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A retyped version of Libby’s handwritten note suggesting what McClellan should say to reporters. [Source: US District Court for the District of Columbia / Think Progress]Lewis Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney who is suspected of leaking CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity to the press (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, 2:24 p.m. July 12, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003), implores Cheney to have press secretary Scott McClellan publicly exonerate him. In a note whose contents will later be made public during the runup to Libby’s perjury trial (see October 28, 2005 and January 16-23, 2007), Libby suggests what McClellan should say to the press:
“People have made too much of the difference in
“How I described Karl and Libby
“I’ve talked to Libby.
“I said it was ridiculous about Karl
“And it is ridiculous about Libby.
“Libby was not the source of the Novak story.
“And he did not leak classified information.” [Think Progress, 4/6/2006; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 4/5/2009 ]
Cheney will write a note recommending Libby’s public exoneration (see October 4, 2003). McClellan will use much of Libby’s wording in his statement to the press (see October 4, 2003 and October 4, 2003).
On CNBC’s Capital Report, NBC reporter Andrea Mitchell says it should be “easily ascertained” who the sources were for the Plame Wilson identity leak. Asked, “Do we have any idea how widely known it was in Washington that Joe Wilson’s wife worked for the CIA?” Mitchell responds, “It was widely known among those of us who cover the intelligence community and who were actively engaged in trying to track down who among the foreign service community was the envoy to Niger” (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Many interpret Mitchell’s comment to mean that she and many other reporters knew about Plame Wilson’s CIA status. Mitchell will later recant her statement, saying she misunderstood the question and “screwed it up.” [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 1/26/2006 ; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 5/26/2006 ] Mitchell will later explain her misstatement on a broadcast of the Don Imus radio and television show, saying: “This is one of those things. We’ve got a whole new world of journalism out there where there are people writing blogs who are going to grab this one thing and not everything else I have written and said about this and go to town with it. It supports their political point of view, and… bingo.” [Jane Hamsher, 3/13/2007]
After being ordered to assure the press that Lewis “Scooter” Libby knew nothing of the Plame Wilson leak (see October 4, 2003), White House press secretary Scott McClellan agrees to follow that order if Libby himself will give him that same assurance. McClellan calls Libby and asks, “Were you involved in the leak in any way?” Libby replies, “No, absolutely not.” Together, they decide what reporters McClellan should call, and McClellan begins spreading the word among a wide array of national media correspondents. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 218-220] (Later research by author and blogger Marcy Wheeler indicates the reporters McClellan contacts are most likely the Associated Press’s Scott Lindlaw, Michael Isikoff or Evan Thomas of Newsweek, an unnamed reporter for the New York Times, and the Washington Post’s Mike Allen.) [Marcy Wheeler, 6/10/2008] The line is, as agreed upon, Libby “neither leaked the classified information, nor would he condone it.” Shortly afterwards, McClellan decides on his own to make the same assurances about National Security Council staffer Elliott Abrams, who has angrily denied rumors of his own involvement (see October 5, 2003). “I was becoming increasingly frustrated,” McClellan will write, “as this was exactly what I didn’t want to happen. I was putting myself in the middle of the investigation by publicly vouching for people, against my own wishes and against the sound advice of White House counsel.… In hindsight, the president should have overruled his advisers and demanded that an internal investigation be conducted to determine whether there might have been any White House involvement. He also should have ordered the public release of as much information as possible as soon as it was known, so that the scandal would not take on a life of its own.” McClellan will theorize that Bush “chose not to do so, perhaps feeling that keeping clear of the story would insulate him and protect him from potential political damage. Instead, it gave the story broader and longer life, only helping to reinforce the permanent state of suspicion and partisan warfare he had pledged to move beyond.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 218-220]
Through White House spokesmen, two senior Bush officials deny being involved in the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see July 14, 2003 and July 17, 2003). Neither Lewis “Scooter” Libby, chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, nor Elliott Abrams, the director of Middle East affairs for the National Security Council, were involved in the leak, according to spokesmen; the same claim has been made for White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove. According to press secretary Scott McClellan, Libby “neither leaked the classified information, nor would he condone it.” The disclaimers are in response to reporters’ questions. [New York Times, 10/5/2003] In 2007, the prosecution in the Libby perjury trial (see January 16-23, 2007) will enter into evidence a page of undated notes taken by Libby around this time. The notes are talking points for McClellan, and indicate that McClellan should use lines such as “I’ve talked to Libby. I’ve said it was ridiculous about Karl and it is ridiculous about Libby. Libby was not the source of the Novak story. And he did not leak classified information.” Libby’s notes also advise McClellan to say something like, “Not going to protect one staffer & sacrifice the guy the Pres that was asked to stick his neck in the meat grinder because of the incompetence of others.” Cheney has crossed out the words “the Pres,” obviously not wanting McClellan to reference President Bush (see October 4, 2003). [Office of the Vice President, 9/2003 ; National Public Radio, 3/7/2007]
Aly Colon, a communications manager and columnist for the Poynter Institute of Journalism, writes a cautionary column regarding Robert Novak’s outing of covert CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003). Colon writes: “There’s an old adage that claims journalists are only as good as the sources that feed them. Here’s a new one: Journalists are only as credible as the ethics that guide them.” Colon writes that Novak should have been more “rigorous” in his “decision-making process” that led him to out a covert CIA agent. Novak’s decision to out a person he clearly knew was a covert CIA agent, even after being asked not to by CIA officials on the grounds that blowing her identity would imperil US intelligence operations and assets (see July 8-10, 2003, Before July 14, 2003, July 21, 2003, and October 3, 2003), risked violating fundamental ethical principles of journalism. Novak is bound to report the truth as fully and independently as possible, but he is also bound to minimize harm. Colon writes that Novak should have more fully considered the ramifications of Plame Wilson’s outing, how important her identity was to his story, and what alternatives he had besides identifying her as a covert CIA agent. Novak also failed to adequately consider his sources’ motivations (see July 8, 2003). Colon concludes: “By disclosing the identity of a CIA operative… Novak provoked a Justice Department investigation of his sources (see September 26, 2003) and raised serious questions about his ethical conduct. Taking the time to answer a few ethical questions before publication can sometimes protect a reporter from having to answer more questions later.” [Poynter Institute of Journalism, 10/6/2003] In a subsequent interview, Colon will say, “Any time a journalist purposely deceives his readers, he undermines the newsperson’s or [his or her own] news organization’s credibility” and “threatens the trust between the reader and reporter.” [American Prospect, 2/12/2004]
President Bush says offhandedly of the Plame Wilson leak (see June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, and Before July 14, 2003) that Washington “is a town full of people who like to leak information. And I don’t know if we’re going to find out the senior administration official.… You tell me: How many sources have you had that’s leaked information, that you’ve exposed or had been exposed? Probably none.” Many find Bush’s insouciance astonishing, considering the lengths his administration has gone to in the past to punish leakers. In response, Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) calls for a special counsel to investigate the leak. Schumer also asks for an investigation of the three-day delay between the original announcement of the investigation and the instructions to the White House staff to preserve all relevant records (see September 29-30, 2003), and the possible conflict of interest concerning Attorney General John Ashcroft, who had once employed White House political strategist Karl Rove, named as a likely source of the leak (see September 30, 2003). [Vanity Fair, 1/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 102] Plame Wilson’s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, will later write that he was “particularly offended” when Bush told reporters he wanted to know the truth, but then placed the responsibility upon journalists themselves to find the source of the leak. Wilson will reflect, “His lack of genuine concern stunned and disappointed me.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 397]
Conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh announces the results of a poll finding: “We have a great Gallup poll, folks. Sixty percent of conservatives, 40 percent of moderates, and 18 percent of liberals say the media is too liberal.” Authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella later write that Limbaugh “creates an interpretative frame for the information,” with Limbaugh saying, “We all know that moderates are liberals anyway, so that would be 58 percent of liberals and 60 percent of conservatives, that’s over 100 percent of the people who think the media is too liberal.” Neither Jamieson nor Cappella point out the creative mathematics and regrouping Limbaugh is performing. They do note, however, that on Fox News, commentator Tony Snow reports the same poll results, and accuses the “liberal media” of failing to report the poll in a widespread fashion. [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 149]
On camera, PBS producer Martin Smith asks Iraqi National Congress chief Ahmed Chalabi to produce “documentary evidence of any kind” that proves his contention that Iraq and al-Qaeda have ties (see November 6-8, 2001 and February 5, 2003). Chalabi promises to deliver a document showing “money changing hands between Saddam Hussein’s government and al-Qaeda,” but never produces such a document. [Rich, 2006, pp. 106]
Gannett News Service discovers that identical letters purporting to be from different US soldiers in Iraq are being published around the country as supposed “letters to the editor.” The Pentagon later admits that it released the letters as part of what it calls its “hometown news release program.” The letters are signed by different soldiers with the 2nd Battalion of the 503rd Airborne Infantry. At least 11 copies of the letter have appeared at a variety of small-town newspapers, including two (with identical copy but different signatures) coming to the Olympia-based Washington Olympian. That newspaper refused to run either letter because it considered them “form letters,” not actual letters from independent sources. But many other newspapers did run the letters. [Gannett News Service, 10/11/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 107] One of them was the Boston Globe. [Boston Globe, 9/14/2003]
Troops Mobbed by Happy Iraqis, Proud of Accomplishments, Letter Says - The letter, written in five paragraphs, discusses soldiers’ efforts to re-establish police and fire departments, and rebuild water and sewer plants, in Kirkuk. “The quality of life and security for the citizens has been largely restored, and we are a large part of why that has happened,” the letter says. “The fruits of all our soldiers’ efforts are clearly visible in the streets of Kirkuk today. There is very little trash in the streets, many more people in the markets and shops, and children have returned to school. I am proud of the work we are doing here in Iraq and I hope all of your readers are as well.” It goes on to describe crowds of happy Iraqis waving at passing troops, and soldiers being mobbed by children grabbing their hands and thanking the troops in broken English.
Some Willingly Signed, but None Wrote Letter - Six of the soldiers who “signed” the various copies of the letter say they agree with its content, but deny writing it. Some admit to signing it. One, Private Nick Deaconson of Beckley, West Virginia, denies anything to do with the letter through his parents. Deaconson is hospitalized, recovering from shrapnel wounds in both legs. Another, Sergeant Christopher Shelton, who supposedly authored a letter that appeared in the Snohomish Herald, says his platoon sergeant distributed the letter and asked his soldiers for the names of their hometown newspaper. Shelton and others were asked to sign it if they agreed with it. Shelton calls the letter “dead accurate.”
