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US News and World Report senior writer Michael Barone accuses Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg of “blood libel on the American people” in response to Greenberg’s claim that the 1988 Bush campaign ads featuring convicted murderer Willie Horton were examples of “racial politics” (see September 21 - October 4, 1988). The progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters will note that the phrase “blood libel” specifically denotes accusations that a particular group, often Jews, practices human sacrifice, and cites one famous (and entirely false) allegation that “Jews kill Christian and Muslim children and use their blood to make Passover matzohs.” Barone and Greenberg are panelists on the evening’s edition of The Kalb Report, a panel discussion on C-SPAN hosted by journalist and author Marvin Kalb. The topic of the current discussion is “A Post-Election Analysis: Values, Religion, Politics, and the Media.” Greenberg calls the Horton ads examples of “racial politics in the 1980s,” to which Barone says in response: “I think this whole Willie Horton thing is a slur on the American people. The argument has been made by Democrats and liberals that the Bush campaign in ‘88 supposedly showed pictures of this man. It did not. There was an independent expenditure ad that did. But they did not. They showed white prisoners in the ad. And the argument against [1988 Democratic presidential candidate] Michael Dukakis, which he never effectively countered because there is no effective counter, is that giving furlough to people who have life without parole is a position that Dukakis defended over 11 years as governor of Massachusetts or governor candidate, is a crazy law, and he supported it over 11 years. You don’t have to be a racist to want a murderer, whatever his race, to stay in jail and not be allowed outside on the weekend. To say that the American people were racist and they just want black people in, is blood libel on the American people.” Barone is incorrect in saying that Horton’s picture was never used in the ads (it was not used in official Bush campaign ads, but it was used in ads by purportedly “independent” organizations supporting the Bush candidacy), and he fails to note that while Dukakis indeed supported the Massachusetts furlough law that allowed Horton the freedom to commit felonies even after being sent to jail for murder, he did not enact the law. Media Matters will note that the Horton ads have long been accepted as strong examples of racial politics, including a 1995 statement from Secretary of State Colin Powell who called the ads “racist.” [Media Matters, 11/17/2004]
CIA Director Porter Goss, known for being dogmatically loyal to the White House (see September 25, 2003 and November-December 2004), responds to the recent spate of leaked CIA memos (see September 16, 2004, September 28, 2004, and October 4, 2004) by issuing a memo reminding agency staff that they should “scrupulously honor our secrecy oath.” The memo is leaked to the press the next day. Goss says, “Intelligence-related issues have become the fodder of partisan food fights and turf-power skirmishes.” Goss warns that agency officials must publicly support Bush administration policies: “As agency employees we do not identify with, support or champion opposition to the administration or its policies,” Goss writes. His intention is, he writes, “to clarify beyond doubt the rules of the road.” Goss’s words may indicate that CIA employees must conform with administration policies and goals, but he also writes, “We provide the intelligence as we see it—and let the facts alone speak to the policymaker.” Many critics of the agency and its leadership say that Goss’s memo is part of his attempt to squelch dissent within the agency’s ranks. “If Goss is asking people to color their views and be a team player, that’s not what people at CIA signed up for,” says a former intelligence official. Ron Wyden (D-OR), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says that “on issue after issue, there’s a real question about whether the country and the Congress are going to get an unvarnished picture of our intelligence situation at a critical time.” [New York Times, 11/17/2004; Roberts, 2008, pp. 153]
The new director of the CIA, Porter Goss (see September 24, 2004), issues a memo to CIA employees that, in author Craig Unger’s words, “instantly confirm[s] his reputation as an administration loyalist.” The memo reads in part: “As agency employees we do not identify with, support, or champion opposition to the administration in its policies. [Our job is] to support the administration and its policies in our work.” While the CIA has been sensitive to the desires of previous administrations, it has always worked to keep at least some distance between itself and the political ebb and flow of Washington, and tried to preserve at least some degree of impartiality. Goss intends to change all that and make the CIA another arm of the White House. Unger will later write: “With [soon-to-be named Secretary of State Condoleezza] Rice, [soon-to-be National Security Adviser Stephen] Hadley, and Goss in key positions, Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld had consolitated control over national security to an unprecedented degree. The notion that America’s $40 billion intelligence apparatus would speak truth to power had become a pipe dream.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 326]
A still from the advertisement featuring Terrell Owens and Nicollete Sheridan. [Source: ESPN]Author Sam Francis (see September 1995), in a column originally published on the white supremacist Web site VDare.com, criticizes the broadcast of an ESPN ad featuring a white actress kissing a black football player, and says the ad promotes the “fairly radical concept” that “interracial sex is normal and legitimate.” The ad features “white sexpot Nicolette Sheridan… smooching up to black football star Terrell Owens in the locker room of the Philadelphia Eagles.” Francis calls the ad “an intentional act of moral subversion,” and continues: “[T]he Owens-Sheridan ad was interracial and brazenly so—if only morals and taste had been the targets, the producers could easily have found white actresses who are less obviously Nordic than the golden-locked Miss Sheridan, but Nordic is what the ad’s producers no doubt wanted.… The message of the ad was that the white women are eager to have sex with black men, that they should be eager, and that black men should take them up on it.” Francis goes on to say the ad would have been less objectionable had the two people involved been of the same race. Instead: “[T]he ad’s message also was that interracial sex is normal and legitimate, a fairly radical concept for both the dominant media as well as its audience. Nevertheless, for decades, interracial couples of different sexes have been sneaked into advertising, movies, and television series, and almost certainly not because of popular demand from either race. The Owens-Sheridan match is only the most notorious to date. In the minds of those who produced the ad, race is at least as important as the moral and aesthetic norms their ad subverts. To them, the race as well as the religion, the morality, and the culture of the host society are all equally hostile and oppressive forces that need to be discredited, debunked, and destroyed. If the destruction can’t happen at the polls or through the courts, they can always use the long march through the culture that control of the mass media allows. Breaking down the sexual barriers between the races is a major weapon of cultural destruction because it means the dissolution of the cultural boundaries that define breeding and the family and, ultimately, the transmission and survival of the culture itself.” Francis’s article is given national distribution by Creators Syndicate, prompting an outcry against Francis’s apparent belief that interracial sex is immoral. Creators Syndicate editor Anthony Zurcher says that while he does not personally agree with Francis’s column, he does not find it “so reprehensible” that it should not have been syndicated. Francis’s article is archived at, among other places, the Web site of the American Renaissance movement, an openly “racialist” group calling for white separatism and the enforced oppression of non-whites in the US. [American Renaissance, 11/26/2004; Media Matters, 12/10/2004] David Brock, the president of the progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters, writes in a letter to Creators Syndicate: “We strongly condemn the clear bigotry in this column and assume that newspaper editors across the country feel the same way, as a search of newspapers available on Nexis revealed that none have chosen to run the column. Regardless, Creators’ willingness to distribute such abhorrent views calls into question the syndicate’s ethical and editorial standards.” [Media Matters, 12/7/2004]
Recently retired Spanish Prime Minister Jose María Aznar says to a parliamentary investigation, “There is absolute proof that shows… a connection between ETA terrorists and Islamic terrorism.… I am one of those who believe that all [forms of] terrorism end up being connected.” ETA are a Basque separatist group. According to the Guardian, Aznar’s political party lost a national election three days after the March 2004 Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004) “partly because voters mistrusted his government’s initial insistence that ETA, rather than Islamists, was to blame.” Since then, little evidence has come forward suggesting any ETA link with the bombing, although some of the Arab bomb suspects had contacts with some ETA associates in prison several years before. Aznar denies that his government lied about what it knew regarding who was responsible for the bombings. “My conscience is clear… we told the truth about what we knew.” [Guardian, 11/29/2004] Many Spaniards, especially supporters of Aznar’s conservative Popular Party, continue to assert that there was an ETA link. The Observer comments, “Few experts, however, give credence to the ETA theory. Some see it as an attempt by the [Popular] Party to muddy the waters in a vain bid to save the party’s battered reputation.” [Observer, 11/28/2004]
Sam Francis, a white supremacist and syndicated columnist (see September 1995), writes that immigrants are uniformly a threat to America because their inner nature precludes them from being able to assimilate into American culture. Francis calls reports of violent crimes performed by US immigrants “the predictable result of the mass immigration of a radically different people into a homogeneous community.” He writes: “The link between immigration and violence is that the aliens lack roots in the society and civilization into which they import themselves. The people they see aren’t their people, and their moral and social norms aren’t theirs either. Being strangers in a strange land, they feel little obligation to it or its members.” He asks why US government entities should even bother attempting to help immigrants assimilate into what he calls “the dominant culture,” writing, “Why should we need government bureaucracies to explain our traditions and values to masses of aliens who have no business coming here at all?” Francis’s columns are provided to a national audience by Creators Syndicate. [VDare (.com), 11/29/2004]
Jesse Lee Peterson, appearing on a Fox News broadcast. [Source: Think Progress]The Reverend Jesse Lee Peterson attacks the Reverend Jesse Jackson for participating in what he calls a liberal conspiracy to “keep black[s] on the plantation of the Democratic Party.” Jackson has caused a media stir by raising questions about the fairness of the voting process in the November presidential elections in Ohio (see October 29, 2004 and Evening, October 31, 2004). Jackson, Peterson says, is part of an organized liberal effort to “keep black Americans angry in order to keep them on the plantation of the Democratic Party.” Peterson also accuses liberals of being the real racists in America, calls allegations that blacks were disenfranchised in the 2000 elections “a lie” (see November 7, 2000, November 7, 2000, November 7, 2000, 11:30 a.m. November 7, 2000, and Early Afternoon, November 7, 2000), and falsely claims that Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA) supported reparations for slavery during his campaign. Peterson makes his remarks during an appearance on Fox News’s Hannity & Colmes. Co-host Sean Hannity is a member of BOND’s advisory board, and is quoted on the BOND Web site as calling Peterson “a great American” and “a man of conscience.” The liberal media watchdog organization Media Matters notes that Peterson has often attacked Jackson. Peterson’s organization, the Brotherhood Organization of a New Destiny (BOND), has held a “National Day of Repudiation of Jesse Jackson” for the last five years. In an August 2000 article in the John Birch Society’s New American magazine, Peterson called Jackson a “problem profiteer… who makes millions by exploiting and exacerbating racial tensions.” He wrote a 2003 book entitled Scam: How the Black Leadership Exploits Black America, in which he attacked Jackson, the Reverend Al Sharpton, and other black civil rights leaders. Peterson and BOND have led a boycott of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), claiming the organization is “a tool of the liberal elite socialist wing of the Democratic Party.” And he is currently suing Jackson for assault and civil rights violations [Media Matters, 11/30/2004] (the case will be settled out of court in 2006 after a jury dismisses all but one charge against Jackson and deadlocks on the remaining charge). [Judicial Watch, 1/27/2006]
Stephen Williams, a fifth-grade teacher at a Cupertino, California public school, is prevented by school administrators from selecting passages from historical documents for his students that reinforce his belief that the US is a strictly Christian nation; in return, many media representatives accuse his school district of “banning the Declaration of Independence” from being taught. Williams describes himself as an “orthodox Christian.” He wants his students to learn that America’s “Founding Fathers” were staunch Christians who intended to create a nation based on Biblical tenets, a position not supported by the historical record. After finding few citations in school textbooks to support his beliefs, Williams began giving his students selected passages from a number of historical documents, including William Penn’s “Frame of Government in Pennsylvania,” the Delaware State Constitution, George Washington’s prayer journal, and President Bush’s statement on the recent National Prayer Day, where he told the nation, “Prayer is an opportunity to praise God for His mighty works.” Some of the parents of Williams’s students believed he was attempting to evangelize their children; one parent said, “My daughter came home one day and said, ‘Mr. Williams talks about Jesus 100 times a day.’” Williams’s principal, Patricia Vidmar, began reviewing his lesson plans and supplemental handouts to ensure that he does not proselytize religion to his students. Williams responded with a lawsuit complaining that his free speech and academic freedom had been unduly constrained. (Williams is being represented in court by the Alliance Defense Fund, which has filed several lawsuits challenging the legality of same-sex marriage.) When the national press reports Williams’s situation, conservative pundits and radio hosts begin informing, and misinforming, their listeners and readers about Williams and his teaching; many tell their audiences that the Cupertino school district is “banning the Declaration of Independence.” Fox News talk show hosts Sean Hannity and John Gibson, along with Fox News anchor Brit Hume, Fox News analyst Newt Gingrich, and MSNBC commentator Monica Crowley, all tell their audiences that the school does not allow the Declaration of Independence to be referenced in its classes. The conservative National Lawyers Association accuses Vidmar, whom it terms a “rogue school principal,” of working towards “rul[ing] that the Constitution is unconstitutional.” Some parents, district supporters, and civil liberties advocates say Williams has become a rallying point for conservative Christians eager to, in their words, rewrite American history. Ivory Madison, a legal analyst for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, says: “This is the same thing that people have been trying to do for 200 years. The only difference now is that they’re well funded, media savvy, and litigious. It’s a shame that our tax dollars have to be used for a school district to defend the Constitution.” One parent at the Cupertino school says of Williams’s teaching: “This is not about teaching history, this is about indoctrination.… [W]hat would happen if someone whose religion is not a majority religion would be doing this? It isn’t OK [for a teacher] to make a kid feel like he isn’t like you.” Another parent asked the school not to place her child in Williams’s class this year, and says, “[W]hat he’s doing isn’t teaching history. If you were teaching at a church school, that would be great. But he isn’t.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 12/8/2004; Media Matters, 12/10/2004]
Entity Tags: Monica Crowley, Brit Hume, Alliance Defense Fund, Fox News, John Gibson, Newt Gingrich, Stephen Williams, National Lawyers Association, Ivory Madison, Patricia Vidmar, Sean Hannity
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Conservative pundit and author David Horowitz labels liberal radio host Al Franken a “racist,” publishing a photograph of Franken on his Web site labeled as such. In 2003, Franken termed Horowitz a “racist” in his book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, citing numerous examples of what Franken believed to be racist comments from Horowitz. In his op-ed, Horowitz promises to keep the photograph on the front page of his Web publication Front Page Magazine until Franken “apologize[s] to me publicly for this attack.” Horowitz widens his claim, adding that the Internet is studded with Web sites and organizations used by Franken and other liberals to tar conservatives with charges of “racism,” and compares those organizations—including Public Eye, NameBase, MediaTransparency, People for the American Way, and the Southern Poverty Law Center—of being “leftwing version(s) of ‘Red Channels,’ the infamous newsletter that provided lists of Communists in the McCarthy era.” National Review editor Jay Nordlinger joins with Horowitz in attacking Franken in a column published simultaneously on the National Review’s Web site. Horowitz writes that he was aware of Franken’s disparaging remarks about him in his book, but has only now chosen “to take notice of Franken’s assault.” He writes, “There is not a single sentence, or phrase, or comment of mine that could be cited to justify Franken’s attack.” He refuses to say why Franken is a racist, but promises to reveal his evidence of Franken’s racism after Franken apologizes. Responding to Horowitz’s op-ed, the progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters notes several instances of what appear to be overtly racist remarks and writings by Horowitz, including his attempt to characterize the idea of slavery reparations as “racist” (see March 1-2, 2001), and his attempt to claim that blacks themselves are responsible for the economic and criminal depredations their communities endure (see August 16, 1998). [Media Matters, 11/30/2004; Front Page Magazine, 11/30/2004] Horowitz has a long history of labeling liberal and progressive figures and institutions “racist” (see August 29, 2001, March 15, 2002, July 15, 2002, August 5, 2003, and October 9-13, 2004).
Citizens for a Sound Economy (CSE), an “astroturf” advocacy organization funded by the Koch brothers (see 1984 and After), is accused of breaking campaign laws to support the Bush re-election campaign. Oregon’s CSE branch had attempted to get consumer advocate Ralph Nader on the presidential ballot, in an attempt to dilute Democratic support for presidential candidate John Kerry (D-MA). Critics argue that it is illegal for a tax-exempt organization such as CSE to donate its services for partisan purposes. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) dismisses a complaint brought against the organization. [New Yorker, 8/30/2010]
Americans for Prosperity logo. [Source: Americans for Prosperity]After the 2004 presidential election, the “astroturf” organization Citizens for a Sound Economy (see Late 2004) splits due to internal dissension. Oil billionaire David Koch and Koch Industries lobbyist Richard Fink (see August 30, 2010) launch a new “astroturf” organization, Americans for Prosperity (AFP—see May 29, 2009)). They hire Tim Phillips to run the organization. Phillips (see August 6, 2009) is a veteran political operative who worked closely with Republican operative Ralph Reed; the two co-founded the political consulting firm Century Strategies. Phillips’s online biography will describe him as an expert in “grasstops” and “grassroots” political organizing. Conservative operative Grover Norquist will call Phillips “a grownup who can make things happen.” In 2009, Phillips will claim that AFP has “only” 800,000 members, but its Web site will claim “1.2 million activists.” A former employee of the Cato Institute, a Koch-founded libertarian think tank, will say that AFP is “micromanaged by the Kochs” (indicating involvement by both David and Charles Koch). [New Yorker, 8/30/2010]
Entity Tags: David Koch, Cato Institute, Americans for Prosperity, Century Strategies, Citizens for a Sound Economy, Koch Industries, Charles Koch, Tim Phillips, Ralph Reed, Richard Fink, Grover Norquist
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Harold Ickes. [Source: Politico]After the loss of presidential contender John Kerry (D-MA), Democratic media consultant Harold Ickes and a team of media and technology consultants begin building what becomes known as “Catalyst,” a database on some 200 million Americans containing information about their voting intentions, stances on issues, relative income levels, family structures, and the times they could best be contacted via telephone or “cold call” visits. Catalyst, created at a cost of some $15 million, is based on a model called VoterVault that the George W. Bush campaign had used in 2000 and again in 2004. It is a for-profit business and putatively independent of party alliance, though it will be used to great effect by the 2008 presidential campaign of Senator Barack Obama (D-IL). It will remain independent because if it is owned by a political party, it is subject to campaign laws. Just as VoterVault was putatively independent but worked exclusively with the Bush campaigns and the Republican Party, Catalyst works exclusively with Democratic campaigns. Catalyst depends entirely on publicly and commercially available voter information, and has no means of user interaction. [The Kernel, 12/19/2011]
Congress passes an intelligence bill that requires the Justice Department to inform it as to how often and in what situation the FBI is using special “national security” wiretaps on US soil. The bill also requires the Justice Department to give oversight committees copies of administration memos outlining any new interpretations of domestic-spying laws. It contains 11 other sections mandating reports about such issues as civil liberties, security clearances, border security, and counternarcotics efforts. President Bush signs the bill, then issues a signing statement asserting his right to ignore or override every element of it. He can and will withhold information from Congress as he sees fit, he claims in the statement. [Savage, 2007, pp. 238-239]
Political scientist Timothy Groseclose of UCLA and economist Jeffrey Milyo of the University of Missouri-Columbia release a study entitled “A Measure of Media Bias” that purports to document the “liberal bias” of the mainstream media. Unfortunately for Groseclose and Milyo’s conclusions, their measure of “bias” is found severely wanting, and they fail to mention the substantial body of scholarly work that challenges their theories. The study contains observations of 20 mainstream news outlets, including national newspapers, news magazines, and network and cable television news channels. [Groseclose and Milyo, 12/2004; MSNBC, 12/19/2005; Media Matters, 12/21/2005]
Previous Positions at Conservative Institutions - Groseclose and Milyo have previously received significant funding for their research from three prominent conservative think tanks: the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI), the Heritage Foundation, and the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace. Groseclose has served as a fellow of the Hoover Institution, while Milyo received a $40,500 grant from AEI. Both were named as fellows by the Heritage Foundation. The two authored an article for the conservative American Spectator in 1996.
