin Laden using his statements to send coded messages to “sleeper” agents in the US is unlikely, and if he is, the agents could get the statements from printed transcripts or Internet video. “What sense would it make to keep the tapes off the air if the message could be found transcripted in newspapers or on the Web?” one executive asks. “The videos could also appear on the Internet. They’d get the message anyway.” (BBC 10/11/2001; Current Events 11/9/2001)
Notion that Censorship Could Disrupt Al-Qaeda Communications Fantastical, Says Media Critic - Author and media critic Frank Rich is fascinated by the assumptions behind Rice’s assertions: in 2006, he will write that the Bush administration “entertain[s] at least a passing fantasy that al-Qaeda, despite its access both to the Internet and to the Arabic superstation Al Jazeera… could be disrupted by having its videos kept off the likes of Fox.” The administration’s “ambitions to manage the news [knows] no bounds.” (Rich 2006, pp. 31)
British Broadcasters Refuse Similar Request - A similar request by the British government is flatly refused; the BBC issues a short statement reading, “Government interference will be resisted.” The Canadian government does not issue such a request, leaving the decision of whether to air unedited broadcasts of the terrorists’ statements up to news executives and editors. (Hurst 9/8/2002)
The White House Iraq Group (WHIG—see August 2002) launches its Iraq marketing campaign with a blitz of the Sunday morning talk shows. Vice President Dick Cheney appears on NBC (see September 8, 2002 and September 8, 2002), Secretary of State Colin Powell on Fox (see September 8, 2002), Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on CBS (see September 8, 2002), and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice on CNN (see September 8, 2002). Rice is the first to use the characterization, “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud” (see September 4, 2002), but President Bush and his senior officials repeat the phrase over and over in the following days. Author Craig Unger will note “Cheney’s most Machiavellian flourish” in having all four officials cite “evidence” of Iraq’s nuclear program, suspicious aluminum tubes, and attribute the information to the New York Times. Cheney and the others are referring to a story by the Times’ Judith Miller and Michael Gordon (see September 8, 2002) that Iraq had tried “to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes” that American experts believe could be used in centrifuges to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons. The story is attributed to “unnamed administration sources;” Miller and Gordon do not inform their readers that the story comes from Cheney’s office. In essence, Cheney planted disinformation in the New York Times, then cited the Times article to prove his contention. Gordon will later insist that he and Miller had to pry that story out of the administration, but Unger will note that it is hard to equate Gordon’s contention with four of the administration’s highest officials going on television simultaneously to spread the story and cite the Times article. Furthermore, because of the scheduling practices on the four networks, it appears that the four officials’ simultaneous appearances were arranged in advance. As the Times is the flagship newspaper of the US press, over 500 other newspapers and broadcast outlets pick up on the Times story and the officials’ appearances, giving the story tremendous visibility throughout the world. (Unger 2007, pp. 252-254)
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 toppling of the Firdos Square statue (see April 9, 2003) is presented as an iconic moment in history by many US media outlets. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld cues the news analysts by saying of the “spontaneously” celebrating Iraqis, “Watching them, one cannot help but think of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Iron Curtain.” NBC analyst Tim Russert says shortly afterwards, “Not since the fall of the Berlin Wall have I seen anything quite like this.” CNN’s Bill Hemmer says, “You think about seminal moments in a nation’s history… indelible moments like the fall of the Berlin Wall, and that’s what we’re seeing right now.” David Asman of Fox News tells viewers, “My goose bumps have never been higher than they are right now.” Fox anchor Brit Hume says, “This transcends anything I’ve ever seen.” (Rich 2006, pp. 83) Al-Jazeera news producer Samir Khader will later say: “The Americans played the media element intelligently.… It was a show. It was a media show.” Al-Jazeera producer Deema Khatib will agree. Referring to various elements shown on American news broadcasts, he will say: “I bet you they brought in those teenage guys who broke the statue, they brought them in with them, because if you notice, they are all sort of the same age, no women, and they all went in and it was the same people on the square. You couldn’t see more people gathering from the houses around. No one came down to the street to see what was happening, because people were scared. And those people who came in, how come one of them had the flag of Iraq before 1991 in his pocket? Has he been waiting there for 10 years with the flag on that square? I don’t think so. But this is not something the US media will talk about.” (Rich 2006, pp. 84) Most US news outlets dramatically cut back on their war reporting after the fall of the statue (see April 9, 2003).
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)
Vice President Dick Cheney’s communications director, Cathie Martin, takes notes on “spin options” available to the White House regarding the administration’s admission that its claims of an Iraq-Niger uranium connection are false. Cheney has already rejected a draft of a statement to be released by CIA Director Tenet, taking responsibility for the false claim (see July 11, 2003). On the second page, Martin takes copious notes documenting the administration’s options. The first in the list is to put Cheney on NBC’s Meet the Press to dodge the claim, with annotations as to the pros and cons of that particular effort. The second option is to leak information from the classified National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq’s WMD programs (see October 1, 2002) to reporters. Two reporters, the New York Times’s David Sanger and the Washington Post’s Walter Pincus, are mentioned as possible targets of the planned leak. (Office of the Vice President 7/11/2003 ; National Public Radio 3/7/2007) In 2007, Martin, will testify as to the strategies discussed by Mary Matalin (see July 10, 2003) and the communications staff (see January 25-29, 2007). One option is to have Cheney go on “Meet the Press;” notes from the strategy discussion cite the pros of going on that show as “best format, we control the message,” but Martin and others fear having Cheney coming across as defensive. Another option is to approach Sanger, whom the notes say is working on “what he thought was a definitive piece, we could go to Sanger and tell him our version of this.” The discussion also cites the Washington Post’s Walter Pincus as a possible leak recipient. Another option is to have either National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice or Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld hold a press conference. Finally, they can have a sympathetic third party write an “independent” op-ed for a national newspaper such as the Post or the New York Times that would promote their message. Martin also speaks with Time’s Matthew Cooper, and informs him that the administration is backing away from its claims that Iraq was attempting to procure uranium from Niger (see 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). (Marcy Wheeler 1/25/2007)
Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, whose wife Valerie Plame Wilson was recently outed as a CIA agent in an apparent attempt to discredit his debunking of the Iraq-Niger allegations (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002, July 6, 2003 and July 14, 2003), is interviewed by NBC’s Andrea Mitchell about the outing. Wilson is careful to hedge in his answers about his wife, saying, “If she were [a CIA agent] as [columnist Robert] Novak alleged, then…” and other such caveats. When the interview airs this evening, Wilson is dismayed to see that NBC has edited out all of his careful qualifiers, giving the false impression that he is verifying his wife’s CIA status. He asks Mitchell to provide an unedited transcript of the interview so he can prove he did not confirm his wife’s CIA employment; she says the network does not provide such transcripts, but agrees to preserve the unedited interview on tape in case questions later arise about his statements. (Wilson 2004, pp. 350-351)
Tim Russert, NBC’s bureau chief and host of Meet the Press, is interviewed by FBI agent John Eckenrode as part of the Plame Wilson leak investigation. One of the targets of the investigation, White House official Lewis Libby, has indicated that he learned about Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA identity from Russert (see July 10 or 11, 2003). According to the report later compiled by Eckenrode, Russert recalls “one, and possibly two telephone conversations” between himself and Libby between July 6 and July 12, 2003. Eckenrode will write: “Russert does not recall stating to Libby, in this conversation, anything about the wife of former ambassador Joe Wilson. Although he could not completely rule out the possibility that he had such an exchange, Russert was at a loss to remember it, and moreover, he believes that this would be the type of conversation that he would or should remember. Russert acknowledged that he speaks to many people on a daily basis and it is difficult to reconstruct some specific conversations, particularly one which occurred several months ago.” (US District Court for the District of Columbia 2/14/2006 )
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)
NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw interviews National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Brokaw criticizes Rice’s refusal to appear publicly before the 9/11 Commission because of “national security concerns” while at the same time appearing on a plethora of news broadcasts to defend the administration’s actions surrounding the 9/11 attacks (see March 30, 2004). Brokaw says: “You’ve been meeting with the Commission in private, but you will not go before this very public meeting, citing separation of powers, executive privilege. But your predecessors have gone before Congress in the past. Even President Ford testified about his pardon of Richard Nixon (see Mid-October 1974). Executive privilege is really a flexible concept. Why not go to the president on this issue that is so profoundly important to America, and say, I should be testifying?” Rice defends her decision not to testify under oath and before the cameras, saying: “I would like nothing better than to be able to testify before the Commission. I have spent more than four hours with the Commission. I’m prepared to go and talk to them again, anywhere, any time, anyplace, privately. But I have to be responsible and to uphold the separation of powers between the executive and the legislature. It is a matter of whether the president can count on good confidential advice from his staff.” Brokaw replies: “Dr. Rice, with all due respect, I think a lot of people are watching this tonight saying, well, if she can appear on television, write commentaries, but she won’t appear before the Commission under oath. It just doesn’t seem to make sense.” Rice reiterates that she is defending “a constitutional principle,” and insists, “We’re not hiding anything.” Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write, “The White House, so often masterly in its TV management, particularly when it came to guarding its 9/11 franchise in an election year, was wildly off its game” during this period. Eventually Rice, unable to defend her refusal to testify in light of her frequent public pronouncements, will agree to testify before the Commission (see April 8, 2004). (Rich 2006, pp. 114-119)
NBC News announces that it will fight any attempts to subpoena NBC bureau chief Tim Russert to testify before the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak (see May 21, 2004 and May 13-20, 2004). “Russert and NBC intend to fight the subpoena in federal court,” NBC states. “Russert was not the recipient of the leak.” NBC adds that such a subpoena has “a potential chilling effect on [NBC’s] ability to report the news.” The statement quotes NBC president Neal Shapiro as saying: “The American public will be deprived of important information if the government can freely question journalists about their efforts to gather news. Sources will simply stop speaking to the press if they fear those conversations will become public.” (NBC News 5/21/2004 )
The grand jury investigating the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert identity (see December 30, 2003) subpoenas Time reporter Matthew Cooper and NBC’s Tim Russert, host of “Meet the Press.” Time and NBC both say they will fight the subpoenas (see May 13-20, 2004, June 2004 and August 9, 2004). NBC says the subpoenas could have a “chilling effect” on its ability to report the news. NBC president Neal Shapiro says, “Sources will simply stop speaking with the press if they fear those conversations will become public.” Cooper’s lawyer, Floyd Abrams, says, “Rounding up the Washington press corps doesn’t seem the most likely way to find out about sources.” Time vice president Robin Bierstedt says that the magazine has a strict policy of protecting “its confidential sources.” First Amendment lawyer Devereux Chatillon comments, “Subpoenas to the press at all, much less for confidential sources, are extremely unusual, certainly from the federal government. Without protection for confidential sources, the press cannot report effectively on things like the Abu Ghraib scandal.” (Liptak and Kilborn 5/23/2003; Schmidt 5/22/2004; United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit 12/8/2004 ; Supreme Court of the United States 5/2005; Washington Post 7/3/2007)
Lawyers for NBC News reporter and Meet the Press anchor Tim Russert argue that Russert should not have to testify before the Fitzgerald grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak (see May 21, 2004 and May 13-20, 2004). Since the spring of 2004, his lawyers have realized that Russert’s testimony could be used to indict White House official Lewis Libby for perjury, as Libby has apparently lied about a conversation he and Russert had in the summer of 2003 (see July 10 or 11, 2003, March 5, 2004, and March 24, 2004). Russert knows that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald already knows of the Russert/Libby conversation (see November 24, 2003), and Libby has already signed a waiver permitting Russert to name him in testimony (see January 2-5, 2004). But Russert and his lawyers argue that he should not have to testify because it might harm his relationship with other sources. According to court papers released in 2006, it “appears that Mr. Russert’s testimony is sought solely because the special prosecutor believes that his recollection of a telephone conversation with an executive branch official is inconsistent with that official’s statements.” (Leonnig 1/10/2006) On July 21, 2004, the court will deny Russert’s motion. (MSNBC 2/12/2007)
Lawyers for NBC move to quash the subpoena issued against NBC bureau chief Tim Russert by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald as part of the Plame Wilson leak investigation (see May 21, 2004). NBC’s lawyers argue that the subpoena violates Russert’s First Amendment rights to protect his journalistic sources, and his “reporter’s privilege” under the Supreme Court ruling Branzburg v. Hayes. (US District Court for the District of Columbia 6/4/2004 ; US District Court for the District of Columbia 7/20/2004 ) Judge Thomas Hogan will refuse to quash the subpoena (see August 9, 2004).