Source Disputed - When the letters are revealed to be fakes, Army spokesman Sergeant Todd Oliver tells a reporter that an individual soldier wrote the letter and asked some of his fellow soldiers to sign it. “Someone, somewhere along the way, took it upon themselves to mail it to the various editors of newspapers across the country,” he says. Sergeant Shawn Grueser says he talked to a military public affairs officer about his unit’s accomplishments for what he thought was a news release to be sent to his hometown paper in Charleston, West Virginia, but says he never saw, much less signed, any letter. The Pentagon later says that “several soldiers” collaborated on the letter. [Gannett News Service, 10/11/2003; CBS News, 10/14/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 107] Days later, the 2nd Battalion’s commander, Lieutenant Colonel Dominic Caraccilo, says his staff wrote the letter. He says his intent was to get “good news” back to the US more efficiently. He says he gave it to his soldiers and told them they could send copies home if they liked. “We thought it would be a good idea to encapsulate what we as a battalion have accomplished since arriving Iraq and share that pride with people back home,” he says. [BBC, 10/14/2008] The New York Times calls the “orchestrated campaign” of letters “disturbing.” It observes: “[T]he misleading letter… coincides with the Bush administration’s renewed program of defending the war in an ambitious speaking campaign across the nation. With polls registering rising public doubts, the president and his aides are claiming that the news media unfairly play up negative developments and ignore progress in Iraq” (see Mid-October 2003). It concludes, “Fakery is the worst possible way to answer the public’s rising demand for information about the true state of affairs in Iraq.” [New York Times, 10/15/2003]
Entity Tags: Boston Globe, Nick Deaconson, Gannett News Service, Bush administration (43), Dominic Caraccilo, Shawn Grueser, New York Times, The Olympian, Snohomish Herald, US Department of the Army, Christopher Shelton, US Department of Defense, Todd Oliver
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
John Dickerson. [Source: Writers Voice (.net)]Time magazine carries an article suggesting that White House official Karl Rove is no longer under suspicion for leaking the identity of CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson. However, at least three reporters involved in the writing and editing of the article know that Rove leaked the name, according to an analysis by the Media Matters website. The article prominently features White House press secretary Scott McClellan’s denial that Rove had any involvement in the leak (see September 29, 2003). Reporter Matthew Cooper, who himself had Plame Wilson’s identity leaked to him by Rove (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), and editors Michael Duffy and John Dickerson all know of Rove’s involvement in the leak. Duffy learned of the Rove leak from an e-mail Cooper sent him. Dickerson will later acknowledge that he, too, is aware of Rove’s leak to Cooper at the same time (see February 7, 2006). Although both Cooper and Dickerson are credited with writing the article, and Duffy edits it, none reveal their knowledge that McClellan’s denial is false and that Rove had, indeed, leaked Plame Wilson’s identity. Indeed, Media Matters will note, the article gives implicit credence to the notion that Rove is no longer under suspicion for the leak. Media Matters will also note that Dickerson will go on to co-write a January 2004 Time article with another reporter, Viveca Novak, which will say in part, “If there are culprits in the White House who leaked the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame, they may now be dependent on reporters to protect their identities.” Media Matters will note that Dickerson was well aware that there were indeed “culprits” in the White House who outed Plame Wilson: “He knew there was at least one, and he knew who it was. Yet he told readers it was an open question and that no charges were likely.” Media Matters will also note that Novak knew at some point that Rove was Cooper’s source, though it is unclear if she knows it when she co-writes the January 2004 article with Dickerson. [Time, 1/12/2004; Media Matters, 2/6/2006] In 2005, the Los Angeles Times will report that Time magazine justified its reporting by saying it was “concerned about becoming part of such an explosive story in an election year.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/25/2005]
The White House launches a media campaign designed to spread the “good news” from Iraq. The campaign has two centerpieces: a squad of Republican congressmen and White House cabinet members (see Mid-October 2003) making brief visits to Iraq and coming back with “good news” to tell. Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) complains, “I was not told by the media in my country that thousands and hundreds of [Iraqi] children went back to school this week.” (Newspapers across the US did indeed report the reopening of Iraqi schools, according to the Associated Press.) The leader of the Congressional delegation, Mitch McConnell (R-KY), directly attacks the media for not reporting “good news” from Iraq: “Journalism schools teach that news means bad news.” One House member, George Nethercutt (R-WA), undercuts the message when he tells reporters the successes are more important than the loss of US soldiers: “The story of what we’ve done in the postwar period is remarkable. It is a better and more important story than losing a couple of soldiers every day.” The stories from the Congressional members are further undermined when the media reports that while they might have spent their days in Basra or Baghdad, they spent their nights in the safety of Kuwait. The second focus is on President Bush, who flies around the US giving interviews to carefully selected anchors and reporters from regional TV news providers such as Tribune Broadcasting, Belo, and Hearst-Argyle. These “heartland” news providers will presumably provide softer interviews than the Washington press corps. Bush’s main message is how much “good progress” is being made in Iraq. [Associated Press, 10/17/2003; Rich, 2006, pp. 104-105]
As part of a White House media campaign to promote “good news” from Iraq (see Mid-October 2003), Commerce Secretary Donald Evans goes on a brief visit to selected areas in Baghdad and comes back to Washington with stories of the “thousands” of new businesses that have cropped up since the “liberation” of that country. Asked for an example, Evans cites two boys’ roadside soft drink stand. [Associated Press, 10/17/2003]
Cover of Because Each Life Is Precious. [Source: Ozon (.ru)]The book Because Each Life is Precious: Why an Iraqi Man Risked Everything for Private Jessica Lynch, is published by HarperCollins. It is co-written by Iraqi lawyer Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief, who provided US forces with information necessary for the rescue of Lynch (see June 17, 2003). Al-Rehaief was rewarded for his contributions with political asylum in the US, a job with a Republican-owned lobbying firm, and a $300,000 book contract (see April 10, 2003 and After). The book was promoted by former US Information Agency official Lauri Fitz-Pegado, who in 1990 worked for public relations firm Hill & Knowlton. While at that firm, Fitz-Pegado helped run the propaganda campaign that alleged Iraqi forces had broken into a Kuwaiti infirmary, thrown Kuwaiti babies to the floor, and stolen their incubators. The story was catapulted into the headlines by the gripping testimony of a 15-year old girl, “Nayirah,” who testified before Congress that she had witnessed the atrocities (see October 10, 1990). The girl was actually the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the US and had been coached on what to say by Fitz-Pegado. Like Naiyrah’s, al-Rehaief’s story is riddled with apparent falsehoods, including the now well-known story of Lynch being slapped by a black-clad Iraqi Fedayeen, a tale disputed by the doctors and nurses at the hospital in which Lynch was receiving care. Executives of the Livingston Group, the lobbying firm which now employs al-Rehaief, say that his life is in danger from “terrorists,” though they give no details of the alleged threats; interestingly, the firm canceled an appearance by al-Rehaief at the National Press Club shortly before the book’s release, thus denying reporters a chance to question al-Rehaief about his version of events. In the book, al-Rehaief writes, “I cannot say how I had pictured this American POW but I never imagined her as quite so small or quite so young.” When he saw her being slapped, he writes: “In that moment I felt compelled to help that person in the hospital bed. I had no idea of what I could do, but I knew that I had to do something.” Independent reporter Andrew Buncombe calls the book an example of “the murky world where myth, reality and disinformation merge…” [Independent, 10/19/2003; United Press International, 10/23/2003; Public Relations Watch, 6/3/2007]
A frightened Shoshana Johnson, photographed by her captors an hour after she was shot and captured by Iraqi fighters. [Source: Al-Jazeera / CNN]Army Specialist Shoshana Johnson, captured in the same Iraqi assault that ended in the captivity and eventual rescue of Private Jessica Lynch (see June 17, 2003), has faced a very different ordeal than her more famous comrade. Johnson was held captive for 22 days before being released. During her captivity, she was shot in both legs. She still suffers from severe physical and emotional trauma. She has not spoken out while Lynch became the focus of so much media attention, but she now feels she must: the Army has informed her that she will receive only a 30 percent disability benefit for her injuries. Lynch will receive an 80 percent disability benefit. Johnson is African American; Lynch is Caucasian. The difference amounts to between $600-$700 per month, a significant amount for Johnson, who is raising a three-year-old daughter. Johnson’s family has enlisted the help of civil rights activist Jesse Jackson to help make their case in the national press. Jackson says the discrepancy implies that a racial double standard is at work in the two women’s cases. “Here’s a case of two women, same [unit], same war; everything about their service commitment and their risk is equal,” Jackson says. “Yet there’s an enormous contrast between how the military has handled these two cases.” Philadelphia radio host Mary Mason says more bluntly: “Shoshana is getting the shaft, and people are outraged about it. It’s ridiculous, and complete racism.” Some have speculated that the difference in race and appearance—Lynch, a winsome, tiny blonde, is acknowledged to be quite photogenic, while Johnson is darker and heavier-featured—may have played a role in the selection of Lynch over Johnson to gain such heavy media coverage. Johnson’s father Claude, an Army veteran, says neither Shoshana nor the family begrudge Lynch her disability. They just believe that the benefits should be more equal. Lynch says she and Johnson are friends, and she hopes Johnson receives every benefit due her. The Army denies any bias, and says its decision on benefits is made according to a soldier’s injuries. Democratic political strategist Donna Brazile, an African American, says she won’t watch the NBC movie about Lynch’s ordeal (see November 10, 2003). “Jessica’s story is a compelling story, but so is Shoshana’s,” she says. “My reason for not tuning in is simple: I am tired of the double standard.” [Black Entertainment Television, 10/24/2003; Boston Globe, 11/9/2003] Johnson’s benefits will later be revised upwards (see March 18, 2008).
Former ambassador Joseph Wilson sits down with Jeff Gannon of Talon News to discuss the outing of his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, as a CIA agent (see July 14, 2003), his trip to Niger that helped debunk the claim that Iraq tried to buy uranium from that country (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and July 6, 2003), and his concerns over the Iraq war. Wilson is unaware that Gannon is in reality James Guckert, a gay prostitute who moonlights as a fake journalist for the right-wing Talon News (see January 26, 2005 and January 28, 2005). Little of what Gannon/Guckert elicits is new information.
Access to Classified Information? - However, early in the interview, Gannon/Guckert refers to a classified memo when he says, “An internal government memo prepared by US intelligence personnel details a meeting in early 2002 where your wife, a member of the agency for clandestine service working on Iraqi weapons issues, suggested that you could be sent to investigate the reports.” The FBI will investigate Gannon/Guckert’s knowledge of the memo, but he will deny ever having seen it. It is not clear from whom he learned of the memo [Talon News, 10/28/2003; Wilson, 2007, pp. 216] , though he will insist that he received the information from “confidential sources.” [Antiwar (.com), 2/18/2005]
America Did Not Debate Redrawing the Middle East as a Rationale for War - Wilson notes that he considered “the invasion, conquest, and occupation of Iraq for the purpose of disarming Saddam [Hussein] struck me as the highest risk, lowest reward option.… [W]e ought to understand that sending our men and women to kill and to die for our country is the most solemn decision a government has to make and we damn well ought to have that debate before we get them into harm’s way instead of after.” He explains why the idea that his wife selected him for the Niger mission is incorrect. When Gannon/Guckert attempts to pin him down by citing the initial meeting in which Plame Wilson suggested Wilson for the mission (see February 13, 2002), Wilson notes, “[T]hat fact that my wife knows that I know a lot about the uranium business and that I know a lot about Niger and that she happens to be involved in weapons of mass destruction, it should come as no surprise to anyone that we know of each others activities.” Wilson says that the aims of the administration’s neoconservatives—to redraw “the political map of the Middle East,” is something that has not been debated by the nation. The US did not debate the war with Iraq “on the grounds of redrawing the map of the Middle East,” he notes.