Flawed Study - Groseclose and Milyo, according to their study, “measure media bias by estimating ideological scores for several major media outlets” based on the frequency with which various think tanks and advocacy organizations were cited approvingly by the media and by members of Congress over a 10-year period. In order to assess media “bias,” the authors assembled the ideological scores given to members of Congress by the liberal group Americans for Democratic Action; examined the floor speeches of selected members to catalog which think tanks and policy organizations were cited by those members; used those citations as the basis for an ideological score assigned to each think tank (organizations cited by liberal members were scored as more liberal, whereas organizations cited by conservative members were scored as more conservative); then performed a content analysis of newspapers and TV programs to catalog which think tanks and policy organizations were quoted. If a news organization quoted a think tank mentioned by conservative members of Congress, then it was said to have a conservative “bias.” The authors write: “As a simplified example, imagine that there were only two think tanks, and suppose that the New York Times cited the first think tank twice as often as the second. Our method asks: What is the estimated ADA score of a member of Congress who exhibits the same frequency (2:1) in his or her speeches? This is the score that our method would assign the New York Times.” The progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters will call the methodology “bizarre,” and will write: “If a member of Congress cites a think tank approvingly, and if that think tank is also cited by a news organization, then the news organization has a ‘bias’ making it an ideological mirror of the member of Congress who cited the think tank. This, as Groseclose and Milyo define it, is what constitutes ‘media bias.’” [Groseclose and Milyo, 12/2004; Media Matters, 12/21/2005] In December 2005, the parent company of the Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones and Co., will question the study’s validity, noting: “[I]ts measure of media bias consists entirely of counting the number of mentions of, or quotes from, various think tanks that the researchers determine to be ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative.‘… And if a think tank is explicitly labeled ‘liberal” or “conservative’ within a story to provide context to readers, that example doesn’t count at all. The researchers simply threw out such mentions.” [Poynter Online, 12/21/2005]
Classifying Organizations - Groseclose and Milyo assign “scores” to a variety of partisan and nonpartisan advocacy groups and think tanks. Some of these scores are problematic:
The National Rifle Association (NRA), widely characterized as a strongly conservative organization, scores a 49.5 on a 100-point scale, classifying it as barely conservative;
The RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research organization closely affiliated with the Defense Department, scores a 60.4, classifying it as strongly liberal;
The Council on Foreign Relations, a nonpartisan political organization featuring both Republicans and Democrats on its board and headed by a former Bush administration official, scores a 60.2, classifying it as solidly liberal;
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), an organization consistently reviled by conservative pundits, scores a 49.8, classifying it as slightly conservative;
The Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks political contributions, scores a 66.9, classifying it as highly liberal;
The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a defense policy think tank chaired by former Democratic House member Dave McCurdy, scores a 33.9, classifying it as more conservative than AEI and the hard-right National Taxpayers Union.
Lack of 'Balance' Indicates Bias in Study - According to Media Matters, Groseclose and Milyo classify news stories as exhibiting a partisan bias if they fail to balance a “liberal” group’s quote with a “conservative” group’s quote, regardless of the nature of the reporting. For example, the authors cite the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which they classify as staunchly liberal, as one of the organizations most often quoted without “balancing” quotes from conservative groups. Media Matters will write, “[B]ecause there are no pro-racism groups of any legitimacy (or on Groseclose and Milyo’s list), such stories will be coded as having a ‘liberal bias.’” In contrast, stories featured in the study that quote a spokesperson from the NRA are often “balanced” by quotes from a “liberal” organization, Handgun Control, Inc., though, as Media Matters will note, that organization renamed itself the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence in 2001, and Groseclose and Milyo do not include that name in their statistics, “therefore, it is impossible to determine from reading the study if Groseclose and Milyo’s score reflects post-2001 citations by legislators and the media of the group under its new name.” Moreover, because the study only assigns partisan weight to quotes from advocacy groups or think tanks, if a story cites a member of Congress as taking a position and contrasts that position with a quote from a think tank, that story, according to the authors, is “biased” in favor of the think tank’s position. Media Matters calls this practice “miscategorization.”
Assuming Reporter, News Outlet Bias - One of the most questionable practices in the study is the assumption that if a reporter quotes a source, that reporter—or his or her news outlet—must believe the opinions expressed by that source. Media Matters will write that “most, if not all, reporters across the ideological spectrum would find [that assumption] utterly ridiculous.” [Groseclose and Milyo, 12/2004; Media Matters, 12/21/2005] The Dow Jones statement will find, “By this logic, a mention of al-Qaeda in a story suggests the newspaper endorses its views, which is obviously not the case.” [Poynter Online, 12/21/2005] The authors say that only two mainstream news outlets, Fox News and the Washington Times, slant rightward. The study finds that Fox News’s coverage is quite moderate; in a 2005 interview on MSNBC, Milyo will say that Fox’s news coverage can be equated with the moderate Republicanism of Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME), considered the most “liberal”-leaning Republican in Congress. [MSNBC, 12/19/2005]
Bias Findings at Odds with History - The study makes some odd conclusions about liberal bias: for example, the Wall Street Journal, whose op-ed page has long avowed itself as a champion of conservative thought, is characterized by the study as having more “liberal bias” than any news outlet surveyed. The authors claim that they studied only news reporting and not editorial writings, but as Media Matters will note, “the Journal is respected on both the right and the left, and it would be shocking to hear even the most rabid right-winger assert that the Journal is America’s most liberal news outlet.” [Groseclose and Milyo, 12/2004; Media Matters, 12/21/2005]
Methodology Flawed - In December 2005, a spokesman for Dow Jones will call the study “logically suspect and simply baffling.” The statement will note that Groseclose and Milyo only studied four months of Journal reporting, from 2002, while they studied 12 years of CBS News reporting, 11 years of National Public Radio reporting, eight years of reporting from US News and World Report, and two years of reporting from Time Magazine. The Washington Post and Washington Times were also only studied for brief periods. “Yet the researchers provide those findings the same weight as all the others, without bothering to explain that in any meaningful way to the study’s readers,” the statement will note. It will conclude, “Suffice it to say that ‘research’ of this variety would be unlikely to warrant a mention at all in any Wall Street Journal story” (see December 21, 2005).
Failure to Mention Other Studies - The authors fail to mention a large number of previous studies of “media bias.” They do, however, cite three studies that, according to Media Matters, are as “questionable” as this particular study. One assumed that since conservatives say in surveys that the media is biased, then that bias unquestionably exists. The second assumed that news magazines that sold more subscriptions in geographic areas weighted towards Democratic voters were biased in favor of Democrats. The third is an AEI study whose statistics and methodologies were found to be deeply flawed. Groseclose and Milyo ignore one of the most rigorous and exhaustive studies in recent years, a 2000 analysis by the International Communication Association, which found that newspapers and news magazines exhibited little measurable bias, and television network news broadcasts exhibited measurable but relatively insubstantial bias. That study included 59 other studies, all of which go unmentioned in the Groseclose-Milyo study.
Conservative Bibliography - Media Matters will write that the authors seem almost unaware that other studies of media bias exist. The study’s bibliography is heavily freighted with citations from conservative media critics such as Brent Bozell (founder of the Media Research Center) and Reed Irvine (the late founder of Accuracy in Media). The bibliography also cites an article from the hard-right Internet publication WorldNetDaily. It does not cite any entries from dozens of well-known scholarly journals of communication and media studies, most of which have examined the topic of media bias in their pages. [Groseclose and Milyo, 12/2004; Media Matters, 12/21/2005]
Entity Tags: Olympia Snowe, National Public Radio, National Rifle Association, National Taxpayers Union, RAND Corporation, Timothy Groseclose, Time magazine, Washington Times, Reed Irvine, Washington Post, US News and World Report, Wall Street Journal, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, International Communication Association, Jeffrey Milyo, Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Brent Bozell, Americans for Democratic Action, American Civil Liberties Union, American Enterprise Institute, CBS News, Center for Responsive Politics, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace, Heritage Foundation, Fox News, Dow Jones and Co., Council on Foreign Relations, Media Matters, WorldNetDaily
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
US Attorney John McKay of the Western District of Washington State (see October 24, 2001) is told by Tom McCabe of the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW) that the recounts in the disputed gubernatorial race for Washington State between Christine Gregoire (D-WA) and Dino Rossi (R-WA—see November 2-30, 2004) revealed forged signatures on provisional ballots. McKay informs Craig Donsanto, the head of the election crimes branch of the criminal division’s public integrity section in the Justice Department, and asks Donsanto if his office can open a federal investigation if the allegations only involve a state election. Donsanto advises McKay to take no action until election authorities certify the winner and any court cases stemming from the election have run their course. McKay disagrees with Donsanto’s advice, and directs the FBI to open a preliminary inquiry into the allegations. FBI agents interview McCabe, but neither McKay nor the FBI take further action because the election is not yet certified. McKay advises McCabe to provide any evidence he might have of voter fraud to the local prosecutor, because the complaint involves a state race. When the race is certified in Gregoire’s favor on December 30, cases are immediately filed in state court challenging the results. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008] Around this same time, McKay receives a telephone call from Chris Vance, the chair of the Washington Republican Party, asking about the investigation. McKay cites the prohibition against revealing information concerning an ongoing investigation and refuses to answer Vance’s questions (see Late 2004 or Early 2005). McCabe soon decides that McKay is not pursuing the fraud allegations quickly enough and begins pressuring the White House to fire him (see Late 2004 and July 5, 2005). McKay allows Justice Department agents to examine what he will call the “so-called evidence,” and will recall one agent “laugh[ing] out loud” because the evidence was “that flimsy.” He will recall that he could find no framework to follow in pursuing voter fraud cases. “I was looking for a benchmark,” he will say. “The impression I got [from the Justice Department] was that I should make it up as I went along. The preference, at least as it was expressed from the attorney general’s office, was simply to file as many such cases as possible. I wasn’t willing to do that, certainly not in the gubernatorial race.… [W]as there a conspiracy to steal the election? Absolutely not.” [Iglesias and Seay, 5/2008, pp. 134-135]
Columnist and media observer Allan Wolper notes that while conservative columnist Robert Novak, who outed CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson apparently at the behest of the White House (see July 14, 2003), continues to “spout… off in his syndicated column, he keeps a secret he would not permit any politician to get away with.” Wolper is writing of Novak’s continued refusal to divulge whether he was subpoenaed by the grand jury investigating the case, or if he testified before that grand jury. Wolper calls it an “untenable ethical position,” and bolsters his position with observations from media ethicists such as Robert Steele, the director of ethics for the Poynter Institute of Media Studies. “If he has a justifiable reason to withhold that information, he should give a reason why,” Steele says. “Otherwise, he is undermining his credibility as an honest broker of ethical journalism. If he were on the other side, he would challenge journalists for not saying anything.” Novak is defended by, among others, Washington Post reporter and assistant managing editor Bob Woodward, who says: “Bob Novak has taken a stand that is supported by many in the press. He is protecting his sources. He has done nothing that is illegal or improper.” (Wolper is unaware as of this writing that Woodward has his own secondary involvement in the case, having been himself told of Plame Wilson’s identity several times before (see June 13, 2003, June 23, 2003, and June 27, 2003).) Wolper notes that while Novak has refused to speak about subpoenas or testimonies, Post reporters Glenn Kessler and Walter Pincus have both given sworn depositions to the grand jury (see June 22, 2004 and September 15, 2004). Wolper writes, “They might have been able to fight off their subpoenas if their lawyers had known whether Novak… had been called by the grand jury.” Aside from Kessler and Pincus, Time reporter Matthew Cooper (see July 17, 2003) testified after being threatened with jail (see May 21, 2004, August 24, 2004, July 6, 2005, and July 13, 2005), and New York Times reporter Judith Miller is facing jail rather than testify (see December 2004). “Novak has an obligation to own up,” Wolper writes. Instead, “Novak continues to live a charmed life in journalism, writing his column and appearing regularly on CNN, where he is never challenged.” CNN media critic Jeff Greenfield says of Novak’s case, “I haven’t thought it through. I don’t want to talk about it, because I have no opinion on it.” Jack Nelson, the retired bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times, says: “This whole thing is really strange. Novak was the guy who wrote the column that exposed the CIA agent, and yet they don’t seem to be going after him.” [Editor & Publisher, 12/1/2004]
Entity Tags: Jack Nelson, Bob Woodward, Allan Wolper, Bush administration (43), Glenn Kessler, Walter Pincus, Robert Steele, Jeff Greenfield, Judith Miller, Valerie Plame Wilson, CNN, Matthew Cooper, Robert Novak
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
President Bush nominates former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik to head the Department of Homeland Security, replacing outgoing DHS head Tom Ridge. Kerik is a close friend and political ally of former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who pushed Kerik for the position. Kerik also actively campaigned for Bush in the recent presidential campaign. “Bernie Kerik is one of the most accomplished and effective leaders of law enforcement in America,” Bush says. “In every position, he has demonstrated a deep commitment to justice, a heart for the innocent, and a record of great success. I’m grateful he’s agreed to bring his lifetime of security experience and skill to one of the most important positions in the American government.” Kerik recently returned from a stint in Iraq, where he trained Iraqi police officials (see May 2003 - July 2003). Kerik was also in charge of New York City police activities during the 9/11 attacks (see (After 10:28 a.m.-12:00 pm.) September 11, 2001). Kerik says: “I know what is at stake. On September 11, 2001, I witnessed firsthand the very worst of humanity and the very best.… I saw hatred claim the lives of 2,400 innocent people, and I saw the bravest men and women I will ever know rescue more than 20,000 others.” Bush says of Kerik: “He was there when the Twin Towers collapsed—he knew the faces of the rescuers who rushed toward danger, he attended the funerals for the officers who didn’t come back. Bernie Kerik understands the duties that came to America on September 11. The resolve he felt that morning will guide him every day on his job and every first responder defending our homeland will have a faithful ally in Bernie Kerik.” Congressional Republicans laud Kerik’s nomination. Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), the chair of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, which oversees DHS, calls Kerik a “strong candidate” for the post. “He knows first hand the challenges this country faces in guarding against terrorist attacks,” Collins says. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Christopher Cox (R-CA) calls Kerik “the perfect choice for the job,” and goes on to say: “There is no doubt that Bernie is a strong, no-nonsense manager who is intimately familiar with the homeland security mission. The new standing Committee on Homeland Security will work closely with him to build on the strong foundations laid by Tom Ridge to secure America against terrorism.” Some Democrats, including Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), also praise Kerik’s nomination. “Coming from New York, Bernie Kerik knows the great needs and challenges this country faces in homeland security,” Schumer says. “He has a strong law enforcement background and I believe will do an excellent job in fighting for the resources and focus that homeland security needs and deserves in our post-9/11 world.” Kerik’s biggest drawback as the choice to head DHS may be his lack of experience in managing a federal bureaucracy, some observers say. Former New York Police Commissioner Howard Safire says of Kerik: “Bernie is a very good operational person, he knows how to run the operation. What he needs to learn and what he’s going to need help with is the Washington bureaucracy.” DHS is an umbrella department overseeing and managing 22 separate federal agencies and some 200,000 employees and contract workers. [New York Times, 12/2/2004; Fox News, 12/3/2004; McClellan, 2008, pp. 245-246] “People here are waiting to find out who this guy is and what changes he’ll bring,” says an anonymous Homeland Security senior official. “He’s really an unknown factor here in Washington.” [New York Times, 12/4/2004] In 2008, Scott McClellan, the current White House press secretary, will describe DHS as “still in its infancy and still struggling to define its identity,” and will call it a “vast, unwieldy agglomeration of dozens of formerly independent agencies, now bundled together under one name, and with a new focus (physical threats to the American ‘homeland’) that sometimes contradicted the old mandates. Homeland Security was hampered by bureaucratic infighting, incredibly complex coordination challenges, and slumping employee morale.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 245-246] Less than two weeks later, Kerik will withdraw his name from consideration, ostensibly over a problem with an illegal immigrant he hired to babysit his children (see December 13, 2004), though some believe his withdrawal is spurred by the media’s interest in his business dealings (see December 9-10, 2004).
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is accused of racism following remarks he makes about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas on NBC’s Meet the Press. Asked by moderator Tim Russert if he could support conservative Justice Antonin Scalia as chief justice, Reid says Scalia’s ethics problems are troubling and that he disagrees with most of his positions, but adds that Scalia “is one smart guy.” Asked if he could support Thomas, Reid says: “I think that he has been an embarrassment to the Supreme Court. I think that his opinions are poorly written. I don’t—I just don’t think that he’s done a good job as a Supreme Court justice.” [NBC News, 12/5/2004] Conservative pundits are quick to accuse Reid of racism, though he never makes any mention of Thomas’s race. On December 6, Charles Krauthammer tells a Fox News audience: “In the end, you’ve got to ask yourself, why Scalia, good, Thomas, bad in the eyes of a man like Reid. I say it’s the liberal plantation mentality, in which if you’re a man on the right and white, it’s OK. If you are the man on the right and you’re African-American, it’s not.” The same day, Clifford May tells a CNN audience: “Look, Justice Thomas is African-American and he’s conservative. Some people [like Reid] will never forgive that and think that’s an open opportunity to insult him.” During his daytime radio broadcast, talk show host Rush Limbaugh tells his audience: “[I]t’s not a new page in the playbook but it’s certainly not as old as the playbook itself. But it’s been around awhile. That is conservative blacks are inept, a la Clarence Thomas.… You notice how easy it is for these people to be critical of blacks.” Wall Street Journal columnist James Taranto writes that since Reid did not provide examples of Thomas’s “poorly written” opinions, “[i]n the absence of such examples, one can’t help but suspect that the new Senate Democratic leader is simply stereotyping Thomas as unintelligent because he is black.” That evening, Sean Hannity, co-host of Fox’s Hannity and Colmes, tells his listeners that Democrats routinely attack minority conservatives such as Thomas, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and federal judge nominee Miguel Estrada, and adds: “What I see is Democrats oppose African-Americans that are conservative, but yet they claim to support minority rights. And what I’m saying here is, why, if you’re for the advancement of minorities, why do you oppose every conservative African-American or Hispanic American? Why is this pattern emerging?” On December 7, African-American conservative Armstrong Williams says on Fox’s Hannity and Colmes: “Did you hear those racist remarks from Senator Harry Reid about Justice Thomas?… Harry Reid’s the one—he said Thomas was an embarrassment. He said he cannot write. That is racism.… That is racism, only because of the hue of his skin.… Read his [Reid’s] words. He was a racist.” On December 8, Taranto writes in another Wall Street Journal column, “To try to make Republican judges seem menacing, the Dems could call them ‘extremist’ or ‘out of the mainstream’ (and if the judges happen to be black, add that their opinions are ‘poorly written’).” [Washington Post, 12/6/2004; Media Matters, 12/8/2004] Conservative columnist Ann Coulter will include Reid in her much wider attacks against what she calls “liberal racism” (see December 8, 2004).
