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Profile: Tom Rosenstiel

Tom Rosenstiel was a participant or observer in the following events:

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. [Washington Post, 11/14/2000; Observer, 11/19/2000; Associated Press, 12/11/2000; Buffalo Beat, 12/14/2000; American Journalism Review, 1/2001; Nation, 11/6/2006; New York Magazine, 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.” [Time, 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.” [American Journalism Review, 1/2001; Nation, 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. [American Journalism Review, 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.” [Observer, 11/19/2000; Associated Press, 12/11/2000; Buffalo Beat, 12/14/2000; New York Magazine, 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.” [Observer, 11/19/2000; Nation, 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.” [Nation, 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. [Observer, 11/19/2000; Nation, 11/6/2006] Ailes had specifically warned his team not to share VNS information with anyone from the campaigns. [Salon, 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.” [Washington Post, 11/14/2000]

Entity Tags: Voter News Service, Warren Mitofsky, Tom Rosenstiel, Sheldon Gawiser, Tim Dickinson, Roger Ailes, CNN, ABC News, CBS News, Brit Hume, Boston Globe, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Associated Press, News Corporation, Rupert Murdoch, Murray Edelman, Fox News, Ed Bradley, Dan Rather, Cynthia Talkov, Carl Gottlieb, George W. Bush, NBC News, Henry A. Waxman, John Prescott Ellis, John Moody, John Ellis (“Jeb”) Bush, Joe Lenski, John Blydenburgh

Timeline Tags: 2000 Elections

Tom Rosenstiel on the PBS broadcast ‘In the Shadows.’Tom Rosenstiel on the PBS broadcast ‘In the Shadows.’ [Source: PBS]PBS hosts a live discussion with former CIA analyst Larry Johnson and journalist Tom Rosenstiel on the exposure of Valerie Plame Wilson as a covert CIA official (see July 14, 2003). Columnist Robert Novak initially told reporters that the White House “gave” him the information about Plame Wilson (see July 21, 2003), but is now claiming that he had to “dig for” that information (see September 29, 2003). Novak also asserts that Plame Wilson was a “mere” CIA analyst and not a covert operative (see Fall 1992 - 1996), and admits that CIA officials asked him not to reveal her identity (see (July 11, 2003) and Before July 14, 2003), though he says they never indicated that doing so would endanger her or anyone else. Johnson says: “To hear Bob Novak parsing words like a Clinton lawyer defining sex is outrageous.… They took the initiative to divulge the CIA officer’s name. And that is outrageous.”
Confirmation that Plame Wilson Was Undercover - Johnson confirms that Plame Wilson is indeed an undercover CIA official, saying: “Let’s be very clear about what happened. This is not an alleged abuse. This is a confirmed abuse. I worked with this woman. She started training with me. She has been undercover for three decades, she is not, as Bob Novak suggested, a CIA analyst. But given that, I was a CIA analyst for four years. I was undercover. I could not divulge to my family outside of my wife that I worked for the Central Intelligence Agency until I left the agency on Sept. 30, 1989. At that point I could admit it. So the fact that she’s been undercover for three decades and that has been divulged is outrageous because she was put undercover for certain reasons. One, she works in an area where people she meets with overseas could be compromised. When you start tracing back who she met with, even people who innocently met with her, who are not involved in CIA operations, could be compromised. For these journalists to argue that this is no big deal.”
Novak Did 'a Really Dangerous and Terrible Thing' - Rosenstiel calls Novak’s assertion that the CIA didn’t warn him of any danger in leaking Plame Wilson’s name “weak,” and adds: “Bob Novak has done a really dangerous and terrible thing. If you are going to get involved in something like this where you’re bumping up against breaking the law, as a journalist you have a civil disobedience test you have to meet. What’s the public good of this story? What’s the—balanced against what’s the danger to the people involved publishing the story. The third part of the test is, is it necessary in telling the story to do this or is there another way to do it, do you need to divulge this person’s name, in other words, to convey the information you think is of the public interest? This doesn’t meet any one of those three tests. It’s not of overriding public interest. Novak may be really just an instrument of Republican revenge here. Whatever the public good is of the story is far overwhelmed by the danger to this woman and her network of operatives. And it’s gratuitous. You could have told the story without her name.” Johnson adds: “This is not about partisan politics. This is about a betrayal, a political smear of an individual with no relevance to the story. Publishing her name in that story added nothing to it. His entire intent was correctly as Ambassador Wilson noted (see August 12, 2003): to intimidate, to suggest that there was some impropriety that somehow his wife was in a decision-making position to influence his ability to go over and savage a stupid policy, an erroneous policy, and frankly, what was a false policy of suggesting that there were nuclear material in Iraq that required this war. This was about a political attack. To pretend that it’s something else and to get into this parsing of words, I tell you, it sickens me to be a Republican to see this.”
Most Reporters Thought Story 'Lousy - Asked why six reporters were told of Plame Wilson’s identity and five chose not to publish it (see September 28, 2003), Rosenstiel says that the five reporters’ decision “tells us that the majority of reporters involved thought this was a lousy story.” It was “[i]mproper to identify and actually maybe the story itself just didn’t rise to the level of being much of a story. Frankly, it’s difficult to see how this information discredits Wilson. I can see how it intimidates him but I don’t think it necessarily discredits his research into the Niger claim.” [PBS, 9/30/2003]