Wilson Did Not Violate CIA Secrecy in Revealing Niger Mission - Gannon/Guckert asks if Wilson violated CIA secrecy in going public with the results of his Niger mission, as some on the right have asserted. Wilson reminds Gannon that his was not a clandestine trip, “not a CIA mission,” but an aboveboard fact-finding journey. Those circumstances were well understood by the CIA before he left for Niger.
Implications of French Complicity in Niger Allegations Debunked - Gannon/Guckert tries to insinuate that the French may have had something to do with keeping the alleged uranium sales secret, and Wilson quickly shoots that line of inquiry down, saying, “The fact that you don’t like the French or that the French seem to have favored a different approach on this is far different from the French violating UN Security Council resolutions of which they are signatories, and clandestinely transferring 500 tons of uranium to a rogue country like Iraq is a real reach.” He then describes just how impossible it would have been for the French to have facilitated such a secret uranium transfer even had it wished.
Refuses to Accuse Rove Directly - Wilson refuses to flatly name White House political strategist Karl Rove as the person behind the leaks of his wife’s clandestine identity, though he notes that Rove indeed labeled his wife “fair game” to the press (see July 21, 2003) and that Rove was in a perfect position to have orchestrated the leak. When Gannon/Guckert tells Wilson that conservative columnist Robert Novak, who first published Plame Wilson’s name and occupation, denies that the White House gave him the information on her identity, Wilson retorts, “Novak has changed his story so much that it’s hard for me to understand what he is talking about” (see September 29, 2003).
When a Leak Is Not a Leak - Gannon/Guckert brings up the allegation from New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof that Plame Wilson was revealed as an undercover agent by Russian spy Aldrich Ames in 1994. Because Ames may have revealed Plame Wilson’s identity to the Russians, Gannon/Guckert asks, isn’t it possible that she was no longer an undercover agent? Wilson refuses to validate the Ames speculation, and finally says that the CIA would not be treating this so seriously if it were as frivolous an issue as Gannon/Guckert suggests. “[R]emember this is not a crime that has been committed against my wife or against me,” he says. “If there was a crime, it was committed against our country. The CIA has referred the matter to the Justice Department for further investigation, I don’t believe that’s a frivolous referral.” [Talon News, 10/28/2003]
Bob Schieffer. [Source: Brightcove (.tv)]Discussing the Chinook helicopter shot down just hours before over Fallujah (see November 2, 2003), CBS News anchor Bob Schieffer asks with real anguish in his voice, “If this is winning, you have to ask the question: How much of this winning can we stand?” [Rich, 2006, pp. 109]
An editorial in Britain’s Guardian notes that the downing of a Chinook transport helicopter near Fallujah (see November 2, 2003) is likely to have “a disproportionate psychological impact on US military operations in Iraq and on US public opinion.” The editorial observes that “[t]he perception, in America itself and abroad, is that the security situation in Iraq is deteriorating, rather than improving as President George Bush claims. US-led coalition forces are now being subjected to an average of over 30 attacks daily. Hardly a day passes without news of one or more US fatalities. Far from being accepted as routine, this toll appears to be convincing more and more ordinary Americans that Mr Bush and his officials are not in control of a situation that they, uniquely, created.” Violence in Iraq is escalating on a daily, and deadly, basis, with “soft targets” such as Red Cross and other civilian relief organizations being targeted along with military personnel. Whether foreign terror organizations such as al-Qaeda or native insurgents are responsible for the wave of violence, “[t]he bottom line is relentless violence and mayhem and a US leadership that appears powerless to stop it. This perception that Mr Bush’s Iraq campaign lacks direction and is one over which he is losing control is exemplified, even symbolized, by the dramatic loss of the Chinook. This sense of rudderlessness may prove to be even more damaging to him in the long run than the many controversies that still surround his decision to go to war in the first place.” [Guardian, 11/3/2003]
Wall Street Journal reporter Brian Anderson writes: “Watch Fox [News] for just a few hours, and you encounter a conservative presence unlike anything on television. When CBS and CNN would lead a news item about an impending execution with a candlelight vigil of death-penalty protesters, for example,” Anderson quotes Fox senior vice president for news John Moody as saying it is “de riguer that we put in the lead why the person is being executed.” Anderson continues, “Fox viewers will see Republican politicians and conservative pundits sought out for meaningful quotations, skepticism voiced about environmental ‘doomsaying,’ religion treated with respect, pro-life views given airtime—and much else they’d never find on other networks” (see October 13, 2009). [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 50]
William F. Buckley. [Source: Kevin Lamarque / Reuters]In his weekly column “On the Right,” syndicated columnist William F. Buckley writes of the recent shootdown of an American Chinook helicopter near Fallujah (see November 2, 2003). Buckley writes that although the losses are undoubtedly devastating to the families of the slain soldiers, “one does endure such losses. Consider Jackie Kennedy [widow of the assassinated President Kennedy]. She survived it; so will the mothers, fathers and spouses of the victims of the Fallujah missile. What is one shade less than absolutely predictable is whether our foreign policy will survive that anti-helicopter missile.” Buckley compares the Fallujah attacks to the Tet offensive in Vietnam in 1968, a military offensive mounted by the North Vietnamese that was a military failure but a public relations success that pushed the US irrevocably towards what Buckley calls “the retreat of 1972 and the surrender of 1975.” The US cannot let such attacks drive them precipitously from Iraq, Buckley writes. “[T]he idea is that US aircraft should be safe wherever they fly, and we are in Iraq because of its infestation.” Iraq still reels from the effects of what Buckley calls “a Stalinist dictatorship,” and is still plagued by insurgents and rebels who want to reintroduce some form of post-Hussein dictatorship. Besides, Buckley writes, one must consider the losses in Iraq in perspective. “Our casualties since the beginning of the war have reached 400. Last year, 16,000 Americans were murdered within the boundaries of the United States. That same year, 43,000 Americans were killed in automobile accidents.” He concludes: “If all surveillance of the Iraqi theater were to end today, and begin again when Iraq is a settled state, governed by its own people making their way toward freedom, it is inconceivable that the losses sustained during the hiatus would appear to Americans as disproportionate to the ends achieved. What’s needed is to nurture that moral perspective that the idiot children of Fallujah were deprived of.” [Universal Press Syndicate, 11/4/2003]
Publicity photo from ‘The Reagans’ miniseries, with James Brolin and Judy Davis as Ronald and Nancy Reagan. [Source: Time]Conservative pundits react with outrage over reports that CBS will air a documentary miniseries about former President Ronald Reagan and his family, titled The Reagans, that contains controversial, and sometimes unsourced, material some feel is unflattering to Reagan and his family. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, the Wall Street Journal op-ed page, and many commentators on Fox News object so strongly that CBS eventually alters the content of the movie and shunts it out of its lineup entirely (it will instead air on CBS’s cable provider Showtime). The movie was produced by people who “hate Reagan,” Limbaugh charges. Hannity poses the rhetorical question: “Does the whole episode expose the Reagan-hating, liberal-leaning tendencies of the mainstream press?… CBS has a history of Reagan-bashing.” The Journal observes: “[W]hat caused this particular network wall to come tumbling down was largely the new media: [the] Drudge [Report], cable, talk radio, and so on. Not only did the new media disseminate information about the script to CBS viewers, it also provided the viewers, via the immediacy of e-mail, the means to ensure that [CBS chairman Leslie] Moonves would feel their pain.” [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 72-73] Conservative pundit Pat Buchanan predicted, “Advertisers will bail on CBS’ anti-Reagan movie,” in the days before CBS’s decision. Conservative MSNBC pundit and columnist Robert Novak said of the miniseries: “CBS is serving up a new version of the Ronald Reagan story, just before Thanksgiving. That’s appropriate. With all the Hollywood liberals involved, it could be a real turkey.” And the conservative watchdog organization Media Research Center (MRC) launched a boycott targeting CBS’s potential advertisers. It decided to take action, calling on 100 major companies to review the script and consider avoiding buying ad time on the miniseries. MRC founder Brent Bozell wrote, “‘The Reagans’ appears to be a blatantly unfair assault on the legacy of one of America’s greatest leaders.” In an interview, Bozell said: “Reagan is being portrayed as a hateful, half-nut homophobe. It’s not that the historical record is being distorted. It’s that the makers of the movie are deliberately defaming him and lying about him.” None of the pundits and critics have seen any more than a brief clip CBS provided for publicity purposes.
Fictionalized Conversation - One portion of the miniseries, concerning Reagan’s position on AIDS victims, features at least some fiction. Reagan is portrayed as “uncaring and judgmental” towards AIDS patients, says a CBS News article, and in the script, Reagan turns down his wife Nancy’s plea to help them, saying, “They that live in sin shall die in sin.” Lead author Elizabeth Egloff admitted that she has no documentation of Reagan ever saying such. However, Egloff said, “we know he ducked the issue over and over again, and we know she was the one who got him to deal with that.” Reagan insiders deny Egloff’s characterization. Reportedly Nancy Reagan is angry about the miniseries.