Entity Tags: Clarence Thomas, Charles Krauthammer, Antonin Scalia, Ann Coulter, Tim Russert, Sean Hannity, Miguel Estrada, Armstrong Williams, Condoleezza Rice, Clifford May, James Taranto, Harry Reid, Rush Limbaugh
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Daniel Levin, the outgoing chief of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC—see Late 2004-Early 2005), sends a memo to Deputy Attorney General James Comey. The memo will remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will learn that it provides legal advice on communications between defense attorneys and detainees in combatant status review tribunals. [ProPublica, 4/16/2009]
Conservative columnist Ann Coulter, in her daily syndicated column, accuses Democrats and liberals of “racism” for criticizing African-American conservatives. Coulter’s column is partly in response to recent remarks by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) that other conservatives have characterized as racist (see December 5-8, 2004). Coulter expands her criticism well beyond Reid, to accuse African-American columnist Bob Herbert of the New York Times of being a “black liberal” whose criticism of black conservatives is, in her view, racially motivated, and accuses white Times media critic Caryn James of “launching racist attacks on black conservatives” (Coulter mistakenly identifies James as African-American). Coulter begins by referring to comments by the recently deceased Washington Post columnist Mary McGrory, who called Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia “a brillant and compelling extremist” and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (see October 13, 1991) “Scalia’s puppet.” According to Coulter, McGrory’s statement “is the kind of rhetoric liberals are reduced to when they just can’t bring themselves to use the N-word.” Referring to Reid’s characterization of Thomas as the author of “poorly written” Court opinions, Coulter writes, “You’d think Thomas’ opinions were written in ebonics.” She concludes by calling Herbert and James “Uncle Toms.” The same evening, Coulter continues her attacks on Fox News, appearing as a guest on Bill O’Reilly’s broadcast. According to Coulter, liberals “feel like they have blacks on the plantation, they can say whatever they like. And, interestingly, you don’t even hear Hispanic conservatives attacked in the same way that people like Condoleezza Rice and Clarence Thomas are, and—and, I mean, just look at it. Look at what the Democrats’ minority leader in the Senate said this weekend. He praises Scalia as ‘Oh, he’s one smart guy, and his opinions, can’t dispute the logic, though I disagree with them,’ and then he says of Clarence Thomas ‘He’s an embarrassment. His opinions—they’re just poorly written.’” O’Reilly agrees, saying that Democrats who try to “demean people with whom [they] disagree with politically” are “loathsome.” Coulter says that Democrats are “enraged” about the 2004 elections, and in response “they’re lashing out at the blacks.” [Ann Coulter, 12/8/2009; Media Matters, 12/10/2009]
A reinforced door on an Army truck at a base at Ar-Ramadi, Iraq. [Source: Public domain via the Department of Defense]During a visit by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to Camp Buerhing in Kuwait, Specialist Thomas Wilson asks Rumsfeld why soldiers have to improvise armor for themselves out of scrap metal. Wilson, a National Guardsman from Tennessee, is referring to so-called “hillbilly armor” or “hajj armor” (see March 2003 and After). He asks Rumsfeld, “Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromised ballistic glass to up-armor our vehicles?” His question meets with shouts of approval and applause from the assembled 2,300 soldiers; an obviously discomfited Rumsfeld responds: “It isn’t a matter of money, it isn’t a matter on part of the Army of desire. It’s a matter of production and capability of doing it. As you know, you go to war with the Army you have.” Colonel John Zimmerman of the Tennessee National Guard says: “What we basically have is what we call hillbilly steel, hillbilly armor. It’s real frustrating for these soldiers.” Zimmerman says 95 percent of his unit’s 300 trucks do not have appropriate armor. Specialist Blaze Crook says he was appalled when he saw the condition of a vehicle he is slated to ride in. “It’s got huge windows on the front of my truck,” he says. “It’s basically like a window of opportunity to get shot, or shrapnel or anything like that to come through. It just doesn’t make me feel good that I’m riding up there without the proper armor.” Kurt Hendler, a reservist with the Navy’s Seabees construction force, says he and his colleagues are using steel plates intended for road repairs to retrofit trucks and Humvees with better armor. “We cover up the doors and put on some three-inch plate to protect the passenger and driver’s side from IED [improvised explosive device] attacks, sniper fire, and any other small-arms fire,” he says. [ABC News, 12/8/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 156-157] White House press secretary Scott McClellan will later call Rumsfeld’s answer “a defining moment of his career—and not a positive one.” He will add, “[H]is comments helped solidify an already-accepted media narrative: the administration was sending troops that were ill equipped to fight the IED threat from terrorists and insurgents; worse still, administration officials were either unaware of the problems, unable to fix them, or totally unconcerned.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 250] Wilson will come under scathing attack from right-wing commentators such as Rush Limbaugh when it is learned that he was given his question to ask by a reporter (see December 9, 2004).
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was put on the spot by a recent question from a US soldier in Kuwait about he and his fellow soldiers being forced to use scrap metal as so-called “hillbilly armor” for their vehicles (see December 8, 2004). The media now learns that the question, posed by Specialist Thomas Wilson, was given to Wilson by a newspaper reporter embedded with his unit, the 278th Regimental Combat Team, a Tennessee National Guard unit preparing for deployment in Iraq. Reporter Lee Pitts, of the Chattanooga Times Free Press, tells colleauges in an e-mail that he wanted to ask the question himself but was denied a chance to speak to Rumsfeld at the so-called “Pentagon town hall meeting.” Instead, Pitts says, he asked Wilson to pose the question. Pitts says he has been trying for weeks without success to “get this story out.” “I just had one of my best days as a journalist today,” Pitts writes. He says that when he learned that only soldiers would be allowed to ask Rumsfeld questions, he talked with Wilson and another soldier, and they “worked on questions to ask Rumsfeld about the appalling lack of armor their vehicles going into combat have.” Pitts says he “found the sergeant in charge of the microphone for the question and answer session and made sure he knew to get my guys out of the crowd.” Pitts writes that when Wilson asked his question, “the place erupted in cheers so loud that Rumsfeld had to ask the guy to repeat his question.” Rumsfeld’s apparently callous response—“you go to war with the army you have”—has caused a flurry of outraged responses (see December 15, 2004). Meanwhile, Wilson is weathering intense criticism for his question from some right-wing pundits and commentators. Talk show host Rush Limbaugh accuses him of “near insubordination” for daring to ask Rumsfeld such a pointed question. The New York Post claims that Wilson and Pitts “set up” Rumsfeld with the question. (Rumsfeld himself will compliment a later question about “negative press coverage” as obviously “not being planted by the media.”) Even though President Bush says he doesn’t blame Wilson for asking the question—“If I were a soldier overseas wanting to defend my country, I would want to ask the secretary of defense the same question”—Limbaugh and others are joined by Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita in criticizing Wilson and Pitts. “Town hall meetings are intended for soldiers to have dialogue with the secretary of defense,” Di Rita says. “The secretary provides ample opportunity for interaction with the press. It is better that others not infringe on the troops’ opportunity to interact with superiors in the chain of command.” [Poynter Online, 12/9/2004; CNN, 12/10/2004; Rich, 2006, pp. 156-157] Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write that the subject of Wilson’s question is not news at all; news reports of troops being sent into Iraq with broken weapons and damaged vehicles have circulated throughout the print media for well over a year. What is newsworthy, Rich will write, is that a soldier publicly called Rumsfeld out on the policy of sending troops into combat with substandard equipment. Also newsworthy is the fact that Rumsfeld’s claim that the only thing standing in the way of all soldiers receiving adequate equipment is “production and capability” is a lie. Manufacturers of vehicle armor, weapons, and other essential equipment say that they could easily increase production if the Pentagon were to ask them to do so. [Rich, 2006, pp. 157]
Some are quietly expressing criticism or a lack of surety about the recent nomination of former New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik to head the Department of Homeland Security (DHS—see December 3, 2004). The New York Times questions Kerik’s qualifications for the post and what it calls “some troubling parts of his record.” The Times says, “A homeland security secretary should be above politics and respectful of civil liberties,” and that Kerik is neither, as he campaigned for the reelection of President George W. Bush, and suggested that criticism of the Iraq War was tantamount to aiding the enemy, and that the election of Kerry would result in a terrorist attack. It is also unclear why Kerik abruptly left Iraq in the summer of 2003, just when he should have been settling into his new job of training security forces (see May 2003 - July 2003). The Times says the public should know more about Kerik’s duties at Giuliani-Kerik LLC, a consulting firm Kerik operates with former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, and raises questions about potential conflicts of interest: “Mr. Kerik should offer assurances that former clients and colleagues will not get preferential treatment. He has had difficulty with ethical lines in the past. In 2002, he paid a fine for using a police sergeant and two detectives to research his autobiography.” The Times also notes Kerik’s “enormously profitable” stint as a board member of Taser International, the stun-gun manufacturer, saying this deserves scrutiny. [New York Times, 12/9/2004] Kerik will be doing business with some of the firms that made him wealthy, Times reporter Eric Lipton observes, particularly Taser International, even though he has promised to resign from that firm’s board of directors and sell his remaining stock if he is confirmed as DHS secretary. The price of Taser stock has risen sharply in recent months, largely because Kerik has done an excellent job of pitching the company’s product to police departments around the country. Kerik has also led the push to bring federal business to Taser, including contracts offered by DHS. Taser president Thomas Smith says: “Anyone in a federal law enforcement position is a potential customer. And we are going to continue to go after that business.” Kerik refuses to discuss his position with Taser with the press. Bush administration spokesman Brian Besanceney promises Kerik will adhere to “the highest ethical standards” and ensure there are no conflicts of interest. “In order to avoid even an appearance of a conflict, he will comply with all ethics laws and rules to avoid acts that might affect former clients or organizations where he served as a director,” Besanceney says. Under Kerik, the New York Police Department became one of the first departments in the country to purchase large amounts of Taser stun guns. [New York Times, 12/10/2004]
Bernard Kerik, the former New York City police commissioner, withdraws his name from consideration to become the nation’s next head of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS—see December 3, 2004). Kerik says he found information showing that a woman he had hired as a housekeeper and nanny was an illegal immigrant; DHS oversees the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. Kerik says that the discovery prompted him to withdraw his name from consideration. In a letter to President Bush, Kerik writes that although it is “the honor of a lifetime” to be nominated to head the department, “I am convinced that, for personal reasons, moving forward would not be in the best interests of your administration, the Department of Homeland Security, or the American people.… I uncovered information that now leads me to question the immigration status of a person who had been in my employ as a housekeeper and nanny. It has also been brought to my attention that for a period of time during such employment required tax payments and related filings had not been made.” He says that he cannot allow personal matters to “distract from the focus and progress of the Department of Homeland Security and its crucial endeavors.”
Questionable Stock Transactions May Be behind Kerik's Withdrawal - Some Democrats believe that the real reason for Kerik’s withdrawal may be questions about his involvement with Taser International, a stun gun company that does business with DHS; Kerik recently made $6.2 million by exercising stock options in that firm (see December 9-10, 2004). Kerik’s close friend and business colleague, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, says of Kerik’s choice: “I’m disappointed that this had to happen, but I think it’s the right decision, the only decision given the kind of issue that’s involved here. I don’t think this would be as major an issue if it were a different department of government.… When an issue like this emerges, it makes it impossible to go forward.” Kerik’s lawyer, Joseph Tacopina, says Kerik is the one who decided to withdraw his name. “It was Bernie Kerik who uncovered this [the information about the nanny] on his own. He brought it to the White House,” says Tacopina. “He wanted to put the country first. He didn’t want to distract the president and distract the important mission that Homeland Security has.” As he withdraws his name from consideration, Kerik has still not completed his ethics filings, which will disclose his sources of income and financial liabilities, and the FBI has not yet completed its background investigation of him. [Associated Press, 12/13/2004; New York Times`, 12/13/2004] A Democratic Senate staff member says he is unsure whether the nanny issue is the only reason why Kerik withdrew his name from consideration. “Multiple media organizations were pursuing multiple stories” that would be potentially damaging to Kerik, the staffer says. Because many of these questions had not yet been answered by the administration, “fundamentally, he was a bad pick.… The process worked here.” [New York Times, 12/12/2004] The press has begun looking into other aspects of Kerik’s financial life, including the possibility that Kerik, while serving as police commissioner, helped a close friend, Frank DiTommaso, with suspected ties to the Gambino crime family get a construction license from the city in return for over $7,000 in cash and gifts. DiTommaso denies having any ties to organized crime, but city regulators later denied the license, citing their suspicions of just such ties. The White House denies knowing about any such connections between Kerik and DiTommaso. [New York Times, 12/13/2004] Other ethical, financial, and perhaps criminal questions surround Kerik’s withdrawal, though they will not surface until months or years later. [McClellan, 2008, pp. 245-246]
Kerik Unqualified for Position? - The New York Press’s editorial staff writes that Kerik was never qualified for the job, and that his candidacy is built upon what the editorial staff calls “the myth of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11.… The Rudy-9/11 myth is crucial to Kerik’s nomination, because without this myth there is no Rudy the National Player, and without Rudy the National Player there is no nomination of brusque outsider Bernie Kerik to a major cabinet post in Washington.” Kerik himself, the Press notes, is a senior vice president at Giuliani Partners LLC, where his reputation and manner help sell security-related products: “Because Kerik was acting chief of police when the planes slammed into the towers, and because Kerik embodies the Rudy myth by association, he is a golden moustache on the terror-business circuit, where he tells corporations and government agencies that another attack is on the way—especially if Democrats are in power—and that Nextel (or whoever) is the company to help them prepare for it.” Nothing in Kerik’s career, the Press observes, has prepared him to lead a sprawling federal bureaucracy, nor does he have any grounding in the world of international intelligence, “a critical field of knowledge for the incoming secretary.” The Press writes: “Homeland Security is meant to act as the ‘fusion center’ for all US intelligence operations. Whatever Kerik knows about this stuff, he likely gleaned from [action novelist] Tom Clancy.” [New York Press, 12/14/2004]
Media Did Its Job in Exposing Kerik's Flaws - In 2008, Scott McClellan, the current White House press secretary, will write: “After Bush nominated Kerik for secretary of Homeland Security… revelations about his behavior began flying. This was one episode in which the media illustrated the vital role the press can play in uncovering genuine malfeasance by public officials. Frankly, the media did a better job of vetting Bernard Kerik than the Bush administration did. Kerik was left with no choice but to resign.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 245-246]
Entity Tags: Giuliani Partners, George W. Bush, Bernard Kerik, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, US Department of Homeland Security, Frank DiTommaso, Scott McClellan, New York Press, Taser International, Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani, Joseph Tacopina
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
President Bush awards Tenet the Medal of Freedom. [Source: Associated Press]President Bush gives the Presidential Medal of Freedom to former CIA Director George Tenet, former Iraq war leader General Tommy Franks, and former Iraq functionary Paul Bremer. The Medal of Freedom is the highest honor the president can bestow. Bush comments, “This honor goes to three men who have played pivotal roles in great events and whose efforts have made our country more secure and advanced the cause of human liberty.” [Associated Press, 12/14/2001; Washington Post, 12/14/2004] However, the awards will come in for some criticism, as Tenet, CIA director on 9/11, wrongly believed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction
(see December 21, 2002), Bremer disbanded the Iraqi army (see May 23, 2003), and Franks, responsible for the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, failed to assign enough troops to the hunt for Osama bin Laden, thereby enabling him to escape (see Late October-Early December 2001). [Washington Post, 12/14/2001] John McLaughlin, Tenet’s deputy director, will later say that Tenet “wishes he could give that damn medal back.” [New York Times, 10/2/2006] White House press secretary Scott McClellan will later write that this “well-intentioned gesture designed to create positive impressions of the war seemed to backfire.” Instead of holding these three accountable for their role in the deepening Iraq crisis, Bush hails them as heroes. McClellan will observe: “Wasn’t this supposed to be an administration that prided itself on results and believed in responsibility and accountability? If so, why the rush to hand out medals to people who had helped organize what was now looking like a badly botched, ill-conceived war?” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 250-251] David Wade, a spokesman for Senator John Kerry (D-MA), says, “My hunch is that George Bush wasn’t using the same standard when honoring Tenet and Bremer that was applied to previous honorees.” Previous recipients include human rights advocate Mother Teresa, civil rights icon Rosa Parks, and Pope John Paul II. Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) says he “would have reached a different conclusion” on Tenet. “I don’t think [he] served the president or the nation well.” [Associated Press, 12/14/2001] Reporter Steve Coll will later comment: “I presume that for President Bush, it was a signal that he wasn’t making Tenet a scapegoat. It would be the natural thing to do, right? You’ve seen this episode of ‘I, Claudius.’ You know, you put the knife in one side and the medal on the other side, and that’s politics.” And author James Bamford will say: “Tenet [retired], and kept his mouth shut about all the things that went on, about what kind of influence [Vice President Dick] Cheney might have had. They still have a CIA, but all the power is now with his team over at the Pentagon. They’re gathering more power every day in terms of intelligence. So largely, Cheney won.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006] Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write: “The three medals were given to the men who had lost Osama bin Laden (General Tommy Franks), botched the Iraq occupation (Paul Bremer), and called prewar intelligence on Saddam’s WMDs a ‘slam dunk’ (George Tenet). That the bestowing of an exalted reward for high achievement on such incompetents incited little laughter was a measure of how much the administration, buoyed by reelection, still maintained control of its embattled but not yet dismantled triumphalist wartime narrative.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 158]
Entity Tags: John E. McLaughlin, Steve Coll, L. Paul Bremer, Scott McClellan, Thomas Franks, James Bamford, George W. Bush, John Kerry, Frank Rich, George J. Tenet, Carl Levin, David Wade
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Iraq under US Occupation
