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Domestic Propaganda and the News Media

Project: Domestic Propaganda and the News Media
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Page 6 of 20 (1903 events)
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National Public Radio (NPR) host Mike Pesca interviews New York media critic Michael Wolff regarding the storm of media hype and controversy surrounding the story of Private Jessica Lynch, particularly the recent television movie (see November 10, 2003) and biography (see November 11, 2003). Pesca notes: “[H]ere’s our sources on the Jessica Lynch story: an Iraqi doctor, Lynch herself, who has no memory of the ordeal, unnamed Pentagon sources, a TV movie of the week, and Rick Bragg, who left the New York Times for journalistic malfeasance. It’s like a multimedia Rashomon” (referring to the iconic Japanese film that retells a murder from multiple viewpoints, with no one version being completely factual). Wolff says there is reason to doubt virtually all of those sources: “[T]here is at this point reason to distrust and doubt everybody, because the heroine of this story also disputes everything that’s been said.” Wolff calls the story “a symbol of the Iraq war, [and] the Iraq war may be the symbol of the current media age.… [F]rom the very first moment it was clear that this story was going to be retailed essentially for political purposes, and it hasn’t moved off of that, although it has moved now into commercial purposes. We’ve gone from the Pentagon propaganda machine into the multimedia cross-platform propaganda machine.… I mean, everybody knows that this is not a real story. Nevertheless, we’re selling it all over the place.… I mean, the person right at the center of this story disputes every characterization of herself and of the events that took place. Nonetheless, we roll on. She gets her book deals. It’s as though there’s a parallel reality going here. Yeah, we know that the truth is over there, and that’s different from the stories that were being told, but we enjoy the stories that are being told so let’s forget about the truth.” Wolff is careful not to blame Lynch herself for the media frenzy surrounding her story: As a matter of fact, not only does she seem not to deserve the blame here, but every time she speaks, she says, ‘Oh, no, it didn’t happen that way.’ And no one seems to care.” [National Public Radio, 11/13/2003]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Jessica Lynch, Michael Wolff, Mike Pesca, Rick Bragg

Category Tags: Lynch Disinfomation, Media Complicity, Pentagon Propaganda Campaigns, Media Coverage of Iraq War

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 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John Eckenrode, Joseph C. Wilson, NBC News, Tim Russert, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Plame-Niger Controversy, White House Involvement

President Bush holding the fake turkey.President Bush holding the fake turkey. [Source: AP / Anja Niedringhaus]President Bush makes a surprise visit to Iraq to have a carefully staged “Thanksgiving dinner with the troops” at the Baghdad International Airport. [White House, 11/27/2003] Most of the 600 or so troops present for the meal are from the Army’s 1st Armored Division and 82nd Airborne units. For security reasons, Bush never leaves the airport, and leaves shortly after the meal. Bush’s entrance is carefully choreographed, with Coalition Provisional Authority head Paul Bremer telling the gathered troops that the most senior official present should read Bush’s Thanksgiving proclamation. Then, turning to a curtained-off area and asking, “Is there anybody back there who’s more senior than us?” Bush enters the area wearing military fatigues. [USA Today, 11/27/2003]
Fake Turkey - Bush poses with a lovely, huge, golden-brown turkey. The turkey is not real, but merely a prop prepared by the food service arm of Kellogg, Brown and Root. The troops actually eat turkey and vegetables from a cafeteria-style steam tray. White House officials later claim not to have known about the enormous decorative bird, and say that Bush’s memorable photo-op of him holding the fake turkey was an impromptu moment that was not planned in advance. Military sources later say that such decorative turkeys are standard features of holiday “chow lines.” [CBS News, 11/27/2003]
Some Soldiers Denied Dinner - Not all the soldiers at the airport are able to eat with the president, or in fact are able to eat at all. In December, Sergeant Loren Russell writes in a letter to Stars & Stripes that soldiers from his unit were denied entrance to the Bob Hope Dining Facility, where Thanksgiving dinner was being served, “because they were in the wrong unit.” Russell writes that his soldiers “understand that President Bush ate there and that upgraded security was required. But why were only certain units turned away? Why wasn’t there a special meal for President Bush and that unit in the new dance hall adjoining the 1st Armored Division’s band building? And all of this happened on Thanksgiving, the best meal of the year when soldiers get a taste of home cooking.” [Stars and Stripes, 1/27/2007]
Secret Flight - The trip to Iraq is conducted under conditions of extreme secrecy; only Laura Bush and a very few top officials are told of the planned visit. Had word leaked of the trip, it would have been canceled. Most White House officials and reporters are told that Bush would spend the holiday at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. Instead, Bush, accompanied by National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, is driven away in an unmarked vehicle. At a nearby airport, he boards Air Force One from the back stairs instead of the usual front entrance. After stopping at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, where the entourage picks up a few aides, and four reporters and one camera crew sworn to secrecy, the aircraft departs for Iraq. In all, the press corps traveling with the president totals five reporters, five photographers, a TV producer, and a two-person camera crew. All the media members in the group had agreed to surrender their cell phones and wireless e-mail devices beforehand in order to keep them from surreptitiously reporting on the impending trip. [USA Today, 11/27/2003; PressThink, 12/3/2003; Associated Press, 6/14/2006]
Public Relations Effort - According to New York Times columnist and media reporter Frank Rich, the trip was set in motion by the White House’s public relations team and its desire to chase the Chinook tragedy (see November 2, 2003 and November 2, 2003) off the front pages. [Rich, 2006, pp. 110] White House officials say that Bush had been talking about such a visit for weeks, and the final decision to go was reached the day before in a conference call between Bush and Vice President Cheney. [USA Today, 11/27/2003] Journalism professor Jay Rosen later observes that the willing participation of reporters in this kind of event destroys the boundaries between reporters and the subjects they cover. Rosen will write: “The whole notion of the trip as an independently existing thing that could be ‘covered’ is transparently false, as the White House warning to journalists demonstrates. If word leaked out, the trip was to be canceled—it would no longer exist—and the airplane would turn around and head back to Washington. That does not mean the trip was illegitimate to undertake or to treat as news; but it does mean that its potential legitimacy as news event lies outside the logic of ‘things happen and we cover them’ or ‘the president took decisive action and the press reported it.’ Here, the press took action and it was equally decisive. It agreed, first, to go along and record the scene and then to keep the flight a secret; and these decisions by journalists were not incidental to Bush’s decision to go but integral to it. Would the trip have made sense, would the danger have been justified, if reporters and camera crews were not taken along? The answer is clearly no. But this means the press is part of the presidency, an observation that, while true enough, makes it harder to cover the presidency as an independently existing thing.” [PressThink, 12/3/2003]
Negative Reactions - An Army nurse at the American hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, which receives and treats wounded US troops coming from Iraq and Afghanistan, has a different take on Bush’s visit. In an e-mail to the Boston Globe, the nurse, who does not wish her name made public, will write: “My ‘Bush Thanksgiving’ was a little different.… I spent it at the hospital taking care of a young West Point lieutenant wounded in Iraq. He had stabilization of his injuries in Iraq and then two long surgeries here for multiple injuries; he’s just now stable enough to send back to the USA. After a few bites of dinner I let him sleep, and then cried with him as he woke up from a nightmare. When he pressed his fists into his eyes and rocked his head back and forth he looked like a little boy. They all do, all 19 on the ward that day, some missing limbs, eyes, or worse.… It’s too bad Mr. Bush didn’t add us to his holiday agenda. The men said the same, but you’ll never read that in the paper. Mr. President would rather lift fake turkeys for photo ops, it seems. Maybe because my patients wouldn’t make very pleasant photos… most don’t look all that great, and the ones with facial wounds and external fixation devices look downright scary. And a heck of a lot of them can’t talk, anyway, and some never will talk again.… Well, this is probably more than you want to know, but there’s no spin on this one. It’s pure carnage.… Like all wars, the ‘shock and awe’ eventually trickles down to blood and death. But you won’t see that. I do, every single day.” Globe columnist Joan Vennochi will add: “How much of this is enough for the president of the United States? It depends whether the goal is public relations for a presidential campaign or public acknowledgment of the consequences of war—the human consequences. They are convalescing in places like Landstuhl.” [Boston Globe, 12/11/2003] In 2007, author Annia Ciezadlo will recall her Thanksgiving in Baghdad during the same time. Ciezadlo, who spent the holiday with an Iraqi family, will write: “We saw pictures of him later, serving Thanksgiving dinner to American soldiers, posing like a waiter with a great big [turkey] on a tray. He never left the base. ‘You are defeating the terrorists here in Iraq,’ he told the troops, ‘so we don’t have to face them in our own country.’ An Iraqi friend once told me it was that line about fighting in Iraq to make America safer that turned his adoration of Mr. Bush into hatred.” [New York Times, 11/27/2007]

Entity Tags: Dan Bartlett, Frank Rich, George W. Bush, Annia Ciezadlo, Kellogg, Brown and Root, Condoleezza Rice, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of the Army, Loren Russell, Laura Bush, Jay Rosen, L. Paul Bremer

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, 2004 Elections

Category Tags: White House Involvement, Marketing and Public Relations, Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War

New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman predicts, “The next six months in Iraq—which will determine the prospects for democracy-building there—are the most important six months in US foreign policy in a long, long time.” Friedman will continue predicting a resolution of the Iraq situation in “the next six months” until at least May 2006 (see May 6-11, 2006). [New York Times, 11/30/2003; Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, 5/16/2006]

Entity Tags: Thomas Friedman, New York Times

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: 'Friedman Unit', Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War

Justice Department spokesman Mark Corallo says: “This country has become a battlefield, and [terrorists] will kill us anywhere they can. All you have to do is go to lower Manhattan and see the hole in the ground.” [Knight Ridder, 12/29/2003]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Mark Corallo

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: White House Involvement

Judith Regan (left) and Roger Ailes.Judith Regan (left) and Roger Ailes. [Source: Business Insider]Roger Ailes, a powerful Republican campaign consultant (see 1968, January 25, 1988, and September 21 - October 4, 1988) and the founder and chairman of Fox News (see October 7, 1996), becomes embroiled in a legal conflict involving former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik and his mistress, Judith Regan, a book editor for another arm of Fox News’s parent company News Corporation (NewsCorp). Ailes learns that Kerik has commandeered an apartment overlooking the site of the devastated World Trade Center, intended for the use of rescue and recovery workers, as a “love nest” for his trysts with Regan. Ailes is a close friend and political ally of former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who recommended Kerik to head the Department of Homeland Security. Kerik is already being pilloried in the press for a number of other ethical and perhaps even criminal activities, and is being vetted for the DHS slot. Ailes and Giuliani do not want the Kerik-Regan affair, and the commandeered apartment, to come to the public’s notice. Court documents later say that Ailes “told Regan that he believed she had information about Kerik that, if disclosed, would harm Giuliani’s presidential campaign.” Ailes “advised Regan to lie to, and to withhold information from, [federal] investigators concerning Kerik.” The attempted cover-up will later be brought to light when NewsCorp fires Regan in 2006, and she brings a wrongful-termination suit that secures a $10.75 million settlement. Regan will not identify Ailes by name, only as a “senior executive” for NewsCorp, but other documents accidentally made public will reveal Ailes’s identity. Reportedly, Regan has her telephone conversations with Ailes on tape. NewsCorp will later claim that Regan has sent it a letter stating that “Mr. Ailes did not intend to influence her with respect to a government investigation.” Regan’s lawyer will say that NewsCorp’s claim does not reflect the entirety of Regan’s letter. Kerik himself will withdraw his name from consideration, and will later be sentenced to four years in prison for tax fraud. [New Republic, 2/24/2011; New York Daily News, 2/24/2011; New York Times, 2/25/2011; New York Magazine, 5/22/2011]

Entity Tags: Fox News, Bernard Kerik, Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani, News Corporation, US Department of Homeland Security, Roger Ailes, Judith Regan

Category Tags: Fox News

Columnist Robert Novak, who outed Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert CIA status in a column in July 2003 (see July 14, 2003), is questioned by Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor investigating the Plame Wilson leak (see December 30, 2003). Novak has already discussed some of his knowledge of Plame Wilson’s covert CIA status with FBI investigators (see October 7, 2003). As with the FBI session, the Fitzgerald interview takes place at the law offices of Swidler Berlin, the firm representing Novak. Fitzgerald comes to the interview with waivers (see January 2-5, 2004) from Novak’s sources (see January 12, 2004) for his column outing Plame Wilson—White House political strategist Karl Rove and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see July 8, 2003), as well as a waiver from CIA official Bill Harlow, who asked Novak not to divulge Plame Wilson’s identity when Novak called him with the information from his other sources that Plame Wilson was a CIA official (see Before July 14, 2003). Novak is uncomfortable in accepting that Fitzgerald’s waivers make it ethically acceptable for him to disclose the three men as his sources, but his lawyer, James Hamilton, says he will almost certainly lose a court challenge as to their propriety. Novak will later write, “I answered questions using the names of Rove, Harlow, and my primary source,” which at the time of his writing had not yet been revealed as Armitage. [Human Events, 7/12/2006] Novak will be questioned again several weeks later (see February 5, 2004).

Entity Tags: Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Bill Harlow, James Hamilton, Karl C. Rove, Robert Novak, Valerie Plame Wilson, Swidler Berlin, Richard Armitage

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Plame-Niger Controversy, White House Involvement, Media Complicity, Conservative Media Pundits

Vice President Dick Cheney seems to embrace the characterization of him as an enigmatic backroom operator. “Am I the evil genius in the corner that nobody ever sees come out of his hole?” he asks a reporter rhetorically. “It’s a nice way to operate, actually.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 314]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Category Tags: White House Involvement

Dexter Filkins.Dexter Filkins. [Source: New York Times]The New York Times publishes a front page story blaming Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the supposed leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, for many troubles in the Iraq war. However, it will later be revealed that the contents in the article were a hoax or exaggeration by a US military propaganda operation. The article, written by Dexter Filkins, claims that in January 2004, US forces in Iraq intercepted a letter written by al-Zarqawi to the “inner circle” of al-Qaeda, claiming that the best way to defeat the US in Iraq is to, in essence, begin a “sectarian war” in that country. The letter reportedly states that al-Qaeda, a Sunni network, should attack the Shi’a population of Iraq: “It is the only way to prolong the duration of the fight between the infidels and us. If we succeed in dragging them into a sectarian war, this will awaken the sleepy Sunnis.” In the letter, al-Zarqawi boasts of his role in many suicide bombings in Iraq. The article also notes that this letter would “constitute the strongest evidence to date of contacts between extremists in Iraq and al-Qaeda.” [New York Times, 2/9/2004; Independent, 2/11/2008] US General Mark Kimmitt says later the same day: “We believe the report and the document is credible, and we take the report seriously.… It is clearly a plan on the part of outsiders to come in to this country and spark civil war, create sectarian violence, try to expose fissures in this society.” The story is quickly published around the world. [Independent, 2/11/2008]
Reporter Skeptical; Article Does Not Reflect Doubts - Filkins will later say he was skeptical about the document’s authenticity when he wrote the story and remains skeptical of it. [Washington Post, 4/10/2006] However, the article and follow up articles in the New York Times cast no doubt on the letter’s authenticity, except for one sentence in the original article mentioning the possibility the letter could have been “written by some other insurgent.”
Skepticism from Other News Outlets - However, some scattered accounts elsewhere at the time are more critical. For instance, a few days later, Newsweek writes: “Given the Bush administration’s record peddling bad intelligence and worse innuendo, you’ve got to wonder if this letter is a total fake. How do we know the text is genuine? How was it obtained? By whom? And when? And how do we know it’s from al-Zarqawi? We don’t.” [Editor & Publisher, 4/10/2006] In the letter, al-Zarqawi says that if success does not come soon: “We can pack up and leave and look for another land, just like what has happened in so many lands of jihad. Our enemy is growing stronger day after day, and its intelligence information increases. By god, this is suffocation!” Counterpunch notes this and skeptically comments, “If you were Karl Rove, you couldn’t design a better scenario to validate the administration’s slant on the war than this.” It is also noted that this article follows a dubious pattern of New York Times reporting on Iraq: “cultivate a ‘highly placed inside source,’ take whatever this person says and report it verbatim on the front page above the fold.” [CounterPunch, 2/26/2004]
Systematic Propaganda Campaign - Later in 2004, the Telegraph will report, “Senior diplomats in Baghdad claim that the letter was almost certainly a hoax” and that the US is systematically buying extremely dubious intelligence that exaggerates al-Zarqawi’s role in Iraq (see October 4, 2004). [Daily Telegraph, 10/4/2004] In 2006, a number of classified documents will be leaked to the Washington Post, showing the US military has a propaganda campaign to exaggerate the role of al-Zarqawi in Iraq (see April 10, 2006). One document mentions the “selective leak” of this letter to Filkins as part of this campaign. [Washington Post, 4/10/2006]
Media Unquestioning in its Acceptance - Editor and Publisher will later examine the media coverage of this letter, and note that most publications reported on it unquestioningly, “So clearly, the leak to Filkins worked.” Ironically, Reuters at the time quotes an “amazed” US official who says, “We couldn’t make this up if we tried.” [Editor & Publisher, 4/10/2006]

Entity Tags: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, New York Times, Dexter Filkins, Al-Qaeda, Mark Kimmitt

Timeline Tags: US Military, Complete 911 Timeline, Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Pentagon Propaganda Campaigns, Media Coverage of Iraq War

New York Times reporter Judith Miller is interviewed for an article in the New York Review of Books. Miller wrote a series of stories promoting intelligence that would justify an invasion of Iraq; all the content of these stories were later found to be false. Miller says: “The fact that the United States so far hasn’t found WMD in Iraq is deeply disturbing. It raises real questions about how good our intelligence was. To beat up on the messenger is to miss the point.” She says that as an investigative reporter dealing with intelligence: “[M]y job isn’t to assess the government’s information and be an independent intelligence analyst myself. My job is to tell readers of the New York Times what the government thought about Iraq’s arsenal.” Michael Massing, author of the New York Review of Books’ story, will comment, “Many journalists would disagree with this; instead, they would consider offering an independent evaluation of official claims one of their chief responsibilities.” [New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004]

Entity Tags: Judith Miller

Timeline Tags: US Military, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War

White House chief of staff Lewis Libby speaks with NBC bureau chief and Meet the Press host Tim Russert. Russert has willingly testified to the FBI concerning his knowledge of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see November 24, 2003), but will resist testifying to the grand jury investigating the leak (see May 13-20, 2004 and June 2004). According to his own subsequent testimony before the grand jury (see March 24, 2004), Libby asks if Russert is willing to discuss the matter with his lawyer, but he will testify that he does not discuss anything else of substance with Russert. It is unclear whether their conversation has anything to do with Russert’s unwillingness to testify before the grand jury. [United States District Court for the District of Columbia, 3/24/2004 pdf file; Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Tim Russert, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Plame-Niger Controversy, White House Involvement, Media Complicity

Sam Francis, a white supremacist and syndicated columnist (see September 1995), excoriates President Bush’s “pretense” of support for a constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriage. Bush, Francis writes, “fooled most conservatives once in 2000. What he is doing now is trying to fool them again.” Republicans will never force any such amendment through, Francis writes, nor do they truly wish to. “Why do conservatives propose them or endorse them?” he asks. “Republicans peddle this constant stream of amendments because they know very well they will never go anywhere, that they will never be called on to vote on them or work for them, and that in the meantime the grassroots constituents who demand them will be placated by the simple rhetoric that ‘endorses’ or supports them. Amending the Constitution to correct flaws conservative politicians are unwilling to confront in serious ways is a cheap and easy way to make everybody happy and make sure nothing is done.” Francis is staunchly in favor of such an amendment, writing: “In the case of homosexual ‘marriages,’ I have no problem in refusing to recognize them as real or legal. Persons of the same sex can no more marry each other than dogs and cats can become congressmen, but since the whole purpose of the movement for ‘gay marriage’ is to subvert cultural institutions and normalize the abnormal, there’s not much point in arguing about it. Either you get it and oppose ‘gay marriage’ or you don’t and support it.” Instead of trying and failing to amend the Constitution, Francis writes that Congress should use the Constitution to limit the powers of the federal courts and thereby “forbid the [Supreme] Court even to hear, much less rule on, let us say, cases involving the marriage of persons of the same sex. Or cases involving capital punishment. Or cases involving flag burning. Or cases involving whatever the Congress decides to forbid the Nameless Nine from spending their vast intellectual resources and spiritual energies upon. With a stroke of the Congressional pen, ‘judicial activism’ could be ended, and it could have been ended decades ago, had conservatives been at all serious about what they claim to be serious about. If Congress ever did use its powers to curtail judicial misrule, the judges would get the message, and those who didn’t would find themselves in trouble.” Francis’s columns are provided to a national audience by Creators Syndicate. [VDare (.com), 3/1/2004]

Entity Tags: Sam Francis, George W. Bush

Category Tags: Gender-Based Rhetoric, Conservative Media Pundits

Robert Luskin, the lawyer for White House political strategist Karl Rove, has his client search White House records immediately after speaking with reporter Viveca Novak (see March 1, 2004). Luskin wants Rove to find any potential documentation of a July 2003 conversation between himself and Cooper. Rove finds an e-mail message from himself to Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley recounting the conversation between himself and Cooper (see After 11:07 a.m. July 11, 2003). Rove will later admit to the grand jury hearing evidence in the investigation that he had indeed spoken to Cooper about Plame Wilson (see October 15, 2004 and October 14, 2005). [New York Times, 12/2/2005; CounterPunch, 12/9/2005] (The Washington Post will later report that it was Luskin, not Rove, who actually found the e-mail, and that Luskin first shared it with Rove and then with special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald. [Washington Post, 12/3/2005] )

Entity Tags: Robert Luskin, Karl C. Rove, Bush administration (43), Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Stephen J. Hadley, Viveca Novak

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Plame-Niger Controversy, White House Involvement

The lawyer for White House official Karl Rove, Robert Luskin, speaks with Time magazine reporter Viveca Novak, about the Plame Wilson leak investigation. Novak informs Luskin that a colleague of hers at Time, Matthew Cooper, may have learned Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA identity from Rove (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). [New York Times, 12/2/2005] According to Novak’s later recollection, Luskin says something along the lines of: “Karl doesn’t have a Cooper problem. He was not a source for Matt.” Novak isn’t convinced by Luskin’s words, and asks: “Are you sure about that? That’s not what I hear around Time.” Luskin, she will recall, “looked surprised and very serious,” and says, “There’s nothing in the phone logs,” referring to the White House telephone logs from July 2003, when Rove discussed Plame Wilson’s identity with Cooper, and when Cooper and other Time reporters published stories regarding the White House’s attempts to damage the credibility of Plame Wilson’s husband, Joseph Wilson (see July 17, 2003). Novak later notes that Cooper called Rove through the White House switchboard, which may explain the lack of phone logs. Novak is surprised at Luskin’s response. “I had been pushing back against what I thought was his attempt to lead me astray,” she will later write. “I hadn’t believed that I was disclosing anything he didn’t already know. Maybe this was a feint. Maybe his client was lying to him.” Novak immediately begins wishing she had not said anything to Luskin. Reporters don’t, as a rule, tip off people involved in investigations. “Thank you,” Luskin says as he walks her to her car. “This is important.” [Time, 12/11/2005] In 2005, investigative reporter Jason Leopold will posit that Novak may have been trying to convince Luskin that she knew more about Cooper’s source than she did. According to Leopold, Novak is repeating a months-old rumor that Rove leaked Plame Wilson’s identity to Cooper, a rumor that has swirled throughout the Washington journalistic community. Leopold’s sources will bolster Novak’s claim that she had no intention of “tipping off” Luskin to anything. [CounterPunch, 12/9/2005] The press will later report Novak’s meeting with Luskin as taking place in the late summer or fall of 2004, and Novak will initially tell special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald that it took place in May 2004, but according to her final testimony, the meeting occurs on March 1 (see December 8, 2005). [New York Times, 12/2/2005; Time, 12/11/2005] Leopold will date the Novak-Luskin conversation to “the summer of 2004.” [CounterPunch, 12/9/2005] Upon the conclusion of his conversation with Novak, Luskin will immediately prompt Rove to begin searching for documentation of his conversation with Cooper (see March 1, 2004).