Re-Editing for 'Fair'ness - Moonves recently told a CNBC interviewer: “Nobody’s seen the film. So any criticism now, in the middle of October for a film that isn’t finished, is rather odd, we think.” He admitted that the film was being re-edited “to present a fair picture of the Reagans.… There are things we like about the movie, there are things we don’t like about the movie, there are things we think go too far.” [CBS News, 10/29/2003]
Son Speaks Out - Conservative pundit Michael Reagan, the former president’s son, celebrates the decision, calling the documentary a “smear job on my dad” and writing that to most “Hollywood liberals,” apparently including the filmmakers, “[c]onservatives, in their twisted minds, are sworn enemies of progress and everything else that’s good and decent in Hollywood’s view, you know, good things like abortion and gay Boy Scout scoutmasters and Communist dictators such as their hero Fidel Castro.… [T]he elitist liberals at CBS fall right in line with this leftist garbage, and, as they did in this instance, allowed Hollywood the liberty of creating an attack vehicle against my dad and my family and then claiming it was an historical documentary that portrays the Reagans as they really are.” Like many other conservatives, Reagan seems particularly displeased that James Brolin, the husband of liberal Hollywood star Barbra Streisand, plays his father. [MSNBC, 11/5/2009]
Entity Tags: Fox News, Showtime, Elizabeth Egloff, Brent Bozell, Barbra Streisand, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Wall Street Journal, Robert Novak, Media Research Center, Leslie Moonves, James Brolin, CBS, Ronald Reagan, Nancy Reagan, Patrick Buchanan, Michael Reagan
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Time magazine does a cover story on the recovering Private Jessica Lynch, who is the subject of a biography (see November 11, 2003) and a television movie (see November 10, 2003). The article profiles Lynch as she recovers from her wounds at her home in West Virginia. She says she had no idea that within hours of her rescue from an Iraqi hospital (see June 17, 2003), she had become an instant celebrity (see April 3, 2003). “I didn’t think that anyone out there even knew I existed, let alone write me a letter,” she says. “I was asking my mom, ‘Did I make the hometown Journal?’ She was like, ‘Yeah, you made it, plus all these world papers.’” Her father Greg recalls that she and the family were excited when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld came to their home to visit. “That was rewarding,” he says. “Not every day that you meet the big boys.” President Bush has not called the Lynch home, but, according to her father, she does not expect him to call. “He’s got a job to do,” her father says. Her physical recovery is a slow, unsteady process, but she is improving, her parents and physical therapist say. [Time, 11/9/2003]
Image from the ‘Saving Jessica Lynch’ poster. [Source: Satellite Imaging Corporation]NBC’s television movie, Saving Jessica Lynch (see August 5-8, 2003), airs, attracting mediocre ratings. The film is based on the dubious account by Iraqi lawyer Mohammed Odeh al-Rehaief as published in his book Because Every Life is Precious, and actually makes al-Rehaief, not Lynch, the central figure. Lynch and her family refused to take part in the movie’s production; Lynch even refused to meet with al-Rehaief when he journeyed to her hometown in West Virginia. Days before its airing, Entertainment Weekly critic Ken Tucker, after previewing it, lambasted it as “odious,” slammed its “assiduously bland storytelling,” and said that it “represents everything that’s wrong with this genre,” a subdivision of TV docudramas that he calls the “so-called women-in-jeopardy telefilm.” The New York Times’ Alessandra Stanley calls it a “shameless attempt [by NBC] to capitalize on [a] real-life horror stor[y].” A later Times review will note, “An inordinate amount of poetic license is taken with the events surrounding Jessica’s rescue, with a plethora of ridiculous coincidences and serial-like thrills and chills thrown in to pep up the story.” [New York Times, 11/7/2003; Baltimore Sun, 11/11/2003; New York Times, 2008] (NBC airs a disclaimer at the beginning of the movie: “This motion picture is based on a true story. However, some names have been changed and some characters, scenes and events in whole or part have been created for dramatic purpose.”) [Salon, 11/13/2003] In a review for the Deseret News, Scott Pierce writes, “If I thought NBC executives were capable of feeling shame, I’d suggest that they should be ashamed of themselves for foisting Saving Jessica Lynch off on viewers.” He calls the movie “a simple case of a network investing itself and its money in a project designed to grab ratings without pausing to find out what the real story was. And then not really worrying too much about getting its facts straight.… Never mind that the original story Americans were told about the rescue turned out to be largely bogus. Never mind that independent news organizations have called into question al-Rehaief’s version of events. This was ‘created for dramatic purposes.‘… [W]hat makes the telefilm nothing short of reprehensible is that, disclaimer or not, it presents fiction as fact and exploits the facts for ratings. I can’t help but think of how the families of the soldiers who died must feel about this.” [Deseret News, 11/8/2003]
Cover of I Am a Soldier, Too. [Source: Entertainment Weekly]Rick Bragg’s biography of Jessica Lynch (see June 17, 2003) is released under the title I Am a Soldier, Too (see September 2, 2003). Entertainment Weekly reviewer Tina Jordan says the book is straightforward, and shows Lynch as a humble young woman refusing to take credit for things she did not do: “I didn’t kill nobody,” Lynch says. Her memory of the hours after her injuries in the initial ambush are gone, and her story of her nine days under the care of Iraqi doctors parallels the story as told by other media sources after the initial propaganda blitz from the US military and media outlets such as the Washington Post (see April 1, 2003) had run its course. (The initial propaganda onslaught had an effect: a Marine interviewed for the book recalls: “I took it right to heart. I have a sister. She’s 19.… I thought of the people who would do that. I wanted to kill them. I killed 34 of them.”
Three-Part Structure - Bragg divides the book into three parts: the first a retelling of Lynch’s life before joining the Army, as another young woman in an impoverished West Virginia hamlet who, like her brother and so many other young people of the area, joined the military in hopes to build a future for herself. The second part of the book focuses on the March 23 ambush and capture (see March 23, 2003), and her nine days as a patient in an Iraqi hospital (see May 4, 2003). The third and last part of the book chronicles Lynch’s attempt to set her story straight. She never attempted to claim any undue credit for herself, consistently refusing to embrace the myth of her “heroism” in which the military and the media attempted to cloak her (see April 3, 2003).
Allegation of Rape - Jordan writes that “Bragg manages to suppress his penchant for overblown prose to give the straight story on Lynch’s remarkable ordeal.” New York Times reviewer David Lipsky is less forgiving, noting numerous infelicitously written passages and concluding that the book suffered from being written under a tight deadline. But amidst the sober retelling of facts, Bragg heads off in a controversial direction: alleging a sexual assault that Lynch does not recall suffering. [Baltimore Sun, 11/11/2003; Entertainment Weekly, 11/19/2003; New York Times, 12/14/2003] Lynch herself says she read the book but skipped the parts that were too hard for her to relive, the parts, she says, that made her parents cry. As for the allegation that Lynch was raped, Bragg says it was her parents that wanted that included in the book: “because if we didn’t put it in, the story wouldn’t be compete. It would be a lie.” [Time, 11/9/2003] But a Philadelphia Inquirer book reviewer notes angrily: “[The] revelation that she was sexually assaulted during those lost three hours, timed specifically to promote this book and her appearances, is repugnant, virtually unparalleled in the rancid history of publicity. It’s rape as a marketing tool.” [Salon, 11/13/2003]
No Extra Copies - One Connecticut bookstore owner is asked if her store will order extra copies of Lynch’s biography; she guffaws: “You must be kidding! Who cares? This story has been told to the nth degree.” [Salon, 11/13/2003]
Diane Sawyer and Jessica Lynch. [Source: ABC News / CNN]ABC airs an interview with Army Private Jessica Lynch (see June 17, 2003); the press reports elements from the interview four days in advance, from ABC press releases. In the interview, conducted by Diane Sawyer, Lynch says that the US military overdramatized the story of her rescue from an Iraqi hospital in Nasiriyah, a charge denied by US military officials, who blame the news media for reporting the story with incomplete information. Asked if the military exaggerated the danger of her rescue by US Special Forces commandos, Lynch replies, “Yeah, I don’t think it happened quite like that.” However, she says, it would have been foolish for her rescuers to go in less prepared. Any such unit “in that kind of situation would obviously go in with force, not knowing who was on the other side of the door.” The way the US military publicized her rescue (see April 1, 2003) upsets Lynch. “It does [bother me] that they used me as a way to symbolize all this stuff,” she says. “It’s wrong. I don’t know why they filmed it, or why they say the things they [say], you know.… All I know was that I was in that hospital hurting.… I needed help. I wanted out of there. It didn’t matter to me if they would have come in shirts and blank guns; it wouldn’t have mattered to me. I wanted out of there.” She has nothing but praise for her rescuers: “I’m so thankful that they did what they did. They risked their lives.”
Disputes Rape, Abuse Allegations in Biography - An upcoming book about her captivity (see September 2, 2003) alleges that she was raped by her Iraqi captors, a charge Lynch says she cannot confirm. The charge, placed in the book by author Rick Bragg, is based on what Bragg calls a medical report that shows Lynch was sexually assaulted. Lynch has no memory of any such assault, and says “even just the thinking about that, that’s too painful.” From what she remembers, she was well treated during her stay in the Iraqi hospital. One of the Iraqi doctors who treated her, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Mahdi Khafaji, says he found no evidence of any such sexual assault. She also says that the story of her being slapped by an Iraqi paramilitary officer, as retold in a recent movie of her ordeal (see November 10, 2003), is untrue. “From the time I woke up in that hospital, no one beat me, no one slapped me, no one, nothing,” she says.
Feared Permanent Paralysis - Lynch recalls that while lying in the Iraqi hospital, she “seriously thought I was going to be paralyzed for the rest of my life. I’ve never felt that much pain in my whole entire life. It was, you know, from my foot to my other foot to my legs to my arms to my back, my head.” She does not consider herself a hero, she says: “I was just there in that spot, you know, the wrong place, the wrong time.”
Refuses to Take Credit for Fighting - Lynch confirms that when she and her fellow soldiers were attacked, she did not fire a single shot. Her weapon jammed when she tried to fire on her assailants. “I did not shoot, not a round, nothing,” she says. “I went down praying to my knees. And that’s the last I remember.” She says it hurt her to learn that initial news accounts portrayed her as emptying her weapon into her assailants, and finally falling due to multiple gunshot and knife wounds. Her injuries were all due to the crash of her vehicle. “It hurt in a way that people would make up stories that they had no truth about,” she says. “Only I would have been able to know that, because the other four people on my vehicle aren’t here to tell that story. So I would have been the only one able to say… I went down shooting. But I didn’t.” Lynch believes one of her fellow soldiers, Private Lori Piestewa, may have been the one who went down fighting. “That may have been her, but it wasn’t me, and I’m not taking credit for it,” Lynch says. Piestewa, Lynch’s best friend in the unit, was mortally wounded during the gunfight.
Wants to Teach Kindergarten - When she recovers, she says, she wants to teach kindergarten children. But she has to complete her physical therapy and fully recover from her injuries. She still has no feeling in her left foot, walks with crutches, and suffers from chronic kidney and bowel problems due to the injury to her spine. “I just want to keep adding, you know, just steps every day, just so eventually I can throw away the crutches and… just start walking on my own,” she says. “That’s my goal. I just want to be able to walk again.” [CNN, 11/7/2003; CNN, 11/7/2003; New York Times, 11/7/2003; Associated Press, 11/7/2003]
'Tough Interview' - Salon’s Eric Boehlert writes admiringly that “[t]he petite, tight-lipped Lynch is one tough interview.” She weathers Sawyer’s interview well, never losing her composure even after Sawyer, whom Boehlert says is notorious for “elicit[ing] on-camera tears,” surprised her with a photograph of the Iraqi hospital room Lynch had been held in. Boehlert writes: “The camera zoomed in on Lynch for a reaction. Yes, she calmly replied, that was the room she stayed in.” [Salon, 11/13/2003]
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]
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 ]
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, Domestic Propaganda, 2004 Elections
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]
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]
Valerie Plame Wilson and Joseph Wilson, photographed in December 2003 for a Vanity Fair profile. [Source: Jonas Karlsson / Vanity Fair]Vanity Fair publishes an interview with Joseph Wilson (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002) and his wife, recently outed CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003). It is the first interview with Plame Wilson after her exposure. The article features a photo of the Wilsons, which constitutes the first public photo of Plame Wilson after her exposure. She conceals her features behind large sunglasses and a scarf. [Vanity Fair, 1/2004] Many Bush administration supporters and others will criticize the Wilsons for allowing themselves to be interviewed and photographed. Wilson later calls his wife’s decision to allow herself to be photographed “spur of the moment,” and will note: “She had already been described as the beautiful blonde that she is, and her cover had long since been blown, so the only concern remaining was whether strangers would be able to use a photo to recognize her in public. With proper precautions taken, I saw no reason to deprive ourselves of the pleasure of being photographed together as the happily married couple that we are.” Later assertions that Plame Wilson had “blown her own cover” by allowing herself to be photographed are “laughable,” Wilson will write. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 409-410]
New information shows that Saddam Hussein was not captured (see December 14, 2003) by US forces through the auspices of an informant, as previously reported (see December 17, 2003), but was apparently captured by Kurdish paramilitary forces and turned over to the US. The day of Hussein’s capture, Kurdish media reported that a “special intelligence unit led by Mr. Kosrat Rassul” had captured Hussein. The source of the reports was Jalal Talabani, the leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). Iranian news services picked up and expanded on the reports. The next day, a member of Iraq’s Governing Council, Dr. Mahmoud Othman, confirmed the Kurdish claims, as did other independent observers. Subsequent Arab news reports indicated that Mohammed Ibrahim Omar al-Muslit, the so-called informant, actually drugged Hussein and told US forces where to find him. But this story, too, is quickly disputed, with experts believing that Kurdish forces intervened, first acting as negotiators for the US, then bypassing the al-Muslit family and seizing Hussein on their own. Once the Kurds had Hussein, they negotiated with the US to stage his “capture.” It is likely that Hussein was drugged, but by the Kurds and not by al-Muslit. One photo of US troops in front of Hussein’s “spider hole” features ripe dates and drying sausage in the background, which usually exist only in late summer, not December as was the announced date of Hussein’s capture.