NBC reporter Tim Russert, host of its flagship Sunday morning political talk show Meet the Press, testifies to FBI investigators probing the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see December 30, 2003). He is deposed under oath and is audiotaped, but is not compelled to testify directly to the grand jury investigating the leak. According to an NBC statement, Russert is interviewed under oath, and testifies that he was the recipient of a leak; NBC will later claim that the interview was allowed as part of an agreement to avoid a protracted court fight. Russert is not asked to disclose a confidential source. “The questioning focused on what Russert said when Lewis (Scooter) Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, phoned him last summer” (see July 10 or 11, 2003), the statement reads. “Russert told the special prosecutor that at the time of the conversation he didn’t know Plame’s name or that she was a CIA operative and did not provide that information to Libby.” (Office of Special Counsel 7/27/2004 ; Liptak 8/10/2004; Associated Press 8/11/2004) Neither did Libby disclose Plame Wilson’s identity to him, Russert testifies. Russert and NBC News initially resisted the subpoena on First Amendment grounds, but relented after prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald agreed not to compel Russert to appear before the grand jury, or to disclose confidential sources or information. (Schmidt and Leonnig 8/10/2004) Russert has already talked informally with John Eckenrode, the FBI investigator overseeing the day-to-day investigation duties (see November 24, 2003). He told Eckenrode that Libby’s claim of learning Plame Wilson’s identity from him was false, and that he and Libby never discussed Plame Wilson at all. (Waas 2/15/2007) Libby’s claim that he learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from Russert will lead to perjury charges (see October 28, 2005).
In a statement, NBC News confirms that its Washington bureau chief, Tim Russert, has testified in the Plame Wilson identity leak investigation (see August 7, 2004). NBC reaffirms that Russert was not a recipient of Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA identity, and says he was asked “limited questions” by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald that did not breach any confidentiality agreements he had with any sources. NBC says Russert testified that he first learned of Plame Wilson’s identity when he read Robert Novak’s column exposing her as a CIA official (see July 14, 2003). It acknowledges that Russert only testified after choosing not to wage a court battle over his subpoena to testify in the investigation (see May 21, 2004). (NBC News 8/9/2004 )
US District Court Judge Thomas Hogan, presiding over the grand jury investigation of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see December 30, 2003), rejects arguments that the First Amendment protects reporters from either Time or NBC News from testifying in the investigation. Hogan cites the 1972 Supreme Court case, Branzberg v. Hayes, in his ruling. In Branzberg, the Court ruled that “we cannot accept the argument that the public interest in possible future news about crime… must take precedence over the public interest in pursuing and prosecuting those crimes.” Hogan finds Time reporter Matthew Cooper (see May 21, 2004) in contempt of court. He also finds Time itself in contempt, and fines the magazine $1,000 a day until Cooper complies with a subpoena for his testimony. The ruling was written on July 20, but only issued today. “The information requested,” Hogan explains in his decision, “is very limited, all available means of obtaining the information have been exhausted, the testimony sought is necessary for completion of the investigation, and the testimony sought is expected to constitute direct evidence of innocence or guilt.” Cooper’s employer, Time magazine, will appeal Hogan’s ruling, but many believe the appeals court will not overturn it. “I think we’re going to have a head-on confrontation here,” says Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “I think Matt Cooper is going to jail.” Cooper’s lawyer Floyd Abrams says: “[Cooper’s] story was essentially critical of the administration for leaking information designed to focus the public away from what Ambassador [Joseph] Wilson [Plame Wilson’s husband] was saying was true and toward personal things. That sort of story, about potential government misuse of power, is precisely the sort of thing that is impossible to do without the benefit of confidential sources.” (Liptak 8/10/2004; Schmidt and Leonnig 8/10/2004; Washington Post 7/3/2007) NBC reporter Tim Russert, also subpoenaed, did not contest the subpoena; the press learns today that he has already testified before the grand jury (see August 7, 2004 and August 9, 2004). Observers believe that prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is preparing to use Hogan’s ruling to compel the testimony of two other reporters, Robert Novak (see July 14, 2003) and Walter Pincus (see August 9, 2004). One defense lawyer involved in the case says Hogan’s ruling gives Fitzgerald significant leverage to compel testimony from Novak and Pincus. “This is now open season on these reporters,” he says. The court’s ruling establishes unequivocally that “in a grand jury context, reporters don’t have a privilege.” NBC News president Neal Shapiro says, “Compelling reporters to reveal their newsgathering to government investigators is, in our view, contrary to the First Amendment’s guarantee of a free press.” Dalglish says Fitzgerald should be focusing on prying information from Bush administration officials rather than reporters. Referring to administration officials, Dalglish says, “You just can’t tell me none of the people appearing before the grand jury knows who the leaker was.” (Schmidt and Leonnig 8/10/2004)
Several news organizations are subpoenaed by the Lewis Libby defense team (see February 27, 2006). The New York Times, NBC News, and Time magazine all say they have been subpoenaed for documents and records pertaining to Libby’s involvement in the Plame Wilson CIA identity leak. The Washington Post says it expects a subpoena as well. Libby’s lawyers want to use reporters to prove that Libby did not intentionally lie to the FBI (see October 14, 2003 and November 26, 2003) and to a grand jury (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004) about disclosing Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity to the press. Instead, they intend to argue that Libby failed to remember important details about his conversations with reporters regarding Plame Wilson’s identity. The New York Times acknowledges that it has been asked to provide notes, e-mail messages, draft news articles, and all other documents that refer to Plame Wilson before July 14, 2003, when her identity was made public (see July 14, 2003), and information regarding its columnist Nicholas Kristof, who wrote an article featuring Plame Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson (see May 6, 2003). Times spokeswoman Catherine Mathis says the newspaper has not yet decided whether to comply with the subpoena. She says former Times reporter Judith Miller has received a separate subpoena (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). NBC’s Tim Russert (see July 10 or 11, 2003) and Time’s Matt Cooper (see 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003) have also been subpoenaed. The Post anticipates receiving a subpoena for its managing editor Bob Woodward (see November 14, 2005 and November 16-17, 2005). (US District Court for the District of Columbia 3/14/2006 ; US District Court for the District of Columbia 3/14/2006 ; Sullivan 3/16/2006; Liptak 3/16/2006) Robert Bennett, a lawyer for Miller, says she will most likely fight the subpoena. “It’s entirely too broad,” he says. “It’s highly likely we’ll be filing something with the court.” (Liptak 3/16/2006)