Entity Tags: Public Broadcasting System, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Joseph C. Wilson, Larry C. Johnson, Tom Rosenstiel, Robert Novak, Valerie Plame Wilson

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The story of the Pentagon’s propaganda operation—using military analysts in media outlets to promote the administration’s policies in Iraq (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond)—is going remarkably unreported in those selfsame media outlets. Political bloggers are keeping the story alive, and Democratic congressmen are beginning to call for investigations (see April 28, 2008 and May 6, 2008)), but remarkably little about the operation has appeared either in the mainstream press or on broadcast news shows. One such lawmaker, Senator John Kerry (D-MA), says that he “decided to push this issue hard because ever since the New York Times expose appeared, the silence has been deafening.” Kerry says there needs to be a “thorough investigation” into government contracts and “whether Americans’ tax dollars were being used to cultivate talking heads to sell the administration’s Iraq policy.” But unlike the pre-Internet paradigm, this story may not be so quick to disappear. Tom Rosenstiel, the director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, says, “We are in a time when stories can have a second life.” Political bloggers on the Internet, who keep chipping away at stories long after they have disappeared from the headlines, can give stories another chance, says Rosenstiel, citing the example of bloggers reviving the story of the US attorney firings in 2007 (see November 8, 2007). Rosenstiel says that his organization tracked the mainstream media for a week after the Times story was printed. Out of around 1,300 news stories, only two touched on the Pentagon analysts report, and both of those were on PBS’s Newshour (see April 24, 2008). Independent television analyst Andrew Tyndall says it would be too much to expect for any broadcast news outlets to engage in the story over the airwaves, as they almost never do what he calls “self-criticism stories,” but, he says, “this is really the sort of thing that all of the networks should have addressed online.” Virtually the only mainstream response from the broadcast news has been a short piece from NBC anchorman Brian Williams, who responded on his blog ten days after the Times story ran, and generally extolled the virtues of the analysts with whom he had worked (see April 29, 2008). Former CBS editorial director Dick Meyer, who oversaw CBS’s “Public Eye” blog before it was discontinued due to cutbacks, says that would have been the perfect place to examine the story. “This controversy about military analysts would have been right in our ballpark,” says Meyer, who now works for National Public Radio. “It’s irresponsible for a modern news organization to not have some kind of readers’ advocate, some kind of public editor function,” he says. [Politico, 5/8/2008]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Brian Williams, Andrew Tyndall, CBS News, Project for Excellence in Journalism, Dick Meyer, New York Times, John Kerry, Tom Rosenstiel, Public Broadcasting System

Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

Glenn Beck.Glenn Beck. [Source: New York Times]The New York Times profiles Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck, describing him as a “rising star” and “one of the most powerful media voices for the nation’s conservative anger.” Beck’s show typically draws about 2.3 million viewers, putting him third among all cable news hosts behind fellow Fox conservatives Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity. Beck describes himself as identifying with Howard Beale, the mad “television prophet” of the 1976 film Network, and particularly Beale’s most famous line, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.” [New York Times, 3/29/2009] (Media pundit Eric Boehlert calls Beck’s attempt to associate himself with Beale “nonsense,” and observes: “Beale’s unvarnished on-air rants… targeted conformity, corporate conglomerates, and the propaganda power of television.… Beale’s attacks were not political or partisan. Beck, by contrast, unleashes his anger against, and whips up dark scenarios about, the new president of the United States. Big difference.”) [Media Matters, 4/7/2009]
Apocalyptic Rhetoric - Though he insists he believes every word he says on his TV show as well as on his daily radio broadcast, Beck also calls himself a “rodeo clown” and an “entertainer” who reminds his listeners, “If you take what I say as gospel, you’re an idiot.” (Beck is a former morning show disc jockey who regularly performs stand-up comedy in shows around the country.) The Times writes that Beck “is capturing the feelings of an alienated class of Americans.” He regularly preaches against liberal politicians, hosts segments entitled “Constitution Under Attack” and “Economic Apocalypse,” and sometimes bursts into tears. [New York Times, 3/29/2009] Progressive media watchdog site Media Matters will note in a later article that Beck regularly terms President Obama a Marxist, a socialist, and/or a fascist. [Media Matters, 4/7/2009] In a recent week-long segment titled “War Games,” Beck advocated for armed citizen militias to overthrow the government (see February 20, 2009), though he later denied such advocacy. America is “on the road to socialism,” he tells his viewers, and claims, “God and religion are under attack in the US.” He recently accused the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) of setting up “concentration camps” for citizen dissenters, presumably conservatives. He has accused the Obama administration of trying to “indoctrinate… your child into community service through the federal government” [Media Matters, 3/27/2009] , says America is about to go through “depression and revolution” [Media Matters, 2/13/2009] , and, three days after the Times article is published, compares the administration’s actions to those in “the early days of Adolf Hitler.” [Media Matters, 4/1/2009] He will accuse the government of being what he calls “a heroin pusher using smiley-faced fascism to grow the nanny state.” [Media Matters, 3/31/2009]
Voice of the 'Disenfranchised' - Phil Griffin, the president of Fox News cable rival MSNBC, says of Beck: “That’s good dramatic television. That’s who Glenn Beck is.” Tom Rosenstiel, the director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, says: “There are absolutely historical precedents for what is happening with Beck. There was a lot of radio evangelism during the Depression. People were frustrated and frightened. There are a lot of scary parallels now.” Conservative writer David Frum calls Beck’s success “a product of the collapse of conservatism as an organized political force, and the rise of conservatism as an alienated cultural sensibility.” Beck’s shows are “for people who feel they belong to an embattled minority that is disenfranchised and cut off,” Frum adds. Fox News senior vice president Joel Cheatwood says Beck’s audience is “somewhat disenfranchised,” and adds, “[I]t’s a huge audience.” Author and media professor Jeffrey Jones says that Beck engages in “inciting rhetoric. People hear their values are under attack and they get worried. It becomes an opportunity for them to stand up and do something.” Beck denies inciting attacks on the government or any other citizens, saying that those “who are spreading the garbage that I’m stirring up a revolution haven’t watched the show.” Fellow talk show host Bill Maher recently accused Beck of producing “the same kind of talking” that led Timothy McVeigh to bomb a federal building in 1995 (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995); Beck responded by saying in part: “Let me be clear. If someone tries to harm another person in the name of the Constitution or the ‘truth’ behind 9/11 or anything else, they are just as dangerous and crazy as those we don’t seem to recognize anymore, who kill in the name of Allah.” [New York Times, 3/29/2009] (The Times does not publish Beck’s next line: “There are enemies both foreign and domestic in America tonight. Call it fearmongering or call it the truth.”) [Media Matters, 4/7/2009] He describes himself as having to “be… the guy I don’t want to be—the guy saying things that are sometimes pretty scary, but nobody else is willing to say them.” Currently Beck is the voice of the “We Surround Them” movement (see March 3, 2009) and is part of the “Tea Party” or “teabaggers” civil protest project (see April 8, 2009). [New York Times, 3/29/2009]

Entity Tags: Glenn Beck, David Frum, Eric Boehlert, Tom Rosenstiel, Bill Maher, New York Times, Jeffrey Jones, Phil Griffin, Fox News, Media Matters, Joel Cheatwood

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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