'Dragnet' - In July, the US Army captured Adnan Abdullah Abid al-Muslit, identified as “one of Saddam Hussein’s closest bodyguards and collaborators.” The al-Muslit family was apparently helping to hide and protect Hussein; later, one of the family members, Mohammed al-Muslit, was identified as the informant who gave up Hussein’s location to US interrogators. In August, another al-Muslit family member, later identified as Adnan al-Muslit’s brother, was arrested by Iraqi police and given over to US forces. The brother was picked up as part of a larger “dragnet” for anyone with possible knowledge of Hussein’s whereabouts.
Allegations, Speculations of Torture - Many were taken into US custody and interrogated. Amnesty International raised questions as to whether some of the detainees might have been tortured; the human rights organization alleged circumstances that “would amount to torture as defined by UN standards.” [Asia Times, 4/17/2004]
Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald informs conservative columnist Robert Novak, the author of the column that exposed the CIA identity of Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003), that he intends to bring waivers of journalistic confidentiality (see January 2-5, 2004) from Novak’s sources for the column, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see July 8 or 9, 2003) and White House political strategist Karl Rove (see July 8, 2003), to a meeting with Novak. Novak will later write, “In other words, the special prosecutor knew the names of my sources.” [Human Events, 7/12/2006] Novak will speak three times to Fitzgerald’s investigators (see January 14, 2004, February 5, 2004, and September 14, 2004).
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).
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]
The federal grand jury investigating the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert CIA identity subpoenas a large amount of White House records, including Air Force One telephone logs from the week before Plame Wilson’s public outing (see July 14, 2003); records created in July 2003 by the White House Iraq Group (WHIG—see August 2002), a White House public relations group tasked with crafting a public relations strategy to market the Iraq war to the public; a transcript of press secretary Ari Fleischer’s press briefing in Nigeria currently missing from the White House’s Web site (see 3:20 a.m. July 12, 2003); a list of guests at former President Gerald Ford’s July 16, 2003 birthday reception; and records of Bush administration officials’ contacts with approximately 25 journalists and news media outlets. The journalists include Robert Novak, the columnist who outed Plame Wilson, Newsday reporters Knut Royce and Timothy Phelps (see July 21, 2003), five Washington Post reporters including Mike Allen and Dana Priest (see September 28, 2003 and October 12, 2003), Time magazine’s Michael Duffy (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), NBC’s Andrea Mitchell (see July 8, 2003 and October 3, 2003), MSNBC’s Chris Matthews (see July 21, 2003), and reporters from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and the Associated Press. The subpoenas will be accompanied by a January 26 memo from White House counsel Alberto Gonzales that will set a January 29 deadline for production of the subpoenaed documents and records. Gonzales will write that White House staffers will turn over records of any “contacts, attempted contacts, or discussion of contacts, with any members of the media concerning [former ambassador Joseph] Wilson, his trip, or his wife, including but not limited to the following media and media personnel.” White House spokeswoman Erin Healy later says, “The president has always said we would fully comply with the investigation, and the White House counsel’s office has directed the staff to fully comply.” White House press secretary Scott McClellan will say: “It’s just a matter of getting it all together.… At this point, we’re still in the process of complying fully with those requests. We have provided the Department of Justice investigators with much of the information and we’re continuing to provide them with additional information and comply fully with the request for information.” [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 1/22/2004; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 1/22/2004; Newsday, 3/5/2004; Washington Post, 3/6/2004]
Entity Tags: Chris Matthews, US Department of Justice, Bush administration (43), Valerie Plame Wilson, Wall Street Journal, White House Iraq Group, Ari Fleischer, Time magazine, Alberto R. Gonzales, Andrea Mitchell, Scott McClellan, Timothy Phelps, Newsday, Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr, Erin Healy, Dana Priest, Knut Royce, Robert Novak, NBC News, Michael Duffy, Associated Press, New York Times, MSNBC, Mike Allen
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Newsday reporters Knut Royce and Timothy Phelps, who co-authored a July 2003 article that confirmed the CIA status of Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 21, 2003), are both contacted by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald. Their article quoted “intelligence officials” who confirmed that Plame Wilson was at the time an undercover official working on WMD issues. And Robert Novak, the columnist who outed Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003), told Royce and Phelps that he was “given” the information about Plame Wilson by White House officials, who “thought it was significant.” Because the White House included Royce and Phelps as persons whose contacts with White House staffers should be disclosed (see September 30, 2003), Newsday removed both reporters from further coverage of the Plame Wilson story. Now Fitzgerald says he doesn’t want them to name the sources of their story, but he does want some information about their discussions with their sources. (Phelps later writes that in his estimation, he and Royce are the first reporters contacted by Fitzgerald, with the exception of Novak—see January 14, 2004). Lawyers for the reporters and Newsday wrangle the question, and Newsday publisher Raymond Jansen asks the reporters to cooperate as best they can without violating journalistic principles. Phelps later describes Fitzgerald’s request: “What Fitzgerald wanted us to do, among other things, was to differentiate between Source A, B, or C. Without giving up any names, would we simply outline which source had said what in our story?” Both reporters flatly refuse to cooperate. Fitzgerald threatens the reporters with a subpoena, but never actually serves them with a legal summons. [Columbia Journalism Review, 1/1/2006]
White House political strategist Karl Rove testifies before the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak. Rove does not tell the jury that he discussed Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA status with reporters other than columnist Robert Novak (see July 8, 2003 and July 8 or 9, 2003). At a minimum, Rove is failing to disclose conversations he has had about Plame Wilson with Time’s Matthew Cooper (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). [New York Times, 11/4/2005; New York Times, 2006; New York Times, 4/27/2006] There is some mystery about the date and content of Rove’s second testimony to the grand jury; in 2006, reporter Michael Isikoff will say that Rove testifies twice during February 2004. In neither appearance does he admit to leaking Plame Wilson’s CIA identity to reporters. [Newsweek, 5/8/2006]
Columnist Robert Novak, who outed Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert CIA status in a column in July 2003 (see July 14, 2003), is questioned for a second time (see January 14, 2004) by Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor investigating the Plame Wilson leak (see December 30, 2003). As with the earlier interview, Fitzgerald interviews Novak at the law offices of Swidler Berlin, the firm representing him. In writing about this interview, Novak will not go into the specifics of his interrogation, but will state: “I declined to answer when the questioning touched on matters beyond the CIA leak case. Neither the FBI nor the special prosecutor pressed me.” [Human Events, 7/12/2006]
Former White House press official Adam Levine testifies before the federal grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak. Levine, who is not suspected of leaking Valerie Plame Wilson’s name to the press, is asked about White House public relations strategies. [Washington Post, 2/10/2004] Sources later say that Levine may have been asked to testify because between July 7 and July 12, 2003, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer and White House communications director Dan Bartlett were in Africa with President Bush, and deputy press secretary Scott McClellan was on vacation, leaving Levine in charge of press relations during that period [Fox News, 2/11/2004] , and thus one of the few press officials to field telephone calls from reporters during that time. His testimony is described as “brief” and non-confrontational. Levine has spoken with FBI agents on several occasions as a part of the investigation. [CNN, 2/10/2004]
Columnist Robert Novak, who outed Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert CIA status in a column in July 2003 (see July 14, 2003), testifies before the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson leak. Novak has already spoken to FBI investigators (see December 30, 2003) and to special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald (see January 14, 2004 and February 5, 2004), and disclosed the names of his three sources in the leak (see July 8, 2003 and Before July 14, 2003). Of his four appearances, Novak will later write: “I declined to answer when the questioning touched on matters beyond the CIA leak case. Neither the FBI nor the special prosecutor pressed me.” [Human Events, 7/12/2006]
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 ; Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007]
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] )
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).
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]
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]
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]
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]
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: Domestic Propaganda, 2004 Elections
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
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
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]
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]
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]
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).
NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw interviews National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Brokaw criticizes Rice’s refusal to appear publicly before the 9/11 Commission because of “national security concerns” while at the same time appearing on a plethora of news broadcasts to defend the administration’s actions surrounding the 9/11 attacks (see March 30, 2004). Brokaw says: “You’ve been meeting with the Commission in private, but you will not go before this very public meeting, citing separation of powers, executive privilege. But your predecessors have gone before Congress in the past. Even President Ford testified about his pardon of Richard Nixon (see Mid-October 1974). Executive privilege is really a flexible concept. Why not go to the president on this issue that is so profoundly important to America, and say, I should be testifying?” Rice defends her decision not to testify under oath and before the cameras, saying: “I would like nothing better than to be able to testify before the Commission. I have spent more than four hours with the Commission. I’m prepared to go and talk to them again, anywhere, any time, anyplace, privately. But I have to be responsible and to uphold the separation of powers between the executive and the legislature. It is a matter of whether the president can count on good confidential advice from his staff.” Brokaw replies: “Dr. Rice, with all due respect, I think a lot of people are watching this tonight saying, well, if she can appear on television, write commentaries, but she won’t appear before the Commission under oath. It just doesn’t seem to make sense.” Rice reiterates that she is defending “a constitutional principle,” and insists, “We’re not hiding anything.” Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write, “The White House, so often masterly in its TV management, particularly when it came to guarding its 9/11 franchise in an election year, was wildly off its game” during this period. Eventually Rice, unable to defend her refusal to testify in light of her frequent public pronouncements, will agree to testify before the Commission (see April 8, 2004). [Rich, 2006, pp. 114-119]
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, Domestic Propaganda
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]
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]
President Bush flounders in answering a question about what his “biggest mistake” after 9/11 might have been. During a White House press conference, Time reporter John Dickerson asks Bush: “In the last campaign, you were asked a question about the biggest mistake you’d made in your life, and you used to like to joke that it was trading Sammy Sosa. You’ve looked back before 9/11 for what mistakes might have been made. After 9/11, what would your biggest mistake be, would you say, and what lessons have you learned from it?” Bush’s press secretary, Scott McClellan, is horrified by what he later calls Bush’s “tortured response to a straightforward question.” Bush attempts to buy a moment with a quip—“I wish you would have given me this written question ahead of time, so I could plan for it”—but continues to fumble, saying: “John, I’m sure historians will look back and say, gosh, he could have done it better this way, or that way. You know, I just—I’m sure something will pop into my head here in the midst of this press conference, with all the pressure of trying to come up with an answer, but it hadn’t yet.”