Lawyers for NBC News, the New York Times, Time magazine, and Time reporter Matt Cooper file motions to quash the Lewis Libby defense team’s subpoenas (see March 14, 2006). Lawyers for the Times argue that the newspaper “has a substantial First Amendment interest, and common law qualified privilege against compelled production of unpublished information of the kind sought by Libby.” Time magazine notes Libby’s argument that since he believed Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA identity was well known within the Washington press corps, he needs to show that her employment was discussed by reporters in June and July 2003, when he was meeting with reporters. Time says that the Libby argument should not allow his lawyers to conduct a broad search for potentially helpful evidence. “Although Mr. Libby has claimed a right to know what information the press corps in general possessed concerning Mrs. Wilson’s affiliation with the CIA, under that theory he would be entitled to subpoena all reporters in Washington to learn what they knew, and when they knew it,” Time argues in its motion. “There is no stopping point to this approach.” Other lawyers for the news organizations call the Libby subpoenas “fishing expeditions.” NBC News argues that it has no documents that show that any network employee, including reporters Andrea Mitchell and Tim Russert, knew that Plame Wilson was employed by the CIA before her public exposure (see July 14, 2003). Through his lawyers, Cooper argues that the subpoena from Libby is “materially the same as the subpoena issued to Time Inc.” by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, and is “overbroad, unreasonable, and burdensome… and seeks information protected by the reporter’s privilege that exists under the First Amendment.” (US District Court for the District of Columbia 4/18/2006 ; Johnston 4/19/2006; Washington Post 4/19/2006)
Lewis Libby’s defense team files a motion to compel the testimonies of several reporters and news organizations whom it has already subpoenaed (see March 14, 2006). The New York Times, NBC News, Time magazine, and reporters Judith Miller, Matthew Cooper, and Andrea Mitchell have already filed motions to quash the Libby subpoenas (see April 18, 2006). Libby’s lawyers argue that the subpoenas are legal and just, and Libby has a right to compel the subpoenaed testimonies. According to the lawyers’ brief, reporters have “no right—under the Constitution or the common law—to deprive Mr. Libby of evidence that will help establish his innocence at trial.” In return, lawyers for the various press outlets say that Libby’s subpoenas are so broad that they threaten the integrity of their news gathering operations by targeting all of their employees, not just the three reporters involved in the case. (US District Court for the District of Columbia 5/1/2006 ; US District Court for the District of Columbia 5/1/2006 ; Locy 5/2/2006) Author and blogger Marcy Wheeler writes that while the Libby team’s arguments about Cooper and Mitchell are strong, the arguments in regards to Miller are something else entirely. Wheeler accuses Libby, through his lawyers, of “totally mischaracterizing the nature of the lie he is accused of telling to” Miller during their meetings (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). She says that in her view, Miller repeatedly hedged her grand jury testimony (see September 30, 2005 and October 12, 2005) to “protect Libby,” but now Libby is using those hedges “to impugn Judy as a witness.” (Marcy Wheeler 5/2/2006) Author Jane Hamsher and former prosecutor Christy Hardin Smith, writing for the progressive blog FireDogLake, note with some amusement that the Libby lawyers are relying on a new word: “misrecollected,” as in “whether it is Mr. Libby or the reporters who have misstated or misrecollected the facts,” or “it is Mr. Russert who has misrecollected or misstated the facts.” Hamsher and Smith write: “It’s being employed here for the purpose of avoiding an explicit discussion of what they’re really talking about, commingling under its broad tent two distinct activities: the act of remembering an event but failing to recall certain details, which would also be known as ‘forgetting,’ and the act of remembering things that never actually happened, which would be in effect ‘fabricating.’ They seem to be describing the latter while hoping for the more innocent overtones of the former.” (Hamsher 5/2/2006)
News organizations and reporters file a variety of motions to quash the Libby defense team’s subpoenas for their notes and testimonies for the upcoming trial (see March 14, 2006, April 18, 2006, and May 1, 2006). The arguments are similar: Lewis Libby’s subpoenas violate the journalists’ and news organizations’ First Amendment rights to privacy in their reporting, the subpoenas are overly broad and lack relevance—a “fishing expedition,” as Time’s lawyers phrase it—and Libby’s lawyers cannot expect to be granted such “unchecked leeway” in subpoenaing reporters without far more specific goals and objectives than the defense team has previously stated. The lawyers for NBC reporters Andrea Mitchell and Tim Russert write, “Defendant’s case rests entirely on serial speculation—i.e., if Ms. Mitchell knew about Ms. Wilson and her employment prior to July 11, and if Ms. Mitchell shared that information with Mr. Russert before he talked with Defendant, and if Mr. Russert then shared the same information with Defendant, then her testimony would ‘be important to the defense.’” (US District Court for the District of Columbia 5/8/2006 ; US District Court for the District of Columbia 5/8/2006 ; US District Court for the District of Columbia 5/8/2006 ; THE NEW YORK TIMES' REPLY TO DEFENDANT I. LEWIS LIBBY'S RESPONSE TO MOTION OF THE NEW YORK TIMES TO QUASH LIBBY'S RULE 17(c) SUBPOENA 5/8/2006 ; US District Court for the District of Columbia 5/8/2006 ) Former prosecutor and FireDogLake blogger Christy Hardin Smith writes: “Here’s a rule of thumb—you can’t call a witness that you know is not going to be favorable to your case solely to raise questions about that witness to confuse the jury. It’s called bootstrapping, and judges do not like it. Let alone the fact that it is not allowed under the rules.” (Christy Hardin Smith 5/12/2006) In her response, Judith Miller’s lawyer Joseph Tate objects to Libby’s speculation that he may have learned of Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA status from Miller, and his request for Miller’s notes to prove or disprove his speculation. In the brief, Tate writes: “Mr. Libby asserts that he ‘has established a ‘sufficient likelihood’ that the documents he seeks are relevant to his defense.‘… In support, he maintains that ‘the documents sought are likely to contain evidence that some, if not all, of his testimony about… conversations [with reporters] was correct and that it is the reporters who have an unreliable recollection or have misstated the facts.‘… He also makes the startlingly baseless claim that it may have been Ms. Miller who mentioned Ms. Plame to him.… These contentions are unavailing. How can it possibly be maintained that Ms. Miller’s notes of discussions with persons other than Mr. Libby, regarding topics unrelated to the instant case, have any bearing on his, hers, or anyone’s recollection of the salient facts regarding her conversations with him?” Author and FireDogLake blogger Jane Hamsher writes that if Miller expected a response such as “‘If Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Judith Miller can’t remember, how can Mr. Libby be expected to remember?’ [w]hat she got instead was an invitation to play scapegoat.” (US District Court for the District of Columbia 5/8/2006 ; Jane Hamsher 5/9/2006)