Neoconservative commentator William Kristol does not join other conservatives in lambasting Specialist Thomas Wilson for asking Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld an uncomfortable question about inadequate body armor (see December 8, 2004 and December 9, 2004). Instead, Kristol excoriates Rumsfeld for his apparently flippant response, “You go to war with the army you have.” The Army has “performed a lot better in this war than the secretary of defense has,” Kristol writes, but, he continues, “Rumsfeld is not the defense secretary [President] Bush should want to have for the remainder of his second term.” He calls Rumsfeld’s response “arrogant buck-passing” and slams Rumsfeld for his apparant callousness, quoting the secretary as telling the troops: “[I]f you think about it, you can have all the armor in the world on a tank and a tank can be blown up. And you can have an up-armored humvee and it can be blown up.” Kristol retorts sarcastically: “Good point. Why have armor at all? Incidentally, can you imagine if John Kerry had made such a statement a couple of months ago? It would have been (rightly) a topic of scorn and derision among my fellow conservatives, and not just among conservatives.” Rumsfeld has not performed well since the war began, Kristol writes, constantly resisting calls to increase troop numbers and then unfairly blaming field commanders such as General Tommy Franks and General John Abizaid for not requesting more troops. “All defense secretaries in wartime have, needless to say, made misjudgments,” Kristol writes. “Some have stubbornly persisted in their misjudgments. But have any so breezily dodged responsibility and so glibly passed the buck?” He concludes, “These soldiers deserve a better defense secretary than the one we have.” [Washington Post, 12/15/2005]
In a PBS interview, Republican marketing guru Richard Viguerie says of conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh: “In 1993 and 1994, he was the salvation of the conservative movement. Every day Rush Limbaugh would give us our marching orders, if you would.” [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 46]
Congress passes a law requiring the director of national intelligence (DNI) to recruit and train women and minorities to be spies, analysts, and translators in order to ensure diversity in the intelligence community. President Bush signs the bill, then issues a signing statement ordering the executive branch—including the DNI—to construe the law in a manner consistent with a constitutional clause guaranteeing “equal protection” for all: a legalistic phrasing designed to sidestep the law. Bush has long been an opponent of any sort of affirmative action program; as recently as 2003, the Supreme Court ruled against the Bush administration’s “equal protection” arguments and in favor of a race-conscious affirmative action program. In his signing statement, Bush advances the “equal protection” argument over affirmative action in spite of the Supreme Court’s rejection of that argument. [Boston Globe, 4/30/2006; Savage, 2007, pp. 240-241]
Alex Ben Lock of Television Week writes: “We have seen in the past year the rise of the Fox News Channel, founded only in 1996 (see October 7, 1996), as one of the most important news media of our culture.… Fox has engaged an even larger audience that is amazingly loyal to the FNC brand.… Fox News, in combination with a network of conservative talk radio commentators, has changed the way many Americans process news—despite or maybe because of the adamant opposition of numerous intellectuals, journalists, celebrities, and others who still can’t believe what has happened” (see October 13, 2009). [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 48]
Congress passes a law forbidding US troops in Colombia, who are there advising the government in its struggle against Marxist rebels funded by drug money, from engaging in any combat against the rebels except in self-defense. The law also caps the number of American soldiers deployed in Colombia at 800. President Bush issues a signing statement that only he, as the commander in chief, can place restrictions on the use of US armed forces. Therefore, the executive branch will construe the law “as advisory in nature.” [Boston Globe, 4/30/2006]
Christine Gregoire (D-WA), declared the loser in her gubernatorial race against Dino Rossi (R-WA) by a mere 42 votes (see November 2-30, 2004), is shown to be the winner after a full recount. On December 23, 2004, Gregoire is certified to have gained 919 votes in the recount, and Rossi gained 748, giving Gregoire a 129-vote lead. The State Legislature certifies the vote, and Gregoire is sworn in as governor on January 12, 2005. [Washington Secretary of State, 12/23/2004; Seattle Times, 12/30/2004; HistoryLink (.org), 6/7/2005] 1,555 votes in Democratic stronghold King County were initially not counted, 573 of them because their signatures had not been entered into the computer database. It is certain that these 573 votes were improperly rejected, and perhaps many of the others as well, the King County Elections Board determines. The error comes to light when Larry Phillips, chairman of the Metropolitan King County Council, discovers that his vote was disqualified. His request to find out why he was disqualified leads to the discovery of the 573 uncounted votes. Republican Party chairman Chris Vance says of the findings that he and his fellow Republicans are now “absolutely convinced that King County is trying to steal this election.… There are Republicans urging us to organize mass protests, to take to the streets. At some point people’s patience just runs out.” He adds: “It’s either gross incompetence or vote fraud. I guess we should just keep expecting King County to find votes until they find enough.” Republicans accuse state Democrats of attempting to rewrite Washington’s election laws to ensure Gregoire is named the victor. [Seattle Times, 12/14/2004; Seattle Times, 12/14/2004] As many as 162 absentee ballots in King County were “misplaced” and not counted. King County Elections Director Dean Logan said before the recount was complete that “we knew as fact” those voters were improperly disenfranchised. [Seattle Times, 12/17/2004] King County Republican Dan Satterberg, a member of the King County Canvassing Board, says: “We’re determining the validity of votes and ballots one at a time.… It reminds me of when I would umpire Little League games. You never want the umpire’s call to make the decision in the game.” Satterberg attempts to block the counting of disputed absentee ballots, but is outvoted by the canvassing board’s two Democratic members. The State Supreme Court reverses a lower court ruling and allows the absentee ballots to be counted in the larger totals. On December 21, just before the vote totals are announced and Gregoire is named the winner, some 350 protesters gathered in front of the Supreme Court building, demanding that Rossi be named the winner, accusing the Gregoire campaign of orchestrating a systematic voter fraud effort, and comparing Washington State to Ukraine, a nation whose recent elections were marred by massive voter fraud. The rally was sponsored by a conservative talk radio station. [Associated Press, 12/22/2004; Seattle Times, 12/23/2004] Washington State Republicans file a lawsuit challenging the recount and demanding that Rossi be sworn in as governor, citing as evidence their claims that hundreds of convicted felons voted without going through the procedure to have their civil rights restored. They also claim a raft of other irregularities benefited Gregoire, particularly in the Democratic stronghold of King County, and will challenge 1,678 votes cast as “illegal” and “fraudulent.” [HistoryLink (.org), 6/7/2005] Rossi will demand a new election (see December 29-30, 2004), a demand that will not be honored (see February 4, 2005).
In a speech given on this day, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld describes terrorists as “the people who attacked the United States in New York, shot down the plane over Pennsylvania and attacked the Pentagon…” His comment that Flight 93 was “shot down” draws attention. A few days later, CNN reports, “A Pentagon spokesman insisted that Rumsfeld simply misspoke, but Internet conspiracy theorists seized on the reference to the plane having been shot down.” [CNN, 12/24/2004; CNN, 12/27/2004]
Real-estate mogul Dino Rossi (R-WA), who was declared the loser in the 2004 Washington State gubernatorial race by a mere 129 votes (see December 23, 2004 - January 12, 2005), demands that the entire result be thrown out and a new election held. “Quite frankly, folks, this election has been a total mess,” he says. Secretary of State Sam Reed (R-WA), who certified Christine Gregoire (D-WA) as the legitimate governor, responds, “I do not feel like this has been a botched election.” He says the election process had been fair, but adds, “I would not say I think somebody ought to be conceding at this point.” Rossi can contest the election, Reed says. Rossi says if a court finds in his favor, he would argue for an entirely new election as opposed to the court or the legislature deciding the outcome. “The people have a right to decide who their next chief executive officer is for the state of Washington, if we end up with an election set aside,” he says. Rossi urges Gregoire to join him in calling for a new election in the interest of comity and voter confidence. If she takes the position after the recounts, Rossi says, her tenure will be “shrouded in suspicion.” To head that off, he says, “[a] revote would be the best solution for the people of our state and would give us a legitimate governorship.” Gregoire’s spokesperson Morton Brilliant says Gregoire is not considering such an action. “This ain’t golf,” he says. “No mulligans allowed here, folks.” Washington Democrats call Rossi’s request “ridiculous” and “hypocritical.” Kirsten Brost of the Washington Democratic Party says: “In the same breath, Dino Rossi says a drawn-out process would hurt Washington state and then he asks for another election. He wants to spend $4 million of taxpayer money for a new election because he doesn’t like the results.” State law does not allow for a revote, but Reed says it could happen if a court or the state legislature orders one. Rossi says that if his and Gregoire’s positions were reversed, he would welcome a new election. “I would not want to enter office with so many people viewing my governorship as illegitimate,” he says. Former Secretary of State Ralph Munro (R-WA) originally called for a revote, saying the current election count had been bungled so badly no one had confidence the votes were counted accurately. Munro is the chairman of Votehere Inc., a company that manufactures a “safe and secure” voter tallying system. Munro denies trying to drum up business for his firm, and says that if such a revote were held, he would not care who won. [Seattle Times, 12/30/2004]
Assistant Attorney General William Moschella sends a letter, written by staffers in the Justice Department’s Office of Legislative Affairs (OLA), to Representative Darrell Issa (R-CA). Issa and other House Republicans have written letters to the DOJ railing against certain US Attorneys’ “failures” to adequately prosecute undocumented immigrants and so-called “alien smugglers,” people who help undocumented immigrants cross the border from Mexico into the US (see February 2, 2004 and July 30, 2004). Issa’s primary target of criticism is Carol Lam of the Southern District of California. Moschella’s letter emphasizes the “enormous challenge” that Lam and other US Attorneys in border districts (Southern Texas, Western Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Southern California) face “in trying to enforce our criminal immigration and narcotics laws along that border.” The number of immigration-related prosecutions in most of those districts has soared, the letter reads, straining those districts’ already-thin financial and personnel resources. The director of the Executive Office for US Attorneys (EOUSA) has already contacted Lam and other border-district US Attorneys, Moschella says, concerning ways to improve their “response[s] to immigration violations.” The EOUSA staff will draft a letter for Lam’s signature to respond to Issa in mid-2005. [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 4/13/2007 ] Issa receives the letter on January 25, 2005. [National Review, 3/28/2007; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 4/13/2007 ]
Washington State businessman Tom McCabe, the executive vice president of the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW) and a prominent Republican activist, is angered by what he considers “voter fraud” in the disputed gubernatorial election between Christine Gregoire (D-WA) and Dino Rossi (R-WA—see December 23, 2004 - January 12, 2005). He is further frustrated by what he considers the reluctance by Republican John McKay (see October 24, 2001 and Late 2004 or Early 2005), the US Attorney for Western Washington, to pursue the allegations. McCabe repeatedly contacts the White House to demand McKay’s firing. McKay will later say, “There was no evidence, and I am not going to drag innocent people in front of a grand jury.” McCabe told McKay he had evidence of forged signatures on absentee ballots cast for Gregoire (see December 2004), and attempted to persuade the FBI to launch an investigation. Neither McKay nor the FBI will be convinced by McCabe’s evidence (see January 4, 2005). Of McKay’s refusal to pursue the allegations, McCabe later recalls, “It started me wondering whether the US Attorney was doing his job.” McKay later says that the FBI concluded that the ballots cited by McCabe were not forgeries. [Seattle Times, 3/13/2007; Talking Points Memo, 2011]
John McKay, the US Attorney for Western Washington State (see October 24, 2001), receives a telephone call from Chris Vance, the state’s Republican Party chair. Vance is unhappy with the results of the Washington gubernatorial election between Christine Gregoire (D-WA) and Dino Rossi (R-WA); Rossi was initially declared the winner, but Gregoire forced a recount and was declared the winner, a declaration Vance and state Republicans are disputing (see December 23, 2004 - January 12, 2005). Vance will later say he feels it necessary to call McKay as a fellow Republican. He will later recall the gist of his discussion with McKay, saying, “Republican activists were furious because they felt that you had a Republican secretary of state, a Republican county prosecutor… and a Republican US Attorney, but still they saw the governorship slipping away, and they were just angry.” He will recall McKay saying something like: “Stop right there, I can’t talk about this. If we are doing any kind of investigation or not, I can’t comment.” Vance will recall, “I dropped it.” Vance is in regular contact with White House political chief Karl Rove, and it is likely that the two discuss the gubernatorial election, though Vance will deny any memory of speaking with Rove about McKay or any desire for a federal investigation of the election. At the same time, prominent businessman and Republican activist Tom McCabe, angry that McKay is not pursuing allegations of voter fraud against Gregoire, begins contacting the White House to demand McKay’s firing (see Late 2004). McKay will later testify that he “vaguely remembered” receiving the call from Vance, but remembers nothing “significant” from the conversation. McKay will later be placed on a list of US Attorneys to be fired, most likely for political reasons (see December 7, 2006 and December 20, 2006). White House emails will not clarify why McKay is targeted for firing, though McKay will recall that White House counsels Harriet Miers and William Kelley cite the anger among Washington State Republicans over the 2004 elections and his refusal to pursue allegations of voter fraud as one reason behind his firing. [Seattle Times, 3/14/2007; Talking Points Memo, 2011] In January 2005, McKay is contacted by the chief of staff of US Representative Doc Hastings (R-WA) about the possibility of voter fraud in the election (see January 4, 2005). In early 2005, Vance and prominent state Republicans will call on McKay and the Justice Department to launch probes into voter fraud allegations that they say benefited Gregoire. [Seattle Times, 3/13/2007] Gregoire will win the election by 133 votes after a lengthy judicial review. Allegations from state Republicans of voter fraud that supposedly benefited Gregoire will be dismissed as baseless. Both sides will allege that mistakes in vote counting and voting reports led to erroneous vote tallies, and both will allege that hundreds of disenfranchised felons cast ballots in the election. The court will find that 1,678 illegal votes were cast in the elections, though it will remain unclear who received the most benefit from those votes. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 6/5/2005]
Omnitec corporate logo. [Source: Omnitec Solutions]Since the Pentagon began using retired military officers as media “military analysts” to promote the Iraq war and occupation (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond), it has closely monitored the performance of those analysts. Among other methods, it retains the services of a private contractor, Omnitec Solutions, to scour databases for any mention of military analysts in the broadcast and print media. Omnitec uses the same tools as corporate branding experts to tabulate and evaluate the performance of those analysts. One Omnitec report, issued this year, assesses the impact of the analysts in the media after they were given a carefully programmed “tour” of Iraq by the Pentagon. According to the report, upon their return, the analysts echoed Pentagon themes and talking points throughout the media. “Commentary from all three Iraq trips was extremely positive over all,” the report concludes. [New York Times, 4/20/2008]
A five-member team in the Justice Department’s civil rights division reviews a new Georgia law requiring voters to present a photo ID or buy one for $20. Four of the five members say the law will disproportionately suppress minority votes because minorities are less likely to have a driver’s license or passport. Division supervisors—Bush administration political appointees—approve the law in spite of the team’s conclusion. A judge later throws the law out, comparing it to a Jim Crow-era poll tax (see September 19, 2006). The single member of the division team who favored the law is a recent political hire, a graduate of the University of Mississippi Law School, and a member of the Federalist Society and the Christian Legal Society (see Fall 2002 and After). [Savage, 2007, pp. 297]
The US search for Osama bin Laden slows down for several years. According to an unnamed former Bush White House official speaking in 2011, “a little fatigue had set in” after a few years of mostly false leads. “We weren’t about to find him anytime soon. Publicly, we maintained a sense of urgency: ‘We’re looking as hard as we can.’ But the energy had gone out of the hunt. It had settled to no more than a second-tier issue. After all, those were the worst days of Iraq.” White House and CIA officials will later say that the war in Iraq and problems with Iran and North Korea took much attention from the search for bin Laden. Juan Zarate, President Bush’s deputy national security adviser for counterterrorism at this time, later says that few new leads emerge. “It was a very dark period.” [Washington Post, 5/6/2011] In December 2004, the Telegraph reported that the US search for bin Laden had essentially been abandoned (see December 14, 2004), and in late 2005, the CIA’s bin Laden unit is shut down (see Late 2005). There is a new push to get bin Laden, also in late 2005, but it has little effect (see Late 2005).
US intelligence learns through communications intercepts about a meeting of al-Qaeda leaders in Bajaur, in the remote border regions of Pakistan near Afghanistan (one account says the meeting is in nearby North Waziristan instead). Intelligence officials have an “80 percent confidence” that al-Qaeda’s second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri and/or other top al-Qaeda leaders are attending the meeting. One intelligence official involved in the operation says, “This was the best intelligence picture we had ever seen” about a high-value target. [New York Times, 7/8/2007; Newsweek, 8/28/2007; New York Times, 6/30/2008]
Size of US Force Grows - The original plan calls for cargo planes to carry 30 Navy Seals near the target, then they will use motorized hang gliders to come closer and capture or kill al-Zawahiri. The plan is enthusiastically endorsed by CIA Director Porter Goss and Joint Special Operations Commander Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal. But Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and his assistant Stephen Cambone are uncertain. They increase the size of the force to 150 to take care of contingencies. [Newsweek, 8/28/2007] One senior intelligence official involved later says for effect, “The whole thing turned into the invasion of Pakistan.” [New York Times, 7/8/2007]
"Frenzied" Debate - But even as US special forces are boarding C-130 cargo planes in Afghanistan, there are “frenzied exchanges between officials at the Pentagon, Central Command, and the CIA about whether the mission was too risky.” Some CIA officials in Washington even try to give orders to execute the raid without informing US Ambassador to Pakistan Ryan Crocker, who apparently is often opposed to such missions. [New York Times, 6/30/2008]
Rumsfeld Gives Up Without Asking - Having decided to increase the force, Rumsfeld then decides he couldn’t carry out such a large mission without Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf’s permission. But with the cargo planes circling and the team waiting for a green light, Rumsfeld decides that Musharraf would not approve. He cancels the mission without actually asking Musharraf about it. It is unclear whether President Bush is informed about the mission. The New York Times will later report that “some top intelligence officials and members of the military’s secret Special Operations units” are frustrated at the decision to cancel the operation, saying the US “missed a significant opportunity to try to capture senior members of al-Qaeda.” [New York Times, 7/8/2007] It is not clear why the US does not hit the meeting with a missile fired from a Predator drone instead, as they will do to kill an al-Qaeda leader inside Pakistan a couple of months later (see May 8, 2005).