Entity Tags: Viveca Novak, Matthew Cooper, Karl C. Rove, Time magazine, Jason Leopold, Robert Luskin

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Plame-Niger Controversy, Media Complicity, White House Involvement

John Kerry speaks at a February 2004 town hall event.John Kerry speaks at a February 2004 town hall event. [Source: Jim Bourg / Reuters]At a town hall event in Florida, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry reportedly says, “I’ve met foreign leaders who can’t go out and say it all publicly, but boy, they look at you and say, you gotta win this, you gotta beat this guy [President Bush], we need a new policy, things like that.” White House officials and conservative pundits immediately attack Kerry for his remarks, with Secretary of State Colin Powell telling a Fox News audience: “I don’t know what foreign leaders Senator Kerry is talking about. It’s an easy charge, an easy assertion to make, but if he feels that’s [an] important assertion to make, he ought to list names. If he can’t list names, then perhaps he ought to find something else to talk about.” The White House issues a statement saying: “If Senator Kerry is going to say he has support from foreign leaders, he needs to be straightforward with the American people and state who they are.… Or the only conclusion one can draw is he’s making it up to attack the president.” Bush himself says, “If you’re going to make an accusation in the course of a presidential campaign, you ought to back it up with facts.” Over a week after Kerry’s remarks are published, the pool reporter who reported the original remark, Patrick Healey of the Boston Globe, reports that Kerry did not say “foreign leaders,” but “more leaders” (see March 15, 2004). The correction does little to blunt the criticism of Kerry, who does not directly challenge the assertion, but calls his choice of words “inartful.” In 2008, authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella will note: “Had this journalistic blunder created a firestorm of controversy around a Republican Party nominee, the conservative opinion leaders would have minimized the damage to their candidate by crying ‘media bias.’ The Democrats didn’t have a comparable argument in their arsenal.” [Boston Globe, 3/15/2004; Associated Press, 3/15/2004; Fox News, 3/16/2004; Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 4-5]

Entity Tags: Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Colin Powell, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Joseph N. Cappella, Patrick Healey, John Kerry

Timeline Tags: 2004 Elections

Category Tags: 2004 Elections, White House Involvement, Media Complicity

Clips of Thompson, Bush included in VNRs provided to local TV stations.Clips of Thompson, Bush included in VNRs provided to local TV stations. [Source: New York Times]New York Times reporter Robert Pear discovers that the Bush administration has employed two fake “reporters,” Karen Ryan and Alberto Garcia, who have appeared in administration-produced television “news” segments—“video news releases,” or VNRs—designed to promote the administration’s new Medicare prescription-drug policies. (Garcia primarily appeared in Spanish-language Medicare VNRs.) HHS had budgeted $124 million for the fake news segments, more than most real news organizations can provide. The segments are under investigation by the General Accounting Office (GAO) for possible violation of government statutes prohibiting the use of federal money to produce propaganda or partisan presentations. The Secretary for Health and Human Services (HHS), Tommy Thompson, appears in one of the segments, saying, “This is going to be the same Medicare system only with new benefits, more choices, more opportunities for enhanced benefits.” Several others show a crowd giving President Bush a standing ovation as he signs the new Medicare bill into law. Another segment shows a pharmacist talking to an elderly customer. The pharmacist says the new law “helps you better afford your medications,” and the customer says, “It sounds like a good idea.” The pharmacist agrees, “A very good idea.” The segments, professionally produced and ending with tag lines such as “In Washington, I’m Karen Ryan reporting,” were regularly aired by at least 50 local television news broadcasts in 40 cities around the country. The government also provides scripts that can be used by local news anchors to introduce, or “walk up,” the VNRs. One script suggested that anchors read the following: “In December, President Bush signed into law the first-ever prescription drug benefit for people with Medicare. Since then, there have been a lot of questions about how the law will help older Americans and people with disabilities. Reporter Karen Ryan helps sort through the details.” A VNR is then broadcast explaining how the new law benefits Medicare recipients.
'Infoganda' - Ryan is a freelance journalist, the administration claims, and using her for such fake news segments is perfectly acceptable. But cursory investigation reveals that she was once a freelance reporter, but has for years worked as a public relations consultant. Her most recent assignments include appearing in marketing videos and “infomercials” promoting a variety of pharmaceutical products, including the popular drugs FloMist and Excedrin. Perhaps the most telling reaction is from Comedy Central’s comedy-news program The Daily Show, where host Jon Stewart can’t seem to decide whether to be outraged or flattered by what Rich calls “government propaganda imitating his satiric art.” (Daily Show member Rob Corddry calls the HHS videos “infoganda.”) Administration officials also insist that the VNRs are real, objective news releases, but the company that produced the segments, Home Front Communications, confirms that it had hired Ryan to read a script prepared by government officials. The VNRs give a toll-free phone number for beneficiaries to call. To obtain recorded information about prescription drug benefits, the caller must speak the words, “Medicare improvement.” The Columbia Journalism Review writes, “The ‘reports’ were nothing more than a free advertisement for the legislation, posing as news.”
Legal? - GAO lawyers say that their initial investigations found that other fliers and advertisements disseminated by HHS to promote the new Medicare policies are legal, though they display “notable omissions and other weaknesses.” Administration officials claim the VNRs are also a legal, effective way to educate Medicare beneficiaries. The GAO is still investigating the VNRs. GAO investigators believe that they might violate the law in at least one aspect: misleading viewers by concealing their government origins. Federal law expressly forbids the use of federal money for “publicity or propaganda purposes” not authorized by Congress. Earlier investigations have found government-disseminated editorials and newspaper articles illegal if they did not identify themselves as coming from government officials. The GAO will find that the VNRs break two federal laws forbidding the use of federal money to produce propaganda (see May 19, 2004).
'Common Practice' - HHS spokesman Kevin Keane says the VNRs are well within legal guidelines; their only purpose, he says, is to inform citizens about changes in Medicare. “The use of video news releases is a common, routine practice in government and the private sector,” he says. “Anyone who has questions about this practice needs to do some research on modern public information tools.” Congressional Democrats disagree with Keane. “These materials are even more disturbing than the Medicare flier and advertisements,” says Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ). “The distribution of these videos is a covert attempt to manipulate the press.” Lautenberg, fellow Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA), and seven other members of Congress requested the GAO investigation. Keane is correct in one aspect: businesses have distributed VNRs to news stations as well as internally for years, and the pharmaceutical industry has been particularly successful in getting marketing videos that appear as “medical news” or “medical features” aired on local and even national news broadcasts. And government agencies have for years released informational films and videos on subjects such as teenage smoking and the dangers of using steroids. Bill Kovach, chairman of the Committee of Concerned Journalists, says HHS’s VNRs have gone far beyond what the government has previously provided. “Those to me are just the next thing to fraud,” he says. “It’s running a paid advertisement in the heart of a news program.” [New York Times, 3/15/2004; Columbia Journalism Review, 3/15/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 164]
Media Responsibility - The Columbia Journalism Review’s Bill McDermott writes: “[F]or our money, the villains here aren’t the clever flacks at HHS—they’re supposed to be masters of deception. Nope, the dunce hats go to the local TV station editors willing to slap onto the air any video that drops in over the transom.” [Columbia Journalism Review, 3/15/2004] Ryan is relatively insouciant about the controversy. “Stations are lazy,” she says. “If these things didn’t work, then the companies would stop putting them out.” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 3/20/2004]

Entity Tags: Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, US Department of Health and Human Services, Committee of Concerned Journalists, Bush administration (43), Bill McDermott, Bill Kovach, Alberto Garcia, Tommy G. Thompson, Columbia Journalism Review, Robert Pear, New York Times, Jon Stewart, Home Front Communications, George W. Bush, Karen Ryan, General Accounting Office, Kevin Keane, Frank R. Lautenberg, Rob Corddry

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations

Boston Globe reporter Patrick Healey corrects his earlier report that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry claimed “foreign leaders” were privately backing his candidacy (see March 8, 2004 and After). Healey, after reviewing the audiotape of Kerry’s remarks, now reports that Kerry did not say “foreign leaders” but said “more leaders,” likely referring to members of Congress. Healey’s correction does little to quell the heavy criticism from the White House and conservative media pundits, who are excoriating Kerry for claiming the support of foreign heads of state without naming them. [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 5]

Entity Tags: Patrick Healey, Bush administration (43), John Kerry

Timeline Tags: 2004 Elections

Category Tags: White House Involvement, Media Complicity, 2004 Elections

During a campaign stop, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry is questioned by Pennsylvania voter Cedric Brown, who demands that Kerry identify the “foreign leaders” he reportedly claimed support his candidacy (see March 8, 2004 and After). Kerry responds: “I’ve met with lots of foreign leaders, but let me just say something to you, sir. Just a minute. Just a minute,” gesturing to the audience to allow Brown to continue speaking. “I’m not going to betray a private conversation with anybody and get some leader—they have to deal with this administration” (see March 15, 2004). Brown then accuses Kerry of colluding with those unnamed foreign leaders to “overthrow” the Bush presidency. The exchange becomes somewhat heated, with Brown calling Kerry a “liar” and asks if he secretly met with the dictator of North Korea, Kim Jong Il, an assertion advanced by conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh (see March 17, 2004). The exchange lasts for about eight minutes. In 2008, authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella will perform an in-depth analysis of the media coverage of the Kerry-Brown exchange, and determine that while the mainstream media (ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, among others) generally cover the exchange by reporting both sides fairly evenly (ABC’s coverage tilts towards favoring Kerry’s point of view while CBS’s gives Bush the advantage—see March 15, 2004), the conservative media they analyze (Limbaugh, Fox News, Fox’s Hannity & Colmes, and the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page) report the story from Brown’s viewpoint, and work to both denigrate Kerry and marginalize mainstream reporting. [Boston Globe, 3/15/2004; New York Times, 3/15/2004; Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 5-6]

Entity Tags: Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Bush administration (43), Cedric Brown, John Kerry, Joseph N. Cappella, Rush Limbaugh, Kim Jong Il

Timeline Tags: 2004 Elections

Category Tags: White House Involvement, Media Complicity, 2004 Elections, Fox News

A Wall Street Journal editorial, responding to reports that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry has accepted private endorsements from unnamed foreign leaders (see March 8, 2004 and After), accuses Kerry of making private, secret deals with those leaders. “Who are these foreign leaders, and what is Mr. Kerry privately saying that makes them so enthusiastic about his candidacy?” it asks. “What ‘new policy’ is he sharing with them that he isn’t sharing with Americans?” [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 17]

Entity Tags: Wall Street Journal, John Kerry

Timeline Tags: 2004 Elections

Category Tags: 2004 Elections, Media Complicity

ABC News and Fox News are the only major news networks to broadcast a “hard news” report on the day’s exchange between Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry and voter Cedric Brown (see March 15, 2004 and After).
CBS: Advantage Bush - CBS gives a brief synopsis of the exchange; neither NBC nor CNN devote much air time to the story. CBS anchor Dan Rather sums up the exchange by providing a brief overview of the controversy surrounding Kerry’s supposed claim of unnamed “foreign leaders” supporting his bid for the presidency (see March 8, 2004 and After and March 15, 2004) and the Bush campaign’s implication that Kerry is lying; the Kerry campaign’s response; and White House spokesman Scott McClellan’s insistence that Kerry either “name names” or admit to “making it up.” In 2008, authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella will write, “By sandwiching the Kerry perspective between an opening and closing statement focused on the Bush perspective, the CBS piece creates a net advantage for the Republicans.”
ABC: Advantage Kerry - The ABC report, by reporter Linda Douglass, goes further in asking about the Bush campaign’s motives in attacking Kerry, and asks if the Bush campaign is not trying to deflect attention from reports about Bush administration misrepresentations about the true costs of its Medicare plan (see June 2003). ABC anchor Elizabeth Varga opens by noting the Bush campaign’s “extraordinary” attack on Kerry’s “credibility,” leading into Douglass’s report, which summarizes the “foreign leaders” controversy, reports the Kerry-Brown exchange, observes that the Kerry campaign is “sidestep[ping]” the accusations that he is lying about the foreign leaders claim, and notes that Kerry accuses the Bush campaign of trying to divert attention from the Medicare controversy. Douglass concludes, “Seven months before the election, the campaign seems to be all about credibility.”
Fox News: Heavy Attack against Kerry - Fox News anchor Brit Hume begins his report by saying, “John Kerry still won’t say who those foreign leaders were, whom he claims are back—who he claims are backing him for president.” The Fox report, by Carl Cameron, begins by claiming Kerry is being “[b]attered for refusing to name foreign leaders that he claims want President Bush defeated,” says Kerry is trying to “get back on offense” by attacking the Bush administration’s failure to fully fund firefighters (an attack “few Americans believe,” Cameron asserts), and notes that Bush defenders accuse Kerry of “voting against the troops” by opposing the $87 billion to stabilize and complete the post-Saddam Iraq occupation. Cameron then quotes unnamed Republicans as calling Kerry an “international man of mystery,” a disparaging comparison to the Austin Powers movie satire, “for his various un-backed-up charges” about the foreign leaders’ support. Cameron ends the report by playing a snippet from the Kerry-Brown exchange where Kerry demanded Brown identify himself as a “registered Republican” (he does not air Brown’s response where he admits to being a Bush supporter) and with the White House’s assertion that “Kerry is making it up to attack the president.” Fox twice has Brown appear as a guest on its news broadcasts. In one, Brown says Kerry “didn’t appear to be honest” during their conversation, says, “I think Senator Kerry betrayed our country,” and calls for a congressional investigation into Kerry’s supposed claim of having “secret” deals for foreign leaders’ backing.
Television Coverage Analysis - Authors Jamieson and Cappella will write: “The strategic frames of Fox and ABC differ. On Fox, Kerry is cast as ‘battered’ and on the strategic defensive (‘Kerry tried to get back on offense and tried to turn the tables on his inquisitors,’) [emphasis added by authors]. By contrasts, ABC situates Kerry as a contender who is ‘determined not to give ground on the war over who is more truthful.’ On Fox, Kerry’s attack is portrayed as an attempt to ‘get back on offense,’ whereas the Bush response is portrayed as motivated by outrage.” Fox “focuses on Kerry’s credibility, while ABC centers on charges and countercharges about the relative truthfulness of Bush and Kerry.” Douglass attributes claims of truth or falsity to the respective campaigns, but Cameron makes blanket assertions—unattributed value judgments—about Kerry’s supposed dishonesty.
Print Media - The print media shows much of the same dichotomy in covering the Kerry-Brown exchange as do ABC and Fox. The Washington Post gives Brown a chance to again accuse Kerry of lying, but calls him “a heckler… who interrupted Kerry’s comments on health care, education and the economy to raise questions about the assertion of foreign endorsements.” The Los Angeles Times describes Brown as “abruptly” shouting over Kerry, and, when the audience tries to shout Brown down, shows Kerry asking the audience to allow Brown to speak. In these and other accounts, Jamieson and Cappella will note, “Kerry’s questioning of the questioner is set in the context of Brown’s interruption, inflammatory charges… and verbal attacks on Kerry.” On the other hand, the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page joins Fox News in ignoring Brown’s initial interruption and verbal assault on Kerry (see March 15, 2004), and instead focuses on what the Journal’s James Taranto calls “Kerry’s thuggish interrogation of the voter.” Taranto also directs his readers to coverage by Fox News and Limbaugh, who himself accuses Kerry of “browbeating” Brown.
Media Strategies to Denigrate Kerry - Jamieson and Cappella will write, “Specifically taken together, [Rush] Limbaugh, [Sean] Hannity, and the Wall Street Journal’s opinion pages marshaled four strategies to marginalize Kerry and undercut his perceived acceptability as a candidate for president: extreme hypotheticals [i.e. Kerry’s supposed ‘secret meeting’ with North Korea’s Kim Jong-il—see March 17, 2004 ], ridicule, challenges to character, and association with strong negative emotion.” Fox News and the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, for example, characterize Kerry’s response to Brown as “yelling” and “thuggish,” while other media outlets report Kerry’s response as generally restrained and civil, and Brown as the one shouting and angry. [Boston Globe, 3/15/2004; Los Angeles Times, 3/15/2004; Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 5-17]

Entity Tags: Elizabeth Varga, Cedric Brown, CBS News, Brit Hume, ABC News, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Carl Cameron, Joseph N. Cappella, John Kerry, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Linda Douglass, James Taranto, Scott McClellan, Fox News

Timeline Tags: 2004 Elections

Category Tags: 2004 Elections, White House Involvement, Conservative Media Pundits, Media Complicity, Fox News

Vice President Dick Cheney weighs in on on the controversy surrounding Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry’s supposed acceptance of private endorsements from unnamed foreign leaders (see March 8, 2004 and After). At an Arizona fundraiser, Cheney says: “[I]t is our business when a candidate for president claims the political endorsement of foreign leaders. At the very least, we have a right to know what he is saying to them that makes them so supportive of his candidacy.” [Fox News, 3/16/2004; Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 18-19]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Kerry

Timeline Tags: 2004 Elections

Category Tags: 2004 Elections, White House Involvement, Media Complicity

Conservative talk radio host Rush Limbaugh joins the Wall Street Journal in demanding that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry name the foreign leaders who have supposedly secretly endorsed his candidacy (see March 8, 2004 and After, March 15, 2004, and March 15, 2004). Limbaugh goes further than the Journal by stating that he believes Kerry’s foreign endorsers are enemy heads of state. “[L]et’s name some names,” he says. “Bashar Assad in Syria, Kim Jong Il in North Korea.” In 2008, authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella will write: “The assertion was ridiculous on its face, and Limbaugh undoubtedly knew it was. Underlying Limbaugh’s trope is the assumption that any leader who would criticize US policy must be an enemy of the country.” Jamieson and Cappella will extend their argument by writing: “Importantly, introduction of the names of villainous foreign leaders exemplifies a rhetorical function that Limbaugh and the conservative opinion hosts serve for the Republican Party: expanding the range of attack by marking out extreme positions that by comparisons make the official position of the Republican candidate or party leaders seem moderate. At the same time, if some in Limbaugh’s audience take the allegation of actual talks with heads of outlaw states serious, as [conservative voter Cedric] Brown appeared to (see March 15, 2004 and After), then the association reinforces, if it does not actively shape, that person’s view that Kerry’s assumptions are extreme and disqualify him from serious consideration as a presidential contender.” [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 19]

Entity Tags: John Kerry, Bashar Assad, Cedric Brown, Wall Street Journal, Rush Limbaugh, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Kim Jong Il, Joseph N. Cappella

Timeline Tags: 2004 Elections

Category Tags: 2004 Elections, Conservative Media Pundits, Media Complicity

At a conference in Berkeley, California, examining the media’s approach to the Iraq war, New York Times Baghdad Bureau chief John Burns says, “We failed the American public by being insufficiently critical about elements of the administration’s plan to go to war.” Other journalists at the conference concur. For instance, Los Angeles Times syndicated columnist Robert Scheer says: “This has been the most shameful era of American media. The media has been sucker-punched completely by this administration.” [Daily Californian, 3/18/2004] However, such sentiments are rarely covered in major newspapers. For instance, Burns makes no similar comments in the New York Times.

Entity Tags: John Burns, Robert Scheer

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Category Tags: Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Media Opposition

A media firestorm follows the previous day’s appearance by former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke on CBS’s 60 Minutes (see March 21, 2004). In that interview and in his upcoming book, Against All Enemies, Clarke is frank about the administration’s stubborn insistence on tying Iraq to the 9/11 attacks and using those attacks to justify a war it had already begun planning (see Between March 2001 and May 2001). Clarke also gives incendiary information about the repeated warnings Bush and other officials had received about the imminent attacks, warnings which were roundly ignored (see Between August 6 and September 11, 2001 and September 4, 2001). White House communications director Dan Bartlett calls Clarke’s charges “baseless,” and “politically motivated,” without giving any evidence of any such political loyalties or motivations Clarke may have. Clarke refuses to retreat, and reiterates his claims on today’s morning talk shows (see March 22, 2004); the White House sends National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice onto the same shows to refute Clarke. [Rich, 2006, pp. 114-119]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Dan Bartlett, Richard A. Clarke, Condoleezza Rice

Category Tags: White House Involvement

One of the slides in President Bush’s presentation during the evening’s entertainment.One of the slides in President Bush’s presentation during the evening’s entertainment. [Source: Nicholas Roberts / Getty Images]President Bush, the guest of honor at the annual Radio and Television News Correspondents Association black-tie dinner, shows a slide show for his portion of the evening’s entertainment. As is the tradition of the dinner, powerful lawmakers and media figures poke fun at themselves and the issues of the day, usually with little political fallout. But many are offended by Bush’s humor in the slide show. One picture shows Bush looking under a piece of furniture in the Oval Office, with his accompanying remark, “Those weapons of mass destruction have got to be here somewhere.” A second slide shows him looking in the corner of a room, and the voiceover says, “No, no weapons over there.” A third picture has him leaning over and saying, “Maybe under here?” While most participants at the dinner laugh appreciatively, many others are offended, seeing Bush as making light of the rationale for a war that has led to the death of almost 600 American soldiers by this time. [BBC, 3/26/2004; Associated Press, 3/26/2004] Bush’s humor draws an onslaught of criticism from Democrats, soldiers, and the families of US soldiers slain in Iraq (see March 25, 2004 and March 25, 2004).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Radio and Television News Correspondents Association

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: White House Involvement, Media Coverage of Iraq War

David Corn.David Corn. [Source: The Nation]Progressive author and columnist David Corn writes of his reaction to President Bush’s jokes about missing WMD during a recent black-tie dinner thrown by the media industry (see March 24, 2004). Corn writes that he recoiled in shock at the humor of Bush’s slide show, which featured him looking for “those weapons of mass destruction” in the Oval Office. Corn notes that Bush, like earlier presidents, is expected to have some fun at his own expense, either in a speech or a skit or the like. Bush has entertained the assembled reporters, editors, and lawmakers with slide shows in the past, and he did the same again. Much of the presentation was what Corn called “standard fare humor,” with Bush preparing for a tough election fight while wearing a boxing robe, and poking fun at Vice President Cheney.
"I Wasn't Getting It" - But, Corn writes, when the first slide of Bush looking for WMD in the Oval Office is shown, “I grimaced.” Others laughed. The assemblage continued laughing at the second and third slides of the series. Corn did not. One of his tablemates said, “Come on, David, this is funny.” Corn writes: “I wanted to reply, Over 500 Americans and literally countless Iraqis are dead because of a war that was supposedly fought to find weapons of mass destruction, and Bush is joking about it. Instead, I took a long drink of the lovely white wine that had come with our dinner. It’s not as if I was in the middle of a talk-show debate and had to respond. This was certainly one of those occasions in which you either get it or don’t. And I wasn’t getting it. Or maybe my neighbor wasn’t.” Corn notes that the last two slides honored US soldiers, writing: “Bush was somber about the sacrifice being made by US troops overseas. But he obviously considered it fine to make fun of the reason he cited for sending Americans to war and to death. What an act of audacious spin.… As the crowd was digesting the delicious surf-and-turf meal, Bush was transforming serious scandal into rim-shot comedy.”
Too Sensitive? - Corn is equally shocked at the lack of reaction from his fellow media figures. “Was I being too sensitive?” he asks. He answers, “I wondered what the spouse, child or parent of a soldier killed in Iraq would have felt if they had been watching C-SPAN and saw the commander in chief mocking the supposed justification for the war that claimed their loved ones.” Corn concludes that Bush’s jokes made up a “callous and arrogant display,” and adds: “For Bush, the misinformation—or disinformation—he peddled before the war was no more than material for yucks. As the audience laughed along, he smiled. The false statements (or lies) that had launched a war had become merely another punchline in the nation’s capital.” [Nation, 3/25/2004]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, David Corn

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: White House Involvement, Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Media Opposition, Liberal Media Pundits

Some are shocked and outraged by President Bush’s jokes about missing WMD during a recent black-tie dinner thrown by the media industry (see March 24, 2004).
John Kerry - Bush’s challenger for the presidency, John Kerry (D-MA), calls Bush’s attitude towards the sacrifices made by the troops “stunningly cavalier,” and adds: “If George Bush thinks his deceptive rationale for going to war is a laughing matter, then he’s even more out of touch than we thought.… Unfortunately for the president, this is not a joke.… 585 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq in the last year, 3,354 have been wounded and there’s no end in sight. George Bush sold us on going to war with Iraq based on the threat of weapons of mass destruction. But we still haven’t found them, and now he thinks that’s funny?” [BBC, 3/26/2004; Guardian, 3/26/2004]
Al Sharpton - Another Democratic presidential candidate, the Reverend Al Sharpton (D-NY), says Bush’s joke is “one of the most despicable acts of a sitting president.” Sharpton continues: “Well, that’s not a joke to us, Mr. Bush. Five hundred soldiers lost their lives, looking for weapons that weren’t there. Billions of taxpayer dollars were spent looking for weapons that weren’t there.”
Veteran - Iraq war veteran Brad Owens says: “War is the single most serious event that a president or government can carry its people into. This cheapens the sacrifice that American soldiers and their families are dealing with every single day.” [BBC, 3/26/2004; Associated Press, 3/26/2004]
Jerrold Nadler - Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) calls Bush’s performance “out of line and in poor taste.… It’s disgusting that during his little performance on stage, the president seemed to forget that people are dying in Iraq because of weapons of mass destruction he lied about.” [New York Daily News, 3/25/2004]
Dead Soldier's Father - Jorge Medina, whose son Irving Medina was slain in Iraq, retorts: “This is disgraceful. He doesn’t think of all the families that are suffering.… I think this is very distasteful for all of the families who lost a child or parent or relative in Iraq. You know, these men—are liars, bold-faced liars—and I believe that he doesn’t care about the soldiers, and he doesn’t care about the lives who are lost there.… It’s wrong for the soldiers, we are not honoring the soldiers that way. We’re making fun of why they died.” [Democracy Now!, 3/26/2004]
DNC Chairman - Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe says: “This is a very serious issue. We’ve lost hundreds of troops, as you know, over there. Let’s not be laughing about not being able to find weapons of mass destruction.… They’re not there. That is the issue. We should not take it to a new step to make fun of the situation.”
Administration Response - The White House insists that Bush was merely poking fun at himself. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld refuses to comment on Bush’s presentation, noting that he was not in attendance. [BBC, 3/26/2004; Associated Press, 3/26/2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Jerrold Nadler, Brad Owens, John Kerry, Al Sharpton, Irving Medina, Terry McAuliffe, Jorge Medina