'A Terrible Silence' - After what McClellan will recall as “an agonizingly long pause… a terrible silence [that] hung embarrassingly in the air,” Bush continues: “I would have gone into Afghanistan the way we went into Afghanistan. Even knowing what I know today about the stockpiles of weapons, I still would have called upon the world to deal with Saddam Hussein. See, I happen to believe that we’ll find out the truth on the weapons. That’s why we’ve sent up the independent commission. I look forward to hearing the truth, exactly where they are. They could still be there. They could be hidden, like the 50 tons of mustard gas in a turkey farm. One of the things that [weapons inspector] Charlie Duelfer talked about was that he was surprised at the level of intimidation he found amongst people who should know about weapons, and their fear of talking about them because they don’t want to be killed. There’s a terror still in the soul of some of the people in Iraq; they’re worried about getting killed, and, therefore, they’re not going to talk. But it will all settle out, John. We’ll find out the truth about the weapons at some point in time. However, the fact that he had the capacity to make them bothers me today, just like it would have bothered me then. He’s a dangerous man. He’s a man who actually—not only had weapons of mass destruction—the reason I can say that with certainty is because he used them. And I have no doubt in my mind that he would like to have inflicted harm, or paid people to inflict harm, or trained people to inflict harm on America, because he hated us.” After justifying his military actions, Bush concludes: “I hope I—I don’t want to sound like I’ve made no mistakes. I’m confident I have. I just haven’t—you just put me under the spot here, and maybe I’m not as quick on my feet as I should be in coming up with one.” McClellan will write that he remains “stone-faced and motionless” as Bush manages to flounder through the question without actually admitting any mistakes. [US President, 4/19/2004; McClellan, 2008, pp. 204-208]
'Why Can't He Pull Up Some of Those Talking Points?' - McClellan’s first response is to blame himself for Bush’s inability to answer the question, then he has what he later calls a “counterreaction,” thinking: “Wait a second! We’re talking about the president of the United States here! He didn’t get to be president without being able to bat down a simple question. We’ve talked about mistakes. We’ve talked about 9/11. We’ve talked about the invasion of Iraq. Why can’t he pull up some of those talking points?” McClellan calls Bush’s answer “rambling, rather incoherent, and ultimately unsatisfying.”
A 'Cocksure' President - After the press conference, McClellan and White House communications director Dan Bartlett carefully approach the president. They agree among themselves that the Dickerson question had gone poorly, but know better than to broach the subject to Bush straight out. They begin, McClellan later recalls, by complimenting Bush on “hitting the right tone and getting his message across” on the government’s fight against terrorism. Then, McClellan will write: “Dan tactfully broached the awkward response of the Dickerson question. We had to bring it up in the little time we knew we could hold the president’s attention.” Bush says: “I kept thinking about what they wanted me to say—that it was a mistake to go into Iraq. And I’m not going to. It was the right decision.” McClellan will recall Bush’s tone as “cocksure and matter-of-fact, not testy.”
McClellan: Bush Unwilling to Admit Mistakes for Fear of Appearing Weak - McClellan will later reflect: “There were many other times, in private and in public, when the president defended the most fateful decision of his administration. But few will be remembered as vividly as the one he made that night. It became symbolic of a leader unable to acknowledge that he got it wrong, and unwilling to grow in office by learning from his mistake—too stubborn to change and grow.” McClellan believes Bush is afraid to admit a mistake for “fear of appearing weak,” and will write: “A more self-confident executive would be willing to acknowledge failure, to trust people’s ability to forgive those who seek redemption for mistakes and show a readiness for change.” McClellan will add that Bush was unwilling to risk “the personal pain he would have suffered if he’d had to acknowledge that the war against [Iraq] may have been unnecessary.” But, McClellan will conclude: “Bush was not one to look back once a decision was made. Rather than suffer any sense of guilt and anguish, Bush chose not to go down the road of self-doubt or take on the difficult task of honest evaluation and reassessment.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 204-208]
Defending Bush - Representative Duncan Hunter (R-CA), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, defends Bush’s refusal to admit any mistakes by saying Bush struck the proper tone with his questioners. “He was giving us a leadership statement on Iraq,” Hunter says, and adds, “That is not the right time for reporters to try to throw the president down on the analyst’s couch and have him try to tell them about all of his failings. He has to spend his time giving a vision of the future for the country.” [Los Angeles Times, 4/14/2004]
Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh informs his listeners of a Harris poll showing a majority of those surveyed believe that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction when the war began over a year before (see March 19, 2003). Limbaugh blames the misconception on the “liberal media,” not on the government officials and conservative pundits, including Limbaugh, who pushed the idea of Iraqi WMD on the public before the invasion (see July 30, 2001, Mid-September, 2001, Mid-September-October 2001, October 17, 2001, November 14, 2001, December 20, 2001, 2002, February 11, 2002, Summer 2002, July 30, 2002, August 26, 2002, September 4, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 24, 2002, September 28, 2002, October 7, 2002, December 3, 2002, December 19, 2002, January 2003, January 9, 2003, February 5, 2003, February 17, 2003, March 16-19, 2003, March 23, 2003, May 21, 2003, May 29, 2003, and June 11, 2003), and uses the incident to warn his listeners about getting their news from the “liberal media.” [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 151]
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
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
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]
Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald negotiates with NBC bureau chief Tim Russert about his conversations with White House official Lewis Libby (see July 10 or 11, 2003), particularly, according to documents later filed with the court in the Libby perjury trial, regarding “one or more conversations between [Russert] and [Libby] on or about July 10, 2003 (and any follow-up conversations) which involved Libby complaining to [Russert] in his capacity as NBC bureau chief about the on-the-air comments of another NBC correspondent.” Russert, through his lawyers, declines to testify before Fitzgerald’s grand jury, though he does “agree to preserve any relevant notes, tapes, or other documents” (see June 2004). As a result, Fitzgerald will issue a subpoena (see May 21, 2004). Russert has cooperated with the FBI in the investigation (see November 24, 2003), and recently spoke to Libby about the investigation (see Late February or Early March, 2004). [US Department of Justice, 2/23/2006 ]
Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald informs Washington Post lawyer Eric Lieberman that he wants to interview Post reporters Walter Pincus and Glenn Kessler regarding the Plame Wilson identity leak. Additionally, he informs Newsday that he wants to interview reporters from that publication. Fitzgerald declines to specify what information he wants from the reporters. Both Pincus (see June 3, 2003, June 11, 2003, June 12, 2003, June 12, 2003, (July 11, 2003), and 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003) and Kessler (see July 12, 2003) have some involvement in the White House’s attempt to discredit war critic Joseph Wilson, and in its outing of his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, as a CIA official; so do Newsday reporters Knut Royce and Timothy Phelps (see February 2004). Some of the reporters will eventually cooperate, to a limited extent, with Fitzgerald’s investigation (see June 2004 and September 15, 2004). [Washington Post, 5/15/2004; Washington Post, 5/22/2004]
Entity Tags: Newsday, Eric Lieberman, Bush administration (43), Glenn Kessler, Knut Royce, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Washington Post, Joseph C. Wilson, Timothy Phelps, Valerie Plame Wilson, Walter Pincus
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
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]
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]
NBC News announces that it will fight any attempts to subpoena NBC bureau chief Tim Russert to testify before the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak (see May 21, 2004 and May 13-20, 2004). “Russert and NBC intend to fight the subpoena in federal court,” NBC states. “Russert was not the recipient of the leak.” NBC adds that such a subpoena has “a potential chilling effect on [NBC’s] ability to report the news.” The statement quotes NBC president Neal Shapiro as saying: “The American public will be deprived of important information if the government can freely question journalists about their efforts to gather news. Sources will simply stop speaking to the press if they fear those conversations will become public.” [NBC News, 5/21/2004 ]
Washington Post reporter Glenn Kessler is interviewed by federal prosecutors as part of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak investigation (see December 30, 2003). Kessler testifies about two conversations he had with Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby; his testimony is not made public. Kessler does not violate any promises to confidential sources, and later says he testified at Libby’s urging. Prosecutors believe that Kessler may have been one of the reporters who was given Plame Wilson’s name by White House officials (see Before July 14, 2003), but Kessler does not name Libby as a source of Plame Wilson’s identity. [Washington Post, 6/25/2004; New York Times, 8/10/2004; Washington Post, 8/10/2004] According to reporter Timothy Phelps, Kessler testifies that Libby never mentioned either Plame Wilson or her husband, Joseph Wilson. [Columbia Journalism Review, 1/1/2006]
Lawyers for NBC News reporter and Meet the Press anchor Tim Russert argue that Russert should not have to testify before the Fitzgerald grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak (see May 21, 2004 and May 13-20, 2004). Since the spring of 2004, his lawyers have realized that Russert’s testimony could be used to indict White House official Lewis Libby for perjury, as Libby has apparently lied about a conversation he and Russert had in the summer of 2003 (see July 10 or 11, 2003, March 5, 2004, and March 24, 2004). Russert knows that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald already knows of the Russert/Libby conversation (see November 24, 2003), and Libby has already signed a waiver permitting Russert to name him in testimony (see January 2-5, 2004). But Russert and his lawyers argue that he should not have to testify because it might harm his relationship with other sources. According to court papers released in 2006, it “appears that Mr. Russert’s testimony is sought solely because the special prosecutor believes that his recollection of a telephone conversation with an executive branch official is inconsistent with that official’s statements.” [Washington Post, 1/10/2006] On July 21, 2004, the court will deny Russert’s motion. [MSNBC, 2/12/2007]
Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald informs Lee Levine, the lawyer for NBC bureau chief Tim Russert, of what he intends to ask Russert in front of the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak (see May 21, 2004). Fitzgerald notes that he has promised Russert’s testimony would be kept secret. He writes: “Special counsel intends to ask your client about the following subject matter in the grand jury: telephone conversation(s) between I. Lewis Libby and your client, Tim Russert, on or about July 10, 2003 (and any follow up conversations) which involved Mr. Libby complaining to Mr. Russert in his capacity as NBC bureau chief about the on-air comments of another NBC correspondent (see July 10 or 11, 2003). To be clear, we will also ask whether during that conversation Mr. Russert imparted information concerning the employment of Ambassador [Joseph] Wilson’s wife [Valerie Plame Wilson, a clandestine CIA official] to Mr. Libby or whether the employment of Wilson’s wife was otherwise discussed in the conversation.” [Office of the Special Counsel, 6/2/2004 ]
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]
Lawyers for Time reporter Matthew Cooper move to quash the subpoena issued against Cooper by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald as part of the Plame Wilson leak investigation (see May 21, 2004). Cooper’s lawyers argue that the subpoena violates Cooper’s First Amendment rights to protect his journalistic sources, and his “reporter’s privilege” under the Supreme Court ruling Branzburg v. Hayes. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 7/20/2004 ] Judge Thomas Hogan will refuse to quash the subpoena (see August 9, 2004).