Entity Tags: Stephen A. Cambone, US Special Forces, Porter J. Goss, Pervez Musharraf, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Ryan C. Crocker, Central Intelligence Agency, Navy Seals, Donald Rumsfeld, Stanley A. McChrystal
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
Republican Party officials in Wisconsin prepare a report, “Fraud in Wisconsin 2004: A Timeline/Summary,” that purports to document 65 “voter fraud” instances that they claim had a negative impact on the 2004 elections. US Attorney Steven Biskupic will investigate the claims in the report and find no evidence that crimes were committed. The document is later released by the House Judiciary Committee as part of its investigation into the 2006 US Attorney firings (see March 10, 2006, December 7, 2006, and December 20, 2006); Biskupic is listed for firing just after the report is disseminated (see March 2, 2005). The document is written by Chris Lato, the communications director for the Wisconsin Republican Party, under the auspices of the state GOP’s executive director Rick Wiley. Wiley commissioned the report for White House political chief Karl Rove; in 2007, a source described in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel as having “knowledge of the situation” will tell a reporter: “The report was prepared for Karl Rove. Rick wanted it so he could give it to Karl Rove.” The 30-page report spans the time period from August 31, 2004 through April 1, 2005, and contains reports and summatives with titles such as “RPW [Republican Party of Wisconsin] News Release: Evidence of Election Fraud Piles Up.” In March 2005, White House counselor Dan Bartlett, whose primary role is handling communications issues, identifies Wisconsin as one of the states from which the White House had “received complaints about US Attorneys.” In April 2005, Rove sends a copy of the report to White House counsel Harriet Miers, with a handwritten note calling it “a good summary” of the various voter fraud allegations in Wisconsin, and a notation about an allegation of more votes being cast in certain precincts than those precincts have registered voters, with “proof” of that allegation being that a “local newspaper” assigned “an investigative reporter” to look into the charges. “I was assured Saturday while I was in Milwaukee that the issue of more voters than people on the registration list is real,” Rove writes to Miers. The information in the RPW report will later be incorporated into a larger report disseminated in July 2005 by the American Center for Voting Rights Legislative Fund (ACVR), entitled “Vote Fraud, Intimidation & Suppression in the 2004 Presidential Election.” ACVR officials Brian Lunde and Mark “Thor” Hearne will write that their report “documents hundreds of incidents and allegations from around the country.… [T]housands of Americans were disenfranchised by illegal votes cast on Election Day 2004.… [P]aid Democrat operatives were far more involved in voter intimidation and suppression activities than were their Republican counterparts.” The report concludes that “government-issued photo ID” requirements will “help assure” that “no American is disenfranchised by illegal votes.” [Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, 4/7/2007 ; In These Times, 4/18/2007; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 7/30/2009 ] US Attorney David Iglesias will later say of ACVR and similar organizations: “I hope the media keeps shining the spotlight on groups like the American Center for Voting Rights, the ACVR, who has been engaging in this type of voter suppression actions, especially targeting elderly people and minorities. And I mean, if you’re an American citizen who is not a felon, you have the right to vote.” [Democracy Now!, 6/4/2008] Miers will later testify that she has a vague recollection that she believed there was another explanation besides voter fraud for Rove’s “more voters than people on the registration list” characterization. She will recall hearing from the Justice Department “[t]hat the voting precinct in the county lines didn’t match. So in fact, there were instances where it really could be people voting in larger numbers than actually was the county population.” She will say that she believes she learned this from Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, but will not state this with certainty. “[I]t may be that it came from Bill Kelley,” she will say, referring to her deputy William Kelley. [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 6/15/2009 ]
Entity Tags: Chris Lato, Steven M. Biskupic, William Kelley, Brian Lunde, American Center for Voting Rights, Rick Wiley, American Center for Voting Rights Legislative Fund, Wisconsin Republican Party, Mark (“Thor”) Hearne, Dan Bartlett, David C. Iglesias, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Paul J. McNulty, Harriet E. Miers, Karl C. Rove, House Judiciary Committee
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
A popular image of Adolf Hitler, created in the style of the 2008 Obama campaign poster and using the campaign slogan ‘Yes We Can,’ posted on Podblanc in 2009. [Source: Podblanc / OccupiedOregon (.com)]Avowed white supremacist Craig Cobb (see October 31, 2005) moves to Estonia and founds Podblanc, an Internet-based videosharing Web site. It is similar to YouTube, but Cobb and his supporters refuse to use that facility, calling it “Jew Tube” because its operators censor racist and anti-Semitic content. Podblanc offers over 1,000 channels of video content, including combat handgun training, bomb-making tutorials, a description of security measures at three northern California synagogues, and an audio recording of The Turner Diaries, the infamous race-war fantasy novel (see 1978). The most popular video on the site shows Russian neo-Nazis beheading and shooting Asiatic immigrants; other popular videos show skinheads attacking random Jewish and minority victims. Cobb was a member of the violent World Church of the Creator (WCOTC) until its collapse after its leader, Matthew Hale, was arrested for soliciting the murder of a judge (see January 9, 2003 and 2004-2005). Cobb posted the name and home address of the judge on the internet, which may have led to the murder of her husband and mother (see February 28, 2005). Cobb has also attended events sponsored by the neo-Nazi National Alliance (see 1970-1974), and distributes “The Aryan Alternative,” a white supremacist periodical written by Alex Linder, the founder of the Vanguard News Network (VNN), and published by former White Patriot Party leader Glenn Miller. Cobb documents WCOTC, VNN, and other organizations and events on Podblanc. Estonian authorities will force Cobb to leave their country in 2009; in 2010, Podblanc will go dormant when its host decides to refuse to carry its racist and violent content any longer. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2007; Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2009; Anti-Racist Canada, 6/25/2010]
Reuel Marc Gerecht. [Source: National Geographic]The Guardian of London interviews Reuel Marc Gerecht, a prominent neoconservative at the American Enterprise Institute, about the Bush administration’s policy in Iran. Gerecht, who is also a former CIA officer, says he believes that US strikes on Iran could set back Iran’s nuclear program. “It would certainly delay [the program] and it can be done again. It’s not a one-time affair. I would be shocked if a military strike could not delay the program.” Gerecht says that members of the Bush administration have not yet agreed on a policy for dealing with Iran and that the internal debate is just beginning. “Iraq has been a fairly consuming endeavor, but it’s getting now toward the point where people are going to focus on [Iran] hard and have a great debate.” [Guardian, 1/18/2005]
Incoming Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, during her confirmation hearings before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, calls North Korea one of the world’s six “outposts of tyranny.” (The others are Cuba, Myanmar—which Rice identifies by its old name of Burma—Iran, Belarus, and Zimbabwe.) In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will cite Rice’s characterization as another example of overheated Bush administration rhetoric that makes it all the more difficult to negotiate with the obstinate North Koreans over their nuclear program (see August 2003). [US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 1/18/2005 ; BBC, 12/2007; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 243]
US Attorney David Iglesias has a casual lunch with a friend and colleague. The colleague takes the opportunity to warn Iglesias that he is losing the support of New Mexico Republicans for his stance on voter fraud prosecutions (see September 7 - October 6, 2004, September 15-19, 2004, and September 23 - October 2004). Iglesias will write: “Republicans had wanted splashy headlines trumpeting voter fraud indictments, he told me, and when they didn’t get what they wanted, they were only too ready to assign blame. From my perch as one of the party’s anointed, with all the enhanced political possibilities that came with it [Iglesias is considered one of the New Mexico Republicans’ brightest young stars, with a strong future as an officeholder], I was systematically being knocked down to the status of a persona non grata.” Iglesias will write that he tried to “mend fences” as best he could without backing off on his principles. “After an exhaustive examination of the facts, I felt that I had dispelled the phantoms of voter fraud in New Mexico. But some people wanted a different result, whether or not it was warranted by the facts. What was wavering was my own sense of loyalty and solidarity, as if I was suddenly on the outside looking in. It was a feeling I did my best to ignore.” [Iglesias and Seay, 5/2008, pp. 88-89]
Two months after leaving office, former Attorney General John Ashcroft opens a lobbying firm on Washington’s prestigious K Street, where he markets his contacts in the Justice and Homeland Security departments to, among others, ChoicePoint, a company that brokers credit data and other personal information on American citizens to government and private entities. The Ashcroft Group quickly earns over $269,000 from four clients, and, the Chicago Tribune will write, “appears to be developing a practice centered on firms that want to capitalize on a government demand for homeland security technology that boomed under sometimes controversial policies he promoted while in office.” Another Ashcroft client is the Oracle Corporation, one of the world’s largest software developers, who, according to the Tribune, will use Ashcroft’s clout with the Justice Department to win approval of a multibillion-dollar acquisition. A third client, LTU Technologies, makes software that analyzes large collections of video and other visual images. Ashcroft’s firm will soon sign a contract with Israel Aircraft Industries to help secure Bush administration approval for the firm to sell weapons to South Korea. The Tribune will write, “While Ashcroft’s lobbying is within government rules for former officials, it is nonetheless a departure from the practice of attorneys general for at least the last 30 years.” Ashcroft is the first former attorney general to open his own lobbying firm. Charles Tiefer, a former deputy general counsel to the House of Representatives, will note, “The attorney general is very much supposed to embody the pure rule of law like the Department of Justice’s statue of ‘Blind Justice’ and he’s not expected afterwards to cloak with the mantle of his former office a bunch of greedy interests.” Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write: “Thus did the government official who recklessly expanded the market for domestic surveillance while in office find a nominally legal way to make a profit on his nominally legal policies as soon as he was out the door. It was the perfect Enron-esque coda to his wartime career.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 208; Inter Press Service, 2/14/2006]
Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, Chicago Tribune, Charles Tiefer, Bush administration (43), ChoicePoint, Israel Aircraft Industries, Oracle Corporation, The Ashcroft Group, LTU Technologies, US Department of Homeland Security, US Department of Justice, Frank Rich
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Televangelist Pat Robertson informs his viewers that God intends to remove three “liberal” Supreme Court Justices in time for President Bush to replace them with conservatives. According to Robertson, the Lord has told him, “I will remove judges from the Supreme Court quickly, and their successors will refuse to sanction the attacks on religious faith.” He asks his viewers to pray that three of the liberal justices retire. In 2003, he made similar remarks, and said: “I don’t care which three, I mean as long as the three conservatives stay on. There’s six liberals, so it’s up to the Lord.” [Associated Press, 7/17/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 331-332]
US Attorney John McKay of the Western District of Washington State (see October 24, 2001) has been pursuing allegations of voter fraud in the highly disputed governor’s race between Christine Gregoire (D-WA) and Dino Rossi (R-WA—see December 2004 and December 23, 2004 - January 12, 2005). McKay has worked with the FBI on the investigation. He has met with FBI and Justice Department officials, who together have reviewed the evidence and concluded that there are no grounds to open a federal grand jury investigation. Craig Donsanto, the head of the election crimes branch of the criminal division’s public integrity section in the Justice Department, has also advised McKay to refrain from any proactive investigation, but merely to collect facts and information, and monitor the state court litigation surrounding the election, because the department wants to make sure not to give the impression that it is trying to influence the litigation. McKay drafts a public statement for use by the FBI and his office to respond to questions surrounding the controversy. The statement says that while the FBI would receive and evaluate all complaints of voter fraud, because the race is a state election matter, citizens should also provide that information to state officials. McKay and the FBI will continue to examine evidence presented to them as “voter fraud,” and will determine that none of it proves any criminality whatsoever. Moreover, the Justice Department will confirm that in as the governor’s race is a state matter, the US Attorney, a federal law enforcement office, has no jurisdiction over allegations about the race. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]
US Attorney John McKay of the Western District of Washington State (see October 24, 2001) issues a noncommital statement on allegations of voter fraud in the highly disputed governor’s race between Christine Gregoire (D-WA) and Dino Rossi (R-WA—see December 23, 2004 - January 12, 2005). McKay, along with the FBI and the Justice Department, have examined the evidence presented in the allegations (see December 2004), and found no reason to bring any indictments (see January 4, 2005). Shortly after McKay issues the statement, Ed Cassidy, the chief of staff for US Representative Doc Hastings (R-WA), telephones McKay to discuss the race. According to McKay’s recollection, Cassidy begins asking him about the election and the potential investigation, and McKay responds with what he will call information consistent with his public statement. When Cassidy says, “You know, John, it’s really important—” McKay interrupts him and says, “Ed, I’m sure you’re not about to start talking to me about the future direction of this case.” McKay will recall taking a very stern tone with Cassidy. Cassidy terminates the call. (Cassidy will recall McKay saying, “I hope you’re not asking me to tell you something that I can’t tell you.”) McKay informs his First Assistant US Attorney and the criminal chief, Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher, about the call. Both say he conducted himself appropriately. All of them decide there is no need to report the call to the Justice Department, because Cassidy did not cross the line and demand that McKay open an investigation. McKay will later say he is “concerned and dismayed by the call” from Cassidy. Cassidy will say he did not place the call at the behest of Hastings, but because of the outrage among state Republicans at Gregoire’s victory. Cassidy will say that he wanted to make sure Hastings did not make any inappropriate public statements if there was indeed a federal investigation opening. He will say that his telephone call to McKay is merely to head off the possibility of Hastings making what he calls “intemperate remarks” about the election. He will also say that his call to McKay “was a routine effort to determine whether allegations of voter fraud in the 2004 gubernatorial election were, or were not, being investigated by federal authorities,” and will say that he did not violate ethical boundaries in the conversation. Hastings will call Cassidy’s discussion with McKay “entirely appropriate,” and will add, “It was a simple inquiry and nothing more—and it was the only call to any federal official from my office on this subject either during or after the recount ordeal.” Hastings will say that he did not ask Cassidy to place the call, but will recall probably receiving some constituent complaints about the election and the alleged voter fraud that some callers said “gave” the election to Gregoire. He will say that he never had any misgivings about McKay. [TPM Muckraker, 3/6/2007; Seattle Times, 3/7/2007; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; Talking Points Memo, 2011] (A later Talking Points Memo report on the Cassidy-McKay discussion will inaccurately place it as taking place in November, before the recounts are completed.) [Talking Points Memo, 2011]
Attorney general nominee Alberto R. Gonzales, currently serving as chief White House counsel, tells the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearings that there had been some discussion within the administration about trying to rewrite the Geneva Conventions. While he is committed to “ensuring that the United States government complies with all of its legal obligations as it fights the war on terror, whether those obligations arise from domestic or international law,” he says, “these obligations include, of course, honoring the Geneva Conventions wherever they apply.” However, he adds: “We are fighting a new type of enemy and a new type of war. Geneva was ratified in 1949… and I think it is appropriate to revisit whether or not Geneva should be revisited. Now I’m not suggesting that the principles of Geneva regarding basic treatment—basic decent treatment of human beings—should be revisited.… That should always be the basis on which we look at this. But I am aware there’s been some very preliminary discussion as to whether or not—is this something that we ought to look at.” [Los Angeles Times, 1/7/2005; Savage, 2007, pp. 209]
Questioned about Involvement in Torture - During the hearing, Gonzales is grilled on his involvement in the administration’s decision to allow aggressive interrogations of terrorism detainees. Critics believe the interrogation policy developed by Gonzales and his colleagues created the conditions that allowed abuses, such as those at Abu Ghraib, to occur. Senator Edward Kennedy tells Gonzales, “It appears that legal positions that you have supported have been used by the administration, the military, and the CIA to justify torture and Geneva Convention violations by military and civilian personnel.” [Associated Press, 1/6/2006] Retired Admiral John Hutson, a former Navy judge advocate general (JAG) who testifies as a witness at the hearing, says, “I believe that the prisoners’ abuses that we’ve seen… found their genesis in the decision to get cute with the Geneva convention.” [Reuters, 1/7/2005]
Lack of Understanding of International Law - At certain points during the hearing, Gonzales demonstrates an apparent lack of understanding about US and international law. When he is asked if he thinks other world leaders can legitimately torture US citizens, he answers, “I don’t know what laws other world leaders would be bound by.” On another occasion he is asked whether “US personnel [can] legally engage in torture under any circumstances,” to which he answers, “I don’t believe so, but I’d want to get back to you on that.” He is also asked whether he agrees with John Ashcroft’s judgment that torture should not be used because it produces nothing of value. Gonzales responds, “I don’t have a way of reaching a conclusion on that.” [Washington Post, 1/7/2005]
The Senate Judiciary Committee brings in several experts to expand upon the testimony of attorney general nominee Alberto Gonzales (see January 6, 2005 and January 6, 2005). One of the most outspoken critics is Yale Law School dean Harold Koh. Koh had worked in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) under Ronald Reagan, and later served as assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor in the Clinton administration. He is a vocal critic of the Bush administration’s detention policies at Guantanamo and elsewhere. Koh had once worked closely with OLC lawyer John Yoo, the author of numerous torture memos (see October 4, 2001, November 6-10, 2001, November 20, 2001, December 21, 2001, December 28, 2001, January 9, 2002, January 11, 2002, January 14, 2002, January 22, 2002, January 24-26, 2002, March 13, 2002, July 22, 2002, August 1, 2002, August 1, 2002, and March 14, 2003) and opinions expanding the power of the president (see September 21, 2001, September 25, 2001, September 25, 2001, October 23, 2001, October 23, 2001, and June 27, 2002), but now, without explicitly mentioning Yoo by name, he repudiates his former student’s legal positions. Gonzales worked closely with Yoo to craft the administration’s positions on wiretapping, torture, the inherent power of the president, and other issues. “Having worked in both Democratic and Republican administrations, and for more than two years as an attorney in the Office of Legal Counsel, I am familiar with how legal opinions like this are sought and drafted,” Koh states. “I further sympathize with the tremendous pressures of time and crisis that government lawyers face while drafting such opinions. Nevertheless, in my professional opinion, the August 1, 2002 OLC memorandum [drafted by Yoo at Gonzales’s behest—see August 1, 2002] is perhaps the most clearly erroneous legal opinion I have ever read.” The August 1 memo, as well as other opinions by Yoo and Gonzales, “grossly overreads the inherent power of the president” as commander in chief, Koh testifies. The memos raise profound questions about the legal ethics of everyone involved—Gonzales, Yoo, and others in the Justice Department and White House. “If a client asks a lawyer how to break the law and escape liability, the lawyer’s ethical duty is to say no,” Koh testifies. “A lawyer has no obligation to aid, support, or justify the commission of an illegal act.” [Senate Judiciary Committee, 1/7/2005 ; Savage, 2007, pp. 211-212]
Washington State Republicans file a lawsuit challenging the results of an election recount that gave Christine Gregoire (D-WA) the victory in a close race for the governorship against Dino Rossi (R-WA—see December 23, 2004 - January 12, 2005). Rossi’s recent demand for an entirely new election was not heeded (see December 29-30, 2004). Rossi announces the lawsuit, challenging the validity of the recounts that eventually gave Gregoire the victory. He says that if the court finds in his favor, he would again ask for a new election: “It’s clear that this election is a mess. A re-vote is the only way I think we can go.” The suit is being filed in Chelan County Superior Court, an eastern county. Republicans say they prefer this venue to a court in Western Washington, which they say is more liberal. Kirsten Brost of the Washington Democratic Party says that regardless of what the court may say, there is no provision in state law for a new election. “If they are going to have another election, they would have to amend the state Constitution,” she says. Rossi and state Republicans are claiming that voter fraud gave Gregoire the victory. “We’ve found people who are felons that have voted, we’ve found people who have voted more than once,” Rossi says. “We’ve also found people who have remained politically active after they are dead.” [New York Times, 1/7/2005]
Reports of Dead People Casting Votes - The Seattle press recently reported that a Seattle resident had cast a vote on behalf of his wife who had died shortly before the election. The man said his wife wanted him to cast her vote for Rossi, and he did so. “A dead person cannot vote, not even for me,” Rossi says. Seattle prosecutors are investigating the charge, along with evidence that at least seven other ballots for dead voters were cast. One of the eight cases uncovered by the Seattle press was due to an administrative error that inaccurately listed a living voter as having died. Another vote cast by a woman who died in August was challenged by the woman’s husband, who insists that he destroyed the absentee ballot mailed to their residence after she died. A third case involves a woman using her deceased husband’s absentee ballot instead of the one mailed in her name. Another was cast by a man who filled out his absentee ballot, then died before he mailed it. His wife mailed the ballot on his behalf. “These are not indications of fraud,” says Bill Huennekens, King County’s elections supervisor. “Fraud is a concerted effort to change an election.” [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 1/6/2005; New York Times, 1/7/2005]
Hundreds of Provisional Ballots Causing Controversy - More to the point are the hundreds of provisional ballots which may have been improperly counted. Republicans say that King County, the state’s largest county and a reliable Democratic stronghold, counted many provisional votes without determining that the people who cast them were registered voters. King County officials recently admitted that 348 provisional ballots were mistakenly counted. Gregoire was certified the winner by 129 votes, though it is unlikely that all 348 provisional ballots were cast for Gregoire.