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: White House Involvement, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Media Opposition, Liberal Media Pundits

In his monthly newsletter, conservative pundit Rush Limbaugh says that American liberals and Democrats are attacking President Bush for his Christian faith. “So now what does the left attack the president for?” he writes. “His belief in God!… Well, I’m going to predict something. If enough voters hear [Washington Post reporter] Bob Woodward berate Bush for relying on God, get ready for it.… Let them impugn the president of the United States for his admitting that he prays for the safety of the troops and the American people, let them make fun of that. They’re going to pay the price.” Limbaugh offers no evidence that nationally recognized liberals, Democratic Party members, or prominent reporters such as Woodward have criticized Bush for his Christian beliefs. [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 101]

Entity Tags: Rush Limbaugh, Bob Woodward, George W. Bush

Category Tags: Conservative Media Pundits, Faith-Based Rhetoric

An image from the ABC broadcast ‘The Fallen.’An image from the ABC broadcast ‘The Fallen.’ [Source: ABC / Poynter (.org)]ABC News reporter Ted Koppel, the anchor of the network’s late-night news show Nightline, marks the first anniversary of the end of what President Bush called “major combat operations” (see May 1, 2003) by reading alound the names of the US troops who have died in Iraq, and showing their pictures as he goes through the list. After the 35-minute segment, which Koppel titles “The Fallen,” he explains the rationale behind it. “Our goal tonight was to elevate the fallen above the politics and the daily journalism,” he says. “The reading tonight of those 721 names was neither intended to provoke opposition to the war nor was it meant as an endorsement. Some of you doubt that. You are convinced that I am opposed to the war. I am not, but that’s beside the point. I am opposed to sustaining the illusion that war can be waged by the sacrifice of the few without burdening the rest of us in any way.” [CNN, 5/1/2004]
Heavy Conservative Criticism - Author and media critic Frank Rich will call it “an unbelievably poignant roll call.” Others, mostly conservative pundits and lawmakers, disagree. Neoconservative pundit and editor William Kristol calls Koppel’s tribute a “stupid statement.” Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly says the show might undermine morale if it tries to “exploit casualties in a time of war,” but fails to mention his own tribute to slain soldier Pat Tillman (see April 23, 2004 and April 29, 2004) the night before. [Rich, 2006, pp. 125] Brent Bozell, president of the conservative Media Research Center, criticizes what he calls the program’s “partisan nature,” and says its only goal is “to turn public opinion against the war.” [Associated Press, 5/1/2004]
Station Owners Order Broadcast Censored - The Sinclair Broadcast Group, a large regional consortium of local television stations whose executives are heavy donors to Republican campaigns, orders its eight ABC affiliates not to air Koppel’s broadcast. In its statement, Sinclair writes: “The action appears to be motivated by a political agenda designed to undermine the efforts of the United States in Iraq.… Mr. Koppel and Nightline are hiding behind this so-called tribute in an effort to highlight only one aspect of the war effort and in doing so to influence public opinion against the military action in Iraq.” The statement goes on to ask why ABC does not read the names of the thousands of Americans killed in the 9/11 attacks. Sinclair spokesman Mark Hyman says the broadcast is irrelevant: “Someone who died 13 months ago—why is that news? Those people did not die last week. It’s not an anniversary of the war, it’s not Memorial Day—so why this day? If this is Memorial Day, then go ahead and do it.” Hyman goes on to say of Koppel, “I think clearly here’s a guy who is opposed to the war and is trying to stir up public opposition to it,” and says that ABC is obviously trying to boost its ratings. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) calls the Sinclair decision “deeply offensive,” writing in a letter to Sinclair Broadcast Group president and CEO David Smith: “Your decision to deny your viewers an opportunity to be reminded of war’s terrible costs, in all their heartbreaking detail, is a gross disservice to the public, and to the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. It is, in short, sir, unpatriotic. I hope it meets with the public opprobrium it most certainly deserves.” Smith replies: “Our decision was based on a desire to stop the misuse of their sacrifice to support an anti-war position with which most, if not all, of these soldiers would not have agreed. While I don’t disagree that Americans need to understand the costs of war and sacrifices of our military volunteers, I firmly believe that responsible journalism requires that a discussion of these costs must necessarily be accompanied by a description of the benefits of military action and the events that precipitated that action.” [Greensboro News and Record, 4/30/2004; CNN, 5/1/2004; Jay Rosen, 5/1/2004; Associated Press, 5/1/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 125] Jane Bright, who lost her son Sergeant Evan Ashcraft, writes in response: “The Sinclair Broadcast group is trying to undermine the lives of our soldiers killed in Iraq. By censoring Nightline they want to hide the toll the war on Iraq is having on thousands of soldiers and their families, like mine.” [Associated Press, 5/1/2004] Koppel says that any suggestion by Sinclair that he is “unpatriotic” or trying to “undermine the war effort” is “beneath contempt.” [CNN, 5/1/2004]
Media Watchdog Group Alleges Underlying Agenda - Robert McChesney of the media reform group Free Press says that Sinclair has an underlying motive in censoring the Nightline broadcast: “No one thinks for a second this decision has anything to do with journalism. It’s a politics-slash-business decision that Sinclair made because they don’t want to [anger] the White House.” Sinclair, a political supporter of the Bush administration, is trying to curry favor with the White House to bolster chances of gaining changes in station ownership rules, McChesney says. “The stench of corruption here is extraordinary.” [Associated Press, 5/1/2004]
Political Statement? - Koppel says he has no intention of making any sort of “political statement” by airing the segment. “I don’t want it to make a political statement. Quite the contrary,” he says. “My position on this is I truly believe that people will take away from this program the reflection of what they bring to it.… Why, in heaven’s name, should one not be able to look at the faces and hear the names and see the ages of those young people who are not coming back alive and feel somehow ennobled by the fact that they were willing to give up their lives for something that is in the national interest of all of us?” New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen disagrees. “Despite what he said about it,” Rosen writes, “Ted Koppel and Nightline were making a political statement last night by reading the names of ‘the fallen’ in Iraq. And there is nothing wrong with that—although it is risky because many will object.… By refusing to air the show… Sinclair Broadcasting, the country’s largest owner of television stations, was making a political statement right back.… Nothing intrinsically wrong with that, either, although it is risky and many will object.” ABC makes a political statement by choosing to air the segment, not only on the airwaves, but on the Jumbotron in New York City’s Times Square. And ABC affiliates who decide to ignore Sinclair’s order and air the broadcast are making their own political statement. [Al Tompkins, 4/30/2004; Jay Rosen, 5/1/2004]
Undermining Public Support of War? - Many pundits who argue against the Nightline memorium say that to air such a segment would undermine public support for the war, an argument which Rich later answers: “If the country was as firmly in support of this war as Bush loyalists claimed, by what logic would photographs of its selfless soldiers, either of their faces or their flag-draped coffins (see April 18, 2004 and After), undermine public opinion?” [Rich, 2006, pp. 125] Sue Niederer, who lost her son, Second Lieutenant Seth Dvorin, to a roadside bomb, says: “I feel it’s extremely important that the American people put a face and a name to the dead. When you just listen to a number, you don’t think about what may be behind that—that there’s a family, that there’s actually a person who has lost their life.” [CNN, 5/1/2004] Tim Holmes, who lost his son, Specialist Ernest Sutphin, says of Koppel’s broadcast: “That’s something I’d like to see. I feel like people have a right to see something like that—what’s going on over there.” Marine reservist Chief Warrant Officer David Dennis adds: “Let the American people know the Marines who have died, and everyone who has died. The people need to know who it is that is going out there and making the ultimate sacrifice for them.” [Greensboro News and Record, 4/30/2004] “We should be honoring all the men and women who have served,” says Ivan Medina, who lost his twin brother, Irving Medina. “My hat goes off to Nightline.” [Associated Press, 5/1/2004]
Fox News Responds - Fox News reporter and anchor Chris Wallace says his network will “answer” Koppel’s broadcast by airing its own segment: “[W]e here at Fox News Sunday are going to put together our own list, a list of what we’ve accomplished [in Iraq], with the blood, sweat, and yes, lives of our military.” [Jay Rosen, 5/1/2004]

Entity Tags: William Kristol, Fox News, Tim Holmes, Ted Koppel, ABC News, Bill O’Reilly, Brent Bozell, David Smith, Sue Niederer, Evan Ashcraft, Chris Wallace, David Dennis, Sinclair Broadcast Group, Ernest Sutphin, Robert McChesney, Ivan Medina, Irving Medina, George W. Bush, Seth Dvorin, Frank Rich, Jane Bright, Jay Rosen, Free Press, Mark Hyman, John McCain, Media Research Center, Pat Tillman

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, Conservative Media Pundits, Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Media Opposition, Fox News

Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh dismisses photos taken of prisoners at Abu Ghraib over the course of several broadcasts. The excerpts are collected by Newsweek, researchers from the Annenberg Public Policy Center, and the progressive media watchdog site Media Matters. On May 3, he tells his listeners, “You know, if you look at—if you really look at these pictures, I mean, I don’t know if it’s just me, but it looks just like anything you’d see Madonna or Britney Spears do onstage—maybe I’m, yeah—and get an NEA [National Education Association] grant for something like this” (see October 2003, October 17-22, 2003, October 24, 2003, Evening October 25, 2003, November 4, 2003, November 4-December 2, 2003, and Between 4:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. November 4, 2003, among others). On May 4, he says: “You know, those [US soldiers in Iraq] are being fired at every day. I’m talking about people having a good time. These people—you ever heard of emotional release? You ever heard of needing to blow some steam off? … It is no different than what happens at the Skull and Bones initiation.” On May 5, he says: “I think a lot of the American culture is being feminized. I think the reaction to the stupid torture is an example of the feminization of this country.” On May 6: he says, “The thing, though, that continually amazes—here we have these pictures of homoeroticism that look like standard good old American pornography, the Britney Spears or Madonna concerts or whatever.… I mean, this is something that you can see onstage at Lincoln Center from an NEA grant, maybe on Sex and the City.” In that same broadcast, he praises the torturers by saying: “And we hear that the most humiliating thing you can do is make one Arab male disrobe in front of another. Sounds to me like it’s pretty thoughtful.… Maybe the people who executed this pulled off a brilliant maneuver. Nobody got hurt. Nobody got physically injured.… Sounds pretty effective to me if you look at us in the right context.” And on May 11, he says, “If you take these pictures and bring them back and have them taken in an American city and put on an American Web site, they might win an award from the pornography industry.” [Media Matters, 5/6/2004; Newsweek, 5/13/2004; Boehlert, 2006, pp. 118; Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 160]

Entity Tags: Rush Limbaugh, Britney Spears, Annenberg Public Policy Center, Madonna, Media Matters, Newsweek

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: Conservative Media Pundits

Radio host Glenn Beck, whose conservative talk show is aired by syndicated program provider Clear Channel, rails against Michael Berg, whose son Nick Berg was recently executed by militant Iraqis (see March 24-May 11, 2004). Beck, like his fellow radio conservatives Sean Hannity and Michael Savage, has aired the audio of Berg’s execution on his show in recent days. After his son’s death, Michael Berg criticized the Bush administration’s handling of the war in Iraq; for doing so, Beck calls him “despicable” and “a scumbag.” On his show, Beck directs a question at Berg: “Can you let your son’s body become the same temperature as your son’s head before you turn this into a political campaign against the president—could you do that?” Beck says he would say the same about Michael Berg if he were “a Republican and a supporter of the war and rah-rah George W. Bush and whatever.” He says he refuses to “fake” any sympathy for Berg because of Berg’s criticism of President Bush and the war effort. “I find this guy despicable,” he says. “Everything in me says that. The ‘want to be a better person today than I was yesterday’ says he’s a dad, he’s grieving, but I don’t buy that. I’m sorry, I don’t buy it. I think he is grieving, but I think he’s a scumbag as well. I don’t like this guy at all.” [Media Matters, 5/17/2004]

Entity Tags: Michael Savage, Bush administration (43), Nick Berg, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Michael Berg

Category Tags: Conservative Media Pundits

Sam Francis, a white supremacist and syndicated columnist (see September 1995), marks the 50th anniversary of the landmark civil rights case Brown v. Board of Education by calling it “the most dangerous and destructive Supreme Court decision in American history.” Francis blames the decision for giving the Supreme Court the impetus to “gut… state and local law enforcement powers” (referring to the 1966 Miranda v. Arizona ruling that gave suspects basic rights after being arrested), “ban… school prayer,” weaken laws “against sedition and obscenity,” overturn death penalty statutes and “laws governing sexual morals,” and legalize abortion. “This is merely a partial list of the tyranny the Court has succeeded in creating because the American people allowed it to get away with Brown,” he writes. The decision is uniformly disastrous, he continues, with no “merits in law” to justify its existence. The Constitution never intended for children of different races to go to school together, Francis writes, and therefore the Supreme Court should never have ruled that schools should be desegregated. Moreover, he writes, school segregation actually promotes the academic success of African-American children. “By cramming through a legally groundless ruling that authorized the federal engineering of American society, Brown alienated Southern whites for at least a generation, wrecked public education, and helped revolutionize both cities and suburbs,” he concludes. “Today, schools once entirely white because of segregation laws are entirely black because of Brown. The white middle class exodus has meant the domination of cities by a black underclass, the crooks and demagogues it puts in office, and the financial and social devastation of American urban life.” Francis’s columns are provided to a national audience by Creators Syndicate. [VDare (.com), 5/17/2004]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Sam Francis

Category Tags: Race-Based Rhetoric, Conservative Media Pundits

Conservative radio host Michael Savage marks the 50th anniversary of the historic civil rights case Brown v. Board of Education by saying, “Everything about [the case] is sickening.” Savage criticizes President Bush for “trying to outmaneuver [Democratic presidential candidate John] Kerry on the race issue” by being photographed “hugging people of color” at a church in Birmingham, Alabama. Savage calls the idea that there is racism in America “left-wing brainwashing.… [W]hat, racism still exists? Well okay, where does it still exist? Can you tell me of some minority here who can’t get ahead in this country if he’s smart, or she’s smart, and she pushes, as much as a white person?… In fact they’re given priority treatment everywhere, you know that.” Savage calls a recent claim by Kerry that schools remain underfunded and divided by income “rubbish, pure rubbish,” and implies that African-American children will perform at lower levels than their white counterparts no matter how equal funding is: “I can show you one minority school after another, with more funding per capita than surrounding, suburban white schools, and the kids still do badly. Okay? Take that—put that in your pipe and smoke it, and go explain it to yourself, because I know the reasons why.” [Media Matters, 5/21/2004]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Michael Savage, John Kerry

Category Tags: 2004 Elections, Conservative Media Pundits, Race-Based Rhetoric

The General Accounting Office (GAO) finds that the Bush administration broke two federal laws as part of its publicity campaign to promote its new Medicare prescription drug policies. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) illegally spent federal monies on what amounts to covert propaganda in producing and distributing “video news releases,” or VNRs, to local television news broadcasters around the country that were designed to look like objective news reports (see March 15, 2004). The GAO findings do not carry legal weight, because the GAO acts as an adviser to Congress. The viewers in the more than 40 cities who saw the reports did not know they were watching government-produced videos anchored by public relations “flacks” paid by HHS who were not real reporters. The VNRs have only fueled criticism of the Medicare prescription drug coverage program, which gives private health care firms and prescription drug companies a much larger role in providing and setting prices for Medicare recipients’ prescriptions. Democrats have long insisted that the law cripples Medicare beneficiaries’ ability to receive low-cost prescriptions in favor of funneling Medicare dollars into the pharmaceutical companies’ coffers; with the GAO findings, Democrats now say that the government used illegal propaganda tactics to “sell” the citizenry on the new program. The administration has already admitted that the program will cost hundreds of billions of dollars more than originally claimed. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA) calls the videos “another example of how this White House has misrepresented its Medicare plan.” Kerry’s Senate colleague, Edward Kennedy (D-MA), says: “The new GAO opinion is yet another indictment of the deception and dishonesty that has become business as usual for the Bush administration. It was bad enough to conceal the cost of the Medicare drug bill from the Congress and the American people. It is worse to use Medicare funds for illegal propaganda to try to turn this lemon of a bill into lemonade for the Bush campaign.” The Bush administration continues to insist that the VNR program is legal. “GAO opinions are not binding on the executive branch. That’s an opinion of the GAO. We don’t agree,” says HHS spokesman Bill Pierce, who justifies the VNR usage by pointing to their ubiquitous usage in corporate settings. Asked if he understands that a viewer might be angry at being led to believe that the VNRs were real news stories, Pierce replies, “If I’m a viewer, I’d be angry at my television station.” [Washington Post, 5/20/2004; Los Angeles Times, 5/20/2004]

Entity Tags: John Kerry, Bill Pierce, Bush administration (43), Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, General Accounting Office, US Department of Health and Human Services

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations

David Ottaway.David Ottaway. [Source: AAAS.org]According to the Oregon branch of the Islamic charitable organization the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, Washington Post reporter David Ottaway receives a classified document that is evidence of illegal surveillance by the National Security Agency. The document shows that the NSA illegally intercepted telephone conversations and e-mails between Al Haramain officials in Oregon and Washington, DC. The document, dated May 24, 2004 and marked “Top Secret,” is accidentally provided to Al Haramain by Treasury Department officials that same month; Al Haramain quickly turns the document over to Ottoway, who is researching Islamic groups and individuals labeled as terrorists by the US government and are attempting to prove their innocence. Instead of reporting on the document, Ottaway will return it to the FBI when that organization demands it back in November 2004. In February 2006, Al Haramain will sue the Bush administration for illegally spying on it (see February 28, 2006) as part of its warrantless wiretapping program (see After September 11, 2001 and December 15, 2005). The Treasury Department has been investigating the charitable organization for possible ties to terrorism, and designated the group as a terrorist organization. The FBI will approach the organization and then Ottaway himself, demanding that all copies of the document be returned and threatening them with prosecution if the contents are revealed. Ottaway will consult with Post editors and lawyers, who will conclude, according to Ottaway, “that it was not relevant to what I was working on at the time.” Post executive editor Leonard Downie, Jr., will defend the decision, saying, “At the time we had this document, it was before we had any knowledge of the eavesdropping program. Without that knowledge, the document provided no useful information. At the time, all we knew was that this document was not relevant to David’s reporting.” [Washington Post, 3/3/2006]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Treasury, Washington Post, Leonard Downie, Jr., Al Haramain Islamic Foundation (Oregon branch), Bush administration (43), National Security Agency, David Ottaway, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Category Tags: Media Complicity

New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman says on National Public Radio: “What I absolutely don’t understand is just at the moment when we finally have a UN-approved Iraqi-caretaker government made up of—I know a lot of these guys—reasonably decent people and more than reasonably decent people, everyone wants to declare it’s over. I don’t get it. It might be over in a week, it might be over in a month, it might be over in six months, but what’s the rush? Can we let this play out, please?” Friedman will continue predicting a resolution of the Iraq situation in “the next six months” until at least May 2006 (see May 6-11, 2006). [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, 5/16/2006]

Entity Tags: Thomas Friedman

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: 'Friedman Unit', Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War

CNN announces that conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza is a new political analyst for the network. D’Souza became active in conservative politics and punditry as an editor of the Dartmouth Review in the early 1980s, where he authored and published numerous inflammatory articles reviling, among others, blacks, Jews, and gays (see 1981, March 15, 1982, October 1982, and 1983). From Dartmouth, D’Souza went to the White House, where he served as a senior domestic policy analyst in the Reagan administration. He has served as a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the Hoover Institution, and published a number of books, including 1995’s inflammatory The End of Racism, which progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters described as advancing the idea that “low-income black people are basically ‘pathological’ and that white racism really isn’t racism at all, just a logical response to this ‘pathology.’” D’Souza’s Web site “argues that the American obsession with race is fueled by a civil rights establishment that has a vested interest in perpetuating black dependency”; in a 1995 Wall Street Journal op-ed, he argued that “[t]he best way for African-Americans to save private sector affirmative action may be to repeal the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” Two African-American conservatives, Glenn Loury and Robert Woodson, resigned from AEI after the publication of The End of Racism and another racially objectionable book, The Bell Curve, by AEI fellow Charles Murray. [Media Matters, 6/8/2004]

Entity Tags: Dinesh D’Souza, CNN, American Enterprise Institute, Charles Murray, Glenn Loury, Dartmouth Review, Reagan administration, Media Matters, Hoover Institute, Robert Woodson

Category Tags: Conservative Media Pundits, Dartmouth Review, Media Complicity, Race-Based Rhetoric

A Pew Center for the People and the Press study finds that 35 percent of Republicans consistently watch Fox News, while 21 percent of Democrats do so. Fox has experienced the largest increase in viewers, and 52 percent of its audience defines itself as conservative. In general, Republicans consider Fox the most reliable broadcast news outlet, while Democrats consider it the least reliable. Overall, trust in mainstream news outlets, from CNN and ABC to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, has declined sharply since 2000. The biggest rise is in the number of news consumers who get their news from online, i.e. Internet, sources. [Pew Center for the People and the Press, 6/8/2004; Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 237]

Entity Tags: Pew Center for the People and the Press, ABC News, CNN, Wall Street Journal, Fox News, New York Times

Category Tags: Media Complicity, Fox News

The New York Times publishes an analysis of Harvard University’s admission policies towards Africans and African-Americans, and notes that while the admission of black students is rising, the percentages of those admitted are heavily skewed towards West Indian and African immigrants, and less so towards Americans of African descent. Some on the faculty say that African-American students were the intended recipients of affirmative action benefits more than non-Americans of African descent. Harvard professor Mary Waters says: “You need a philosophical discussion about what are the aims of affirmative action. If it’s about getting black faces at Harvard, then you’re doing fine. If it’s about making up for 200 to 500 years of slavery in this country and its aftermath, then you’re not doing well. And if it’s about having diversity that includes African-Americans from the South or from inner-city high schools, then you’re not doing well, either.” Another Harvard professor, Lani Guinier, whose ancestry includes Caucasians and Jamaicans, says: “Colleges and universities are defaulting on their obligation to train and educate a representative group of future leaders. And they are excluding poor and working-class whites, not just descendants of slaves.” [New York Times, 6/24/2004] Conservative pundit Tucker Carlson, discussing the article on PBS’s Tucker Carlson: Unfiltered, misrepresents the article in his opening discussion, saying: “Here’s something I bet you never thought you’d hear a liberal say: Harvard is letting in too many Africans. Yet that is exactly what a group of earnest liberals told the New York Times this week.” None of the academics and educators in the article say that Harvard or any other university is admitting “too many Africans,” or that Harvard needs to begin screening out African applicants. (Progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters later notes that the transcript of Carlson’s monologue alters Carlson’s remarks, adding the word “almost” in front of “exactly.”) Media Matters notes that Carlson is a critic of affirmative action, having recently equated the program with “good old-fashioned segregation” and accusing the program of “fighting racism with racism.” Carlson also states that the article says “between one-half and two-thirds of the black students at Harvard” are either West Indian or African, but the article cites no such statistics. He also misquotes Guinier, and attributes other statements to academics and educators quoted in the article that they did not make. [Media Matters, 6/30/2004]

Entity Tags: New York Times, Harvard University, Lani Guinier, Tucker Carlson, Mary Waters, Media Matters