At a pretrial hearing on a motion to quash the Libby defense team’s subpoenas of journalists and media organizations (see May 8, 2006), lawyers for the New York Times, Time magazine, and NBC News agree to turn over notes, memos, and documents pertaining to their journalists’ involvement in the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak. The Washington Post and CNN have already turned over materials requested by the defense. During the hearing, Lewis Libby’s lawyers indicate that their trial strategy will be to attack the credibility of those journalists, and claim that it was the journalists, not Libby, who lied to special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigators and the FBI. “I do respect the important role that the press plays in our society but want to give Mr. Libby the information he needs for a fair trial,” Judge Reggie Walton says during the hearing. Robert Bennett, the lawyer representing former Times reporter Judith Miller, says during the hearing that the defense’s efforts amount to nothing more than “a massive fishing expedition.” He adds, “They just want to romp through her records,” and argues that Libby’s lawyers already have all the relevant information, since Miller has already provided some information from her notebooks. “The only thing that has not been produced are things that they are not entitled to” under federal rules of evidence, such as “records of people unrelated to the case and other sources about other subjects. They have everything relevant to this case,” Bennett says. For their side, Libby’s lawyers argue that Libby’s right to a fair trial outweighs any considerations that might be given to journalists’ right to protect their sources. One of Libby’s lawyers, William Jeffress, says his job isn’t to prove anything from either the reporters’ statements or his client’s, but merely to raise “reasonable doubt” in the minds of jurors. In the days after the hearing, Walton looks over notes, drafts, and records from those journalists turned over to him by the Times, Time magazine, and NBC News, in order to find any information related to Libby’s perjury and obstruction case. Walton orders Time to turn over drafts of reporter Matthew Cooper’s first-person account of his grand jury testimony (see May 26, 2006). (Locy 5/13/2006; Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press 5/17/2006; Smith 5/17/2006; Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press 11/19/2009)
Judge Reggie Walton orders the Lewis Libby defense team’s subpoena for former New York Times reporter Judith Miller’s notes and documents to be quashed (see May 16, 2006 and After), a ruling that the Washington Post terms “the latest in a string of court defeats for media efforts to shield news-gathering activities from the legal process.” “The First Amendment does not protect news reporters or news organizations from producing documents when the news reporters are themselves critical to both the indictment and prosecution of criminal activity,” Walton writes. But, he continues, “all other motions [referring to other journalists’ and news organizations’ attempts to quash similar subpoenas] are granted in part and denied in part.” Miller’s notes and records not already in evidence “are simply not relevant” to the case at hand, Walton rules, and chides the Libby defense lawyers for trying to seek unspecified evidence—in essence, demanding materials be turned over in the hopes of finding something useful. “This is not the proper role [such] subpoenas are intended to play in the criminal arena,” Walton writes. “Rather they may be used solely to secure specifically identified evidence for trial that is relevant and admissible.” He agrees with the quash motions that many of the defense’s subpoenas are “fishing expeditions.” Walton withholds final judgment on the relevance of some of the New York Times’s records, though he writes that he doubts the materials will ever prove relevant. He does not approve the subpoenas for records from NBC News and its reporter Andrea Mitchell. Walton does, however, order Time magazine to turn over some documents pertaining to an article written by its reporter Matthew Cooper (see July 13, 2005), saying that “a slight alteration” between information in the drafts could be relevant in Libby’s stated intention to paint Cooper as dishonest. (O'Reilly 5/26/2006; Lane 5/26/2006; US District Court for the District of Columbia 5/26/2009 ; US District Court for the District of Columbia 5/26/2009 )
Author and media observer Eric Boehlert, writing for the progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters, criticizes the majority of mainstream news reporters and publications for failing to report aggressively and even accurately on the Plame Wilson leak investigation. Boehlert writes that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald “has consistently shown more interest—and determination—in uncovering the facts of the Plame scandal than most Beltway journalists, including the often somnambulant DC newsroom of the New York Times. Indeed, for long stretches, the special counsel easily supplanted the timid DC press corps and become the fact-finder of record for the Plame story. It was Fitzgerald and his team of G-men—not journalists—who were running down leads, asking tough questions, and, in the end, helping inform the American people about possible criminal activity inside the White House.” While Fitzgerald had subpoena power, Boehlert admits, reporters often had inside information that they consistently failed to reveal, instead “dutifully keeping their heads down and doing their best to make sure the details never got out about the White House’s obsession with discrediting former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV by outing his undercover CIA wife, Valerie Plame” Wilson. Boehlert writes that if not for Fitzgerald’s dogged investigation, the entire leak story would have “simply faded into oblivion like so many other disturbing suggestions of Bush administration misdeeds. And it would have faded away because lots of high-profile journalists at the New York Times, the Washington Post, Time, and NBC wanted it to.”
'Watergate in Reverse' - “In a sense, it was Watergate in reverse,” Boehlert writes. “Instead of digging for the truth, lots of journalists tried to bury it. The sad fact remains the press was deeply involved in the cover-up, as journalists reported White House denials regarding the Plame leak despite the fact scores of them received the leak and knew the White House was spreading rampant misinformation about an unfolding criminal case.”
Going Along to Avoid Angering White House - Boehlert believes that in the early days of the investigation, most Washington reporters agreed with President Bush, who said that it was unlikely the leaker’s identity would ever be unearthed (see October 7, 2003). Historically, leak investigations rarely produced the leaker. “So if the leakers weren’t going to be found out, what was the point of reporters going public with their information and angering a then-popular White House that had already established a habit for making life professionally unpleasant for reporters who pressed too hard?” Boehlert asks. Now, of course, the press is pursuing the Libby trial for all it’s worth.
Early Instances of Misleading - Boehlert notes a number of instances where media figures either deliberately concealed information they had about who leaked Plame Wilson’s name, or were transparently disingenuous about speculating on the leaker’s identity. ABC reported in July 2005 that “it’s been unknown who told reporters the identity of Valerie Plame” for two years, an assertion Boehlert calls “silly” (see October 3, 2003). The following Washington journalists all had inside information to one extent or another about the case long before the summer of 2005: Robert Novak (see July 8, 2003), Tim Russert (see August 7, 2004), Andrea Mitchell (see July 20, 2003 and July 21, 2003), David Gregory (see 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), Chris Matthews (see July 21, 2003), Matthew Cooper (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), Michael Duffy (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), John Dickerson (see February 7, 2006), Viveca Novak (see March 1, 2004), Judith Miller (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003), and Bob Woodward (see June 13, 2003). Had they come forward with the information they had, the identity of the various White House leakers would have been revealed much sooner. “[B]ut none of them did,” Boehlert writes. “Instead, at times there was an unspoken race away from the Bush scandal, a collective retreat that’s likely unprecedented in modern-day Beltway journalism.”