Minor Mistakes Being Used to Challenge Election? - Brost says that Republicans are pointing at a small number of routine tallying errors and trying to use them to reverse a legitimate outcome. “In order to throw out this election,” she says, “they would have to prove that the mistakes made resulted in the wrong person winning. It’s not sufficient to just say there’s mistakes.” Secretary of State Sam Reed (R-WA) says he approves of the lawsuit. “A court of law is the proper forum to provide a judicious and objective answer to legitimate questions raised about the elections and its results,” he says. [New York Times, 1/7/2005]
Justice Department lawyer Kyle Sampson (see 2001-2003) responds to an email from White House deputy counsel David Leitch regarding the proposed firing of some or all of the nation’s 93 US Attorneys (see January 6, 2005). Sampson confirms that he has spoken with White House counsel Alberto Gonzales about the proposal “a couple of weeks ago” (see Late December 2004). Sampson delineates his “thoughts” to Leitch in four points. He notes that while US Attorneys serve at the “pleasure of the president,” they generally serve four-year terms. (Sampson is aware that all 93 US Attorneys have been informed that they will not be asked to resign as President Bush’s second term commences—see November 4, 2004—and is also aware that Gonzales and White House deputy counsel Harriet Miers are discussing replacing some or all of the US Attorneys—see November 2004 and Late December 2004.) It would be “weird” to ask them to leave before their terms are complete. Sampson goes on to note the “historical” practice of allowing US Attorneys to complete their terms, even if there is a party change in the administration; he does not mention that the incoming 1992 Clinton administration, and the incoming 2000 Bush administration, both asked all or almost all 93 US Attorneys to leave without regard to completing their terms (see March 24, 1993 and January 2001). Sampson then writes that “as an operational matter, we would like to replace 15-20 percent of the current US Attorneys—the underperforming ones. (This is a rough guess; we might want to consider doing performance evaluations after Judge [Gonzales] comes on board.) The vast majority of US Attorneys, 80-85 percent, I would guess, are doing a great job, are loyal Bushies, etc., etc. Due to the history, it would certainly send ripples through the US Attorney community if we told folks that they got one term only (as a general matter, the Reagan US Attorneys appointed in 1981 stayed on through the entire Reagan administration; Bush 41 even had to establish that Reagan-appointed US Attorneys would not be permitted to continue on through the Bush 41 administration—indeed, even performance evaluations likely would create ripples, though this wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing).” Sampson predicts that “as a political matter… I suspect that when push comes to shove, home-state senators likely would resist wholesale (or even piecemeal) replacement of US Attorneys they recommended.” However, he writes, “if Karl [Rove, the White House political chief] thinks there would be policitical [sic] will to do it, then so do I.” [US Department of Justice, 1/9/2005 ; ABC News, 3/15/2007; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 7/7/2009 ; Talking Points Memo, 2011] The original email seems to come from another aide in the White House Counsel’s Office, Colin Newman, who told Leitch that Rove “stopped by to ask you (roughly quoting) ‘how we planned to proceed regarding US Attorneys, whether we were going to allow all to stay, request resignations from all and accept only some of them, or selectively replace them, etc.’ I told him that you would be on the hill all day for the judge’s hearing, and he said the matter was not urgent.” Leitch responded by forwarding the email to Sampson with the comment, “Let’s discuss.” [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 6/15/2009 ] Newman’s email is dated January 6, and the reference to “the judge’s hearing” seems to refer to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales’s contentious hearing on the Geneva Conventions before the Senate Judiciary Committee on that date (see January 6, 2005).
Downplaying White House Involvement - In the 2008 investigation of the US Attorney firings by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General (see September 29, 2008), Leitch will say that he has no recollection of discussing the matter with Sampson, Rove, or anyone else. He will leave the White House Counsel’s Office shortly after this email exchange. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008] In 2009, Miers will testify that she does not recall specifics of these discussions. She will say: “I don’t have a recollection of that, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that happened, that would be some general discussion of, well, we have the Justice Department saying we have a certain number that we feel should be looked at and that that is better because it doesn’t create the upheaval that removing all of the US Attorneys would have. I think the original discussion did not involve the kind of plan, as that term has been used, that eventually evolved.” At this point, Miers will say, the idea of firing a large number of US Attorneys on the same day had not been discussed. The Justice Department, she will say, would make the decisions as to whom, if anyone, should be terminated, not the White House. Asked specifically about Rove’s Office of Political Affairs (OPA), she will say that it would merely play a consulting role in the process: “I did ask that they assist, in the areas where there might be removals, the location of sources for recommendations. And so the political office was as it is called; they had the political piece.” The Counsel’s Office would not ask OPA for recommendations of replacements for the ousted US Attorneys, she says: “We would turn to them for identification of the sources that you could go to and ask for people to be considered. You wouldn’t turn to them and say tell us who we ought to recommend.” However, “if they had a preference for, someone, they would state it so that they certainly had input.” [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 6/15/2009 ] In 2009, Rove will deny ever seeing the email or discussing the matter with Sampson, and will say, “The implication that somehow this was addressed to me and I somehow received it is inaccurate.” [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 7/7/2009 ] Miers claims no memory of Rove ever attending a Judicial Selection Committee meeting to discuss the removal of a specific US Attorney. She will recall discussions of the removal of US Attorney David Iglesias (see October 18, 2001) by OPA members, including Rove. [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 6/15/2009 ]
Entity Tags: Colin Newman, Alberto R. Gonzales, Bush administration (43), White House Counsel’s Office, White House Office of Political Affairs, Harriet E. Miers, D. Kyle Sampson, Karl C. Rove, Clinton administration, David Leitch, David C. Iglesias
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The US television news media virtually ignores the court-martial of Specialist Charles Graner, who is charged with abusing and torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib (see May 19, 2004-March 22, 2006 and January 16, 2005), according to author and media critic Frank Rich. “[I]f a story isn’t on TV in America, it’s MIA in the culture,” Rich will write. Much of the broadcast coverage is focused on stories about President Bush’s upcoming inauguration and on Britain’s Prince Harry, who had dressed up in Nazi regalia for a costume party. The network and cable news stations grant Graner’s trial only “brief, mechanical” summations “when it was broadcast at all.” The usual claims that television news only focuses on lurid, scandal-ridden news stories do not apply here, Rich writes: “It surely didn’t lack for drama; the Graner trial was Judgment at Nuremberg turned upside down.” Viewers do not learn of defense lawyer Guy Womack’s claim during his closing argument that “In Nuremberg, it was the government being prosecuted. We were going after the order-givers. Here the government is going after the order-takers.” Rich will later write that if the American public could not be exposed to fictional films about World War II (see November 11, 2004), then it “certainly… could not be exposed to real-life stories involving forced group masturbation, electric shock, rape committed with a phosphorescent stick, the burning of cigarettes in prisoners’ ears, involuntary enemas, and beatings that ended in death (see May 3-11, 2004). When one detainee witness at the Graner trial testified… that he had been forced to eat out of a toilet, his story was routinely cited in newspaper accounts but left unmentioned on network TV newscasts.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 155]
A portion of Merritt’s e-mail discussing a ‘core group’ of analysts to ‘carry our water.’ [Source: US Department of Defense] (click image to enlarge)Pentagon official Roxie Merritt, the Director of Press Operations, sends a memo to several top Pentagon officials, including Larry Di Rita, the top public relations aide to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The memo reports on Merritt’s conclusions and proposals in the aftermath of a Pentagon-sponsored trip to Iraq by a number of military analysts. The trip is part of the Pentagon’s propaganda operation, which uses retired military officers to go on broadcast news shows and promote the administration’s Iraq policies (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). The memo is in several sections:
'Background' - “One of the most interesting things coming from this trip to Iraq with the media analysts has been learning how their jobs have been undergoing a metamorphosis. There are several reasons behind the morph… with an all voluntary military, no one in the media has current military background. Additionally we have been doing a good job of keeping these guys informed so they have ready answers when the networks come calling.”
'Current Issues' - “The key issue here is that more and more, media analysts are having a greater impact on the television media network coverage of military issues. They have now become the go to guys not only for breaking stories, but they influence the views on issues. They also have a huge amount of influence on what stories the network decides to cover proactively with regard to the military…”
'Recommendation' - “1.) I recommend we develop a core group from within our media analyst list of those that we can count on to carry our water. They become part of a ‘hot list’ of those that we immediately make calls to or put on an email distro [distribution] list before we contact or respond to media on hot issues. We can also do more proactive engagement with this list and give them tips on what stories to focus on and give them heads up on issues as they are developing. By providing them with key and valuable information, they become the key go to guys for the networks and it begins to weed out the less reliably friendly analysts by the networks themselves…
3.) Media ops and outreach can work on a plan to maximize use of the analysts and figure out a system by which we keep our most reliably friendly analysts plugged in on everything from crisis response to future plans. This trusted core group will be more than willing to work closely with us because we are their bread and butter and the more they know, the more valuable they are to the networks…
5.) As evidenced by this analyst trip to Iraq, the synergy of outreach shops and media ops working together on these types of projects is enormous and effective. Will continue to exam [sic] ways to improve processes.”
Response from Di Rita - Di Rita is impressed. He replies, “This is a thoughtful note… I think it makes a lot of sense to do as you suggest and I guess I thought we were already doing a lot of this in terms of quick contact, etc… We ought to be doing this, though, and we should not make the list too small…” In 2008, Salon commentator Glenn Greenwald will sum up the plan: “So the Pentagon would maintain a team of ‘military analysts’ who reliably ‘carry their water—yet who were presented as independent analysts by the television and cable networks. By feeding only those pro-government sources key information and giving them access—even before responding to the press—only those handpicked analysts would be valuable to the networks, and that, in turn, would ensure that only pro-government sources were heard from. Meanwhile, the ‘less reliably friendly’ ones—frozen out by the Pentagon—would be ‘weeded out’ by the networks (see May 10-11, 2007). The pro-government military analysts would do what they were told because the Pentagon was ‘their bread and butter.’ These Pentagon-controlled analysts were used by the networks not only to comment on military matters—and to do so almost always unchallenged—but also even to shape and mold the networks’ coverage choices.” [Salon, 5/10/2008]
Army Specialist Charles Graner is sentenced to 10 years in prison. In a military court-martial, Graner was convicted of crimes related to the torture and abuse of prisoners in Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison (see October 2003), October 17-22, 2003), November 4-December 2, 2003, and (7:00 a.m.) November 4, 2003), including charges of battery, conspiracy, maltreatment of detainees, committing indecent acts, and dereliction of duty. Graner admitted some of his actions were criminal, and told jurors, “I didn’t enjoy what I did there” before he was found guilty. Asked if he felt remorse over his actions, Graner says simply: “There’s a war on. Bad things happen.” After Graner completes his sentence, he will be dishonorably discharged. He has forfeited all of his pay and benefits. Defense lawyer Guy Womack says that Graner and his six fellow Abu Ghraib guards also facing trials (see May 19, 2004-March 22, 2006) are being used as scapegoats by the Defense Department. Graner and his lawyers were unable to effectively discuss orders being handed down from superior officers during the trial, as the judge in the court-martial, Colonel James Pohl, refused to let witnesses say the names of officers who gave the orders or what orders might have been given, in effect constraining the trial to point to Graner and his colleagues as independent, “rogue” agents operating outside the chain of command. Graner did not testify during his trial, but during sentencing said that he had done what he was ordered to do by US intelligence agents, in order to “soften up” prisoners for interrogation. According to Graner, a lieutenant in his unit told him: “If [military intelligence] asks you to do this, it needs to be done. They’re in charge, follow their orders.” He believed the orders to torture and abuse prisoners were lawful, he claims. [Associated Press, 1/16/2005; Rich, 2006, pp. 155] Author and media critic Frank Rich will later note that while the print media coverage of Graner’s trial is relatively extensive, the broadcast media virtually ignores it in favor of celebrating the inauguration of President Bush (see January 11-16, 2005). [Rich, 2006, pp. 155]
Attorney general nominee Alberto Gonzales turns in supplementary written answers to expand upon and clarify his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee (see January 6, 2005 and January 6, 2005). Buried in the documents is what reporter Charlie Savage will call “an explosive new disclosure.” Gonzales reveals that the Bush administration had secretly decided that the Convention against Torture, an international treaty, only has force on domestic soil, where the US Constitution applies. Noncitizens held overseas have no rights under the treaty, Bush lawyers concluded. Legal scholars from all sides of the political continuum denounce the administration’s position. Judge Abraham Sofaer, who negotiated the treaty for the Reagan administration, will write a letter to Congress informing it that President Reagan had never intended the treaty’s prohibition on torture and brutal treatment to apply only on US soil. However, the Bush administration stands by its position. [Savage, 2007, pp. 213]
Chris Matthews. [Source: Montgomery College]Chris Matthews, the host of MSNBC’s Hardball, asks three of the Pentagon’s most reliable “military analysts” (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond)—retired generals Montgomery Meigs, Wayne Downing, and Kenneth Allard—on his show to pillory a recent New Yorker article by Seymour Hersh that reveals Pentagon plans for an attack on Iran (see (Early January 2005)). Matthews calls the three “Hardball’s war council.” After the broadcast, Allard writes an e-mail to Pentagon public relations official Larry Di Rita, in which he says, “As you may have seen on MSNBC, I attributed a lot of what [Hersh] said to disgruntled CIA employees who simply should be taken out and shot.” [Salon, 5/10/2008]
A Bush family photo taken during the inaugural ceremonies. [Source: Cider Press Hill]President Bush is inaugurated for his second term. [White House, 1/20/2005] Author and media critic Frank Rich will observe that Bush’s inauguration is a four-day, $40 million media extravaganza designed to “enhance the White House’s portrayal of the war in Iraq.” The official theme is “Celebrating Freedom, Honoring Service.” Rich will write, “The trick for its production was to market the military effort while keeping all of its costs off-screen so that no unpleasantness or difficult questions… might spoil the party or Bush’s message of victory around the corner.” The ceremonies are ostensibly to honor the military men and women who have served the country, and are still serving, but during his inaugural address, Bush never says the word “Iraq.” The word is hardly mentioned at the lavish ball thrown for Bush’s Christian supporters at Washington’s Ritz-Carlton hotel. And the press, especially the network and cable outlets, cooperates, running breathless takes on the sumptuous festivities; Rich will write, “Television’s ceremonial coverage of the inauguration, much of which resembled the martial pageantry broadcast by state-owned networks in banana republics, dutifully parroted the White House message that the four-day bacchanal was a salute to the troops.” One of the few dissenters, Vanity Fair writer Judy Bachrach, observes on Fox News that the military ball and prayer service will not keep troops “safe and warm” in their “flimsy” Humvees in Iraq; after a commercial break, Bachrach is no longer on set. One particular “salute to the troops,” the “Heroes Red, White, and Blue Inaugural Ball,” is not televised, and rightly so, Rich will write, calling it “surreal.” Attendees include Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, and Fox News commentator Geraldo Rivera, who jokingly equates his status as “overpaid” reporter with “underpaid hero[es]” in battle. (The audience, largely made up of injured soldiers from Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Bethesda Naval Hospital, respond to Rivera’s humor with “deafening silence,” according to one Washington Post report.) Rich points out the irony of the evening’s main entertainment act, Nile Rodgers and Chic, who “sang the lyrics ‘Clap your hands, hoo!’ and ‘Dance to the beat’ to soldiers who had lost hands and legs.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 159-160]
Leading neoconservative Robert Kagan, speaking to the Los Angeles Times about the Bush administration’s foreign policies, says proudly: “This is real neoconservatism (see February 2, 2005). It would be hard to express it more clearly. If people were expecting Bush to rein in his ambitions and enthusiasms after the first term, they are discovering that they are wrong.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 327]
Jared Taylor. [Source: Jared Taylor]The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette publishes a profile of Jared Taylor, an academic often seen and heard on news and opinion broadcasts as a “race-relations expert,” but called by the Post-Gazette “a racist in the guise of [an] ‘expert.’” The profile follows a number of radio appearances made by Taylor on January 17, the federal holiday honoring the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; Taylor, according to the Post-Gazette, told his audiences that King “was a philanderer, a plagiarist, and a drinker who left a legacy of division and resentment, and was unworthy of a national holiday.” Taylor heads the New Century Foundation (NCF), a Virginia-based organization that promotes the ideas that blacks are genetically less intelligent than whites, are sexually promiscuous because of hyperactive sex drives, and other pseudo-scientific ideas about blacks and other minorities. The Post-Gazette writes that “Taylor keeps company with a collection of racists, racial ‘separatists,’ and far-right extremists,” including some of the NCF board members, who have included members of the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), the successor to the White Citizens Councils of the 1950s and ‘60s; a member of the American Friends of the British National Party (BNP), a far-right neo-Nazi political party in Britain; and an anti-immigration author who has reviewed books for a Holocaust denial journal. Taylor publishes American Renaissance magazine, which regularly publishes “academic” follies that “prove” multiculturalism is wrong. He once wrote for the magazine, “If whites permit themselves to be displaced, it is not just the high culture of the West that could disappear but such things as representative government, rule of law, and freedom of speech, which whites usually get right and everyone else usually gets wrong.” Taylor, like former Klan leader David Duke, Web site owner and former Klansman Don Black (see March 1995), and others, is among the leaders of what the Post-Gazette calls “the new tactics of white supremacy.” Taylor and his confreres eschew the crude race-baiting and calls for explicit violence for more dispassionate, pseudo-academic and media-friendly presentations that use false science and “moderate” language to push their racist views. Taylor’s staff secured a half-dozen radio spots for King’s holiday by sending out the following email to dozens of radio stations: “Not everyone celebrates the legacy of Martin Luther King. Editor of American Renaissance magazine and race-relations expert Jared Taylor would be pleased to offer your listeners a view of Dr. King that challenges conventional wisdom.” The email listed Taylor’s resume: degrees from Yale and the Institute for Political Study in Paris, business consultant in Japan, author of four books. “Jared Taylor is the cultivated, cosmopolitan face of white supremacy,” says Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center. “He is the guy who is providing the intellectual heft, in effect, to modern-day Klansmen.” Taylor denies ever being a member of the Klan, or even knowing any Klan members, but both Black and Duke have appeared at his American Renaissance conferences; Potok has a photograph of Black having a beer at Taylor’s kitchen table. Taylor routinely denies publishing racially inflammatory material in his magazine, even when confronted with the actual published material, and denies writing white supremacist material for the BNP’s monthly magazine, Spearhead, even though his work (published under his “other name,” Samuel Taylor, is readily accessible). He says that those who call him a racist merely want to avoid having a rational discussion about his ideas. However, his ties with racist organizations are easily proven. Taylor has hosted former BNP leader John Tyndall at his home in Oakton, Virginia. The NCF’s 1999 tax returns list the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC) as an organization to which the NCF is “related… through common membership, governing bodies, trustees, officers, etc.” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 1/23/2005] The Anti-Defamation League will later write, “[Taylor] maintains ties to a variety of racist organizations, publications, and individuals, both domestic and international, and many of North America’s leading intellectual racists have written for American Renaissance or have addressed the biennial American Renaissance conferences.” [Anti-Defamation League, 2011]