Category Tags: Race-Based Rhetoric, Conservative Media Pundits

Fahrenheit 9/11 movie poster.
Fahrenheit 9/11 movie poster. [Source: Lions Gate Films]Fahrenheit 9/11, a film by well-known documentarian and author Michael Moore, is released in the US. Amongst other things, this film reveals connections between the Bush family and prominent Saudis including the bin Laden family. [New York Times, 5/6/2004; New York Times, 5/17/2004; Toronto Star, 6/13/2004] It reviews evidence the White House helped members of Osama bin Laden’s family and other Saudis fly out of the US in the days soon after 9/11. [New York Times, 5/17/2004; Toronto Star, 6/13/2004; New York Times, 6/18/2004; Los Angeles Times, 6/23/2004; Newsweek, 6/30/2004] It introduces to the mainstream damning footage of President Bush continuing with a photo-op for seven minutes (see (9:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001) after being told of the second plane hitting the WTC on 9/11. [New York Times, 6/18/2004; Washington Post, 6/19/2004; Newsweek, 6/20/2004; Los Angeles Times, 6/23/2004] Disney refused to let its Miramax division distribute the movie in the United States, supposedly because the film was thought too partisan. [New York Times, 5/6/2004; Guardian, 6/2/2004; Los Angeles Times, 6/11/2004; Agence France-Presse, 6/23/2004] The film won the top award at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival—the first documentary to do so in nearly 50 years. [BBC, 5/24/2004; Guardian, 5/24/2004; Agence France-Presse, 6/23/2004] It is generally very well received, with most US newspapers rating it favorably. [Agence France-Presse, 6/23/2004; Editor & Publisher, 6/27/2004] The film is an instant hit and is seen by tens of millions. [Associated Press, 6/27/2004; BBC, 6/28/2004; Associated Press, 6/28/2004; CBS News, 6/28/2004] There are some criticisms that it distorts certain facts, such as exaggerating the possible significance of Bush and bin Laden family connections, and gripes about a $1.4 billion number representing the money flowing from Saudi companies to the Bush family. However, the New York Times claims that the public record corroborates the film’s main assertions. [New York Times, 5/17/2004; New York Times, 6/18/2004; Newsweek, 6/30/2004] Shortly before the film’s release, the conservative organization Citizens United tried to block the film’s distribution (see June 27, 2004). The effort failed (see August 6, 2004).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Bin Laden Family, Michael Moore, Osama bin Laden, Citizens United, Walt Disney Company, Miramax

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, 2004 Elections

Category Tags: 2004 Elections, Liberal Media Pundits

Richard Viguerie.Richard Viguerie. [Source: PBS]Conservative marketing expert Richard Viguerie, writing with David Franke in America’s Right Turn, notes: “Conservatives will almost always defend Fox [News]‘s claim to be ‘fair and balanced,’ but they find it hard to do so without a smirk or smile on their face.… They proudly want to claim Fox as one if their own—it’s one of the movement’s great success stories” (see October 13, 2009). [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 49]

Entity Tags: Fox News, Richard Viguerie

Category Tags: Conservative Media Pundits, Media Complicity, Fox News

Author Clifford May, a former Republican National Committee staffer and a well-known television pundit, lambasts former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s new book, The Politics of Truth (see April 2004). May, who has written derisively about Wilson before (see September 29, 2003), opens by accusing Wilson of publishing a “quickie book sporting his dapper self on the cover” that contains little substance and is based largely on “a wet-kiss profile in Vanity Fair.” He derides Wilson’s lengthy experience as a diplomat (see July 31, 1990, August 1-2, 1990, August 6, 1990, August 8-9, 1990, September 20, 1990, and January 12, 1991) by calling him “the guy who makes sure the embassy plumbing is working and that the commissary is stocked with Oreos and other products the ambassador prefers.” Most notably, May comes to the conclusion that Wilson himself, and not the White House, outed his wife Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA agent, a conclusion he says was reached by a “bipartisan Senate committee report.” May is referring to the recent report by the Senate Intelligence Committee (see July 9, 2004). He repeats many of the committee’s erroneous assertions, including the allegation that Wilson’s wife was responsible for the decision to send Wilson to Niger (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, and October 17, 2003). In regards to President Bush’s State of the Union assertion that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium from Niger (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), May writes, “We now know for certain that Wilson was wrong and that Bush’s statement was entirely accurate.” He goes on to assert that the forged documents used to support the Iraq-Niger uranium story were likely “planted in order to be discovered—as a ruse to discredit the story of a Niger-Iraq link, to persuade people there were no grounds for the charge. If that was the plan, it worked like a charm.” May even says that Wilson’s report bolstered the belief that the uranium story might be true. He repeats his earlier charges that Wilson is an incompetent partisan whom the CIA had no business sending to Niger in the first place. He never explains exactly how Wilson outed his own wife as a CIA agent, though he does assert, wrongly, that Plame Wilson was never an undercover agent (see Fall 1992 - 1996) and therefore no one broke the law in revealing her status as a CIA official. [National Review, 7/12/2004] In 2004, Wilson will write of May’s assertion that his wife’s CIA status “was supposedly widely known” throughout Washington, “[I]f what May wrote was accurate, it is a damning admission, because it could have been widely known only by virtue of leaks among his own crowd.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 443-444]

Entity Tags: Clifford May, Central Intelligence Agency, Joseph C. Wilson, Valerie Plame Wilson

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Conservative Media Pundits, Plame-Niger Controversy

According to OpenSecrets.org, Sproul & Associates—a political consulting firm run by 32-year-old Nathan Sproul, a former Christian Coalition activist and one-time director of the Arizona Republican Party—receives $812,864 from the Republican National Committee to do voter outreach and $736,665 for political consulting. [San Francisco Chronicle, 10/28/2004; Center for Responsive Politics, 1/19/2006] During the months preceding the election, the firm is accused of instructing its workers to register only Republican voters, and in one case actually destroying registrations forms filled out by Democrats. The alleged activities reportedly occur in Nevada (See October 12, 2004), Oregon (See Early September 2004, October 2004, and (October 12, 2004)), Pennsylvania (See Before September 6, 2004, October 19, 2004 and October 19, 2004) and West Virginia (See Before August 20, 2004). The company—which operates under several names, including Voters Outreach of America, America Votes and Project America Votes—denies these charges. [Mercury News (San Jose ), 10/14/2004]

Entity Tags: Republican National Committee, America Votes, Sproul & Associates, Nathan Sproul

Timeline Tags: 2004 Elections

Category Tags: 2004 Elections, Marketing and Public Relations

The Wall Street Journal publishes an op-ed declaring that since the Senate Intelligence Committee has “exposed” former ambassor Joseph Wilson’s “falsehoods” about his trip to Niger to explore the allegations that Iraq tried to purchase uranium from Niger (see July 9, 2004), it is time for Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to “close up shop” and stop his investigation into who outed Wilson’s wife, CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson. The Journal declares that if “an administration official cited nepotism truthfully in order to explain the oddity of Mr. Wilson’s selection for the Niger mission, then there was no underlying crime” in outing Plame Wilson. “[T]he entire leak probe now looks like a familiar Beltway case of criminalizing political differences. Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald should fold up his tent.” The Journal also repeats the baseless conclusion of the Republican authors of the committee report that stated Wilson’s findings in Niger actually provided “some confirmation” of the Iraq-Niger deal. [Wall Street Journal, 7/20/2004] In 2007, Plame Wilson will write that she is in her CIA office when she reads the op-ed. She recalls realizing that the entire thrust of the attempt to smear her husband is “to derail the leak investigation, which was sniffing dangerously close to the White House. Now I understood the ferocity of the attacks on Joe.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 192]

Entity Tags: Senate Intelligence Committee, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Joseph C. Wilson, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Valerie Plame Wilson, Wall Street Journal

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Plame-Niger Controversy, White House Involvement

Bill Gertz, a columnist for the conservative Washington Times, writes that CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity was compromised twice before it was publicly exposed by conservative columnist Robert Novak (see July 14, 2003). If true, neither exposure was made publicly, as Novak’s was. Anonymous government officials told Gertz that Plame Wilson’s identity was disclosed to Russian intelligence agents in the mid-1990s. Her identity was again revealed in what Gertz calls “a more recent inadvertent disclosure,” references identifying Plame Wilson as a CIA official in confidential documents sent by the agency to the US interests section of the Swiss Embassy in Havana. The anonymous officials told Gertz that Cuban officials read the documents and could have learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status. The officials did not state when the alleged Cuban exposure took place. “The law says that to be covered by the act the intelligence community has to take steps to affirmatively protect someone’s cover,” one official told Gertz. “In this case, the CIA failed to do that.” Another official told Gertz that the compromises before the news column were not publicized and thus should not affect the investigation of Plame Wilson’s exposure. [Washington Times, 7/22/2004]

Entity Tags: Washington Times, Bill Gertz, Valerie Plame Wilson, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Plame-Niger Controversy, Media Complicity, Conservative Media Pundits

Conservative radio host Michael Savage unleashes a barrage of accusations against Democrats, while commenting on the ongoing Democratic National Convention. One topic of attention is voting. Savage lists the kinds of people he believes should be denied the vote: “people on welfare,” “people with less than 100 IQ,” and “illegal aliens.” He accuses Democrats of trying to influence the election by recruiting illegal aliens to vote, saying: “I’ll go down the list of people who should not have the right to vote. Let’s start with illegal aliens. Should they have the right to vote? Course they shouldn’t, but they do. They’re being courted by the Democrats as we speak.” There have been isolated instances of undocumented immigrants and non-citizens casting votes, but no state allows non-citizens of any stripe to vote in federal elections. A very small number of municipalities in Maryland and Massachusetts allow non-citizens to vote in local elections. Savage provides no evidence of the widespread voter fraud of which he accuses Democrats of enacting. [Media Matters, 7/28/2004]

Entity Tags: Michael Savage

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2004 Elections

Category Tags: Race-Based Rhetoric, Immigration Controversy & Violence, Conservative Media Pundits

Bradley Schlozman, a deputy in the Justice Department’s Voting Rights Section of the Civil Rights Division (CRD), receives an email from his supervisor, John Tanner, asking him to bring coffee for both of them to a meeting they are both scheduled to attend. Schlozman asks how Tanner likes his coffee and Tanner replies that he likes it “Mary Frances Berry style—black and bitter.” Berry, an African-American, chaired the US Commission on Civil Rights from 1993 to 2004. Schlozman forwards the email exchange to several CRD officials with the comment, “Y’all will appreciate Tanner’s response.” Shortly thereafter, he is forced to write a written apology for his action. [Washington Post, 1/13/2009]

Entity Tags: John Tanner, Bradley J. Schlozman, Civil Rights Division (DOJ), US Department of Justice, Mary Frances Berry

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Category Tags: Race-Based Rhetoric

Time reporter Matthew Cooper, facing a subpoena to testify before the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak (see May 21, 2004), discusses the matter with White House official Lewis Libby. According to an affidavit later filed by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, Cooper tells Libby that his “recollection of events [referring to their conversation in which Libby outed Valerie Plame Wilson as a CIA official—see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003) is basically exculpatory, and asked Libby if Libby objected to Cooper testifying.” Libby indicates he has no objections, and suggests their attorneys should discuss the issue. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 6/29/2007 pdf file] Presumably, this is to determine whether Libby will agree to grant Cooper a waiver of confidentiality that would allow him to testify about their conversation.

Entity Tags: Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Matthew Cooper

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Plame-Niger Controversy, Media Complicity, White House Involvement

Three psychologists, Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenburg, and Tom Pyszcznyski, conduct an experiment on 131 students at Rutgers University. All 131 are registered to vote and say they intend to vote in the upcoming presidential election. A control group registers a 4-1 preference for Democrat John Kerry over President Bush, a Republican—an unsurprising result given the relatively liberal makeup of the student body. However, among the students who are subjected to so-called “mortality reminders”—subliminal flashes of the phrases “911” and “WTC” in between word associations—the preference is 2-1 for Bush. [Unger, 2007, pp. 318; New Republic, 8/27/2007]

Entity Tags: Rutgers University, George W. Bush, John Kerry, Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenburg, Tom Pyszcznyski

Timeline Tags: 2004 Elections

Category Tags: Media Coverage of Iraq War

The US Department of Defense awards at least three contracts, valued at $37.3 million, to a small Washington-based firm called the Lincoln Group to plant stories in the Iraqi press. [Associated Press, 10/19/2006; New York Times, 10/20/2006] The stories—written by US “information troops,” but presented as unbiased news reports written by independent journalists—“trumpet the work of US and Iraqi troops, denounce insurgents and tout US-led efforts to rebuild the country,” according to the Los Angeles Times. [Los Angeles Times, 11/30/2005] Though the articles, referred to as “storyboards” [Los Angeles Times, 3/4/2006] , reportedly seem factual they are one-sided and filtered to exclude information critical of the US or the Iraqi government. “Absolute truth [is] not an essential element of these stories,” one senior military official tells the newspaper. The program is part of an effort to shape public opinion about the US occupation and the Iraqi government. As of the end of November 2005, dozens of articles, with headlines such as “Iraqis Insist on Living Despite Terrorism” (see August 6, 2005), have been printed by the Iraq presses. The campaign is operated by the Information Operations Task Force in Baghdad, under the command of Army Lt. Gen. John R. Vines. Employees or subcontractors of the Lincoln Group, posing as freelance reporters or advertising executives, deliver the articles to Iraqi media organizations. One of the Iraqi media outlets that runs the stories is Al Mutamar, a Baghdad-based daily run by associates of Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Chalabi. According to Luay Baldawi, the paper’s editor-in-chief, Al Mutamar will “publish anything.” Articles from the military are sent to Baldawi’s paper via the Internet and are often unsigned. “The paper’s policy is to publish everything, especially if it praises causes we believe in. We are pro-American. Everything that supports America we will publish.” Baldawi runs the articles as news reports, indistinguishable from other news stories. The propaganda campaign is not supported by everyone at the Pentagon. One senior Pentagon official tells the Los Angeles Times: “Here we are trying to create the principles of democracy in Iraq. Every speech we give in that country is about democracy. And we’re breaking all the first principles of democracy when we’re doing it.” The Defense Department’s program appears to undermine the work of another US government program in Iraq being run by the State Department. That program trains Iraqi reporters in basic journalism skills and Western media ethics and includes one workshop titled “The Role of Press in a Democratic Society.” Another problem with the propaganda campaign, critics point out, is that US law prohibits the military from conducting psychological operations or planting propaganda in the US media. But as several officials concede to the Los Angeles Times, stories in the foreign press inevitably “bleed” into the Western media and influences US news. “There is no longer any way to separate foreign media from domestic media. Those neat lines don’t exist anymore,” one private contractor who does information operations work for the Pentagon tells the paper. [Los Angeles Times, 11/30/2005]

Entity Tags: Al Mutamar, Luay Baldawi, Information Operations Task Force, John R. Vines, Lincoln Group, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Pentagon Propaganda Campaigns, Media Coverage of Iraq War

The DVD cover for ‘Celsius 41.11.’The DVD cover for ‘Celsius 41.11.’ [Source: Citizens United]The Federal Election Commission (FEC) refuses to allow the conservative lobbying and advocacy group Citizens United (CU) to advertise on television its upcoming film Celsius 41.11—The Temperature at Which the Brain Begins to Die, a documentary that the group intends as a refutation of the documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 (see June 25, 2004), a film by liberal documentarian Michael Moore that savaged the Bush administration’s handling of the 9/11 attacks. The FEC also refuses to allow CU to pay to run the film on television. The FEC bases its decision on the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (McCain-Feingold—see March 27, 2002), and its restrictions on nonprofit groups such as CU using unregulated contributions to pay for “electioneering communications” to be shown within 60 days of a federal general election. CU would broadcast the film in late September, less than 60 days before the November 2 elections. CU argued, unsuccessfully, that it is a member of the news media and therefore can use a legal exemption provided for news, commentary, and editorial content. In a 4-0 vote, the FEC rejects the argument, saying that CU intends to buy air time instead of being paid to provide content, and that its primary function is as an advocacy group and not a film production organization. FEC vice chair Ellen L. Weintraub, one of the commission’s three Democrats, says: “You don’t want a situation where people are airing campaign commercials and they are exempt from commission rules because they are considered a media event. The danger is that the exemption swallows the rules.” CU president David Bossie (see May 1998) says he is “clearly disappointed” with the ruling, and adds, “They [the FEC] want to limit free speech, and that’s what this issue is about for us.” The company marketing Fahrenheit 9/11 was not allowed to run advertisements promoting the film within 60 days of the elections, and a CU complaint against that film was dismissed after its distributors promised not to air such advertisements (see August 6, 2004). CU has helped fund the publication of a book by Bossie attacking Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA), and has released numerous documentaries attacking the Clinton administration and the United Nations. The current film contains some material attacking Kerry, though that material is not the primary focus of the film. Bossie says the group will attempt to show the film in theaters to paying audiences within a few weeks (see September 27-30, 2004). [New York Times, 9/9/2004; New York Times, 9/30/2004]

Entity Tags: Federal Election Commission, Bush administration (43), Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, Citizens United, Clinton administration, John Kerry, Michael Moore, David Bossie, United Nations, Ellen L. Weintraub

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2004 Elections

Category Tags: 2004 Elections, Conservative Media Pundits

Tom Engelhardt.Tom Engelhardt. [Source: Mother Jones]General David Petraeus, the commander of US military forces in Iraq, writes an op-ed for the Washington Post entitled “Battling for Iraq.” Petraeus praises the Iraqi security forces for standing up and taking much of the burden of securing the country from the US troops on the ground, writing: “Iraqi security elements are being rebuilt from the ground up. The institutions that oversee them are being reestablished from the top down. And Iraqi leaders are stepping forward, leading their country and their security forces courageously in the face of an enemy that has shown a willingness to do anything to disrupt the establishment of the new Iraq.” There has been significant “progress” made, he writes, and there is “reason for optimism.” He concludes: “With strong Iraqi leaders out front and with continued coalition—and now NATO—support, this trend will continue. It will not be easy, but few worthwhile things are.” [Washington Post, 9/26/2004] Perhaps coincidentally, the op-ed appears in time for the Bush re-election campaign to make much of it. Columnist Tom Engelhardt will note in 2008 that the op-ed is “just the sort of thing a president trying to outrun a bunch of Iraqi insurgents to the November 4 finish line might like to see in print in his hometown paper.” Perhaps just as coincidentally, Petraeus will soon be awarded his third star. [Asia Times, 4/29/2008]

Entity Tags: Tom Engelhardt, David Petraeus, Bush administration (43), Washington Post

Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Media Complicity, Pentagon Propaganda Campaigns, Media Coverage of Iraq War

The conservative lobbying and advocacy group Citizens United (CU) releases a documentary intended as a refutation of the popular documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11 (see June 25, 2004), a film by liberal documentarian Michael Moore that savaged the Bush administration’s handling of the 9/11 attacks. The CU film is entitled Celsius 41.11—The Temperature at Which the Brain Begins to Die. CU spent six weeks making the film, and is releasing it in small venues around the nation after the Federal Election Commission (FEC) denied the organization permission to broadcast it on television (see September 8, 2004). (In August, the FEC dismissed a complaint against Moore over Fahrenheit 9/11 filed by CU—see August 6, 2004.) The slogan for the movie is “The Truth Behind the Lies of Fahrenheit 9/11!” The movie was written and produced by Lionel Chetwynd, who has written and produced a number of Hollywood feature films and documentaries. Chetwynd, a vocal conservative, produced the September 2003 “docudrama” 9/11: Time of Crisis, which portrayed President Bush as a near-action hero during and after the 9/11 attacks, and took significant liberties with the actual events (see September 7, 2003). Of this film, Chetwynd says: “We could have gone wall to wall with red meat on this, but we purposely didn’t. The cheap shots may be entertaining in Moore’s film, but we wanted to make the intellectual case and go beyond lecturing to the converted.” New York Times reporter John Tierney describes the movie as overtly intellectual, sometimes appearing more as a PowerPoint presentation than a film made to appeal to a wider audience. It features a point-by-point defense of Bush’s actions during the 9/11 attacks, and features “politicians, journalists, and scholars discoursing on the legality of the Florida recount in 2000, the Clinton administration’s record on fighting terrorism, and the theory of American exceptionalism.” There are a few “red meat” moments, Tierney notes, including the juxtaposition of the Twin Towers burning as Moore says in a voiceover, “There is no terrorist threat.” It also includes a few slaps against Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA), mostly in the form of a country song where the singer Larry Gatlin sings, “John boy, please tell us which way the wind’s blowing,” a reference to the Bush campaign’s attempt to portray Kerry as a “flip-flopper” who goes back and forth in his views on various issues. The Georgetown premiere of the movie attracts some 300 viewers, almost all Republicans, according to Tierney. The audience, according to Tierney, views the film as more “thoughtful and accurate” than Moore’s film, and unlikely to make anywhere near the profits the earlier film garnered. Chetwynd says he resisted the temptation to launch an all-out assault on Kerry “the way that Moore did with Bush.” Filmgoer Jerome Corsi, who has written a bestselling book attacking Kerry’s Vietnam record, praises the film, as does Debra Burlingame, whose brother was the pilot of the airplane that was flown into the Pentagon on the morning of September 11, 2001 (see 8:51 a.m.-8:54 a.m. September 11, 2001). Burlingame, a founder of a group of 9/11 victim relatives that supports Bush, says: “Michael Moore actually used footage of the Pentagon in flames as a sight gag. It was really hard to sit there in the theater listening to people laugh at that scene knowing my brother was on that plane. I wish more people would see this film instead.” [New York Times, 9/30/2004] In October, the Washington Post’s Philip Kennicott will dismiss the film as “generat[ing] heat but no new light,” calling it “sad in a sad sort of way… dull, lazy, and inconsistent,” and suffused with an “unabashed idolatry of the Great Leader (in this case, George W. Bush)” in the same way that Nazi propagandist Leni Riefenstahl made her documentaries (he wonders, “Has the conservative worldview really been reduced to a slavish worship of authority?”). Kennicott will ask if the film is an attempt to refute Moore’s documentary or an “overlong attack ad on John Kerry,” and concludes that the film is little more than a combination of “dreadful political advertisements and dreadful political talk shows.” [Washington Post, 10/22/2004] TV Guide’s Maitland McDonagh will call the film a “shrill, repetitive screed” obviously released just in time to influence the 2004 presidential election, and bearing “all the hallmarks of having been thrown together in a heated rush.” [TV Guide, 10/2004]

Entity Tags: Jerome Corsi, Debra Burlingame, Clinton administration, Citizens United, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Philip Kennicott, Lionel Chetwynd, Federal Election Commission, Larry Gatlin, Leni Riefenstahl, John Tierney (New York Times), Maitland McDonagh, John Kerry, Michael Moore

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2004 Elections

Category Tags: 2004 Elections, Conservative Media Pundits

CBS’s Ed Bradley.CBS’s Ed Bradley. [Source: Associated Press]CBS News president Andrew Heyward refuses to air a scheduled segment of 60 Minutes II that probes the allegations of the Bush administration deliberately using forged documents to bolster its claim that Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from Niger (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003)). In a statement, the network says it would be “inappropriate to air the report so close to the presidential election.” The network also decides not to run the piece because it has admitted to using questionable documents in a recent segment showing that President Bush received preferential treatment in joining the Texas Air National Guard during the height of the Vietnam War, and shirked his Guard duties thereafter without consequence. CBS had a team of correspondents and consulting reporters working for six months on the segment, and landed the first-ever on-camera interview with Italian journalist Elisabetta Burba, the first reporter to see the forged documents that formed the basis of the uranium allegations. (The CBS reporters also interviewed Burba’s source, information peddler Rocco Martino, but chose not to air any of that footage, and do not disclose Martino’s identity in the piece. Neither does the segment explore why the FBI has so far been reluctant to interview Martino in its investigation of the fraudulent uranium allegations.) The segment is later described by Newsweek journalists Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball as a hard-hitting investigative piece that “ask[s] tough questions about how the White House came to embrace the fraudulent documents and why administration officials chose to include a 16-word reference to the questionable uranium purchase in President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union speech” (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), and by Salon reporter Mary Jacoby as “making a powerful case that in trying to build support for the Iraq war, the Bush administration either knowingly deceived the American people about Saddam Hussein’s nuclear capabilities or was grossly credulous.… The report contains little new information, but it is powerfully, coherently, and credibly reported.” One of the central aspects of the segment is anchor Ed Bradley’s interview with Dr. Jafar Dhia Jafar, the former chief of Iraq’s nuclear program. Jafar confirms to Bradley that Iraq had dismantled its nuclear program after the Gulf War in the face of United Nations inspections. “So what was going on?” Bradley asks. “Nothing was going on,” Jafar replies. He says the Bush administration was either “being fed with the wrong information” or “they were doing this deliberately.” Another powerful moment is a clip from a German interview with the former foreign minister of Niger, Allele Habibou, whose signature appears on one of the forged documents. The document was dated 2000, but Habibou had been out of the government for 11 years by that point. “I only found out about this when my grandchildren found this on the Internet. I was shocked,” he says. The story is twice as long as the usual 15-minute segments broadcast on the show. Bradley, who narrates the report, is reportedly furious at the decision not to broadcast the segment. Jacoby concludes, ”60 Minutes defied the White House to produce this report. But it could not survive the network’s cowardice—cowardice born of self-inflicted wounds.” [Newsweek, 9/23/2004; Salon, 9/29/2004] The story will finally run on 60 Minutes almost two years later (see April 23, 2006).