Cheerleading for Bush - Many journalists without inside information were openly cheering for the Bush administration and against the investigation, Boehlert contends. They included the New York Times’s Nicholas Kristof (see October 1, 2003 and October 25, 2005), Newsweek’s Evan Thomas (see October 1, 2003 and November 7, 2005), Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen (see October 13, 2005 and January 30, 2007), fellow Post columnist Michael Kinsley (see October 28, 2005 and January 31, 2007), Slate editor Jacob Weisberg (see October 18, 2005), and Post columnist David Broder (see July 10, 2005 and September 7, 2006). Author and liberal blogger Marcy Wheeler, in her book on the Plame affair entitled Anatomy of Deceit, wrote that in her view, the media was attempting to “mak[e] the case that the press should retain exclusive judgment on the behavior of politicians, with no role for the courts.”
Fighting to Stay Quiet during the Election Campaign - Many journalists tried, and succeeded, to keep the story quiet during the 2004 presidential election campaign. Matthew Cooper refused to testify before Fitzgerald’s grand jury until mid-2005, when he asked for and was granted a waiver from Karl Rove to reveal him as the source of his information that Plame Wilson was a CIA agent (see July 13, 2005). Boehlert notes that Cooper’s bosses at Time decided to fight the subpoena in part because they “were concerned about becoming part of such an explosive story in an election year” (see July 6, 2005).
Russert, NBC Withheld Information from Public - Russert also withheld information from Fitzgerald, and the American public, until well after the November 2004 election. Boehlert notes that Russert “enjoyed a very close working relationship with Libby’s boss, Cheney,” and “chose to remain silent regarding central facts.” Russert could have revealed that in the summer of 2004, he had told Fitzgerald of his conversation with Libby during the summer of 2003 (see August 7, 2004). Libby had perjured himself by telling Fitzgerald that Russert had told him of Plame Wilson’s CIA status, when in reality, the reverse was true (see March 24, 2004). Instead, Russert testified that he and Libby never discussed Plame Wilson’s identity during that conversation, or at any other time. But neither Russert nor his employer, NBC News, admitted that to the public, instead merely saying that Libby did not reveal Plame Wilson’s identity to Russert (see August 7, 2004). Boehlert writes, “But why, in the name of transparency, didn’t the network issue a statement that made clear Russert and Libby never even discussed Plame?”
Woodward's Involvement - Washington Post editor Bob Woodward, an icon of investigative reporting (see June 15, 1974), told various television audiences that Fitzgerald’s investigation was “disgraceful” and called Fitzgerald a “junkyard prosecutor” (see October 27, 2005), and said the leak had not harmed the CIA (see July 14, 2003, July 21, 2003, September 27, 2003, October 3, 2003, October 22-24, 2003, and October 23-24, 2003). Woodward predicted that when “all of the facts come out in this case, it’s going to be laughable because the consequences are not that great” (see July 7, 2005). While Woodward was disparaging the investigation (see July 11, 2005, July 17, 2005, and October 28, 2005), he was failing to reveal that he himself had been the recipient of a leak about Plame Wilson’s identity years before (see June 13, 2003, June 23, 2003, and June 27, 2003), which, Boehlert notes, “meant Woodward, the former sleuth, had been sitting been sitting on a sizeable scoop for more than two years.” Boehlert continues: “If at any point prior to the Libby indictments Woodward had come forward with his information, it would have been politically devastating for the White House. Instead, Woodward remained mum about the facts while publicly mocking Fitzgerald’s investigation.”
Conclusion - Boehlert concludes: “Regardless of the outcome from the Libby perjury case, the trial itself will be remembered for pulling back the curtain on the Bush White House as it frantically tried to cover up its intentional effort to mislead the nation to war. Sadly, the trial will also serve as a touchstone for how the Beltway press corps completely lost its way during the Bush years and became afraid of the facts—and the consequences of reporting them.” (Boehlert 2/6/2007)
NBC Washington bureau chief Tim Russert testifies in the trial of Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see January 16-23, 2007), following almost three days of videotaped testimony from Libby (see February 7, 2007). Russert’s testimony is virtually identical to statements he previously made to an FBI investigator (see November 24, 2003) and to the Plame Wilson grand jury (see August 7, 2004).
Never Discussed Plame Wilson with Libby - Questioned by prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, Russert contradicts Libby’s 2004 testimony, where Libby said he learned of CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity from Russert in July 2003 (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004). Russert says that in July 2003 he spoke with Libby, who complained about MSNBC news anchor Chris Matthews’s coverage of the Iraq war (see July 10 or 11, 2003). Libby testified that at the end of that phone call, Russert broached the subject of war critic Joseph Wilson and told him that Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA, saying, “[A]ll the reporters know” that Plame Wilson is a CIA officer. Russert tells the jury: “That would be impossible. I didn’t know who that person was until several days later.” He adds: “If he had told me [Plame Wilson’s identity], I would have asked him how he knew that, why he knew that, what is the relevance of that. And since [it was] a national security issue, my superiors [would] try to pursue it.”
Cross-Examination Focuses on Faulty Recollections - Libby’s lawyer, Theodore Wells, is skeptical of Russert’s denial. “You have the chief of staff of the vice president of the United States on the telephone and you don’t ask him one question about it?” he asks. “As a newsperson who’s known for being aggressive and going after the facts, you wouldn’t have asked him about the biggest stories in the world that week?” Russert replies, “What happened is exactly what I told you.” Wells cites a transcript of Russert’s initial testimony before the FBI, in which he said he could not rule out discussing Plame Wilson with Libby. Russert says he doesn’t believe that is what he told the FBI. Wells asks, “Did you disclose in the affidavit to the court that you had already disclosed the contents of your conversation with Mr. Libby?” Russert attempts to answer, saying, “As I’ve said, sir…” but Wells cuts him off, saying, “It’s a yes or no question.” Russert responds, “I’d like to answer it to the best of my ability.” Wells says: “This is a very simple question. Either it’s in the affidavit or it’s not. Did you disclose to the court that you had already communicated to the FBI the fact that you had communicated with Mr. Libby?” Russert answers, “No” (see Late February or Early March, 2004). Wells attempts to raise questions about Russert’s ethics and credibility, and implies that Russert wanted to see Libby face charges. In follow-up questioning, Fitzgerald asks Russert, “Did you take joy in Mr. Libby’s indictment?” Russert replies: “No, not at all. And I don’t take joy in being here” in the courtroom as a witness. During the second day of Russert’s testimony, defense lawyers ask why Russert told the FBI about his conversation with Libby, but said he would not testify if subpoenaed; Russert says he viewed the FBI conversation and the subpoena differently. During redirect, Fitzgerald notes that during Libby’s grand jury testimony, Libby claimed that he had indeed learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from his then-boss, Vice President Dick Cheney, but had forgotten about it, and when Russert told him about Plame Wilson’s CIA status, it was as if it were new information to him (see February 6, 2007). (FireDogLake 2/7/2007; FireDogLake 2/7/2007; FireDogLake 2/7/2007; FireDogLake 2/7/2007; FireDogLake 2/7/2007; FireDogLake 2/7/2007; Courson 2/8/2007; Lewis 2/9/2007; Apuzzo 2/9/2007; MSNBC 2/12/2007; MSNBC 2/21/2007) The Associated Press writes: “Wells wants to cast Russert as someone who cannot be believed, who publicly championed the sanctity of off-the-record conversations but privately revealed that information to investigators. Russert said he viewed the FBI conversation and testimony to prosecutors differently.” (Apuzzo 2/9/2007)
Potential Mistrial Averted - The jurors are not supposed to read about the trial in the press or watch television coverage of it; resultingly, they are provided newspapers with the pertinent information scissored out. As the jurors enter the courtroom for Russert’s second day of testimony, Judge Reggie Walton notes that they were given newspapers with a Washington Post article, headlined “Tim Russert on the Uncomfortable Side of a Question,” unredacted. A juror brought the newspaper to the attention of the marshals immediately upon receipt of it, and no juror admits to having read it. Walton rules that no harm has been done, and a potential mistrial is averted. (FireDogLake 2/7/2007)
An Indiana University study shows that the three American broadcast networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC, systematically favored Republicans in their election news coverage from 1992 through 2004. The study is presented by two professors in the Department of Telecommunications, Maria Elizabeth Grabe and Erik Bucy, and is published in book form, entitled Image Bite Politics: News and the Visual Framing of Elections. The Indiana University press release notes, “Their research runs counter to the popular conventional notion of a liberal bias in the media in favor of Democrats and against Republican candidates.” Grabe says: “We don’t think this is journalists conspiring to favor Republicans. We think they’re just so beat up and tired of being accused of a liberal bias that they unknowingly give Republicans the benefit in coverage. It’s self-censorship that journalists might be imposing on themselves.”