Washington State Republicans claim they have found 489 felons who illegally voted in the November 2004 election, and 300 or more votes that they allege were cast illegally. They are challenging the results of a recount that gave Christine Gregoire (D-WA) the governorship of Washington over Republican challenger Dino Rossi (R-WA—see January 7, 2005). Four hundred and twenty-four of those alleged felons are in King County, Washington’s largest county and a heavily Democratic stronghold. Seattle is in King County. Fourteen alleged felons are in Pierce County, which includes the large urban area of Tacoma. A Seattle Times investigation has found 129 felons in King and Pierce counties who voted without having their rights restored. Both the Times and the Washington GOP are using criminal records databases to make their determinations, and public voting records from the Office of the Secretary of State. It is not recorded which candidates these alleged felons voted for. Washington Republicans say that they have found more than enough evidence of improper voting to justify a new election (see December 29-30, 2004), but Washington Democratic Party official Kirsten Brost says, “There’s no proof that Dino Rossi won the election, and that’s what you need to show.” [Seattle Times, 1/27/2005; Seattle Times, 1/29/2005]
James Guckert, a.k.a. ‘Jeff Gannon,’ being interviewed at the National Press Club in 2007. [Source: Crooks and Liars (.com)]A reporter calling himself Jeff Gannon asks a question of President Bush during a White House press conference: “Senate Democratic leaders have painted a very bleak picture of the US economy,” Gannon says. “[Minority Leader] Harry Reid was talking about soup lines, and Hillary Clinton was talking about the economy being on the verge of collapse. Yet, in the same breath, they say that Social Security is rock solid and there’s no crisis there. How are you going to work—you said you’re going to reach out to these people—how are you going to work with people who seem to have divorced themselves from reality?” (Reid never mentioned soup lines; that reference comes from a satire of Reid by conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh.) In earlier conferences, Gannon attempted to link Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry to actress Jane Fonda, a favorite target of the right, and questioned why anyone would dispute Bush’s National Guard service record. [Boston Globe, 2/2/2005; Unger, 2007, pp. 332-333]
Works for Fake News Site - The Internet media watchdog site Media Matters, intrigued by Gannon’s highly partisan questions, soon learns that he works for an obscure news Web site called Talon News, itself a front for the extremist Internet organization GOPUSA (see January 28, 2005). New York Times media critic Frank Rich will call Talon News a fake news site staffed by Republican activists and filled with regurgitated press releases from the White House and the Republican National Committee. Rich will go on to note that Talon News is owned by a Texas delegate to the 2000 Republican presidential convention, and took part in an effort to falsely smear Kerry with allegations of infidelity. The Boston Globe soon reports of Gannon, “The Bush administration has provided White House media credentials to a man who has virtually no journalistic background, asks softball questions to the president and his spokesman in the midst of contentious news conferences, and routinely reprints long passages verbatim from official press releases as original news articles on his Web site.” (Gannon will call his practice of passing off quotes from the White House as objective news reports “the ultimate in journalistic honesty.”) Examination of press conference transcripts shows that White House press secretary Scott McClellan often calls on Gannon when other reporters begin asking difficult questions; Gannon is a reliable source of “softball” questions that allow McClellan to get back on track and resume issuing White House talking points.
Reporter Actually Male Prostitute - After Gannon becomes a figure of interest to media observers and Internet bloggers, they soon learn that he is really James Guckert, a male prostitute who posts nude pictures of himself on gay escort sites such as “hotmilitarystud.com” and numerous others, and charges $200 an hour (or $1,200 a weekend) for his services. [Boston Globe, 2/2/2005; Salon, 2/15/2005; Rich, 2006, pp. 172-173; Unger, 2007, pp. 332-333] Though McClellan will deny that the White House press staff knew anything of Gannon/Guckert’s false identity until just before the story broke in early February 2005, former Reagan official Bruce Bartlett will say that “if Gannon was using an alias, the White House staff had to be involved in maintaining his cover.” Further investigation will show that Gannon/Guckert has been posing as a reporter for two years. [Rich, 2006, pp. 172-173]
Regular Visits to White House on Days with No Briefings - According to White House logs, Gannon/Guckert has regularly visited the White House on days when no press conferences are being held, and on at least 12 occasions was checked in but not checked out. Gannon/Guckert’s visits raise speculation that he might have visited the White House for licentious purposes, though he will deny ever spending the night there for any reason. The Gannon/Guckert story highlights the existence of the so-called “Lavender Bund,” the cadre of closeted Republican gays who help the religious right and the GOP advance their openly anti-gay agendas. [Raw Story, 4/24/2005; CounterPunch, 5/21/2005]
Accusations of Plagiarism - Gannon/Guckert will also be accused of plagiarizing other journalists’ work, further calling into question his journalistic credentials. [Raw Story, 3/31/2005]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Frank Rich, GOPUSA, Bush administration (43), Bruce Bartlett, Boston Globe, Scott McClellan, Rush Limbaugh, Talon News, Media Matters, Republican National Committee, Jane Fonda, John Kerry, James Guckert, Lavender Bund, Hillary Clinton, Harry Reid
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Talon News logo. [Source: Talon News / AmericaBlog (.com)]Media Matters, the left-leaning media watchdog organization, questions White House reporter Jeff Gannon’s credentials as well as the legitimacy of the Internet news organization he works for, Talon News. Media Matters is as yet unaware that Gannon’s true name is James Guckert, and that he has no journalistic experience and his livelihood is apparently made by moonlighting as a gay prostitute (see January 26, 2005). The organization shows that several Gannon/Guckert pieces for Talon News are little more than what it calls “reprints of Republican and Bush administration releases,” and demonstrates that Gannon is a frequent “lifesaver” for White House press secretary Scott McClellan, who regularly calls on Gannon/Guckert when he needs a safe question to allow him to get back on track. Media Matters has found out more about Talon News itself; it reports that the information unearthed “casts additional doubt on Talon’s claim to be a media outlet and raises questions about whether Gannon/Guckert should be a credentialed member of the White House press corps.” Talon News is owned by Bobby Eberle, a Texas Republican Party operative who also owns the conservative Internet organization “GOPUSA,” which proclaims itself to be a “conservative news, information, and design company dedicated to promoting conservative ideals.” Though Eberle claims that GOPUSA and Talon News are separate organizations, in fact they are not. Eberle is the owner and chief operator of both entities. Both domain names—“TalonNews.com” and “GOPUSA.com”—are registered to the same Pearland, Texas, street address, which appears to be Eberle’s home address. The domain name contact is Eberle’s GOPUSA email address. Most of the articles on Talon News’s Web site consist of short introductory paragraphs with “Read more” links that take the reader to a page that announces, “This story can be found on our #1 client—GOPUSA!” Readers are then redirected to the GOPUSA.com site. GOPUSA and Talon News are both staffed by Eberle, Gannon/Guckert, and several volunteers. Media Matters concludes that the two organizations are “virtually indistinguishable.” Interestingly, both Eberle and Gannon/Guckert post on the right-wing Internet forum Free Republic, and Gannon/Guckert has hosted a radio show on Radio Free Republic. Another poster once suggested that McClellan “appreciated” Gannon/Guckert’s questions “from the smirk he was trying to hold back,” and Gannon/Guckert responded, “It’s hard to say with Scott but he usually knows what he’s going to get from me.” None of the other volunteers on Talon News seem to have any journalistic experience, but all are heavily involved in Republican politics, including a high school student who is president of his school’s Young Republicans’ Club; the owner of the Wisconsin Conservative Digest; a county GOP chairman and campaign manager for a Maine Republican candidate for the House of Representatives; a South Carolina GOP campaign operative; and a Nebraska freelance writer who has worked as a speechwriter for conservative candidates and organizations. Members of GOPUSA’s board of directors have no more journalistic experience than the writers of Talon News, but all are active GOP operatives, consultants, and financial managers. [Media Matters, 1/25/2005]
As part of the shakeup of the White House staff for President Bush’s second term, Karl Rove replaces Harriet Miers as deputy chief of staff for policy. Rove, widely viewed as an entirely political official, now has a role in coordinating domestic policy, economic policy, even homeland and national security. The Washington Post’s Peter Baker will soon observe: “During President Bush’s first term, outsiders often suspected that Karl Rove was really behind virtually everything. Now it’s official.… [T]he new position largely formalizes what was already true, noting that Rove has quietly played a vital role in shaping domestic policy from the inception of the Bush presidency. Now, for the first time, he will have a formal hand in foreign policy as well.” White House press secretary Scott McClellan will later write: “[Rove’s appointment] reconfirmed and strengthened the sense that the Bush administration was deeply committed to maintaining the permanent [political] campaign as normal operating procedure in Washington. Not only would governing continue to be an offshoot of campaigning, but the master campaigner would now be openly in charge of governing—thus discarding even the pretense of a separation between the two disciplines.” Democratic National Committee chairman Terry McAuliffe says: “Empowering Rove in this way shows that Bush cares more about political positioning than honest policy discussions. Bush knows that Rove is neither an economic nor a national security expert; he’s simply an ideological strategist who has a history of bending the truth and using dirty tricks to get his way.” Rove’s predecessor, Office of Management and Budget chief Joshua Bolten, retorts: “Karl’s always been a very substantive contributor on the policy side. He’s better known for his political hat, but he knows how to take that hat off.” [Washington Post, 2/9/2005; McClellan, 2008, pp. 246-247]
President Bush during his State of the Union address. [Source: American Rhetoric (.com)]In his State of the Union address, President Bush salutes the Iraqi voters and the US soldiers who made the recent national assembly elections possible (see January 30, 2005). Presenting Iraqi human rights advocate Safia Taleb al-Suharl as his special guest, Bush says that Iraq has finally turned the corner towards peace, democracy, and stability. Iraq is only the first, he continues: the US will foster “democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.” Dimitri Simes, president of the more traditionally conservative Nixon Center, is aghast at Bush’s words and their implications. “If Bush means it literally,” Simes says, “then it means we have an extremist in the White House (see January 22, 2005). I hope and pray he didn’t mean it.” [White House, 2/2/2005; Unger, 2007, pp. 327]
Some 40 residents of Fargo, North Dakota, are turned away from a political rally featuring President Bush and his attempt to drum up public support for his Social Security policies. The residents are unable to attend because their names are on a “blacklist” created by local Republicans with the input of White House staffers. The list is made up of “known progressives” and liberals, and includes Fargo City Commissioner Linda Coates, several college professors, the producer of a radio show, the deputy campaign manager for a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, and two or three high school students. Most of the residents are members of a Howard Dean Democracy for America Meetup group. A few of the blacklisted residents get into the event—Coates is able to procure a ticket from the mayor—but, as Salon reporter Tim Grieve writes, “it’s still an odd way to operate for a president who sells the power of freedom in Iraq and calls for an ‘open, candid’ debate on Social Security back home.” The White House claims the blacklist was created by an “overzealous volunteer” and that it knew nothing of the list until the day of the event. The head of North Dakota’s Republican Party, Jason Stverak, says party officials will try to find out who compiled the list, but: “I don’t know if we’d ever be able to find out what overzealous volunteer it is or anything like that. We’ll talk to people and stuff, but it will be impossible.” [Salon, 2/4/2005]
Former White House counsel Alberto Gonzales is confirmed as attorney general by the Senate on a generally party-line vote of 60-36, one of the smallest margins of confirmation in Senate history. Gonzales’s confirmation hearings (see January 6, 2005 and January 6, 2005) have been the source of great controversy, with Senate Democrats accusing him of being deliberately evasive, obfuscutory (see January 17, 2005), and even obtuse during questioning, but with a solid Republican majority, Democrats have little ability to do anything to interfere with Gonzales’s ascension to power. [Savage, 2007, pp. 213] Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) explains his opposition to Gonzales: “What is at stake here is whether he has demonstrated to the Senate of the United States that he will discharge the duties of the office to which he’s been nominated, specifically whether he will enforce the Constitution and the laws of the United States and uphold the values upon which those laws are based. Regrettably, and disturbingly in my view, Alberto Gonzales has fallen short of meeting this most basic and fundamental standard.” Dodd adds that Gonzales “has endorsed, unfortunately, the position that torture can be permissible.” Fellow Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) adds: “At the very least Mr. Gonzales helped to create a permissive environment that made it more likely that abuses would take place. You could connect the dots from the administration’s legal memos to the Defense Department’s approval of abusive interrogation techniques for Guantanamo Bay to Iraq and Abu Ghraib.” Republicans are incredulous that Democrats would oppose Gonzales’s candidacy, and imply that their opposition is racially based. “Is it prejudice?” asks Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT). “Is it a belief that a Hispanic-American should never be in a position like this because he will be the first one ever in a position like this? Or is it because he’s constantly mentioned for the Supreme Court of the United States of America? Or is it that they just don’t like Judge Gonzales?” Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL) says: “This is a breakthrough of incredible magnitude for Hispanic-Americans and should not be diluted by partisan politics. Judge Gonzales is a role model for the next generation of Hispanic-Americans in this country.” [Fox News, 2/4/2005] When Gonzales is sworn in on February 14, President Bush will use the occasion to urge Congress to renew the controversial USA Patriot Act (see February 14, 2005). [Deseret News, 2/15/2005]
Superior Court Judge John Bridges rules that Washington State will not have a new election to determine who is governor of the state. Bridges is presiding over a lawsuit filed by Washington Republicans that asks him to throw out the recount that determined Christine Gregoire (D-WA) defeated Dino Rossi (R-WA) in the November 2004 election (see January 7, 2005). Gregoire was sworn in as governor on January 12, 2005 (see December 23, 2004 - January 12, 2005). Bridges rules that even if Republicans prove their contention that the election was so fundamentally flawed that the results are in doubt (see January 24-28, 2005), state law does not allow for a revote. “The court doesn’t have the authority,” Bridges rules. Bridges also throws out a Democratic request to have the case thrown out entirely. Republicans call the ruling a minor victory for Democrats that means little in the larger context, but Democrats call the ruling the beginning of the end for Republican hopes of having Gregoire’s victory vacated. Rossi’s campaign calls the ruling “a crushing day for Democrats.” A lawyer for the Washington Democratic Party, Russell Speidel, calls the ruling “a huge decision for Christine Gregoire.” Speidel says that under Bridges’s rulings, Republicans “now have to specifically prove that Mr. Rossi won the election,” an extremely difficult legal goal to meet. Speidel says that in essence, Republicans would have to march hundreds of people through the court to admit that they cast illegal votes for Gregoire. Republicans say that Speidel’s assessment is flawed. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 2/4/2005]
A meeting of tribesmen in Wana, South Waziristan, May 2004. [Source: Kamran Wazir]The Pakistani government signs a little-noticed agreement with Baitullah Mahsud, the chieftain of the Mahsud tribe in South Waziristan. Waziristan is in the tribal region of Pakistan near the Afghanistan border, and numerous media accounts suggest that Osama bin Laden and other top al-Qaeda leaders may be hiding out there. The deal, signed in the town of Sararogha and known as the Sararogha peace pact, prohibits forces in South Waziristan led by Abdullah Mahsud, another member of the same tribe as Baitullah Mahsud, from attacking the Pakistani army and giving shelter to foreign terrorists. However, it does not prevent these forces from attacking US troops across the border in Afghanistan. It also does not require these forces to surrender or register foreign terrorists in Waziristan. Abdullah Mahsud is a wanted fugitive in Pakistan and has pledged his loyalty to Taliban leader Mullah Omar. But as part of the deal his forces are even given some money to repay debts owed to al-Qaeda-linked foreign militants. As a result of this deal, the Pakistan army soon leaves South Waziristan entirely. A similar deal will be made with North Waziristan in September 2006 (see September 5, 2006). The area becomes a Taliban base to attack US and NATO troops across the border in Afghanistan. The number of Taliban attacks there will rise from 1,600 in 2005 to more than 5,000 in 2006. [Asia Times, 5/4/2005; Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 433] Abdullah Mahsud was held by the US in the Guantanamo prison from December 2001 to March 2004 (see March 2004). In July 2007, renewed fighting between the Pakistani army and tribal militants will cause the Waziristan truce to collapse (see July 11-Late July, 2007). He will blow himself up to avoid capture a few days after the truce ends. [New York Times, 7/25/2007] The CIA will later claim that Baitullah Mahsud was involved in the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007. [Washington Post, 1/18/2008]