Entity Tags: Jafar Dhia Jafar, Ed Bradley, CBS News, Bush administration (43), Andrew Heyward, Alle Elhadj Habibou, Elisabetta Burba, George W. Bush, Michael Isikoff, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Rocco Martino, Saddam Hussein, Mark Hosenball, Mary Jacoby

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Plame-Niger Controversy, Media Complicity

On a Sunday before the presidential election, a pastor in an unidentified church is conducting a morning service. The pastor asks the registered Republicans in the congregation to stand. About 80 percent of the congregation stands. The pastor then says, “Now, I want you to pray for the sinners who are present.” Author Craig Unger will be told this story in June 2005 by a member of the congregation who is present. Unger is allowed to retell the story under the conditions that no further details about the church, including its name and location, are revealed. [Unger, 2007, pp. 321]

Entity Tags: Craig Unger

Category Tags: 2004 Elections, Faith-Based Rhetoric

New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman tells CBS anchor Bob Schieffer, “What we’re gonna find out, Bob, in the next six to nine months is whether we have liberated a country or uncorked a civil war.” Friedman will continue predicting a resolution of the Iraq situation in “the next six months” until at least May 2006 (see May 6-11, 2006). [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, 5/16/2006]

Entity Tags: Thomas Friedman, Bob Schieffer

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: 'Friedman Unit', Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War

A US PSYOP leaflet disseminated in Iraq showing a caricature of al-Zarqawi caught in a rat trap. The caption reads: “This is your future, Zarqawi.”A US PSYOP leaflet disseminated in Iraq showing a caricature of al-Zarqawi caught in a rat trap. The caption reads: “This is your future, Zarqawi.” [Source: US Department of Defense]The Telegraph reports that US military intelligence agents in Iraq believe that the role of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the supposed leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, has been greatly exaggerated. The Bush administration has used al-Zarqawi as a villain to blame post-invasion troubles in the Iraq war and to connect the Iraqi insurgency to al-Qaeda (see February 9, 2004). [Daily Telegraph, 10/4/2004] For instance, in April 2004, US military spokesman Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch said that more than 90 percent of the suicide attacks in Iraq were carried out by terrorists recruited and trained by al-Zarqawi. [Washington Post, 6/10/2006] The Telegraph reports: “US military intelligence agents in Iraq have revealed a series of botched and often tawdry dealings with unreliable sources who, in the words of one source, ‘told us what we wanted to hear… We were basically paying up to $10,000 a time to opportunists, criminals, and chancers who passed off fiction and supposition about al-Zarqawi as cast-iron fact, making him out as the linchpin of just about every attack in Iraq… Back home this stuff was gratefully received and formed the basis of policy decisions. We needed a villain, someone identifiable for the public to latch on to, and we got one.’” Millitary intelligence officials believe that the insurgency is dominated by Iraqis and that the number of foreign fighters such as al-Zarqawi could be as low as 200. However, some of these officials complain that their reports to US leaders about this are largely being ignored. [Daily Telegraph, 10/4/2004] In 2006, leaked classified US military documents will show that the US military ran a propaganda campaign from at least early 2004 to exaggerate al-Zarqawi’s importance in the US and Iraqi media (see April 10, 2006).

Entity Tags: Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Bush administration (43), Al-Qaeda, Rick Lynch

Timeline Tags: US Military, Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Pentagon Propaganda Campaigns, Media Coverage of Iraq War

Wangari Maathai.Wangari Maathai. [Source: AFP / Front Page Magazine]Conservative pundit David Horowitz, the founder and editor of Front Page Magazine, calls Nobel Peace Prize laureate Wangari Maathai a “black racist” for her speculations that the AIDS virus may have been created in a laboratory. Maathai, a Kenyan ecologist and environmental activist, says: “Some say that AIDS came from the monkeys, and I doubt that because we have been living with monkeys [since] time immemorial, others say it was a curse from God, but I say it cannot be that. Us black people are dying more than any other people in this planet.… It’s true that there are some people who create agents to wipe out other people. If there were no such people, we could have not have invaded Iraq. We invaded Iraq because we believed that Saddam Hussein had made, or was in the process of creating, agents of biological warfare. In fact it [the HIV virus] is created by a scientist for biological warfare.… Why has there been so much secrecy about AIDS? When you ask where did the virus come from, it raises a lot of flags. That makes me suspicious.” A US State Department official says the US does not agree with Maathai’s claims about AIDS. Horowitz responds to Maathai’s speculations by posting an article on the Front Page Web site entitled “Black Racist Wins Nobel Prize (Thanks to the Leftwing Racists on the Nobel Committee).” [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/9/2004; Front Page Magazine, 10/9/2004; Media Matters, 12/1/2004] Four days later, Horowitz features an article by Front Page author Ben Johnson entitled “Nobel Hates Whitey,” in which Johnson calls Maathai “a paranoid, anti-white, anti-Western crusader for international socialism.” Johnson interprets Maathai’s words to mean that, in his phrasing, “white devils” concocted AIDS to eradicate blacks. He terms her claims “blood libel,” accuses her of fomenting violence against Kenyan police, and says she has worked with environmentalists at the United Nations to promote “global socialism.” [Front Page Magazine, 10/13/2004]

Entity Tags: Ben Johnson, Wangari Maathai, David Horowitz

Category Tags: Race-Based Rhetoric, Conservative Media Pundits

A New York Times editorial accuses the Plame Wilson identity leak investigation of “veer[ing] terribly off course,” and in doing so “threaten[ing] grievous harm to freedom of the press and the vital protection it provides against government misconduct.” The editorial is in response to the recent sentencing of Times reporter Judith Miller to a jail term for refusing to testify before a grand jury (see October 7, 2004). The Times writes, “The specter of reporters’ being imprisoned merely for doing their jobs is something that should worry everyone who cherishes the First Amendment and the essential role of a free press in a democracy.” The Times concludes: “Supreme Court precedent protects them from harassment and heedless prosecutorial fishing expeditions like this one. The situation points to the wisdom of state laws that recognize and protect a special relationship between journalists and their sources. Congress should follow their lead.” [New York Times, 10/14/2004]

Entity Tags: New York Times, Judith Miller

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Category Tags: Plame-Niger Controversy

New York Times columnist William Safire accuses the Kerry-Edwards campaign of trying to use homophobia in its attempts to defeat the Bush-Cheney ticket. Safire notes that in a recent debate, vice-presidential candidate John Edwards “smarmily compliment[ed]” Vice President Dick Cheney and his family for their acceptance of their openly gay daughter, Mary Cheney. Though Safire acknowledges that Cheney has referred to his daughter as gay several times before, until Edwards’s comment, “only political junkies knew that a member of the Cheney family serving on the campaign staff was homosexual… the press—respecting family privacy—had properly not made it a big deal.” Safire says Edwards’s remark was planned and orchestrated by the Kerry campaign debate preparation team, and says that Kerry’s recent reference to the Cheneys’ “lesbian” daughter was a deliberate and “sleazy” attempt to foment anti-gay sentiment against the Republican ticket, particularly among Bush supporters. Safire notes that because of the Bush administration’s support for anti-gay legislation, the Kerry campaign has declared Mary Cheney “fair game” for bringing up the administration’s opposition to gay rights. Safire also says that the term “lesbian” is itself an anti-gay slur. [New York Times, 10/18/2004] Safire does not note the repeated denials by the Kerry campaign that any such orchestration took place, or that the campaign intends to do anything besides highlight the Bush presidency’s opposition to gay rights; some of those denials were reported by the Times itself. On October 16, Kerry said of Edwards’s comment: “It was meant as a very constructive comment, in a positive way. I respect their love for their daughter and I respect who she is, as they do.… I think it was a way of saying, ‘Look, she’s who she is.’ I have great respect for her, great respect for them. It was meant constructively in terms of their love and affection for a person who is who she is.” Kerry and his aides have repeatedly denied any such orchestration as Safire alleges. “There were dozens and dozens of hours about how to discuss Social Security, Iraq, and other issues,” says campaign strategist Joe Lockhart. “There was no discussion of this.” [New York Times, 10/16/2004] Knight Ridder has reported that a “senior Kerry adviser, speaking on condition of anonymity because the campaign didn’t want to fan publicity on this topic,” said that Kerry’s mention of Mary Cheney “was not a prepared riff.” Media Matters, a progressive media watchdog organization, notes that contrary to Safire’s assertions, many voters already knew that Mary Cheney was gay long before the debates. A search of a commercial news database shows 432 results for “Cheney” and “gay daughter.” Washington Post media reporter Howard Kurtz has written that the fact of Mary Cheney’s homosexuality is “hardly a state secret.” [Media Matters, 10/18/2004]

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, John Edwards, Joe Lockhart, Howard Kurtz, John Kerry, Media Matters, William Safire, Mary Cheney

Timeline Tags: 2004 Elections

Category Tags: Gender-Based Rhetoric, Conservative Media Pundits, Media Complicity

In a New York Times editorial printed one day before the presidential election, columnist William Safire implies that Osama bin Laden is trying to influence the American electorate to vote against President Bush and for his challenger, Democratic candidate John Kerry. Safire writes that bin Laden’s recent message to American voters (see October 29, 2004) proves that “his intercession in our election” has not yet been “as successful as his pre-election panicking of Spain’s voters,” referring to a recent election where Spanish voters repudiated the conservative incumbent and elected a more liberal choice. Safire says bin Laden has echoed themes from Kerry’s campaign, specifically Kerry’s frequent assertions that Bush has not been truthful with the American people, and says the Islamist figure “delight[ed]” in the anti-Bush film Fahrenheit 911. Safire says that bin Laden’s apparent calls for some form of reconciliation or an easing of armed conflict between al-Qaeda and the West is his attempt to persuade Americans that voting for Kerry will bring about peace in the Middle East. “Generals do not call for a truce when they’re winning,” he writes. “Only warriors thrust on the defensive become conciliatory, hoping that negotiations will give them time to regroup and resupply. Bin Laden’s vain hope seems to be that the defeat of Bush will give him time to buy or steal a horrific weapon as an ‘equalizer.’” Safire goes on to accuse UN arms inspector Mohamed ElBaradei of joining with bin Laden in trying to mount an “October surprise” to defeat Bush, and details what he believes is a conspiracy between ElBaradei, the United Nations, and CBS News to publish a story concerning US troops’ failure to secure explosive devices in time to affect the election. He says the New York Times refused to hold the article until October 31, as CBS allegedly desired, and printed the article a week before. Safire writes, “If Kerry wins, the Egyptian [ElBaradei] should be chief UN inspector for life,” and he calls bin Laden’s recent videotaped message “anti-Bush overkill” that will “help ensure the president’s re-election.” [New York Times, 11/1/2004] Contradicting Safire’s assertions, Bruce Hoffman of the RAND Corporation says he “agrees with those who see bin Laden probably preferring the current administration.” The Christian Science Monitor quotes a senior US intelligence official as saying that bin Laden released the videotaped message to help Bush’s re-election chances: “Bin Laden knows us well enough to realize that we will take offense at him, the most reviled man in the world, criticizing our president” (see October 29, 2004 and October 29, 2004). [Christian Science Monitor, 11/1/2004]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, CBS News, Bruce Hoffman, George W. Bush, John Kerry, United Nations, William Safire, Mohamed ElBaradei, New York Times

Timeline Tags: 2004 Elections

Category Tags: Conservative Media Pundits, Media Complicity

The day after President Bush’s presidential election victory over Senator John Kerry (D-MA), an Associated Press exit poll indicates that 22 percent of voters made their choice because of “moral values”—a higher ranked criterion than the Iraq war, the threat of terrorism, or the economy. The mainstream media seizes on the poll as an indication of a new focus on morality among American voters. “It really is Michael Moore versus Mel Gibson,” says former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, comparing the liberal documentary maker to the actor who has wooed conservatives with his recent film, The Passion of the Christ. News analysts say that singer Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction,” where she showed her right breast for a moment during the February 2004 Super Bowl halftime show, was “the socio-political event of the past year.” Bush campaign manager and White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove says, “I think it’s people who are concerned about the coarseness of our culture, about what they see on the television sets, what they see in the movies.” Conservative columnist Robert Novak uses the poll to claim that “the anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage, socially conservative agenda is transcendant.” Author and media critic Frank Rich will note that the interpretation of the poll is transparently false. First, he will point out, if one adds together the 19 percent who chose terrorism and the 15 percent who chose Iraq as the issues that most drove their vote, then it is “clear that national security was of greater concern to Americans than ‘moral values.’” Moreover, the poll itself is suspect: the category of “moral values” is so general as to mean anything from, as Rich will write, “abortion to aiding the poor to being nice to your mother.” According to a Pew Research Center analysis, the over-generalized category of “moral values” is an easy way for voters to choose “none of the above” instead of choosing a specific issue as their single motivator. According to Rich, Pew will find that “when voters were given no menu of suggestions to choose from, Iraq, the economy, and terrorism led by far, and issues that might be labeled as ‘values’ polled in the low single digits.” Worse for the conservative “moral values” argument, 60 percent of those polled actually favored either same-sex marriage or civil unions, and 55 percent support abortion in one form or another. ABC News polling director Greg Langer later notes that the erroneous “moral values” claim “created a deep distortion—one that threatens to misinform the political discourse for years to come.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 150-151] One effect of the new “moral values” perception is the decision by 66 ABC affiliates not to air the World War II film Saving Private Ryan over Memorial Day over fears that the profanity and violence portrayed in the film might result in fines from the Federal Communications Commission (see November 11, 2004).

Entity Tags: Newt Gingrich, ABC, Associated Press, Frank Rich, Pew Research Center, Robert Novak, Greg Langer, Karl C. Rove

Category Tags: 2004 Elections, Media Complicity

Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity claims, falsely, that former vice president and Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore “brought Willie Horton to the American people.” Hannity is referring to the infamous “Willie Horton” ad of the 1988 presidential campaign, a Republican campaign strategy that claimed African-American Willie Horton was released and went on to rape a white woman by Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis (see September 21 - October 4, 1988). Hannity’s statement comes in response to a recent citation of the Horton ad by Princeton University professor Cornel West, who cited the ad as an example of the Republican Party’s political exploitation of race. Hannity notes correctly that in the 1988 Democratic presidential primaries, Gore asked Dukakis about “weekend passes for convicted criminals,” referring to the Massachusetts furlough program that freed Horton. However, Gore never mentioned Horton at all. The first national mention of Horton came in the ads released by the Bush campaign and by an ostensibly independent conservative organization, the National Security Political Action Committee (NSPAC). According to progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters, Hannity has made similar claims about Gore first bringing up Horton in the past. [Media Matters, 11/10/2004]

Entity Tags: Sean Hannity, William (“Willie”) Horton, Fox News, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Cornel West, Republican Party, National Security Political Action Committee, Michael Dukakis

Category Tags: Race-Based Rhetoric, Conservative Media Pundits, Fox News

Studio poster for ‘Saving Private Ryan.’Studio poster for ‘Saving Private Ryan.’ [Source: Little Golden Guy (.com)]Sixty-six of ABC’s 225 affiliated stations choose not to air the World War II film Saving Private Ryan on Veterans Day. ABC aired the film, widely considered a homage to American soldiers, on Veterans Day in 2001 and 2002 without complaint. But with new concerns that the Bush administration, and the American electorate, is energized by a passion for “moral values” (see November 3, 2004), the stations’ executives believe they may risk fines from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The film opens with a graphic depiction of the famous D-Day invasion of Normandy by US, British, and Canadian forces, and the entire film contains a significant amount of profanity. The FCC could impose fines of up to $32,500 on a station if it finds the film violates moral and ethical standards. The FCC says it has received complaints, but has not yet decided to mount any sort of investigation. Many stations choosing not to air the film say that if their viewers are angry at the decision, they should call the FCC themselves. ABC spokeswoman Susan Sewell says the “overwhelming majority” of viewers are comfortable with their decision to broadcast the film. Some of the stations choosing not to air the film point to a recent FCC decision to fine CBS stations up to $500,000 for airing a Super Bowl halftime show in which entertainer Janet Jackson exposed her right breast for a moment. ABC’s contract with DreamWorks, the film studio who produced Saving Private Ryan, does not allow the network or its stations to edit the film. ABC shows an introduction by Senator John McCain (R-AZ), a prisoner of war during Vietnam. Jack Valenti, the former head of the Motion Pictures Association of America, says that he cannot imagine the FCC fining any station for showing the film: “I think that this planet would collide with Saturn before that happens.” [Associated Press, 11/12/2004; BBC, 11/13/2004] In 2006, author and media critic Frank Rich will write that “merely the fear of reprisals was enough to push television stations… onto the slippery slope of self-censorship before anyone in Washington even bothered to act.” Rich asks if such self-censorship might extend into these stations’, and networks’, coverage of the Iraq war: “If these media outlets were afraid to show a graphic Hollywood treatment of a 60-year old war starring the beloved Tom Hanks because the feds might fine them, toy with their licenses, or deny them regulatory permission to expand their empires, might they curry favor with Washington by softening their news divisions’ efforts to present the ugly facts of an ongoing war? The pressure groups that were incensed by both Saving Private Ryan and risque programming were often the same ones who campaigned against any news organization that was not toeing the administration political line in lockstep with Fox [News].” [Rich, 2006, pp. 153-154]

Entity Tags: Janet Jackson, CBS, ABC, DreamWorks, Jack Valenti, Susan Sewell, Federal Communications Commission, John McCain

Category Tags: 2004 Elections, Fox News

US News and World Report senior writer Michael Barone accuses Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg of “blood libel on the American people” in response to Greenberg’s claim that the 1988 Bush campaign ads featuring convicted murderer Willie Horton were examples of “racial politics” (see September 21 - October 4, 1988). The progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters will note that the phrase “blood libel” specifically denotes accusations that a particular group, often Jews, practices human sacrifice, and cites one famous (and entirely false) allegation that “Jews kill Christian and Muslim children and use their blood to make Passover matzohs.” Barone and Greenberg are panelists on the evening’s edition of The Kalb Report, a panel discussion on C-SPAN hosted by journalist and author Marvin Kalb. The topic of the current discussion is “A Post-Election Analysis: Values, Religion, Politics, and the Media.” Greenberg calls the Horton ads examples of “racial politics in the 1980s,” to which Barone says in response: “I think this whole Willie Horton thing is a slur on the American people. The argument has been made by Democrats and liberals that the Bush campaign in ‘88 supposedly showed pictures of this man. It did not. There was an independent expenditure ad that did. But they did not. They showed white prisoners in the ad. And the argument against [1988 Democratic presidential candidate] Michael Dukakis, which he never effectively countered because there is no effective counter, is that giving furlough to people who have life without parole is a position that Dukakis defended over 11 years as governor of Massachusetts or governor candidate, is a crazy law, and he supported it over 11 years. You don’t have to be a racist to want a murderer, whatever his race, to stay in jail and not be allowed outside on the weekend. To say that the American people were racist and they just want black people in, is blood libel on the American people.” Barone is incorrect in saying that Horton’s picture was never used in the ads (it was not used in official Bush campaign ads, but it was used in ads by purportedly “independent” organizations supporting the Bush candidacy), and he fails to note that while Dukakis indeed supported the Massachusetts furlough law that allowed Horton the freedom to commit felonies even after being sent to jail for murder, he did not enact the law. Media Matters will note that the Horton ads have long been accepted as strong examples of racial politics, including a 1995 statement from Secretary of State Colin Powell who called the ads “racist.” [Media Matters, 11/17/2004]

Entity Tags: Media Matters, Anna Greenberg, Colin Powell, Michael Barone, George Herbert Walker Bush, William (“Willie”) Horton, Marvin Kalb, Michael Dukakis

Category Tags: Race-Based Rhetoric, Conservative Media Pundits

A still from the advertisement featuring Terrell Owens and Nicollete Sheridan.A still from the advertisement featuring Terrell Owens and Nicollete Sheridan. [Source: ESPN]Author Sam Francis (see September 1995), in a column originally published on the white supremacist Web site VDare.com, criticizes the broadcast of an ESPN ad featuring a white actress kissing a black football player, and says the ad promotes the “fairly radical concept” that “interracial sex is normal and legitimate.” The ad features “white sexpot Nicolette Sheridan… smooching up to black football star Terrell Owens in the locker room of the Philadelphia Eagles.” Francis calls the ad “an intentional act of moral subversion,” and continues: “[T]he Owens-Sheridan ad was interracial and brazenly so—if only morals and taste had been the targets, the producers could easily have found white actresses who are less obviously Nordic than the golden-locked Miss Sheridan, but Nordic is what the ad’s producers no doubt wanted.… The message of the ad was that the white women are eager to have sex with black men, that they should be eager, and that black men should take them up on it.” Francis goes on to say the ad would have been less objectionable had the two people involved been of the same race. Instead: “[T]he ad’s message also was that interracial sex is normal and legitimate, a fairly radical concept for both the dominant media as well as its audience. Nevertheless, for decades, interracial couples of different sexes have been sneaked into advertising, movies, and television series, and almost certainly not because of popular demand from either race. The Owens-Sheridan match is only the most notorious to date. In the minds of those who produced the ad, race is at least as important as the moral and aesthetic norms their ad subverts. To them, the race as well as the religion, the morality, and the culture of the host society are all equally hostile and oppressive forces that need to be discredited, debunked, and destroyed. If the destruction can’t happen at the polls or through the courts, they can always use the long march through the culture that control of the mass media allows. Breaking down the sexual barriers between the races is a major weapon of cultural destruction because it means the dissolution of the cultural boundaries that define breeding and the family and, ultimately, the transmission and survival of the culture itself.” Francis’s article is given national distribution by Creators Syndicate, prompting an outcry against Francis’s apparent belief that interracial sex is immoral. Creators Syndicate editor Anthony Zurcher says that while he does not personally agree with Francis’s column, he does not find it “so reprehensible” that it should not have been syndicated. Francis’s article is archived at, among other places, the Web site of the American Renaissance movement, an openly “racialist” group calling for white separatism and the enforced oppression of non-whites in the US. [American Renaissance, 11/26/2004; Media Matters, 12/10/2004] David Brock, the president of the progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters, writes in a letter to Creators Syndicate: “We strongly condemn the clear bigotry in this column and assume that newspaper editors across the country feel the same way, as a search of newspapers available on Nexis revealed that none have chosen to run the column. Regardless, Creators’ willingness to distribute such abhorrent views calls into question the syndicate’s ethical and editorial standards.” [Media Matters, 12/7/2004]

Entity Tags: Nicolette Sheridan, Anthony Zurcher, American Renaissance, Creators Syndicate, Sam Francis, David Brock, Terrell Owens

Category Tags: Gender-Based Rhetoric, Race-Based Rhetoric, Conservative Media Pundits, Media Complicity

New York Times foreign affairs columnist Thomas Friedman writes: “Improv time is over. This is crunch time. Iraq will be won or lost in the next few months. But it won’t be won with high rhetoric. It will be won on the ground in a war over the last mile.” Friedman will continue predicting a resolution of the Iraq situation in “the next six months” until at least May 2006 (see May 6-11, 2006). [New York Times, 11/28/2004]

Entity Tags: Thomas Friedman, New York Times

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: 'Friedman Unit', Media Complicity, Media Coverage of Iraq War

Sam Francis, a white supremacist and syndicated columnist (see September 1995), writes that immigrants are uniformly a threat to America because their inner nature precludes them from being able to assimilate into American culture. Francis calls reports of violent crimes performed by US immigrants “the predictable result of the mass immigration of a radically different people into a homogeneous community.” He writes: “The link between immigration and violence is that the aliens lack roots in the society and civilization into which they import themselves. The people they see aren’t their people, and their moral and social norms aren’t theirs either. Being strangers in a strange land, they feel little obligation to it or its members.” He asks why US government entities should even bother attempting to help immigrants assimilate into what he calls “the dominant culture,” writing, “Why should we need government bureaucracies to explain our traditions and values to masses of aliens who have no business coming here at all?” Francis’s columns are provided to a national audience by Creators Syndicate. [VDare (.com), 11/29/2004]

Entity Tags: Sam Francis

Category Tags: Race-Based Rhetoric, Conservative Media Pundits

Jesse Lee Peterson, appearing on a Fox News broadcast.Jesse Lee Peterson, appearing on a Fox News broadcast. [Source: Think Progress]The Reverend Jesse Lee Peterson attacks the Reverend Jesse Jackson for participating in what he calls a liberal conspiracy to “keep black[s] on the plantation of the Democratic Party.” Jackson has caused a media stir by raising questions about the fairness of the voting process in the November presidential elections in Ohio (see October 29, 2004 and Evening, October 31, 2004). Jackson, Peterson says, is part of an organized liberal effort to “keep black Americans angry in order to keep them on the plantation of the Democratic Party.” Peterson also accuses liberals of being the real racists in America, calls allegations that blacks were disenfranchised in the 2000 elections “a lie” (see November 7, 2000, November 7, 2000, November 7, 2000, 11:30 a.m. November 7, 2000, and Early Afternoon, November 7, 2000), and falsely claims that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA) supported reparations for slavery during his campaign. Peterson makes his remarks during an appearance on Fox News’s Hannity & Colmes. Co-host Sean Hannity is a member of BOND’s advisory board, and is quoted on the BOND Web site as calling Peterson “a great American” and “a man of conscience.” The liberal media watchdog organization Media Matters notes that Peterson has often attacked Jackson. Peterson’s organization, the Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny (BOND), has held a “National Day of Repudiation of Jesse Jackson” for the last five years. In an August 2000 article in the John Birch Society’s New American magazine, Peterson called Jackson a “problem profiteer… who makes millions by exploiting and exacerbating racial tensions.” He wrote a 2003 book entitled Scam: How the Black Leadership Exploits Black America, in which he attacked Jackson, the Reverend Al Sharpton, and other black civil rights leaders. Peterson and BOND have led a boycott of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), claiming the organization is “a tool of the liberal elite socialist wing of the Democratic Party.” And he is currently suing Jackson for assault and civil rights violations [Media Matters, 11/30/2004] (the case will be settled out of court in 2006 after a jury dismisses all but one charge against Jackson and deadlocks on the remaining charge). [Judicial Watch, 1/27/2006]

Entity Tags: John Birch Society, Al Sharpton, Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny, Jesse Lee Peterson, John Kerry, Sean Hannity, Jesse Jackson, Media Matters, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People

Timeline Tags: 2004 Elections

Category Tags: 2004 Elections, Race-Based Rhetoric, Conservative Media Pundits, Fox News

Conservative pundit and author David Horowitz labels liberal radio host Al Franken a “racist,” publishing a photograph of Franken on his Web site labeled as such. In 2003, Franken termed Horowitz a “racist” in his book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, citing numerous examples of what Franken believed to be racist comments from Horowitz. In his op-ed, Horowitz promises to keep the photograph on the front page of his Web publication Front Page Magazine until Franken “apologize[s] to me publicly for this attack.” Horowitz widens his claim, adding that the Internet is studded with Web sites and organizations used by Franken and other liberals to tar conservatives with charges of “racism,” and compares those organizations—including Public Eye, NameBase, MediaTransparency, People for the American Way, and the Southern Poverty Law Center—of being “leftwing version(s) of ‘Red Channels,’ the infamous newsletter that provided lists of Communists in the McCarthy era.” National Review editor Jay Nordlinger joins with Horowitz in attacking Franken in a column published simultaneously on the National Review’s Web site. Horowitz writes that he was aware of Franken’s disparaging remarks about him in his book, but has only now chosen “to take notice of Franken’s assault.” He writes, “There is not a single sentence, or phrase, or comment of mine that could be cited to justify Franken’s attack.” He refuses to say why Franken is a racist, but promises to reveal his evidence of Franken’s racism after Franken apologizes. Responding to Horowitz’s op-ed, the progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters notes several instances of what appear to be overtly racist remarks and writings by Horowitz, including his attempt to characterize the idea of slavery reparations as “racist” (see March 1-2, 2001), and his attempt to claim that blacks themselves are responsible for the economic and criminal depredations their communities endure (see August 16, 1998). [Media Matters, 11/30/2004; Front Page Magazine, 11/30/2004] Horowitz has a long history of labeling liberal and progressive figures and institutions “racist” (see August 29, 2001, March 15, 2002, July 15, 2002, August 5, 2003, and October 9-13, 2004).