Focusing on 'Image Bites' - Grabe and Bucy focused on visual coverage of presidential candidates. Between 1992 and 2004, they found, candidates were shown more visually over the years, in what the authors call “image bites,” while their verbal statements, or “sound bites,” steadily decreased in average length. Grabe and Bucy examined 62 hours of broadcast news coverage, totaling 178 newscasts, between Labor Day and Election Day over four US presidential elections between 1992 and 2004. Cable news outlets such as CNN and Fox News were not included in the study. The professors are now examining broadcast coverage for the 2008 election.
Favoritism in Visual Coverage - According to the press release: “Grabe and Bucy found the volume of news coverage focusing exclusively on each party—one measure of media bias—favored Republicans. Their research found there were more single-party stories about Republicans overall and in each election year except 1992. When they studied the time duration of these stories, no pattern of favoritism was evident. But they did spot differences when they studied visual coverage, that is, with the volume turned down.” Grabe and Bucy note: “Reporters do exercise control over production decisions. The internal structure of news stories—their placement in the newscast, editing techniques and manipulations related to camera angles, shot lengths, eyewitness perspectives and zoom movements—is at the volition of news workers, free of the influence of image handlers.”
Editing Techniques Favor Republicans - The authors examined several “visual packaging techniques” used in editing a film of a candidate. Two techniques worthy of note were the “lip-flap shot,” in which a reporter narrates over a video of the candidate talking, and the “Goldilocks effect,” wherein a candidate gets the last word in a piece and thus is better remembered by viewers. The “lip-flap shot” is considered so negative for a candidate that it is considered a “violation of professional television news production standards,” according to the authors. Both techniques were employed to the benefit of Republicans, the authors report. Democrats were more apt to be subjected to “lip-flapping,” while Republicans more often got the last word in (except in 2004, when the “Goldilocks effect” was relatively even-handed). Other techniques that are considered detrimental to candidates are extreme close-ups, with a face filling the screen, and long-distance shots. In general, both techniques were used to affect Democrats more often than Republicans. And Republicans garnered more favorable views with such techniques as low-angle camera shots, which the authors say demonstrably “attribute power and dominance to candidates in experimental studies.” Most professional cameramen and journalists are trained not to use low-angle or high-angle shots, says Grabe, and instead to favor more neutral eye-level shots. She notes: “It takes the same amount of time to rig a camera for a low-angle shot as for a more neutral eye-level shot. It doesn’t take any extra effort to be professionally unbiased. There is evidence that the pattern favoring Republicans is stable across networks, because there are no statistically significant differences between them.”
Impact on Poll Numbers - The impact of these negative and positive “packaging” techniques on daily polls was measurable, Grabe says: “When negative packaging over time spiked for a candidate, public opinion generally went down. You can observe the same inverse trend. When detrimental packaging subsides, public opinion is at its highest point. In experimental research, these production features have been shown to have an impact—now we have indications that they have broad impact on public opinion.”
Conclusion - Bucy concludes: “Visuals are underappreciated in news coverage. You can have a negative report. You can have the journalist being opinionated against the candidate. But if you’re showing favorable visuals, that outweighs the net effect on the viewer almost every single time.” (University of Indiana 2/24/2009)
Yasha Levine, co-author of a Playboy article alleging that the Rick Santelli “tea party” “rant” on CNBC was part of a pre-planned rollout of corporate-funded tea party organizations (see February 27, 2009), attends a tea party event at the Santa Monica pier. The event, planned as a “spontaneous” citizen protest of the Obama administration’s economic policies, was planned and supervised by Tony Katz, who organized it through a Facebook page. The event is planned to last 45 minutes, and consists of a quick “meet and greet,” three keynote speakers (an actor, a writer, and a comedian), and as a finale, a quick teabagging ceremony. Levine says the event’s timing is not conducive to attracting large numbers of protesters, being as it takes place at the beginning of a workday. However, she notes, it is quite conducive for media coverage: journalists would “get the material and be back in the office before noon, enough time to write and edit their segments to appear that same day.” Levine arrives late, but in time to witness Katz finishing his closing speech and event organizers passing out tea bags. She estimates the crowd size at about 50, “not what you would expect from a grassroots movement that supposedly tsunamied so fast that a whole network materialized in just a few days” (see February 19-21, 2009). Some protesters hold anti-Obama signs, others wave signs with anti-tax slogans. At least a third of the crowd, Levine writes, is made up of reporters and other “media types.” At 9:35, Katz exhorts the crowd to throw their tea bags into a pot of water (as throwing them in the ocean constitutes littering) and scream out their anti-tax demands. Levine observes: “It was a total sham, a front in order to get TV facetime. It worked, too. Fox News sent a camera crew. So did NBC. Koch [the Koch family, whom Levine has accused of clandestinely funding many tea party organizations] was teabagging the media, and the media loved it.” (Yasha Levine 2/27/2009)
President Obama makes the rounds of the Sunday morning network news talk shows to discuss health care reform, in what ABC News calls “an unprecedented presidential blitz of media appearances.” Obama appears for interviews on Sunday morning shows from ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and Univision. In recent days, he has also appeared on CBS’s 60 Minutes, and will soon appear on CBS’s Late Night with David Letterman. However, the White House refuses to include Fox News in Obama’s appearances. When asked about the apparent snub, White House spokesman Josh Earnest replies, “We figured Fox would rather show ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ than broadcast an honest discussion about health insurance reform,” referring to the Fox network’s decision not to air Obama’s September 9 speech to a joint session of Congress on its regular broadcasting stations (see September 9, 2009). Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace says of the Obama White House, “They are the biggest bunch of crybabies I have dealt with in my 30 years in Washington.” Earnest responds that Wallace’s Fox News is not a legitimate news outlet, saying: “Fox is an ideological outlet where the president has been interviewed before and will likely be interviewed again. Not that the whining particularly strengthens their case for participation any time soon.” (Media Matters 9/18/2009; Karl 9/19/2009)
Following a reassessment by top US Army Allied Commander General Stanley A. McChrystal, and on the advice of Vice President Joe Biden and White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, President Obama reconsiders the military endeavor that might modify US strategy in Afghanistan. The result is a scaling back of political and economic development reforms in the strife-torn zone. During recent television news program appearances, Obama seemed to question the primary assertion that the current US approach is the proper means for achieving the US goal of hunting down al-Qaeda and its close allies.