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]
Washington Post reporter Glenn Kessler is interviewed by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald as part of Fitzgerald’s investigation of the Plame Wilson identity leak. Kessler has agreed to give a deposition concerning two of his telephone conversations with Lewis Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, on July 12 (see July 12, 2003) and July 18, 2003. Libby and other White House aides have signed waivers releasing Kessler and other journalists from any confidentiality agreements they may have concerning Plame Wilson (see January 2-5, 2004). Kessler tells Fitzgerald that Libby did not mention Plame Wilson or her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, during their conversations. He says that without the waiver he would have refused to testify; Post executive editor Leonard Downie Jr. says the agreement to allow Kessler to be deposed was “reached in a way so that we are not violating any confidential source agreements, and we will never do so willingly.” Kessler’s deposition takes place in the presence of Post lawyers, at a law office, and not before Fitzgerald’s grand jury. [Washington Post, 6/23/2004; Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007]
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]
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]
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]
Conservative columnist Robert Novak, who outed Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert CIA status in a column a year earlier (see July 14, 2003), regarding the recently released Senate Intelligence Committee report on the administration’s use of intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq (see July 9, 2004), observes that its “most remarkable aspect… is what its Democratic members did not say.” Novak claims that committee Democrats do not dispute that Iraq tried to discuss purchasing yellowcake uranium from Niger. They did not agree to the report’s conclusion that Plame Wilson suggested her husband, Joseph Wilson, for a fact-finding mission to Niger, a conclusion that is false (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, October 17, 2003, and Mid-July, 2004), but neither did they defend Wilson’s denials of his wife’s involvement. Novak writes: “According to committee sources, Roberts felt Wilson had been such a ‘cause celebre’ for Democrats that they could not face the facts about him.… Now, for Intelligence Committee Democrats, it is as though the Niger question and Joe Wilson have vanished from the earth.” [CNN, 7/15/2004]
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]
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]
White House political strategist Karl Rove denies leaking CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson’s name to the press. Rove is lying (see July 8, 2003, July 8 or 9, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), though his words are carefully chosen to be technically accurate. At the Republican convention nominating George W. Bush as the party’s presidential candidate, Rove tells a CNN reporter: “I didn’t know her name and didn’t leak her name. This is at the Justice Department. I’m confident that the US Attorney, the prosecutor who’s involved in looking at this is going to do a very thorough job of doing a very substantial and conclusive investigation.” Rove is correct in saying he did not tell reporters Plame Wilson’s name, but he identified her as the wife of former ambassador Joseph Wilson, making it easy for reporters to find her name for themselves. [CNN, 7/5/2005; Raw Story, 7/7/2005]
The press reports that according to a Justice Department investigation, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), then the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, leaked highly classified information to Fox News reporter Carl Cameron regarding al-Qaeda communications in the hours before 9/11 (see June 19, 2002). After Vice President Dick Cheney threatened the then-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Bob Graham (D-FL—see June 20, 2002), Graham and then-House Intelligence Committee chairman Porter Goss (R-FL) pushed for a Justice Department investigation into the leak. Though the FBI and the US Attorney’s Office conducted a probe, and even empaneled a grand jury, the Justice Department decided not to prosecute anyone, and instead turned Shelby’s name over to the Senate Ethics Committee, which will decline to pursue charges against him. Shelby states that he did not leak any classified information to anyone, and says he has never been informed of any specific allegations. The FBI demanded that 17 senators turn over phone records, appointment calendars, and schedules. One Senate Intelligence Committee staffer told the FBI that Shelby had leaked the information to show the shortcomings of the intelligence community in general and CIA Director George Tenet in particular. Though two senior Justice Department officials, then-Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson and then-criminal division chief Michael Chertoff, refused to approve subpoenas for journalists, Cameron confirmed to FBI investigators that he was a recipient of Shelby’s leak. He also told investigators that he saw Shelby talking with CNN’s Dana Bash; after Shelby’s discussion with Bash, Cameron divulged the information Shelby had leaked to her, and CNN broadcast the story a half-hour after the conversations. Cameron told FBI agents he was irritated that Shelby had shared the same information with a competitor, and added that he delayed broadcasting the story because he wanted to ensure that he was not compromising intelligence sources and methods. Cameron was never subpoenaed and did not testify under oath. Bash refused to cooperate with the investigation. [Washington Post, 8/5/2004; National Journal, 2/15/2007]
Entity Tags: Larry D. Thompson, Dana Bash, Carl Cameron, CNN, Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, Federal Bureau of Investigation, George J. Tenet, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of Justice, Michael Chertoff, Porter J. Goss, Fox News, Richard Shelby, Senate Ethics Committee, Senate Intelligence Committee
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties
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 ] 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.
NBC reporter Tim Russert, host of its flagship Sunday morning political talk show Meet the Press, testifies to FBI investigators probing the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see December 30, 2003). He is deposed under oath and is audiotaped, but is not compelled to testify directly to the grand jury investigating the leak. According to an NBC statement, Russert is interviewed under oath, and testifies that he was the recipient of a leak; NBC will later claim that the interview was allowed as part of an agreement to avoid a protracted court fight. Russert is not asked to disclose a confidential source. “The questioning focused on what Russert said when Lewis (Scooter) Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, phoned him last summer” (see July 10 or 11, 2003), the statement reads. “Russert told the special prosecutor that at the time of the conversation he didn’t know Plame’s name or that she was a CIA operative and did not provide that information to Libby.” [Office of Special Counsel, 7/27/2004 ; New York Times, 8/10/2004; Associated Press, 8/11/2004] Neither did Libby disclose Plame Wilson’s identity to him, Russert testifies. Russert and NBC News initially resisted the subpoena on First Amendment grounds, but relented after prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald agreed not to compel Russert to appear before the grand jury, or to disclose confidential sources or information. [Washington Post, 8/10/2004] Russert has already talked informally with John Eckenrode, the FBI investigator overseeing the day-to-day investigation duties (see November 24, 2003). He told Eckenrode that Libby’s claim of learning Plame Wilson’s identity from him was false, and that he and Libby never discussed Plame Wilson at all. [National Journal, 2/15/2007] Libby’s claim that he learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from Russert will lead to perjury charges (see October 28, 2005).
In a statement, NBC News confirms that its Washington bureau chief, Tim Russert, has testified in the Plame Wilson identity leak investigation (see August 7, 2004). NBC reaffirms that Russert was not a recipient of Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA identity, and says he was asked “limited questions” by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald that did not breach any confidentiality agreements he had with any sources. NBC says Russert testified that he first learned of Plame Wilson’s identity when he read Robert Novak’s column exposing her as a CIA official (see July 14, 2003). It acknowledges that Russert only testified after choosing not to wage a court battle over his subpoena to testify in the investigation (see May 21, 2004). [NBC News, 8/9/2004 ]
US District Court Judge Thomas Hogan, presiding over the grand jury investigation of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see December 30, 2003), rejects arguments that the First Amendment protects reporters from either Time or NBC News from testifying in the investigation. Hogan cites the 1972 Supreme Court case, Branzberg v. Hayes, in his ruling. In Branzberg, the Court ruled that “we cannot accept the argument that the public interest in possible future news about crime… must take precedence over the public interest in pursuing and prosecuting those crimes.” Hogan finds Time reporter Matthew Cooper (see May 21, 2004) in contempt of court. He also finds Time itself in contempt, and fines the magazine $1,000 a day until Cooper complies with a subpoena for his testimony. The ruling was written on July 20, but only issued today. “The information requested,” Hogan explains in his decision, “is very limited, all available means of obtaining the information have been exhausted, the testimony sought is necessary for completion of the investigation, and the testimony sought is expected to constitute direct evidence of innocence or guilt.” Cooper’s employer, Time magazine, will appeal Hogan’s ruling, but many believe the appeals court will not overturn it. “I think we’re going to have a head-on confrontation here,” says Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “I think Matt Cooper is going to jail.” Cooper’s lawyer Floyd Abrams says: “[Cooper’s] story was essentially critical of the administration for leaking information designed to focus the public away from what Ambassador [Joseph] Wilson [Plame Wilson’s husband] was saying was true and toward personal things. That sort of story, about potential government misuse of power, is precisely the sort of thing that is impossible to do without the benefit of confidential sources.” [New York Times, 8/10/2004; Washington Post, 8/10/2004; Washington Post, 7/3/2007] NBC reporter Tim Russert, also subpoenaed, did not contest the subpoena; the press learns today that he has already testified before the grand jury (see August 7, 2004 and August 9, 2004). Observers believe that prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is preparing to use Hogan’s ruling to compel the testimony of two other reporters, Robert Novak (see July 14, 2003) and Walter Pincus (see August 9, 2004). One defense lawyer involved in the case says Hogan’s ruling gives Fitzgerald significant leverage to compel testimony from Novak and Pincus. “This is now open season on these reporters,” he says. The court’s ruling establishes unequivocally that “in a grand jury context, reporters don’t have a privilege.” NBC News president Neal Shapiro says, “Compelling reporters to reveal their newsgathering to government investigators is, in our view, contrary to the First Amendment’s guarantee of a free press.” Dalglish says Fitzgerald should be focusing on prying information from Bush administration officials rather than reporters. Referring to administration officials, Dalglish says, “You just can’t tell me none of the people appearing before the grand jury knows who the leaker was.” [Washington Post, 8/10/2004]
Entity Tags: Neal Shapiro, Joseph C. Wilson, Floyd Abrams, Bush administration (43), Lucy Dalglish, NBC News, Time magazine, Matthew Cooper, Walter Pincus, Tim Russert, Robert Novak, Valerie Plame Wilson, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Thomas Hogan
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus is subpoenaed by the grand jury investigating the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see December 30, 2003). Pincus has written that a Post reporter received information about Plame Wilson from a Bush administration official. The Post says it intends to fight the subpoena (see August 20, 2004). [New York Times, 8/10/2004; Washington Post, 8/10/2004] Pincus later reflects that he had dodged attempts by the FBI to interview him about Plame Wilson, and believed that the Bush official who had informed him of her identity had not broken any laws. “I thought it was damage control,” he will later say. “My source had been trying to get me to stop writing about Joe Wilson [Plame Wilson’s husband]. I believed that the Democrats were too wound up thinking that a crime had been committed.” [Vanity Fair, 4/2006]
The grand jury investigating the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert CIA identity (see December 30, 2003) subpoenas New York Times reporter Judith Miller to testify. The Times says it will fight the subpoena. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 8/12/2004 ; Washington Post, 7/3/2007]
Unusual Negotiations between Lawyers - The subpoena will open a lengthy and sometimes puzzling set of negotiations between lawyers for Miller and her source, White House aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby. Miller refuses to divulge the identity of her source or the contents of their conversations (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). But she sends her lawyer, Floyd Abrams, to talk to Libby’s lawyer, Joseph Tate, to see if Libby will approve of her testimony. According to Abrams and others involved in the negotiations, Tate initially tells Abrams that Miller is free to testify. However, Abrams will say, Tate says that Libby never told Miller the name or the undercover status of Plame Wilson. This raises a conflict for Miller: her notes clearly indicate that she was told three times about Plame Wilson’s identity. If she testifies, she will contradict Libby’s own accounts of their conversations.