Entity Tags: Media Matters, Al Franken, Jay Nordlinger, David Horowitz

Category Tags: Race-Based Rhetoric, Conservative Media Pundits, Liberal Media Pundits

Stephen Williams, a fifth-grade teacher at a Cupertino, California public school, is prevented by school administrators from selecting passages from historical documents for his students that reinforce his belief that the US is a strictly Christian nation; in return, many media representatives accuse his school district of “banning the Declaration of Independence” from being taught. Williams describes himself as an “orthodox Christian.” He wants his students to learn that America’s “Founding Fathers” were staunch Christians who intended to create a nation based on Biblical tenets, a position not supported by the historical record. After finding few citations in school textbooks to support his beliefs, Williams began giving his students selected passages from a number of historical documents, including William Penn’s “Frame of Government in Pennsylvania,” the Delaware State Constitution, George Washington’s prayer journal, and President Bush’s statement on the recent National Prayer Day, where he told the nation, “Prayer is an opportunity to praise God for His mighty works.” Some of the parents of Williams’s students believed he was attempting to evangelize their children; one parent said, “My daughter came home one day and said, ‘Mr. Williams talks about Jesus 100 times a day.’” Williams’s principal, Patricia Vidmar, began reviewing his lesson plans and supplemental handouts to ensure that he does not proselytize religion to his students. Williams responded with a lawsuit complaining that his free speech and academic freedom had been unduly constrained. (Williams is being represented in court by the Alliance Defense Fund, which has filed several lawsuits challenging the legality of same-sex marriage.) When the national press reports Williams’s situation, conservative pundits and radio hosts begin informing, and misinforming, their listeners and readers about Williams and his teaching; many tell their audiences that the Cupertino school district is “banning the Declaration of Independence.” Fox News talk show hosts Sean Hannity and John Gibson, along with Fox News anchor Brit Hume, Fox News analyst Newt Gingrich, and MSNBC commentator Monica Crowley, all tell their audiences that the school does not allow the Declaration of Independence to be referenced in its classes. The conservative National Lawyers Association accuses Vidmar, whom it terms a “rogue school principal,” of working towards “rul[ing] that the Constitution is unconstitutional.” Some parents, district supporters, and civil liberties advocates say Williams has become a rallying point for conservative Christians eager to, in their words, rewrite American history. Ivory Madison, a legal analyst for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, says: “This is the same thing that people have been trying to do for 200 years. The only difference now is that they’re well funded, media savvy, and litigious. It’s a shame that our tax dollars have to be used for a school district to defend the Constitution.” One parent at the Cupertino school says of Williams’s teaching: “This is not about teaching history, this is about indoctrination.… [W]hat would happen if someone whose religion is not a majority religion would be doing this? It isn’t OK [for a teacher] to make a kid feel like he isn’t like you.” Another parent asked the school not to place her child in Williams’s class this year, and says, “[W]hat he’s doing isn’t teaching history. If you were teaching at a church school, that would be great. But he isn’t.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 12/8/2004; Media Matters, 12/10/2004]

Entity Tags: Monica Crowley, Brit Hume, Alliance Defense Fund, Fox News, John Gibson, Newt Gingrich, Stephen Williams, National Lawyers Association, Ivory Madison, Patricia Vidmar, Sean Hannity

Category Tags: Faith-Based Rhetoric, Conservative Media Pundits, Media Complicity, Fox News

Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE), an “astroturf” advocacy organization funded by the Koch brothers (see 1984 and After), is accused of breaking campaign laws to support the Bush re-election campaign. Oregon’s CSE branch had attempted to get consumer advocate Ralph Nader on the presidential ballot, in an attempt to dilute Democratic support for presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA). Critics argue that it is illegal for a tax-exempt organization such as CSE to donate its services for partisan purposes. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) dismisses a complaint brought against the organization. [New Yorker, 8/30/2010]

Entity Tags: David Koch, Charles Koch, Citizens for a Sound Economy, John Kerry, Federal Election Commission, George W. Bush, Ralph Nader

Category Tags: 2004 Elections, Marketing and Public Relations, Political Front Groups

Americans for Prosperity logo.Americans for Prosperity logo. [Source: Americans for Prosperity]After the 2004 presidential election, the “astroturf” organization Citizens for a Sound Economy (see Late 2004) splits due to internal dissension. Oil billionaire David Koch and Koch Industries lobbyist Richard Fink (see August 30, 2010) launch a new “astroturf” organization, Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see May 29, 2009)). They hire Tim Phillips to run the organization. Phillips (see August 6, 2009) is a veteran political operative who worked closely with Republican operative Ralph Reed; the two co-founded the political consulting firm Century Strategies. Phillips’s online biography will describe him as an expert in “grasstops” and “grassroots” political organizing. Conservative operative Grover Norquist will call Phillips “a grownup who can make things happen.” In 2009, Phillips will claim that AFP has “only” 800,000 members, but its Web site will claim “1.2 million activists.” A former employee of the Cato Institute, a Koch-founded libertarian think tank, will say that AFP is “micromanaged by the Kochs” (indicating involvement by both David and Charles Koch). [New Yorker, 8/30/2010]

Entity Tags: David Koch, Cato Institute, Americans for Prosperity, Century Strategies, Citizens for a Sound Economy, Koch Industries, Charles Koch, Tim Phillips, Ralph Reed, Richard Fink, Grover Norquist

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, Political Front Groups

Political scientist Timothy Groseclose of UCLA and economist Jeffrey Milyo of the University of Missouri-Columbia release a study entitled “A Measure of Media Bias” that purports to document the “liberal bias” of the mainstream media. Unfortunately for Groseclose and Milyo’s conclusions, their measure of “bias” is found severely wanting, and they fail to mention the substantial body of scholarly work that challenges their theories. The study contains observations of 20 mainstream news outlets, including national newspapers, news magazines, and network and cable television news channels. [Groseclose and Milyo, 12/2004; MSNBC, 12/19/2005; Media Matters, 12/21/2005]
Previous Positions at Conservative Institutions - Groseclose and Milyo have previously received significant funding for their research from three prominent conservative think tanks: the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI), the Heritage Foundation, and the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace. Groseclose has served as a fellow of the Hoover Institution, while Milyo received a $40,500 grant from AEI. Both were named as fellows by the Heritage Foundation. The two authored an article for the conservative American Spectator in 1996.
Flawed Study - Groseclose and Milyo, according to their study, “measure media bias by estimating ideological scores for several major media outlets” based on the frequency with which various think tanks and advocacy organizations were cited approvingly by the media and by members of Congress over a 10-year period. In order to assess media “bias,” the authors assembled the ideological scores given to members of Congress by the liberal group Americans for Democratic Action; examined the floor speeches of selected members to catalog which think tanks and policy organizations were cited by those members; used those citations as the basis for an ideological score assigned to each think tank (organizations cited by liberal members were scored as more liberal, whereas organizations cited by conservative members were scored as more conservative); then performed a content analysis of newspapers and TV programs to catalog which think tanks and policy organizations were quoted. If a news organization quoted a think tank mentioned by conservative members of Congress, then it was said to have a conservative “bias.” The authors write: “As a simplified example, imagine that there were only two think tanks, and suppose that the New York Times cited the first think tank twice as often as the second. Our method asks: What is the estimated ADA score of a member of Congress who exhibits the same frequency (2:1) in his or her speeches? This is the score that our method would assign the New York Times.” The progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters will call the methodology “bizarre,” and will write: “If a member of Congress cites a think tank approvingly, and if that think tank is also cited by a news organization, then the news organization has a ‘bias’ making it an ideological mirror of the member of Congress who cited the think tank. This, as Groseclose and Milyo define it, is what constitutes ‘media bias.’” [Groseclose and Milyo, 12/2004; Media Matters, 12/21/2005] In December 2005, the parent company of the Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones and Co., will question the study’s validity, noting: “[I]ts measure of media bias consists entirely of counting the number of mentions of, or quotes from, various think tanks that the researchers determine to be ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative.‘… And if a think tank is explicitly labeled ‘liberal” or “conservative’ within a story to provide context to readers, that example doesn’t count at all. The researchers simply threw out such mentions.” [Poynter Online, 12/21/2005]
Classifying Organizations - Groseclose and Milyo assign “scores” to a variety of partisan and nonpartisan advocacy groups and think tanks. Some of these scores are problematic:
bullet The National Rifle Association (NRA), widely characterized as a strongly conservative organization, scores a 49.5 on a 100-point scale, classifying it as barely conservative;
bullet The RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research organization closely affiliated with the Defense Department, scores a 60.4, classifying it as strongly liberal;
bullet The Council on Foreign Relations, a nonpartisan political organization featuring both Republicans and Democrats on its board and headed by a former Bush administration official, scores a 60.2, classifying it as solidly liberal;
bullet The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), an organization consistently reviled by conservative pundits, scores a 49.8, classifying it as slightly conservative;
bullet The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks political contributions, scores a 66.9, classifying it as highly liberal;
bullet The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a defense policy think tank chaired by former Democratic House member Dave McCurdy, scores a 33.9, classifying it as more conservative than AEI and the hard-right National Taxpayers Union.
Lack of 'Balance' Indicates Bias in Study - According to Media Matters, Groseclose and Milyo classify news stories as exhibiting a partisan bias if they fail to balance a “liberal” group’s quote with a “conservative” group’s quote, regardless of the nature of the reporting. For example, the authors cite the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which they classify as staunchly liberal, as one of the organizations most often quoted without “balancing” quotes from conservative groups. Media Matters will write, “[B]ecause there are no pro-racism groups of any legitimacy (or on Groseclose and Milyo’s list), such stories will be coded as having a ‘liberal bias.’” In contrast, stories featured in the study that quote a spokesperson from the NRA are often “balanced” by quotes from a “liberal” organization, Handgun Control, Inc., though, as Media Matters will note, that organization renamed itself the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence in 2001, and Groseclose and Milyo do not include that name in their statistics, “therefore, it is impossible to determine from reading the study if Groseclose and Milyo’s score reflects post-2001 citations by legislators and the media of the group under its new name.” Moreover, because the study only assigns partisan weight to quotes from advocacy groups or think tanks, if a story cites a member of Congress as taking a position and contrasts that position with a quote from a think tank, that story, according to the authors, is “biased” in favor of the think tank’s position. Media Matters calls this practice “miscategorization.”
Assuming Reporter, News Outlet Bias - One of the most questionable practices in the study is the assumption that if a reporter quotes a source, that reporter—or his or her news outlet—must believe the opinions expressed by that source. Media Matters will write that “most, if not all, reporters across the ideological spectrum would find [that assumption] utterly ridiculous.” [Groseclose and Milyo, 12/2004; Media Matters, 12/21/2005] The Dow Jones statement will find, “By this logic, a mention of al-Qaeda in a story suggests the newspaper endorses its views, which is obviously not the case.” [Poynter Online, 12/21/2005] The authors say that only two mainstream news outlets, Fox News and the Washington Times, slant rightward. The study finds that Fox News’s coverage is quite moderate; in a 2005 interview on MSNBC, Milyo will say that Fox’s news coverage can be equated with the moderate Republicanism of Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME), considered the most “liberal”-leaning Republican in Congress. [MSNBC, 12/19/2005]
Bias Findings at Odds with History - The study makes some odd conclusions about liberal bias: for example, the Wall Street Journal, whose op-ed page has long avowed itself as a champion of conservative thought, is characterized by the study as having more “liberal bias” than any news outlet surveyed. The authors claim that they studied only news reporting and not editorial writings, but as Media Matters will note, “the Journal is respected on both the right and the left, and it would be shocking to hear even the most rabid right-winger assert that the Journal is America’s most liberal news outlet.” [Groseclose and Milyo, 12/2004; Media Matters, 12/21/2005]
Methodology Flawed - In December 2005, a spokesman for Dow Jones will call the study “logically suspect and simply baffling.” The statement will note that Groseclose and Milyo only studied four months of Journal reporting, from 2002, while they studied 12 years of CBS News reporting, 11 years of National Public Radio reporting, eight years of reporting from US News and World Report, and two years of reporting from Time Magazine. The Washington Post and Washington Times were also only studied for brief periods. “Yet the researchers provide those findings the same weight as all the others, without bothering to explain that in any meaningful way to the study’s readers,” the statement will note. It will conclude, “Suffice it to say that ‘research’ of this variety would be unlikely to warrant a mention at all in any Wall Street Journal story” (see December 21, 2005).
Failure to Mention Other Studies - The authors fail to mention a large number of previous studies of “media bias.” They do, however, cite three studies that, according to Media Matters, are as “questionable” as this particular study. One assumed that since conservatives say in surveys that the media is biased, then that bias unquestionably exists. The second assumed that news magazines that sold more subscriptions in geographic areas weighted towards Democratic voters were biased in favor of Democrats. The third is an AEI study whose statistics and methodologies were found to be deeply flawed. Groseclose and Milyo ignore one of the most rigorous and exhaustive studies in recent years, a 2000 analysis by the International Communication Association, which found that newspapers and news magazines exhibited little measurable bias, and television network news broadcasts exhibited measurable but relatively insubstantial bias. That study included 59 other studies, all of which go unmentioned in the Groseclose-Milyo study.
Conservative Bibliography - Media Matters will write that the authors seem almost unaware that other studies of media bias exist. The study’s bibliography is heavily freighted with citations from conservative media critics such as Brent Bozell (founder of the Media Research Center) and Reed Irvine (the late founder of Accuracy in Media). The bibliography also cites an article from the hard-right Internet publication WorldNetDaily. It does not cite any entries from dozens of well-known scholarly journals of communication and media studies, most of which have examined the topic of media bias in their pages. [Groseclose and Milyo, 12/2004; Media Matters, 12/21/2005]

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is accused of racism following remarks he makes about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas on NBC’s Meet the Press. Asked by moderator Tim Russert if he could support conservative Justice Antonin Scalia as chief justice, Reid says Scalia’s ethics problems are troubling and that he disagrees with most of his positions, but adds that Scalia “is one smart guy.” Asked if he could support Thomas, Reid says: “I think that he has been an embarrassment to the Supreme Court. I think that his opinions are poorly written. I don’t—I just don’t think that he’s done a good job as a Supreme Court justice.” [NBC News, 12/5/2004] Conservative pundits are quick to accuse Reid of racism, though he never makes any mention of Thomas’s race. On December 6, Charles Krauthammer tells a Fox News audience: “In the end, you’ve got to ask yourself, why Scalia, good, Thomas, bad in the eyes of a man like Reid. I say it’s the liberal plantation mentality, in which if you’re a man on the right and white, it’s OK. If you are the man on the right and you’re African-American, it’s not.” The same day, Clifford May tells a CNN audience: “Look, Justice Thomas is African-American and he’s conservative. Some people [like Reid] will never forgive that and think that’s an open opportunity to insult him.” During his daytime radio broadcast, talk show host Rush Limbaugh tells his audience: “[I]t’s not a new page in the playbook but it’s certainly not as old as the playbook itself. But it’s been around awhile. That is conservative blacks are inept, a la Clarence Thomas.… You notice how easy it is for these people to be critical of blacks.” Wall Street Journal columnist James Taranto writes that since Reid did not provide examples of Thomas’s “poorly written” opinions, “[i]n the absence of such examples, one can’t help but suspect that the new Senate Democratic leader is simply stereotyping Thomas as unintelligent because he is black.” That evening, Sean Hannity, co-host of Fox’s Hannity and Colmes, tells his listeners that Democrats routinely attack minority conservatives such as Thomas, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and federal judge nominee Miguel Estrada, and adds: “What I see is Democrats oppose African-Americans that are conservative, but yet they claim to support minority rights. And what I’m saying here is, why, if you’re for the advancement of minorities, why do you oppose every conservative African-American or Hispanic American? Why is this pattern emerging?” On December 7, African-American conservative Armstrong Williams says on Fox’s Hannity and Colmes: “Did you hear those racist remarks from Senator Harry Reid about Justice Thomas?… Harry Reid’s the one—he said Thomas was an embarrassment. He said he cannot write. That is racism.… That is racism, only because of the hue of his skin.… Read his [Reid’s] words. He was a racist.” On December 8, Taranto writes in another Wall Street Journal column, “To try to make Republican judges seem menacing, the Dems could call them ‘extremist’ or ‘out of the mainstream’ (and if the judges happen to be black, add that their opinions are ‘poorly written’).” [Washington Post, 12/6/2004; Media Matters, 12/8/2004] Conservative columnist Ann Coulter will include Reid in her much wider attacks against what she calls “liberal racism” (see December 8, 2004).

Entity Tags: Clarence Thomas, Charles Krauthammer, Antonin Scalia, Ann Coulter, Tim Russert, Sean Hannity, Miguel Estrada, Armstrong Williams, Condoleezza Rice, Clifford May, James Taranto, Harry Reid, Rush Limbaugh

Category Tags: Race-Based Rhetoric, Conservative Media Pundits, Fox News

Conservative columnist Ann Coulter, in her daily syndicated column, accuses Democrats and liberals of “racism” for criticizing African-American conservatives. Coulter’s column is partly in response to recent remarks by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) that other conservatives have characterized as racist (see December 5-8, 2004). Coulter expands her criticism well beyond Reid, to accuse African-American columnist Bob Herbert of the New York Times of being a “black liberal” whose criticism of black conservatives is, in her view, racially motivated, and accuses white Times media critic Caryn James of “launching racist attacks on black conservatives” (Coulter mistakenly identifies James as African-American). Coulter begins by referring to comments by the recently deceased Washington Post columnist Mary McGrory, who called Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia “a brillant and compelling extremist” and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (see October 13, 1991) “Scalia’s puppet.” According to Coulter, McGrory’s statement “is the kind of rhetoric liberals are reduced to when they just can’t bring themselves to use the N-word.” Referring to Reid’s characterization of Thomas as the author of “poorly written” Court opinions, Coulter writes, “You’d think Thomas’ opinions were written in ebonics.” She concludes by calling Herbert and James “Uncle Toms.” The same evening, Coulter continues her attacks on Fox News, appearing as a guest on Bill O’Reilly’s broadcast. According to Coulter, liberals “feel like they have blacks on the plantation, they can say whatever they like. And, interestingly, you don’t even hear Hispanic conservatives attacked in the same way that people like Condoleezza Rice and Clarence Thomas are, and—and, I mean, just look at it. Look at what the Democrats’ minority leader in the Senate said this weekend. He praises Scalia as ‘Oh, he’s one smart guy, and his opinions, can’t dispute the logic, though I disagree with them,’ and then he says of Clarence Thomas ‘He’s an embarrassment. His opinions—they’re just poorly written.’” O’Reilly agrees, saying that Democrats who try to “demean people with whom [they] disagree with politically” are “loathsome.” Coulter says that Democrats are “enraged” about the 2004 elections, and in response “they’re lashing out at the blacks.” [Ann Coulter, 12/8/2009; Media Matters, 12/10/2009]

Entity Tags: Caryn James, Ann Coulter, Antonin Scalia, Bob Herbert, Fox News, Mary McGrory, Clarence Thomas, Bill O’Reilly, Harry Reid

Category Tags: Race-Based Rhetoric, Conservative Media Pundits, Fox News

In a PBS interview, Republican marketing guru Richard Viguerie says of conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh: “In 1993 and 1994, he was the salvation of the conservative movement. Every day Rush Limbaugh would give us our marching orders, if you would.” [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 46]

Entity Tags: Rush Limbaugh, Richard Viguerie

Category Tags: Conservative Media Pundits, Media Complicity

Alex Ben Lock of Television Week writes: “We have seen in the past year the rise of the Fox News Channel, founded only in 1996 (see October 7, 1996), as one of the most important news media of our culture.… Fox has engaged an even larger audience that is amazingly loyal to the FNC brand.… Fox News, in combination with a network of conservative talk radio commentators, has changed the way many Americans process news—despite or maybe because of the adamant opposition of numerous intellectuals, journalists, celebrities, and others who still can’t believe what has happened” (see October 13, 2009). [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 48]

Entity Tags: Alex Ben Lock, Fox News

Category Tags: Conservative Media Pundits, Media Complicity, Fox News

Omnitec corporate logo.Omnitec corporate logo. [Source: Omnitec Solutions]Since the Pentagon began using retired military officers as media “military analysts” to promote the Iraq war and occupation (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond), it has closely monitored the performance of those analysts. Among other methods, it retains the services of a private contractor, Omnitec Solutions, to scour databases for any mention of military analysts in the broadcast and print media. Omnitec uses the same tools as corporate branding experts to tabulate and evaluate the performance of those analysts. One Omnitec report, issued this year, assesses the impact of the analysts in the media after they were given a carefully programmed “tour” of Iraq by the Pentagon. According to the report, upon their return, the analysts echoed Pentagon themes and talking points throughout the media. “Commentary from all three Iraq trips was extremely positive over all,” the report concludes. [New York Times, 4/20/2008]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Omnitec Solutions

Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Military Analysts in the Media, Media Coverage of Iraq War

The US Military’s Information Operations Task Force, headquartered in Baghdad, purchases an Iraqi newspaper and takes control of an Iraqi radio station, and uses them to disseminate pro-American messages to the Iraqi public. The Americans do not disclose that they are operating either of the outlets. [Los Angeles Times, 11/30/2005]

Entity Tags: Information Operations Task Force

Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Pentagon Propaganda Campaigns, Media Coverage of Iraq War