Scaling Back Military Operations - In what White House officials call a “strategic assessment,” Obama seems to be favoring scaled-down attacks utilizing small Special Operations teams and armed Predator drones, thus averting the need for additional troops, according to US officials and experts. The renewed debate is said to have shocked some, while leaving military officials scrambling to estimate how drastic the changes could be. The shift in the White House position is said to have also come about after Obama ordered 21,000 additional US troops to help with last month’s Afghan national election, a ballot broadly seen as counterfeit. However, Obama has also questioned McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy, asking whether it is worth committing extra troops. Reports indicate that the administration might opt for a narrower objective that primarily focuses on disrupting al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other extremist groups, a strategy that would require fewer than the 68,000 troops presently approved for the war. During a recent appearance on CNN, Obama asked, “Are we pursuing the right strategy?” while on NBC’s Meet the Press, he stated he would only expand the counterinsurgency endeavor if it aided the goal of defeating al-Qaeda. “I’m not interested in just being in Afghanistan for the sake of being in Afghanistan… or sending a message that America is here for the duration,” Obama said. It is unclear how many additional troops McChrystal’s counterinsurgency strategy would require, and the dissenting view advocating a more limited Afghanistan mission not only has been strengthened by Afghan election irregularities but also growing doubts about the war among Congressional Democrats as well as the US citizenry.
'Buyer's Remorse' - During a recent meeting with the Canadian prime minister, Obama signaled that a deeper administration review was in progress. “It’s important that we also do an assessment on the civilian side, the diplomatic side, the development side, that we analyze the results of the election and then make further decisions moving forward,” he said. A defense analyst and regular military adviser speaking on condition of anonymity says the Obama administration is suffering from “buyer’s remorse for this war.” (Barnes 9/22/2009)
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).
Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney (R-MA) uses a phrase made familiar by the Ku Klux Klan in his stump speeches. In a speech given to supporters in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Romney says: “There are people in this room who are informed and who care about this election, who recognize that this is a defining time for America. We have on one side a president who wants to transform America into a European-style nation, and you have on other hand someone like myself that wants to turn around America and keep America America.” Reporters and bloggers note that Romney, inadvertently or not, is echoing the phrase “Keep America American” as used for nearly a century by the KKK. A 1920 pamphlet published by the United Klans of America and archived at Yale University was entitled “Why you should become a klansman: of interest to white, protestant, native born Americans who want to keep America American.” On the eve of World War II, a Klan-affiliated organization called the American Coalition pressured the US government not to admit Jewish refugees into the country. And in 1950, a pamphlet with the phrase “Keep America American” was sold in Dallas, Texas, just before a wave of bombings of African-American-owned homes rocked the city. Reporter Steve Benen also notes that the 2008 Romney campaign intended to use a similar “keep America America” attack against the Democratic nominee for that year if Romney had survived the primary process: focusing then on Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton, the Romney campaign intended to run on the platform that Clinton and the Democrats wanted to “drag America down to Europe’s standards.… That’s where Hillary and Dems would take us. Hillary = France.” The Romney campaign planned to print “First, not France” bumper stickers to go along with the campaign rhetoric. (Benen 12/12/2011; Booman Tribune 12/12/2011; Mehta 12/10/2012) After initially refusing to comment on the allegation of the campaign using a KKK slogan, Romney spokespersons claim that their candidate is using the phrase “Keep America America,” and not the KKK phrase. Liberal blogger John Aravosis calls the campaign’s claim “a nuance without a difference” and says, somewhat sarcastically, that if it is fair to use President Obama’s rhetoric to label him a “socialist,” then it is equally fair to use Romney’s phraseology to label him a member of the Klan. MSNBC talk show host Chris Matthews reports on the story, and is quickly pressured by NBC senior management to issue an apology to the Romney campaign, calling his reporting “irresponsible and incendiary” and indicative of “an appalling lack of judgment.” (John Aravosis 12/13/2011; Christopher 12/14/2011; John Aravosis 12/14/2011) In line with MSNBC’s retreat from its reporting, Washington Post editor Patrick B. Pexton calls the Post’s own reporting of the controversial slogan usage “error-filled,” and repeats the Romney campaign’s claim that the phrase “Keep America America” is different from the KKK’s “Keep America American.” Pexton also notes that a campaign ad on YouTube using the phrase is not an actual Romney campaign ad, but an ad by an “independent” political organization in support of Romney. (Pexton 12/16/2011) AlterNet’s Chauncey DeVega later writes of the controversy: “The dropping of one letter from the Ku Klux Klan’s slogan, ‘Keep America American,’ does not remove the intent behind Romney’s repeated use of such a virulently bigoted phrase. While Mitt Romney can claim ignorance of the slogan’s origins, he is intentionally channeling its energy.” DeVega notes the intensely “nativist” connotations of the phrase, and writes that Romney, like the remainder of his fellow Republican presidential contenders, is “hostile” to immigrants of any stripe, a hostility reflected in the phrase. “Romney’s slogan, ‘Keep America America,’ begs the obvious question: Just who is American? Who gets to decide?” (DeVega 1/25/2012)
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