Libby Attempting to Influence Miller? - Miller decides that Libby is sending her a signal not to testify. She will later recalls Abrams’s recounting of his conversation with Tate: “He was pressing about what you would say. When I wouldn’t give him an assurance that you would exonerate Libby, if you were to cooperate, he then immediately gave me this, ‘Don’t go there, or, we don’t want you there.’” Abrams himself will recall: “On more than one occasion, Mr. Tate asked me for a recitation of what Ms. Miller would say. I did not provide one.” (Tate will angrily dispute both Abrams’s and Miller’s recollections, saying: “I never once suggested that she should not testify. It was just the opposite. I told Mr. Abrams that the waiver was voluntary.… ‘Don’t go there’ or ‘We don’t want you there’ is not something I said, would say, or ever implied or suggested.”) Miller’s executive editor, Bill Keller, will later say that Miller believed Libby feared her testimony. “Judy believed Libby was afraid of her testimony,” he will recall. “She thought Libby had reason to be afraid of her testimony.” Because of these reasons, Miller will decide not to further pursue the idea of a waiver from Libby that would allow her to testify about their conversations. For over a year, the two sides do not speak to one another. “I interpreted the silence as, ‘Don’t testify,’” Miller will later say. Tate will counter that he never understood why Miller or Abrams wanted to discuss the matter further. [New York Times, 10/16/2005]
McClellan: Fighting to Protect Partisan Government Leakers - In 2008, one-time White House press secretary Scott McClellan will write of Miller and fellow journalist Matthew Cooper, also battling a subpoena (see August 9, 2004): “Of course, there was a curious twist to the defense used by Cooper and Miller. By refusing to divulge the names of their sources in the leak case, the two reporters were not protecting courageous whistle-blowers revealing government wrongdoing in the public interest. Rather, they were shielding government officials whom administration critics believed had used leaks as weapons of partisan warfare. It was hard for some in the public, and especially those critical of the administration, to see this as an act of journalism.… This episode… seemed to confirm for at least some administration critics that reporters were no longer heroic figures, but were now participating in the same partisan warfare they created.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 256]
The Washington Post files a motion to quash a subpoena for reporter Walter Pincus to testify before the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson leak (see August 9, 2004). The Post argues that the First Amendment gives reporters a privilege to protect confidential sources, so the court cannot compel Pincus to testify about any conversations he may have had with such sources. [Washington Post, 8/25/2004]
Time reporter Matthew Cooper, facing jail time for refusing to honor a subpoena issued by the grand jury investigating the Valerie Plame Wilson CIA identity leak (see August 9, 2004), agrees to make a deposition after his source, vice-presidential chief of staff Lewis Libby, releases him from a confidentiality pledge (see August 5, 2004). [Washington Post, 7/3/2007; Washington Post, 7/3/2007] Following Cooper’s agreement to testify, contempt charges against him are dismissed. [PBS, 8/24/2004; Washington Post, 8/25/2004] Time managing editor Jim Kelly will later say: “Matt would have gone to jail if Libby didn’t waive his right to confidentiality… and we would have fought all the way to the Supreme Court. Matt has been absolutely steadfast in his desire to protect anonymous sources.” [Washington Post, 8/25/2004] In the deposition, Cooper describes a conversation he had with Libby concerning Plame Wilson’s identity. Cooper will later describe his conversation in an article for Time that will recount his deposition as well as his July 2005 grand jury testimony (see July 13, 2005). According to Cooper, the conversation with Libby was originally on the record, but “moved to background.” On the record, Libby denied that Vice President Cheney knew about, or played any role in, sending Joseph Wilson to Niger (see (February 13, 2002)). On background, Cooper asked Libby if he had heard anything about Wilson’s wife sending her husband to Niger. Libby replied, “Yeah, I’ve heard that too,” or something similar. Cooper says that Libby did not use Plame Wilson’s name. Nor did he indicate that he had learned her name from other reporters, as Libby has claimed (see March 5, 2004, March 24, 2004, and July 10 or 11, 2003). [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 9/27/2004 ; New York Times, 7/10/2005; Time, 7/17/2005] Under an agreement with special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, Cooper is not asked about any other source besides Libby. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 9/27/2004 ]
Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, investigating the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak, files a motion with the court opposing the attempts to quash his subpoenas to reporters Judith Miller (see August 12, 2004 and After) and Walter Pincus (see 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003 and August 9, 2004). He argues that their testimony is vital to his investigation and that his questions will be limited in scope to preserve source confidentiality whenever possible. Fitzgerald’s affidavit contains detailed information about the previous grand jury testimony of former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer (see June 10, 2004). [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 9/27/2004 ] Days after Fitzgerald files his motion, Fleischer will again be interviewed by the FBI with regards to his knowledge and actions surrounding the Plame Wilson identity leak (see September 2004).
A study surveying media coverage of global warming finds that, on average, news organizations give “roughly equal attention” to opposing views on the causes of climate change. In its effort to be fair and balanced, the media, in many cases, has treated the opinion of a handful of industry-paid scientists and free marketeers as being equal in value to the consensus view of hundreds of the world’s top climate scientists. According to the authors, this has created the false impression that there is no prevailing scientific consensus on the causal factors of global warming. The authors—Maxwell T. Boykoff, a UCSC doctoral candidate in environmental studies and his brother, Jules M. Boykoff, a visiting assistant professor of politics at Whitman College—surveyed 636 stories published by the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and the Wall Street Journal between 1988 and 2002. They found that 53 percent of these articles “gave roughly equal attention to the views that humans contribute to global warming and that climate change is exclusively the result of natural fluctuations.” The results of this study contrast starkly with those of another study which had surveyed 928 articles in peer-reviewed science journals. In that study, the percentage of articles expressing uncertainty about the cause of global warming was zero percent (see December 3, 2004-May 2005). The authors say this difference—between how the causes of global warming is described by the media and between how it is understood by the scientists—represents “a disconnect between scientific findings and public understanding.” “By giving equal time to opposing views, these newspapers significantly downplayed scientific understanding of the role humans play in global warming,” says Maxwell Boykoff. “We respect the need to represent multiple viewpoints, but when generally agreed-upon scientific findings are presented side-by-side with the viewpoints of a handful of skeptics, readers are poorly served. In this case, it contributed to public confusion and opened the door to political maneuvering.” The authors suggest that “disinformation” campaigns funded by the fossil fuel industry (see April 1998) are to blame for the media’s inaccurate coverage. [Boykoff and Boykoff, 2004; Currents (UC Santa Cruz), 9/6/2004; Extra!, 11/2004]
Judge Thomas Hogan denies an appeal from New York Times reporter Judith Miller asking that a subpoena for her to testify in the Plame Wilson identity leak investigation be quashed (see August 12, 2004 and After). Hogan writes that Miller must describe any conversations she had with “a specified executive branch official.” [PBS, 9/2004; US District Court for the District of Columbia, 9/9/2004 ] Presumably, the person is former White House official Lewis Libby.
Columnist Robert Novak, who publicly outed CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson over a year ago (see July 14, 2003), testifies for a third time to FBI agents conducting an investigation into the Plame Wilson identity leak. Novak has already testified to the FBI concerning his sources for the information on Plame Wilson’s CIA status (see October 7, 2003 and February 5, 2004). According to an affidavit subsequently filed by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, Novak is testifying to clarify and add information to his earlier testimony regarding his conversations about Plame Wilson with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see October 1, 2003). [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 9/27/2004 ]
Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus testifies before the grand jury investigating the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see December 30, 2003 and August 9, 2004). Pincus refuses to divulge confidential sources, and refuses to divulge the name of the White House official who told him of Plame Wilson’s identity as a CIA agent. He does, however, recount the substance of that conversation. [Associated Press, 9/17/2004; New York Times, 2006] In his deposition, Pincus says he agreed to be questioned by prosecutors only with his source’s approval. “I understand that my source has already spoken to the special prosecutor about our conversation on July 12, and that the special prosecutor has dropped his demand that I reveal my source,” Pincus says. “Even so, I will not testify about his or her identity.” [Washington Post, 9/16/2004; Associated Press, 9/17/2004] “The source has not discharged us from the confidentiality pledge,” says the Post’s executive editor, Leonard Downie Jr. [Washington Post, 9/16/2004] Pincus will later describe why he agreed to testify instead of go to jail to protect his sources. “I believed firmly that the sources controlled the privilege,” he will say. One of his sources had told Pincus, through lawyers, that since he had revealed his own identity, Pincus could testify but not name him publicly. Pincus will later say, “If their identity was known to [special prosecutor] Patrick Fitzgerald, what confidence was I breaking?” He agreed to testify if he could name his source in court, but protect the source’s identity publicly. Fellow reporter Lowell Bergman will later call it “a cute deal.” When Newsweek senior editor Jonathan Alter asks Bergman, “Can’t you make an argument that this was the pragmatic tactic to take?” Bergman will respond, “It is until you are the next reporter subpoenaed and you have no protection.” [Vanity Fair, 4/2006] Pincus’s source will later be revealed as former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer (see 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003).
Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage testifies for a second time before the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak. Armitage has testified to the grand jury before, but information on that testimony will be redacted from publicly available court documents. Armitage was interviewed by FBI agents almost a year before today’s grand jury appearance (see October 1, 2003 and October 2, 2003). In today’s appearance, Armitage denies discussing Valerie Plame Wilson with any reporter other than columnist Robert Novak (see July 14, 2003 and September 14, 2004). [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 9/27/2004 ] Armitage is lying; he informed Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward of Plame Wilson’s identity in June 2003 (see June 13, 2003).
Al Hunt and Robert Novak on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press.’ [Source: Washington Post]During a broadcast of CNN’s The Capital Gang, conservative columnist Robert Novak weighs in on the controversy surrounding a recent CBS story on George W. Bush’s National Guard service. The story relied on documents whose authenticity has been questioned. Novak says: “I’d like CBS, at this point, to say where they got those documents from.… I think they should say where they got these documents because I thought it was a very poor job of reporting by CBS.” Novak’s colleague, liberal Al Hunt, retorts: “Robert Novak, you’re saying CBS should reveal its source?… You think reporters ought to reveal sources?” Novak, tardily understanding where Hunt is going, backtracks: “No, no, wait a minute. I’m just saying in that case.” Novak has yet to publicly reveal his sources for his outing of CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003). Other reporters who were given Plame Wilson’s name, including the New York Times’s Judith Miller (see June 23, 2003) and Time’s Matthew Cooper (see September 13, 2004), have disclosed their negotiations with special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald over revealing information to his grand jury, but Novak has said nothing on the subject. (Hunt later confirms that, like the vast majority of the Washington pundit corps, he has refrained from asking Novak about the issue, because Novak is “a close friend… it’s uncomfortable.”) Democratic strategist Paul Begala, who spars regularly with Novak on CNN, concurs: “Look, he’s a friend of mine. I know that he can’t talk about it. I respect that fact, so I don’t bring it up.” [Washington Monthly, 12/2004] Novak has spoken with the FBI and with investigators for Fitzgerald three times (see October 7, 2003, February 5, 2004, and September 14, 2004).
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]
Days after the New York Times receives leaked information about the classified National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see September 16, 2004), two more classified intelligence summaries are also leaked to the Times, both supporting the assessment that civil war is increasingly likely in Iraq. The reports date from 2003, and predicted that a US invasion would bolster Islamist radicals and precipitate violent internal conflicts (see January 2003). [New York Times, 9/28/2004; Roberts, 2008, pp. 153]
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