The US television news media virtually ignores the court-martial of Specialist Charles Graner, who is charged with abusing and torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib (see May 19, 2004-March 22, 2006 and January 16, 2005), according to author and media critic Frank Rich. “[I]f a story isn’t on TV in America, it’s MIA in the culture,” Rich will write. Much of the broadcast coverage is focused on stories about President Bush’s upcoming inauguration and on Britain’s Prince Harry, who had dressed up in Nazi regalia for a costume party. The network and cable news stations grant Graner’s trial only “brief, mechanical” summations “when it was broadcast at all.” The usual claims that television news only focuses on lurid, scandal-ridden news stories do not apply here, Rich writes: “It surely didn’t lack for drama; the Graner trial was Judgment at Nuremberg turned upside down.” Viewers do not learn of defense lawyer Guy Womack’s claim during his closing argument that “In Nuremberg, it was the government being prosecuted. We were going after the order-givers. Here the government is going after the order-takers.” Rich will later write that if the American public could not be exposed to fictional films about World War II (see November 11, 2004), then it “certainly… could not be exposed to real-life stories involving forced group masturbation, electric shock, rape committed with a phosphorescent stick, the burning of cigarettes in prisoners’ ears, involuntary enemas, and beatings that ended in death (see May 3-11, 2004). When one detainee witness at the Graner trial testified… that he had been forced to eat out of a toilet, his story was routinely cited in newspaper accounts but left unmentioned on network TV newscasts.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 155]

Entity Tags: Guy Womack, Charles Graner, Frank Rich

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

A portion of Merritt’s e-mail discussing a ‘core group’ of analysts to ‘carry our water.’A portion of Merritt’s e-mail discussing a ‘core group’ of analysts to ‘carry our water.’ [Source: US Department of Defense] (click image to enlarge)Pentagon official Roxie Merritt, the Director of Press Operations, sends a memo to several top Pentagon officials, including Larry Di Rita, the top public relations aide to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The memo reports on Merritt’s conclusions and proposals in the aftermath of a Pentagon-sponsored trip to Iraq by a number of military analysts. The trip is part of the Pentagon’s propaganda operation, which uses retired military officers to go on broadcast news shows and promote the administration’s Iraq policies (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). The memo is in several sections:
'Background' - “One of the most interesting things coming from this trip to Iraq with the media analysts has been learning how their jobs have been undergoing a metamorphosis. There are several reasons behind the morph… with an all voluntary military, no one in the media has current military background. Additionally we have been doing a good job of keeping these guys informed so they have ready answers when the networks come calling.”
'Current Issues' - “The key issue here is that more and more, media analysts are having a greater impact on the television media network coverage of military issues. They have now become the go to guys not only for breaking stories, but they influence the views on issues. They also have a huge amount of influence on what stories the network decides to cover proactively with regard to the military…”
'Recommendation' - “1.) I recommend we develop a core group from within our media analyst list of those that we can count on to carry our water. They become part of a ‘hot list’ of those that we immediately make calls to or put on an email distro [distribution] list before we contact or respond to media on hot issues. We can also do more proactive engagement with this list and give them tips on what stories to focus on and give them heads up on issues as they are developing. By providing them with key and valuable information, they become the key go to guys for the networks and it begins to weed out the less reliably friendly analysts by the networks themselves…
bullet 3.) Media ops and outreach can work on a plan to maximize use of the analysts and figure out a system by which we keep our most reliably friendly analysts plugged in on everything from crisis response to future plans. This trusted core group will be more than willing to work closely with us because we are their bread and butter and the more they know, the more valuable they are to the networks…
bullet 5.) As evidenced by this analyst trip to Iraq, the synergy of outreach shops and media ops working together on these types of projects is enormous and effective. Will continue to exam [sic] ways to improve processes.”
Response from Di Rita - Di Rita is impressed. He replies, “This is a thoughtful note… I think it makes a lot of sense to do as you suggest and I guess I thought we were already doing a lot of this in terms of quick contact, etc… We ought to be doing this, though, and we should not make the list too small…” In 2008, Salon commentator Glenn Greenwald will sum up the plan: “So the Pentagon would maintain a team of ‘military analysts’ who reliably ‘carry their water—yet who were presented as independent analysts by the television and cable networks. By feeding only those pro-government sources key information and giving them access—even before responding to the press—only those handpicked analysts would be valuable to the networks, and that, in turn, would ensure that only pro-government sources were heard from. Meanwhile, the ‘less reliably friendly’ ones—frozen out by the Pentagon—would be ‘weeded out’ by the networks (see May 10-11, 2007). The pro-government military analysts would do what they were told because the Pentagon was ‘their bread and butter.’ These Pentagon-controlled analysts were used by the networks not only to comment on military matters—and to do so almost always unchallenged—but also even to shape and mold the networks’ coverage choices.” [Salon, 5/10/2008]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, US Department of Defense, Lawrence Di Rita, Roxie Merritt, Glenn Greenwald

Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Military Analysts in the Media, Media Coverage of Iraq War

Chris Matthews.Chris Matthews. [Source: Montgomery College]Chris Matthews, the host of MSNBC’s Hardball, asks three of the Pentagon’s most reliable “military analysts” (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond)—retired generals Montgomery Meigs, Wayne Downing, and Kenneth Allard—on his show to pillory a recent New Yorker article by Seymour Hersh that reveals Pentagon plans for an attack on Iran (see (Early January 2005)). Matthews calls the three “Hardball’s war council.” After the broadcast, Allard writes an e-mail to Pentagon public relations official Larry Di Rita, in which he says, “As you may have seen on MSNBC, I attributed a lot of what [Hersh] said to disgruntled CIA employees who simply should be taken out and shot.” [Salon, 5/10/2008]

Entity Tags: Wayne Downing, Seymour Hersh, Lawrence Di Rita, MSNBC, Montgomery Meigs, US Department of Defense, Chris Matthews, Kenneth Allard

Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Military Analysts in the Media

Jared Taylor.Jared Taylor. [Source: Jared Taylor]The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette publishes a profile of Jared Taylor, an academic often seen and heard on news and opinion broadcasts as a “race-relations expert,” but called by the Post-Gazette “a racist in the guise of [an] ‘expert.’” The profile follows a number of radio appearances made by Taylor on January 17, the federal holiday honoring the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; Taylor, according to the Post-Gazette, told his audiences that King “was a philanderer, a plagiarist, and a drinker who left a legacy of division and resentment, and was unworthy of a national holiday.” Taylor heads the New Century Foundation (NCF), a Virginia-based organization that promotes the ideas that blacks are genetically less intelligent than whites, are sexually promiscuous because of hyperactive sex drives, and other pseudo-scientific ideas about blacks and other minorities. The Post-Gazette writes that “Taylor keeps company with a collection of racists, racial ‘separatists,’ and far-right extremists,” including some of the NCF board members, who have included members of the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), the successor to the White Citizens Councils of the 1950s and ‘60s; a member of the American Friends of the British National Party (BNP), a far-right neo-Nazi political party in Britain; and an anti-immigration author who has reviewed books for a Holocaust denial journal. Taylor publishes American Renaissance magazine, which regularly publishes “academic” follies that “prove” multiculturalism is wrong. He once wrote for the magazine, “If whites permit themselves to be displaced, it is not just the high culture of the West that could disappear but such things as representative government, rule of law, and freedom of speech, which whites usually get right and everyone else usually gets wrong.” Taylor, like former Klan leader David Duke, Web site owner and former Klansman Don Black (see March 1995), and others, is among the leaders of what the Post-Gazette calls “the new tactics of white supremacy.” Taylor and his confreres eschew the crude race-baiting and calls for explicit violence for more dispassionate, pseudo-academic and media-friendly presentations that use false science and “moderate” language to push their racist views. Taylor’s staff secured a half-dozen radio spots for King’s holiday by sending out the following email to dozens of radio stations: “Not everyone celebrates the legacy of Martin Luther King. Editor of American Renaissance magazine and race-relations expert Jared Taylor would be pleased to offer your listeners a view of Dr. King that challenges conventional wisdom.” The email listed Taylor’s resume: degrees from Yale and the Institute for Political Study in Paris, business consultant in Japan, author of four books. “Jared Taylor is the cultivated, cosmopolitan face of white supremacy,” says Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center. “He is the guy who is providing the intellectual heft, in effect, to modern-day Klansmen.” Taylor denies ever being a member of the Klan, or even knowing any Klan members, but both Black and Duke have appeared at his American Renaissance conferences; Potok has a photograph of Black having a beer at Taylor’s kitchen table. Taylor routinely denies publishing racially inflammatory material in his magazine, even when confronted with the actual published material, and denies writing white supremacist material for the BNP’s monthly magazine, Spearhead, even though his work (published under his “other name,” Samuel Taylor, is readily accessible). He says that those who call him a racist merely want to avoid having a rational discussion about his ideas. However, his ties with racist organizations are easily proven. Taylor has hosted former BNP leader John Tyndall at his home in Oakton, Virginia. The NCF’s 1999 tax returns list the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC) as an organization to which the NCF is “related… through common membership, governing bodies, trustees, officers, etc.” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 1/23/2005] The Anti-Defamation League will later write, “[Taylor] maintains ties to a variety of racist organizations, publications, and individuals, both domestic and international, and many of North America’s leading intellectual racists have written for American Renaissance or have addressed the biennial American Renaissance conferences.” [Anti-Defamation League, 2011]

Entity Tags: John Tyndall, Anti-Defamation League, American Friends of the British National Party, Council of Conservative Citizens, Don Black, Mark Potok, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, New Century Foundation, Samuel Jared Taylor, David Duke

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations, Political Front Groups, Race-Based Rhetoric, Conservative Media Pundits

James Guckert, a.k.a. ‘Jeff Gannon,’ being interviewed at the National Press Club in 2007.James Guckert, a.k.a. ‘Jeff Gannon,’ being interviewed at the National Press Club in 2007. [Source: Crooks and Liars (.com)]A reporter calling himself Jeff Gannon asks a question of President Bush during a White House press conference: “Senate Democratic leaders have painted a very bleak picture of the US economy,” Gannon says. “[Minority Leader] Harry Reid was talking about soup lines, and Hillary Clinton was talking about the economy being on the verge of collapse. Yet, in the same breath, they say that Social Security is rock solid and there’s no crisis there. How are you going to work—you said you’re going to reach out to these people—how are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?” (Reid never mentioned soup lines; that reference comes from a satire of Reid by conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh.) In earlier conferences, Gannon attempted to link Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry to actress Jane Fonda, a favorite target of the right, and questioned why anyone would dispute Bush’s National Guard service record. [Boston Globe, 2/2/2005; Unger, 2007, pp. 332-333]
Works for Fake News Site - The Internet media watchdog site Media Matters, intrigued by Gannon’s highly partisan questions, soon learns that he works for an obscure news Web site called Talon News, itself a front for the extremist Internet organization GOPUSA (see January 28, 2005). New York Times media critic Frank Rich will call Talon News a fake news site staffed by Republican activists and filled with regurgitated press releases from the White House and the Republican National Committee. Rich will go on to note that Talon News is owned by a Texas delegate to the 2000 Republican presidential convention, and took part in an effort to falsely smear Kerry with allegations of infidelity. The Boston Globe soon reports of Gannon, “The Bush administration has provided White House media credentials to a man who has virtually no journalistic background, asks softball questions to the president and his spokesman in the midst of contentious news conferences, and routinely reprints long passages verbatim from official press releases as original news articles on his Web site.” (Gannon will call his practice of passing off quotes from the White House as objective news reports “the ultimate in journalistic honesty.”) Examination of press conference transcripts shows that White House press secretary Scott McClellan often calls on Gannon when other reporters begin asking difficult questions; Gannon is a reliable source of “softball” questions that allow McClellan to get back on track and resume issuing White House talking points.
Reporter Actually Male Prostitute - After Gannon becomes a figure of interest to media observers and Internet bloggers, they soon learn that he is really James Guckert, a male prostitute who posts nude pictures of himself on gay escort sites such as “hotmilitarystud.com” and numerous others, and charges $200 an hour (or $1,200 a weekend) for his services. [Boston Globe, 2/2/2005; Salon, 2/15/2005; Rich, 2006, pp. 172-173; Unger, 2007, pp. 332-333] Though McClellan will deny that the White House press staff knew anything of Gannon/Guckert’s false identity until just before the story broke in early February 2005, former Reagan official Bruce Bartlett will say that “if Gannon was using an alias, the White House staff had to be involved in maintaining his cover.” Further investigation will show that Gannon/Guckert has been posing as a reporter for two years. [Rich, 2006, pp. 172-173]
Regular Visits to White House on Days with No Briefings - According to White House logs, Gannon/Guckert has regularly visited the White House on days when no press conferences are being held, and on at least 12 occasions was checked in but not checked out. Gannon/Guckert’s visits raise speculation that he might have visited the White House for licentious purposes, though he will deny ever spending the night there for any reason. The Gannon/Guckert story highlights the existence of the so-called “Lavender Bund,” the cadre of closeted Republican gays who help the religious right and the GOP advance their openly anti-gay agendas. [Raw Story, 4/24/2005; CounterPunch, 5/21/2005]
Accusations of Plagiarism - Gannon/Guckert will also be accused of plagiarizing other journalists’ work, further calling into question his journalistic credentials. [Raw Story, 3/31/2005]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Frank Rich, GOPUSA, Bush administration (43), Bruce Bartlett, Boston Globe, Scott McClellan, Rush Limbaugh, Talon News, Media Matters, Republican National Committee, Jane Fonda, John Kerry, James Guckert, Lavender Bund, Hillary Clinton, Harry Reid

Category Tags: White House Involvement, 'Jeff Gannon' Controversy, Media Complicity, Gender-Based Rhetoric, Conservative Media Pundits

Talon News logo.Talon News logo. [Source: Talon News / AmericaBlog (.com)]Media Matters, the left-leaning media watchdog organization, questions White House reporter Jeff Gannon’s credentials as well as the legitimacy of the Internet news organization he works for, Talon News. Media Matters is as yet unaware that Gannon’s true name is James Guckert, and that he has no journalistic experience and his livelihood is apparently made by moonlighting as a gay prostitute (see January 26, 2005). The organization shows that several Gannon/Guckert pieces for Talon News are little more than what it calls “reprints of Republican and Bush administration releases,” and demonstrates that Gannon is a frequent “lifesaver” for White House press secretary Scott McClellan, who regularly calls on Gannon/Guckert when he needs a safe question to allow him to get back on track. Media Matters has found out more about Talon News itself; it reports that the information unearthed “casts additional doubt on Talon’s claim to be a media outlet and raises questions about whether Gannon/Guckert should be a credentialed member of the White House press corps.” Talon News is owned by Bobby Eberle, a Texas Republican Party operative who also owns the conservative Internet organization “GOPUSA,” which proclaims itself to be a “conservative news, information, and design company dedicated to promoting conservative ideals.” Though Eberle claims that GOPUSA and Talon News are separate organizations, in fact they are not. Eberle is the owner and chief operator of both entities. Both domain names—“TalonNews.com” and “GOPUSA.com”—are registered to the same Pearland, Texas, street address, which appears to be Eberle’s home address. The domain name contact is Eberle’s GOPUSA email address. Most of the articles on Talon News’s Web site consist of short introductory paragraphs with “Read more” links that take the reader to a page that announces, “This story can be found on our #1 client—GOPUSA!” Readers are then redirected to the GOPUSA.com site. GOPUSA and Talon News are both staffed by Eberle, Gannon/Guckert, and several volunteers. Media Matters concludes that the two organizations are “virtually indistinguishable.” Interestingly, both Eberle and Gannon/Guckert post on the right-wing Internet forum Free Republic, and Gannon/Guckert has hosted a radio show on Radio Free Republic. Another poster once suggested that McClellan “appreciated” Gannon/Guckert’s questions “from the smirk he was trying to hold back,” and Gannon/Guckert responded, “It’s hard to say with Scott but he usually knows what he’s going to get from me.” None of the other volunteers on Talon News seem to have any journalistic experience, but all are heavily involved in Republican politics, including a high school student who is president of his school’s Young Republicans’ Club; the owner of the Wisconsin Conservative Digest; a county GOP chairman and campaign manager for a Maine Republican candidate for the House of Representatives; a South Carolina GOP campaign operative; and a Nebraska freelance writer who has worked as a speechwriter for conservative candidates and organizations. Members of GOPUSA’s board of directors have no more journalistic experience than the writers of Talon News, but all are active GOP operatives, consultants, and financial managers. [Media Matters, 1/25/2005]

Entity Tags: James Guckert, Bobby Eberle, Bush administration (43), GOPUSA, Media Matters, Scott McClellan, Talon News, Texas Republican Party, Free Republic

Category Tags: White House Involvement, 'Jeff Gannon' Controversy, Political Front Groups, Conservative Media Pundits

As part of the shakeup of the White House staff for President Bush’s second term, Karl Rove replaces Harriet Miers as deputy chief of staff for policy. Rove, widely viewed as an entirely political official, now has a role in coordinating domestic policy, economic policy, even homeland and national security. The Washington Post’s Peter Baker will soon observe: “During President Bush’s first term, outsiders often suspected that Karl Rove was really behind virtually everything. Now it’s official.… [T]he new position largely formalizes what was already true, noting that Rove has quietly played a vital role in shaping domestic policy from the inception of the Bush presidency. Now, for the first time, he will have a formal hand in foreign policy as well.” White House press secretary Scott McClellan will later write: “[Rove’s appointment] reconfirmed and strengthened the sense that the Bush administration was deeply committed to maintaining the permanent [political] campaign as normal operating procedure in Washington. Not only would governing continue to be an offshoot of campaigning, but the master campaigner would now be openly in charge of governing—thus discarding even the pretense of a separation between the two disciplines.” Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe says: “Empowering Rove in this way shows that Bush cares more about political positioning than honest policy discussions. Bush knows that Rove is neither an economic nor a national security expert; he’s simply an ideological strategist who has a history of bending the truth and using dirty tricks to get his way.” Rove’s predecessor, Office of Management and Budget chief Joshua Bolten, retorts: “Karl’s always been a very substantive contributor on the policy side. He’s better known for his political hat, but he knows how to take that hat off.” [Washington Post, 2/9/2005; McClellan, 2008, pp. 246-247]

Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, Bush administration (43), Joshua Bolten, Peter Baker, Terry McAuliffe, Harriet E. Miers, Scott McClellan

Category Tags: 2008 Elections, Marketing and Public Relations

Some 40 residents of Fargo, North Dakota, are turned away from a political rally featuring President Bush and his attempt to drum up public support for his Social Security policies. The residents are unable to attend because their names are on a “blacklist” created by local Republicans with the input of White House staffers. The list is made up of “known progressives” and liberals, and includes Fargo City Commissioner Linda Coates, several college professors, the producer of a radio show, the deputy campaign manager for a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, and two or three high school students. Most of the residents are members of a Howard Dean Democracy for America Meetup group. A few of the blacklisted residents get into the event—Coates is able to procure a ticket from the mayor—but, as Salon reporter Tim Grieve writes, “it’s still an odd way to operate for a president who sells the power of freedom in Iraq and calls for an ‘open, candid’ debate on Social Security back home.” The White House claims the blacklist was created by an “overzealous volunteer” and that it knew nothing of the list until the day of the event. The head of North Dakota’s Republican Party, Jason Stverak, says party officials will try to find out who compiled the list, but: “I don’t know if we’d ever be able to find out what overzealous volunteer it is or anything like that. We’ll talk to people and stuff, but it will be impossible.” [Salon, 2/4/2005]

Entity Tags: Tim Grieve, Jason Stverak, Linda Coates, George W. Bush

Category Tags: White House Involvement

Fox News senior anchor Brit Hume and Fox analyst William Bennett both make the false claim that former President Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted to replace Social Security with private accounts. In fact, Roosevelt, who implemented Social Security, was in favor of “voluntary contributory annunities” to supplement Social Security benefits, but never proposed replacing Social Security with private money. Hume and Bennett both support President Bush’s plan to partially “privatize” Social Security; Bush himself has asserted, equally falsely, that Roosevelt supported privatization. On Fox’s political talk show Hannity and Colmes, Bennett tells viewers: “Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the guy who established Social Security, said that it would be good to have it replaced by private investment over time. Private investment would be the way to really carry this thing through.” That same evening, Hume tells his audience: “In a written statement to Congress in 1935, Roosevelt said that any Social Security plans should include, quote, ‘Voluntary contributory annuities, by which individual initiative can increase the annual amounts received in old age,’ adding that government funding, quote, ‘ought to ultimately be supplanted by self-supporting annuity plans.’” Hume fails to point out that Roosevelt was not talking about “supplant[ing]” Social Security with any “self-supporting annuity plans,” but instead was talking about a different fund that provided pension benefits to Americans too old (in 1935) to contribute payroll taxes to Social Security. In 1935, Edwin Witte, the director of the Committee on Economic Security, told Congress flatly that voluntary accounts were intended as a “separate undertaking” meant to “supplement” the compulsory system, not replace it. [Media Matters, 2/4/2005] Days before the Fox broadcasts, Roosevelt’s grandson James Roosevelt Jr., a former Social Security associate commissioner, noted that “Bush invoked the name of my grandfather… as part of his campaign to privatize Social Security,” and added, “The implication that FDR would support privatization of America’s greatest national program is an attempt to deceive the American people and an outrage.” [Boston Globe, 1/31/2005] Liberal pundit Al Franken calls on Hume to resign over his historical distortions; MSNBC host Keith Olbermann calls Hume’s statements “premeditated, historical fraud,” and Roosevelt Jr. says that “outrageous distortion… calls for a retraction, an apology, maybe even a resignation.” [Media Matters, 2/18/2005] Influential conservative blogger Glenn Reynolds will acknowledge that Roosevelt was not advocating for the privatization of Social Security, instead noting that Roosevelt’s plan “would have involved, essentially, a sort of government-supplied 401k plan.” [Glenn Reynolds, 2/4/2005]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Al Franken, Brit Hume, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, William J. Bennett, Fox News, Glenn Reynolds, Keith Olbermann, James Roosevelt Jr

Timeline Tags: Global Economic Crises

Category Tags: White House Involvement, Marketing and Public Relations, Fox News

One of the photos Gannon/Guckert posted of himself on the Internet advertising his services as a male prostitute.One of the photos Gannon/Guckert posted of himself on the Internet advertising his services as a male prostitute. [Source: The Fruit Fly (.com)]Conservative faux journalist and gay prostitute Jeff Gannon, whose real name is James Guckert, quits as a White House reporter following his exposure by media watchdog organization Media Matters and Internet bloggers. For years, Gannon/Guckert has functioned as a “safe” White House reporter for conservative Internet news site Talon News, providing “softball” questions to President Bush and his press secretaries and representatives that allow the White House to reiterate and emphasize its talking points (see January 26, 2005). He also resigns as a Talon correspondent. Gannon does not apologize for his flatly partisan questioning, and says his questions merely counterbalance those of other reporters, whom he says are largely liberal and hostile towards the Bush administration: “Perhaps the most disturbing thing has been the notion that there isn’t room for one conservative voice in the White House press corps.” Gannon/Guckert refuses to acknowledge his second vocation as a gay prostitute, which he pursues under his given name, and merely says his use of a pseudonym for his journalistic pursuits is a “very innocent… commercial consideration.” Besides, he says, many journalists change their names for broadcast purposes. He does not name any journalists who operate under such pseudonyms. [National Public Radio, 2/9/2005]
White House Knew of Pseudonym - Gannon/Guckert’s boss at Talon, Bobby Eberle (see January 28, 2005), says that the White House issued press passes to the “reporter” under his real name, which indicates the White House knew he was writing under a pseudonym. And Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), noting that Gannon/Guckert was denied Congressional press passes because he could not demonstrate that he worked for a legitimate news service, wants to know why Gannon/Guckert was able to pass muster at the White House. “This issue is important from an ethical as well as from a national security standpoint,” Lautenberg says. “It is hard to understand why a man with little real journalism experience was given a White House press corps credential.” [Salon, 2/15/2005] White House press secretary Scott McClellan denies knowing about Gannon/Guckert’s pseudonym until just recently, and says, “People use aliases all the time in life, from journalists to actors.” [Washington Post, 2/16/2005]
Admission and Defense - Days later, in a CNN interview conducted by Wolf Blitzer, Gannon/Guckert admits that he is a “former” gay prostitute, admits his real name, says no one at the White House knew about his sexual past, and says: “I’ve made mistakes in my past. Does my past mean I can’t have a future? Does it disqualify me from being a journalist?” He says he used a pseudonym because his real name is difficult to pronounce. Liberal gay activist John Aravosis, whose AmericaBlog first published pictures of Gannon/Guckert advertising his sexual favors on gay escort Web sites, says the issue is not Gannon/Guckert’s right to be a journalist but his “White House access.… The White House wouldn’t let him in the door right now, knowing of his background.” Aravosis says Gannon/Guckert is guilty of “what I call family values hypocrisy. Basically, he’s asking the gay community to protect him when he attacks us.” Gannon/Guckert wrote numerous articles blasting 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry’s support of gay rights and wrote that Kerry would, if elected, be the country’s “first gay president.” [Washington Post, 2/19/2005] On his blog, Aravosis adds: “This is the conservative Republican Bush White House we’re talking about. It’s looking increasingly like they made a decision to allow a hooker to ask the president of the United States questions. They made a decision to give a man with an alias and no journalistic experience access to the West Wing of the White House on a ‘daily basis.’” [Salon, 2/15/2005]
Softballing Gannon/Guckert - New York Times columnist Frank Rich accuses Blitzer of asking “questions almost as soft as those ‘Jeff’ himself had asked in the White House.” Blitzer accepted without question Gannon/Guckert’s assertion that he used the name Gannon because Guckert was too hard to pronounce, and never questioned Gannon/Guckert’s claim that Talon News “is a separate, independent news division” of GOPUSA. Blitzer, Rich notes, waited until a brief follow-up interview to ask why Gannon/Guckert was questioned by FBI investigators about his knowledge of the Valerie Plame Wilson affair (see October 28, 2003). Blitzer did not ask if his knowledge came from the same officials who took care of his White House press credentials, nor did he ask if Gannon/Guckert has any connection with conservative journalist and CNN commentator Robert Novak, who outed Plame Wilson. “The anchor didn’t go there,” Rich writes. [New York Times, 2/19/2005]
'Politics of Personal Destruction' - Gannon/Guckert will later say that his resignation from Talon News and from the White House press corps is an example of “the politics of personal destruction.” [New York Times, 3/20/2005]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Frank Rich, Frank R. Lautenberg, Wolf Blitzer, Valerie Plame Wilson, John Kerry, James Guckert, John Aravosis, Talon News, Bobby Eberle, Media Matters, Scott McClellan

Category Tags: White House Involvement, 'Jeff Gannon' Controversy, Conservative Media Pundits, Media Complicity, Gender-Based Rhetoric

In an article examining the history and impact of the Fairness Doctrine (see 1949 and 1959), progressive communications law expert Steve Rendell writes that since the doctrine’s repeal (see 1987 and 1988), there has been far less coverage of controversial public issues on the nation’s airwaves. The Media Access Project (MAP) says, “Since the demise of the Fairness Doctrine we have had much less coverage of issues,” with television news and public affairs programming decreasing both locally and nationally. Twenty-five percent of broadcast stations offer no local news or public affairs programming at all. Rendell writes: “The most extreme change has been in the immense volume of unanswered conservative opinion heard on the airwaves, especially on talk radio. Nationally, virtually all of the leading political talkshow hosts are right-wingers: Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Oliver North, G. Gordon Liddy, Bill O’Reilly, and Michael Reagan, to name just a few. The same goes for local talkshows. One product of the post-Fairness era is the conservative ‘Hot Talk’ format, featuring one right-wing host after another and little else.” A lawyer in Oregon, Edward Monks, found that his local stations broadcast 80 hours per week of Republican and conservative talk, and none whatsoever of Democratic or liberal/progressive talk. Monks wrote: “Political opinions expressed on talk radio are approaching the level of uniformity that would normally be achieved only in a totalitarian society. There is nothing fair, balanced, or democratic about it.” Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has written, “The FCC [Federal Communications Commission]‘s pro-industry, anti-regulatory philosophy has effectively ended the right of access to broadcast television by any but the moneyed interests.” Rendell concludes that the nation “need[s] a Fairness Doctrine. It’s not a universal solution. It’s not a substitute for reform or for diversity of ownership. It’s simply a mechanism to address the most extreme kinds of broadcast abuse.” [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, 2/12/2005]

Entity Tags: Media Access Project, Edward Monks, Bill O’Reilly, G. Gordon Liddy, Sean Hannity, Steve Rendell, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Michael Reagan, Michael Savage, Federal Communications Commission, Oliver North, Rush Limbaugh

Category Tags: Fairness Doctrine, Conservative Media Pundits, Liberal Media Pundits

Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity and conservative radio host Laura Ingraham repeat the long-debunked claim that former vice president and Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore first mentioned convicted murderer and rapist Willie Horton in the context of a political campaign. Hannity and Ingraham are referring to the infamous “Willie Horton” ad of the 1988 presidential campaign, a Republican campaign strategy that falsely claimed African-American Willie Horton was released and went on to rape a white woman by Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis (see September 21 - October 4, 1988). Responding to a Democratic political strategist’s citation of the Horton ad as an example of Republican political appeals to racism, Ingraham, a guest on Hannity’s show, says the Horton ad “was Al Gore’s idea,” and Hannity says, “Al Gore brought up Willie Horton in the first—in the [Democratic] primary.” As has long been proven, Gore never mentioned Horton in the 1988 Democratic presidential primaries; instead, it was the Bush-Quayle campaign that introduced Horton to the American public. [Media Matters, 2/16/2005] Hannity has charged Gore with first bringing up Horton before (see November 9, 2004).

Entity Tags: Michael Dukakis, Sean Hannity, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Fox News, William (“Willie”) Horton, Laura Ingraham

Category Tags: Race-Based Rhetoric, Conservative Media Pundits, Fox News

Investigative reporters for CBS and other mainstream outlets find ties between faux journalist “Jeff Gannon” (see January 26, 2005) and White House political guru Karl Rove. Gannon, a conservative Internet “reporter” and gay male escort whose real name is James Guckert, says he only met Rove once, at a White House Christmas party. But the ties between Gannon/Guckert and Rove run much deeper. Circumstantial evidence includes the ease with which Gannon/Guckert obtained White House press corps day passes, and the fact that Rove has talked with the extremist Internet political organization GOPUSA, which owns Talon News. Gannon/Guckert formerly wrote for Talon. Both GOPUSA and Talon are owned by Bobby Eberle, a Texas Republican and business associate of conservative direct-mail guru Richard Viguerie. Bobby Eberle has boasted of Talon’s “conservative slant” and GOPUSA’s “instant built-in bias.” Gannon/Guckert also played a key role in the defeat of former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) in his 2004 bid to keep his Senate seat (see Summer 2003 - November 2004). CBS political editor Dotty Lynch calls Gannon/Guckert and Talon News “mini-Drudge Reports: a ‘news’ source which partisans use to put out negative information, get the attention of the bloggers, talk radio, and then the [mainstream media] in a way that mere press releases are unable to achieve.” [CBS News, 2/18/2005] Eberle has posted what author and media critic Frank Rich later calls “effusive thanks on the Web to both [talk show host G. Gordon] Liddy and Karl Rove ‘for their assistance, guidance, and friendship.’” [Rich, 2006, pp. 171]

Entity Tags: G. Gordon Liddy, Bush administration (43), Bobby Eberle, CBS News, Frank Rich, Karl C. Rove, Richard Viguerie, James Guckert, GOPUSA, Talon News, Tom Daschle, Dotty Lynch

Category Tags: White House Involvement, 'Jeff Gannon' Controversy, Conservative Media Pundits

Steven Bradbury, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), issues a finding that the government’s use of “video news releases” (VNRs—see March 15, 2004 and May 19, 2004) is not propaganda and therefore not illegal. The VNRs might be “covert,” he writes, since the government actively misled viewers as to their source, but they are not “propaganda,” since they merely explain government programs and facts, and do not espouse a political point of view. Because OLC opinions are legally binding, Bradbury’s “advisory opinion” effectively precludes White House and other agency officials from being prosecuted for authorizing the VNRs, and the practice continues. The General Accounting Office (GAO) rejects Bradbury’s finding and continues to insist that the VNRs are unethical and illegal. [Savage, 2007, pp. 172-173] Two months later, Congress will prohibit the government’s use of VNRs (see May 2005).

Entity Tags: Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Bush administration (43), Steven Bradbury, General Accounting Office, US Department of Justice

Category Tags: Marketing and Public Relations

In an e-mail to a variety of Pentagon officials, an unnamed lieutenant colonel exults that the Pentagon’s Iraq propaganda operation using military analysts to promote the administration’s war policies is producing a “big payback.” He then writes, “There are about 50 retired military analysts that are part of this group… these are the folks that end up on FOX, CNN, etc. interpreting military happenings. These calls are conducted frequently and offer HUGE payback… these end up being the people who carry the mail on talk shows.” [Salon, 5/10/2008]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, CNN, Fox News

Timeline Tags: US Military, Iraq under US Occupation

Category Tags: Military Analysts in the Media, Media Coverage of Iraq War, Fox News

The media learns that the Department of Homeland Security has hired former actress Bobbie Faye Ferguson to serve as its liaison to Hollywood’s movie and television industries. Ferguson, who has performed similar duties for NASA for seven years, is reviewing some 14 movie, television, and documentary projects. If she approves a script or idea, DHS will offer advice and technical help to the directors, producers, and actors in portraying what USA Today calls “the nation’s homeland defenders.” Ferguson, interviewed while touring the California-Mexico border, says: “I’ve had dozens and dozens of inquiries. It’s always been a topic they’ve been interested in, but more so now.” Last year DHS provided guidance for the production of The Terminal, a thriller starring Tom Hanks as an immigrant stranded at a New York airport; it has also provided assistance to the television shows CSI: Miami and NCIS. At least six other governmental agencies, most notably the Defense Department, have long employed liaisons between themselves and the film and television industries. But some have long held that agencies such as the Pentagon have used Hollywood as a vehicle for showing the federal government in positive fashions. Each branch of the military has offices in Hollywood; the military has provided assistance in film and television projects since the creation of the Defense Department in 1947. Homeland Security spokesman Brian Roehrkasse says Ferguson will help “give the public a better understanding of how the department… protects the country.” Keith Ashdown of Taxpayers for Common Sense says the money is not a wise use of taxpayer dollars: “Agencies pay for public relations and spin to make the public like them more, but it doesn’t mean it’s a good expenditure.” [USA Today, 3/8/2005] Two months later, the House of Representatives will cut Ferguson’s $136,000 salary from DHS’s 2006 budget (see May 18, 2005).

Entity Tags: Brian Roehrkasse, Bobbie Faye Ferguson, US Department of Defense, US Department of Homeland Security, Keith Ashdown

Category Tags: White House Involvement, Media Complicity

Stations such as Los Angeles’s KABC-TV routinely re-edit graphics to fit their own formatting. The graphic on the left was part of a VNR produced by a private firm; on the right is KABC’s edited graphic.Stations such as Los Angeles’s KABC-TV routinely re-edit graphics to fit their own formatting. The graphic on the left was part of a VNR produced by a private firm; on the right is KABC’s edited graphic. [Source: PRWatch (.org)] (click image to enlarge)An investigation by the New York Times reveals that the government’s use of “video news releases,” or so-called “fake news” reports provided by the government and presented to television news viewers as real news (see March 15, 2004), has been used by far more government agencies than previously reported. The Times report finds that VNRs from the State Department, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and the Agriculture Department are among the agencies providing VNRs to local television news broadcasters. Previous media reports focused largely on the VNRs provided by the Department of Health and Human Services to tout the Bush administration’s Medicare proposals. The Times finds that “at least 20 federal agencies, including the Defense Department and the Census Bureau, have made and distributed hundreds of television news segments in the past four years.… Many were subsequently broadcast on local stations across the country without any acknowledgement of the government’s role in their production.… [T]he [Bush] administration’s efforts to generate positive news coverage have been considerably more pervasive than previously known. At the same time, records and interviews suggest widespread complicity or negligence by television stations, given industry ethics standards that discourage the broadcast of prepackaged news segments from any outside group without revealing the source.”
VNRs Presented as Actual News - While government VNRs are generally labeled as being government productions on the film canister or video label, the VNRs themselves are designed, the Times writes, “to fit seamlessly into the typical local news broadcast. In most cases, the ‘reporters’ are careful not to state in the segment that they work for the government. Their reports generally avoid overt ideological appeals. Instead, the government’s news-making apparatus has produced a quiet drumbeat of broadcasts describing a vigilant and compassionate administration.” The VNRs often feature highly choreographed “interviews” with senior administration officials, “in which questions are scripted and answers rehearsed. Critics, though, are excluded, as are any hints of mismanagement, waste or controversy.”
Benefits to All except News Consumers - The Times explains how VNRs benefit the Bush administration, private public relations firms, networks, and local broadcasters: “Local affiliates are spared the expense of digging up original material. Public relations firms secure government contracts worth millions of dollars. The major networks, which help distribute the releases, collect fees from the government agencies that produce segments and the affiliates that show them. The administration, meanwhile, gets out an unfiltered message, delivered in the guise of traditional reporting.” News viewers, however, receive propaganda messages masquerading as real, supposedly impartial news reports.
Ducking Responsibility - Administration officials deny any responsibility for the use of VNRs as “real” news. “Talk to the television stations that ran it without attribution,” says William Pierce, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services. “This is not our problem. We can’t be held responsible for their actions.” But the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has disagreed, calling the use of government-produced VNRs “covert propaganda” because news viewers do not know that the segments they are watching are government productions (see May 19, 2004). However, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Justice Department (see March 2005) have called the practice legal, and instructed executive branch agencies to merely ignore the GAO findings.
Creative Editing - The Times gives an example of how seamlessly government-produced propaganda can be transformed into seemingly real news segments. In one segment recently provided by the Agriculture Department, the agency’s narrator ends the segment by saying, “In Princess Anne, Maryland, I’m Pat O’Leary reporting for the US Department of Agriculture.” The segment is distributed by AgDay, a syndicated farm news program shown on some 160 stations; the segment is introduced as being by “AgDay’s Pat O’Leary.” The final sentence was edited to state: “In Princess Anne, Maryland, I’m Pat O’Leary reporting.” Final result: viewers are unaware that the AgDay segment is actually an Agriculture Department production. AgDay executive producer Brian Conrady defends the practice: “We can clip ‘Department of Agriculture’ at our choosing. The material we get from the [agency], if we choose to air it and how we choose to air it is our choice.” The public relations industry agrees with Conrady; many large PR firms produce VNRs both for government and corporate use, and the Public Relations Society of America gives an annual award, the Bronze Anvil, for the year’s best VNR.
Complicity by News Broadcasters - Several major television networks help distribute VNRs. Fox News has a contract with PR firm Medialink to distribute VNRs to 130 affiliates through its video feed service, Fox News Edge. CNN distributes VNRs to 750 stations in the US and Canada through its feed service, CNN Newsource. The Associated Press’s television news distributor does the same with its Global Video Wire. Fox News Edge director David Winstrom says: “We look at them and determine whether we want them to be on the feed. If I got one that said tobacco cures cancer or something like that, I would kill it.” TVA Productions, a VNR producer and distributor, says in a sales pitch to potential clients, “No TV news organization has the resources in labor, time or funds to cover every worthy story.” Almost “90 percent of TV newsrooms now rely on video news releases,” it claims. The reach can be enormous. Government-produced VNRs from the Office of National Drug Control Policy reached some 22 million households over 300 news stations. And news stations often re-record the voiceover of VNRs by their own reporters, adding to the illusion that their own reporters, and not government or PR employees, are doing the actual reporting.
Office of Broadcasting Services - The State Department’s Office of Broadcasting Services (OBS) employs around 30 editors and technicians, who before 2002 primarily distributed video from news conferences. But in early 2002, the OBS began working with close White House supervision to produce narrated feature reports promoting American policies and achievements in Afghanistan and Iraq, and supporting the Bush administration’s rationale for invading those countries. Between 2002 and now, the State Department has produced 59 such segments, which were distributed to hundreds of domestic and international television broadcasters. The State Department says that US laws prohibiting the domestic dissemination of propaganda don’t apply to the OBS. Besides, says State Department spokesman Richard Boucher: “Our goal is to put out facts and the truth. We’re not a propaganda agency.” State Department official Patricia Harrison told Congress last year that such “good news” segments are “powerful strategic tools” for influencing public opinion. The Times reports that “a review of the department’s segments reveals a body of work in sync with the political objectives set forth by the White House communications team after 9/11.” One June 2003 VNR produced by the OBS depicts US efforts to distribute food and water to the people of southern Iraq. The unidentified narrator condluded, “After living for decades in fear, they are now receiving assistance—and building trust—with their coalition liberators.” OBS produced several segments about the liberation of Afghan women; a January 2003 memo called the segments “prime example[s]” of how “White House-led efforts could facilitate strategic, proactive communications in the war on terror.” OBS typically distributes VNRs through international news organizations such as Reuters and the Associated Press, which then distribute them to major US networks, which in turn transmit them to local affiliates.
The Pentagon Channel and 'Hometown News' - In 2004, the Defense Department began providing The Pentagon Channel, formerly an in-house service, to cable and satellite operators in the US. The content is provided by Pentagon public relations specialists who produce “news reports” identical to those produced by local and national news broadcasters. And the content is free. The Pentagon Channel’s content is supplemented by the Army and Air Force Hometown News Service (HNS), a 40-man unit that produces VNRs for local broadcasters focusing on the accomplishments of “hometown” soldiers. Deputy director Larry Gilliam says of the service, “We’re the ‘good news’ people.” Their reports, tailored for specific local stations, reached 41 million households in 2004. But the service’s VNRs sometimes go beyond celebrating a hometown hero. Weeks after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, HNS released a VNR that lauded the training of military policemen at Missouri’s Fort Leonard Wood, where many of the MPs involved in the scandal were trained. “One of the most important lessons they learn is to treat prisoners strictly but fairly,” the “reporter” in the segment says. A trainer tells the narrator that MPs are taught to “treat others as they would want to be treated.” Gilliam says the MP report had nothing to do with the Pentagon’s desire to defend itself from accusations of mistreatment and prisoner abuse. “Are you saying that the Pentagon called down and said, ‘We need some good publicity?’” Gilliam asks the Times reporter. He answers his own question, “No, not at all.” [New York Times, 3/13/2005]
Congress Bans Use of Government VNRs - Two months after the Times article is published, Congress will ban the use of government VNRs for propaganda purposes (see May 2005).

The Bush administration appoints veteran Bush adviser Karen Hughes as the undersecretary of state for public diplomacy. Her main job will be to craft an administration marketing and public relations policy that will reach out to the Islamic and Arab worlds, and to convince Muslims and Arabs that the US is indeed their friend (see August 2002). But Hughes is immediately granted six months of personal leave before facing Senate confirmation in the fall. And Hughes’s staff will include no Muslims. As a result, a high-level US official warns that “the gap between rhetoric and reality” will undermine the US’s credibility in its outreach program. Hughes’s deputy, Dina Powell, is not expected to take her position until at least May. The new initiative is at least partially sparked due to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report criticizing the administration for failing to develop a policy to improve the US image in the rest of the world. “[R]ecent polling data show that anti-Americanism is spreading and deepening around the world,” the report finds. “Such anti-American sentiments can increase foreign public support for terrorism directed at Americans, impact the cost and effectiveness of military operations, weaken the United States’ ability to align with other nations in pursuit of common policy objectives, and dampen foreign publics’ enthusiasm for US business services and products.” Another US official says the dearth of Muslims in the administration is worrisome. (Powell is Egyptian-American, but is a Christian, not a Muslim. The few officials of Arab descent in the Bush administration are, by and large, Christians.) “It’s very important for American Muslims to be involved, as they’re an important conduit to the wider Islamic world and they should be speaking out,” that official says. “But American Muslims generally feel they’re not included like other communities. We should be talking to them, as they have a lot of knowledge of the region.” Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says, “You can do Muslim outreach without Muslims and it doesn’t mean Dina Powell can’t be effective, but the administration has not made much effort to integrate Muslim Americans in this effort.” Carothers says many in the administration confuse public diplomacy with marketing. “There’s deep confusion within the administration about what public diplomacy means,” he says. “For some, it’s simply selling America’s image in the world. For others, it’s something deeper that has to do with creating a partnership between America and Muslim countries to replace the current antagonism.… The administration is convinced that if only the Muslim world understood us better they’d like us more, whereas many Muslims feel it’s precisely because they understand us that they’re unhappy.” [Washington Post, 4/18/2005; Rich, 2006, pp. 165]

Entity Tags: Karen Hughes, Bush administration (43), Dina Powell, Government Accountability Office, US Department of State, Thomas Carothers

Category Tags: White House Involvement

The bumper sticker that led to the removal of three people from the Bush campaign event.The bumper sticker that led to the removal of three people from the Bush campaign event. [Source: 9News (.com)]Three Denver residents are forcibly removed from a town hall meeting with President Bush after Bush security personnel observed their car had a bumper sticker reading “No More Blood for Oil.” The three obtained tickets for the invitation-only event through the office of Representative Bob Beauprez (R-CO). [ABC 7 Denver, 3/29/2005; Associated Press, 3/29/2005] One of the three, lawyer Leslie Weise, is stopped at the security checkpoint, asked for identification, and told to wait for the Secret Service to arrive. Eventually, Michael Casper, a White House staffer who is not a Secret Service member but is dressed in a dark suit and wears an earpiece and lapel pin, arrives and warns Weise that she has been “ID’d” and that if she has any intentions of causing trouble, she will be arrested. She then moves through the checkpoint and towards her seat. As is later ascertained by witnesses, Casper then consults with other White House event staffers who saw the bumper sticker and tell him that White House policy is to prevent anyone attending a presidential event if they disagree with Bush’s positions. Casper then prevents the three from taking their seats, and escorts them to the exit, putting his hand on the elbow of Weise’s fellow attendee, marketing coordinator Karen Bauer. [ABC 7 Denver, 3/29/2005; American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Colorado, 11/21/2005 pdf file] The Secret Service denies any involvement in the incident: “The Secret Service had nothing to do with that,” says Lon Garner, special agent in charge of the Secret Service district office in Denver. “We are very sensitive to the First Amendment and general assembly rights as protected by the Constitution.” The Secret Service will mount an investigation [ABC 7 Denver, 3/29/2005; Associated Press, 3/29/2005] , and recommend that Casper be charged with impersonating a federal officer; the Justice Department will refuse to press charges (see August 8, 2005). The three will consider a lawsuit against the Bush administration alleging that their First Amendment rights were violated. According to another member of the group, Internet technology worker Alex Young, officials will tell them the next day that they were identified as belonging to an organization called “No Blood for Oil.” Young denies that any of the three belong to any such group, acknowledges that the car they take to the event had a bumper sticker with a similar phrase attached to its rear bumper, and says, “I don’t think a bumper sticker on a friend’s car should disqualify me from seeing the president.” The three belong to the Denver Progressives, described by a Denver ABC affiliate as a “political activist group.” Their lawyer, Dan Recht, says: “They hadn’t done anything wrong. They weren’t dressed inappropriately, they didn’t say anything inappropriate. They were kicked out of this venue and not allowed to hear what the president had to say based solely on this political bumper sticker. The very essence of the First Amendment is that you can’t be punished for the speech you make, the statements you make.” Americans United spokesman Brad Woodhouse says the Denver incident is just the latest and most egregious example of Bush officials’ heavy-handed attempts to suppress dissent and free speech. “They’re screening the people who are allowed to come and then they’re profiling them in the parking lot,” he says. “It’s quite extraordinary, and disappointing.” [ABC 7 Denver, 3/29/2005; Associated Press, 3/29/2005] Weise and Young will file a lawsuit over the incident (see November 21, 2005).

Entity Tags: Americans United, Dan Recht, Bob Beauprez, Denver Progressives, Brad Woodhouse, Alex Young, George W. Bush, US Department of Justice, Karen Bauer, Leslie Weise, Lon Garner, Michael Casper, US Secret Service

Category Tags: White House Involvement

New Mexico residents who wish to attend a public relations event featuring President Bush are quizzed about their support of Bush’s policies before being given a ticket to the event. Staff members for Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) interrogate prospective attendees about their feelings towards Bush and his Social Security policies. David Alire Garcia of the Albuquerque Journal writes: “Welcome to the brave new world of over-the-top media manipulation. No critical questions, no spontaneity, nothing left to chance.” Domenici spokeswoman Shaye O’Donnell says that Democrats or others who might not support the president are still given tickets, though she later admits that she herself knows nothing about how tickets are distributed. Neither does Lisa Breeden, Domenici’s communications director, who says: “I really don’t know anything about this. If that happened, it was not done by our office. That would have had to have been through the White House, I guess.” According to Breeden, people who called the office asking for tickets were asked for names and phone numbers, and that information was passed to the White House advance team. The White House team then gave Domenici’s office a list of those who would be allowed to receive tickets. Breeden says a private political consultant handled the communications between the White House and Domenici’s office. [Washington Post, 4/4/2005]

Entity Tags: Lisa Breeden, Bush administration (43), Pietro V. (“Pete”) Domenici, David Alire Garcia, Shaye O’Donnell, George W. Bush

Category Tags: White House Involvement

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