One of the photos Gannon/Guckert posted of himself on the Internet advertising his services as a male prostitute. [Source: The Fruit Fly (.com)]Conservative faux journalist and gay prostitute Jeff Gannon, whose real name is James Guckert, quits as a White House reporter following his exposure by media watchdog organization Media Matters and Internet bloggers. For years, Gannon/Guckert has functioned as a “safe” White House reporter for conservative Internet news site Talon News, providing “softball” questions to President Bush and his press secretaries and representatives that allow the White House to reiterate and emphasize its talking points (see January 26, 2005). He also resigns as a Talon correspondent. Gannon does not apologize for his flatly partisan questioning, and says his questions merely counterbalance those of other reporters, whom he says are largely liberal and hostile towards the Bush administration: “Perhaps the most disturbing thing has been the notion that there isn’t room for one conservative voice in the White House press corps.” Gannon/Guckert refuses to acknowledge his second vocation as a gay prostitute, which he pursues under his given name, and merely says his use of a pseudonym for his journalistic pursuits is a “very innocent… commercial consideration.” Besides, he says, many journalists change their names for broadcast purposes. He does not name any journalists who operate under such pseudonyms. [National Public Radio, 2/9/2005]
White House Knew of Pseudonym - Gannon/Guckert’s boss at Talon, Bobby Eberle (see January 28, 2005), says that the White House issued press passes to the “reporter” under his real name, which indicates the White House knew he was writing under a pseudonym. And Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), noting that Gannon/Guckert was denied Congressional press passes because he could not demonstrate that he worked for a legitimate news service, wants to know why Gannon/Guckert was able to pass muster at the White House. “This issue is important from an ethical as well as from a national security standpoint,” Lautenberg says. “It is hard to understand why a man with little real journalism experience was given a White House press corps credential.” [Salon, 2/15/2005] White House press secretary Scott McClellan denies knowing about Gannon/Guckert’s pseudonym until just recently, and says, “People use aliases all the time in life, from journalists to actors.” [Washington Post, 2/16/2005]
Admission and Defense - Days later, in a CNN interview conducted by Wolf Blitzer, Gannon/Guckert admits that he is a “former” gay prostitute, admits his real name, says no one at the White House knew about his sexual past, and says: “I’ve made mistakes in my past. Does my past mean I can’t have a future? Does it disqualify me from being a journalist?” He says he used a pseudonym because his real name is difficult to pronounce. Liberal gay activist John Aravosis, whose AmericaBlog first published pictures of Gannon/Guckert advertising his sexual favors on gay escort Web sites, says the issue is not Gannon/Guckert’s right to be a journalist but his “White House access.… The White House wouldn’t let him in the door right now, knowing of his background.” Aravosis says Gannon/Guckert is guilty of “what I call family values hypocrisy. Basically, he’s asking the gay community to protect him when he attacks us.” Gannon/Guckert wrote numerous articles blasting 2004 presidential candidate John Kerry’s support of gay rights and wrote that Kerry would, if elected, be the country’s “first gay president.” [Washington Post, 2/19/2005] On his blog, Aravosis adds: “This is the conservative Republican Bush White House we’re talking about. It’s looking increasingly like they made a decision to allow a hooker to ask the president of the United States questions. They made a decision to give a man with an alias and no journalistic experience access to the West Wing of the White House on a ‘daily basis.’” [Salon, 2/15/2005]
Softballing Gannon/Guckert - New York Times columnist Frank Rich accuses Blitzer of asking “questions almost as soft as those ‘Jeff’ himself had asked in the White House.” Blitzer accepted without question Gannon/Guckert’s assertion that he used the name Gannon because Guckert was too hard to pronounce, and never questioned Gannon/Guckert’s claim that Talon News “is a separate, independent news division” of GOPUSA. Blitzer, Rich notes, waited until a brief follow-up interview to ask why Gannon/Guckert was questioned by FBI investigators about his knowledge of the Valerie Plame Wilson affair (see October 28, 2003). Blitzer did not ask if his knowledge came from the same officials who took care of his White House press credentials, nor did he ask if Gannon/Guckert has any connection with conservative journalist and CNN commentator Robert Novak, who outed Plame Wilson. “The anchor didn’t go there,” Rich writes. [New York Times, 2/19/2005]
'Politics of Personal Destruction' - Gannon/Guckert will later say that his resignation from Talon News and from the White House press corps is an example of “the politics of personal destruction.” [New York Times, 3/20/2005]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Frank Rich, Frank R. Lautenberg, Wolf Blitzer, Valerie Plame Wilson, John Kerry, James Guckert, John Aravosis, Talon News, Bobby Eberle, Media Matters, Scott McClellan
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
A report by the 9/11 Commission on the FAA and 9/11 is publicly released. The fact that the report reveals nearly half of all FAA daily briefings between April and early September 2001 mentioned al-Qaeda, bin Laden, or both causes headlines (see April 1, 2001-September 10, 2001). However, the report was actually completed in August 2004 but was held up by the Bush administration. Some speculate that the publication of the report was delayed until after the November 2004 presidential election to help Bush get reelected. For instance, 9/11 victim’s relative Carol Ashley states, “I’m just appalled that this was withheld for five months. That contributes to the idea that the government knew something and didn’t act, it contributes to the conspiracy theories out there.” Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) asks for a hearing on whether the Bush administration played politics with the report’s release, but the Republican-controlled House of Representatives does not allow such a hearing. [Associated Press, 2/11/2005] Additionally, the released version of this report is heavily censored in some areas. The 9/11 Commission asserts that the whole report should be released, but the Bush administration is blocking their efforts to release the censored portions. Politicians, 9/11 victims’ relatives, open-government advocates, and others call for the release of the entire report, but to no avail. [New York Times, 2/11/2005]
Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity and conservative radio host Laura Ingraham repeat the long-debunked claim that former vice president and Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore first mentioned convicted murderer and rapist Willie Horton in the context of a political campaign. Hannity and Ingraham are referring to the infamous “Willie Horton” ad of the 1988 presidential campaign, a Republican campaign strategy that falsely claimed African-American Willie Horton was released and went on to rape a white woman by Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis (see September 21 - October 4, 1988). Responding to a Democratic political strategist’s citation of the Horton ad as an example of Republican political appeals to racism, Ingraham, a guest on Hannity’s show, says the Horton ad “was Al Gore’s idea,” and Hannity says, “Al Gore brought up Willie Horton in the first—in the [Democratic] primary.” As has long been proven, Gore never mentioned Horton in the 1988 Democratic presidential primaries; instead, it was the Bush-Quayle campaign that introduced Horton to the American public. [Media Matters, 2/16/2005] Hannity has charged Gore with first bringing up Horton before (see November 9, 2004).
The US Senate Republican Policy Committee issues a report titled “Putting an End to Voter Fraud.” The report claims that voter fraud—individuals ineligible to vote casting illicit ballots—“continues to plague our nation’s federal elections, diluting and canceling out the lawful votes of the vast majority of Americans.” The report advises Congress to pass laws requiring “voters at the polls show photo identification.” [In These Times, 4/18/2007] A 2007 study by the Brennan Center for Justice will conclude that voters are more likely to be struck by lightning than to commit voter fraud (see 2007).
John Negroponte. [Source: Public domain]President Bush nominates John Negroponte to be the first director of national intelligence, a new position created to oversee all the various US intelligence agencies. Negroponte has been serving as the US ambassador to Iraq for the previous year. Prior to that he had been the US ambassador to the United Nations and held a variety of other government positions. [New York Times, 2/17/2005] The nomination is controversial because, as the Los Angeles Times reports, “While ambassador to Honduras from 1981-85, Negroponte directed the secret arming of Nicaragua’s Contra rebels and is accused by human rights groups of overlooking—if not overseeing—a CIA-backed Honduran death squad during his tenure.” Additionally, “He also helped orchestrate a secret deal later known as Iran-Contra to send arms through Honduras to help the Contras overthrow the Sandinista government.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/26/2001] On April 21, 2005, the Senate will confirm Negroponte by a vote of 98 to two. In 2007, then-CIA analyst Valerie Plame Wilson will describe the establishment of a new position as a shocking blow to morale in the agency. Once Negroponte assumes the position, she will write, “the name ‘Central Intelligence Agency’ [becomes] a misnomer.” CIA employees were promised that the “new DNI structure would not be just an ‘extra bureaucratic layer’ over the CIA, but that’s exactly what it would become. It seemed to me that the White House was bent on emasculating the CIA by blaming it for the failures in Iraq and anything else they thought they could throw at the agency and have stick.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 219] She will write of the announcement: “I remember standing in counterproliferation division’s large conference room in early 2005 when the creation of the DNI was announced to the division workforce. Our chief swore that the DNI would not be just another layer of useless bureaucracy—everyone acknowledged that we already had plenty of that. The veterans of intelligence reorganizations past made cynical comments under their breath.” Plame Wilson will observe that the reorganization of the US intelligence community under the DNI will be “an abysmal failure.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 248]
Investigative reporters for CBS and other mainstream outlets find ties between faux journalist “Jeff Gannon” (see January 26, 2005) and White House political guru Karl Rove. Gannon, a conservative Internet “reporter” and gay male escort whose real name is James Guckert, says he only met Rove once, at a White House Christmas party. But the ties between Gannon/Guckert and Rove run much deeper. Circumstantial evidence includes the ease with which Gannon/Guckert obtained White House press corps day passes, and the fact that Rove has talked with the extremist Internet political organization GOPUSA, which owns Talon News. Gannon/Guckert formerly wrote for Talon. Both GOPUSA and Talon are owned by Bobby Eberle, a Texas Republican and business associate of conservative direct-mail guru Richard Viguerie. Bobby Eberle has boasted of Talon’s “conservative slant” and GOPUSA’s “instant built-in bias.” Gannon/Guckert also played a key role in the defeat of former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) in his 2004 bid to keep his Senate seat (see Summer 2003 - November 2004). CBS political editor Dotty Lynch calls Gannon/Guckert and Talon News “mini-Drudge Reports: a ‘news’ source which partisans use to put out negative information, get the attention of the bloggers, talk radio, and then the [mainstream media] in a way that mere press releases are unable to achieve.” [CBS News, 2/18/2005] Eberle has posted what author and media critic Frank Rich later calls “effusive thanks on the Web to both [talk show host G. Gordon] Liddy and Karl Rove ‘for their assistance, guidance, and friendship.’” [Rich, 2006, pp. 171]
Entity Tags: G. Gordon Liddy, Bush administration (43), Bobby Eberle, CBS News, Frank Rich, Karl C. Rove, Richard Viguerie, James Guckert, GOPUSA, Talon News, Tom Daschle, Dotty Lynch
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Philip Zelikow (second from left) with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (left), and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (right). [Source: Ron Sachs/Consolidated News Photos]Philip Zelikow, formerly the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, will serve as a senior adviser for Condoleezza Rice in her new position as secretary of state. His position, counselor of the United States Department of State, is considered equal to undersecretary of state. [Richmond Times-Dispatch, 2/28/2005] Rice says: “Philip and I have worked together for years. I value his counsel and expertise. I appreciate his willingness to take on this assignment.” According to author Philip Shenon, Zelikow tells his new colleagues at the State Department that it is “the sort of job he had always wanted.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 418] 9/11 victims’ relatives groups had demanded Zelikow’s resignation from the 9/11 Commission, claiming conflict of interest, including being too close to Rice (see March 21, 2004).
Janet Parshall. [Source: Camera (.org)]The United Nations holds a convention on the status of women around the globe, an event that was last held in 1995 in Beijing, China. The main purpose of the 2005 convention is to review and assess the protocols adopted during the previous one. [United Nations, 3/2005] President Bush sends Christian radio host Janet Parshall to represent the US at the convention. Parshall, aside from being a conservative Christian with a talk show, recently hosted what Salon will call a “hagiographic documentary” of Bush entitled “George W. Bush: Faith in the White House.” She has no experience in foreign affairs of any kind. [Salon, 1/6/2005]
The White House Office of Political Affairs is notified about the initiative to fire some US Attorneys (see November 2004, November 4, 2004, Late December 2004, January 6, 2005, January 9, 2005, and March 2, 2005). Sara Taylor, the new White House political affairs director (replacing Karl Rove, who has moved up to become deputy chief of staff, but who is still Taylor’s immediate supervisor—see Late January 2005), will later tell Justice Department investigators (see September 29, 2008) that shortly after she takes the position, she becomes aware that the White House is considering replacing some US Attorneys. Taylor will tell investigators that White House counsel Harriet Miers and others in Miers’s office and in the Justice Department were discussing the idea that the beginning of President Bush’s second term provides a good opportunity to replace some of the Attorneys. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 7/7/2009 ]
Missouri Governor Matt Blunt (R-MO) awards a no-bid contract to Tracy Graves, the wife of US Attorney Todd Graves (see October 11, 2001), to manage a motor vehicle license office near Kansas City. In Missouri, license agents are independent contractors who receive a portion of the fees their offices collect. On March 1, Cory Dillon, the executive director of the Missouri Democratic Party, urges Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to fire Graves based on his wife’s acceptance of the contract. Dillon points out that in addition to Tracy Graves, her brother and two staff members from the office of Representative Sam Graves (R-MO), Todd Graves’s brother, have also been awarded similar contracts. The Kansas City Star reports on Dillon’s letter to Gonzales on March 2, and the day after runs an editorial accusing Todd Graves of a “clear conflict of interest” if he is ever led to investigate the Blunt administration. Gonzales’s chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, refers the matter to Chuck Rosenberg, the chief of staff to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty. Sampson’s March 16 email to Rosenberg indicates that the White House is interested in the matter, and has asked, ”(1) whether we have looked into the allegations made against Graves… and (2) what our conclusion is, i.e., whether we are comfortable that he doesn’t have any legal or ethical issues.” The matter is referred by Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis to the Executive Office for US Attorneys (EOUSA), which in turn refers the matter to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG). That office, after reviewing the matter and consulting with Margolis, decides not to open an investigation. On April 8, Margolis informs Graves that he has “determined that there is no existing conflict of interest that requires further action at this time.” Graves will tell Justice Department investigators probing the 2006 US Attorney purge (see September 29, 2008) that he himself had brought the Dillon complaint to the attention of EOUSA Director Mary Beth Buchanan after reading about it on the Internet. He considers the allegations groundless. He will say that at no time did anyone in the Justice Department ever raise any questions concerning the propriety of his wife’s contract, or allege that her contract put his position as US Attorney in jeopardy. And, he will state, no Justice Department official ever raised concerns with him about his performance (see March 2002). However, Principal Assistant Deputy Attorney General William Mercer will later recall Sampson voicing “real concerns” about the contract because, Mercer will say, Sampson feels it does not reflect well on the US Attorney’s office. Margolis will speculate that this issue is what prompts Sampson to put Graves on the list of US Attorneys he feels should be fired (see January 1-9, 2006), though he will say he cannot be sure because he never spoke to Sampson about it. Sampson does not express any such concerns in his email to Rosenberg. When investigators ask Sampson about the matter, he will claim memory loss, saying he has no recollection of being involved in any way with Graves’s firing. As the investigators will write, “Sampson also did not express any consternation about the license fee contract matter to us during his interview, and he essentially disclaimed any responsibility for requesting Graves’s resignation.” [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008] During this time, the legal counsel for Senator Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-MO), Jack Bartling, will issue repeated demands to the White House that Graves be fired, in part because of Tracy Graves’s contract but largely because of conflicts between the offices of Bond and Sam Graves (see Spring 2005).
Entity Tags: Cory Dillon, Todd P. Graves, Tracy Graves, US Department of Justice, William W. Mercer, Alberto R. Gonzales, Chuck Rosenberg, Paul J. McNulty, Sam Graves, Christopher (“Kit”) Bond, Office of the Inspector General (DOJ), David Margolis, D. Kyle Sampson, Executive Office for US Attorneys (DOJ), Missouri Democratic Party, Kansas City Star, Matt Blunt, Jack Bartling, Mary Beth Buchanan
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Jack Bartling, the legal counsel for Senator Christopher “Kit” Bond (R-MO), calls the White House Counsel’s Office (WHCO) several times to demand that the US Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, Todd Graves (see October 11, 2001), be fired. Graves’s single performance review by the Justice Department was excellent (see March 2002), and Bartling’s complaints are not performance-related. Bartling speaks to associate White House counsel Grant Dixton on numerous occasions demanding that Graves be fired. Bartling will speak to Justice Department investigators looking into the 2006 US Attorney purge (see September 29, 2008), and will say that Bond had nothing to do with his efforts to get Graves fired; instead, Bartling will characterize the problem as a “staff issue” being handled by himself and Bond’s chief of staff. Bartling will claim to have never discussed the matter with Bond, as it would have been beneath Bond’s position as “undisputed leader of the Republican congressional delegation in Missouri” to become involved in such a matter. Bartling will say that the demands for Graves’s removal are actually sparked by discord between the staffs of Bond and US Representative Sam Graves (R-MO), Todd Graves’s brother. Representative Graves’s office does “not run business” in a manner the Bond’s staff finds acceptable. Bartling will say that they asked Todd Graves to try to control his brother, but the US Attorney chose not to become involved in the dispute. Bartling will say he raises the issue of Todd Graves’s wife accepting a no-bid contract from Governor Roy Blunt (R-MO) that he says poses a potential conflict of interest for Graves (see February - April 2005). Dixton is the only person in the WHCO who will cooperate with the Justice Department investigation, and he will confirm speaking to Bartling about Graves. According to Dixton, Bartling wants to see Graves removed when Graves’s term of office expires in October 2005. Dixton will say that he cannot recall clearly, but he likely brought the matter to the attention of Kyle Sampson, the deputy chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see February 15, 2005), and to deputy White House counsel William Kelley. Dixton, however, will say that he only spoke to Bartling once, and does not remember speaking to Bartling about Graves’s wife. The Justice Department investigators will determine that Bartling likely spoke to associate White House counsel Richard Klingler as well as Dixton, but Klingler will refuse to cooperate with the investigation. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008] The matter will be referred to the Justice Department (see Summer - Fall 2005).
Entity Tags: Jack Bartling, Christopher (“Kit”) Bond, Grant Dixton, White House Counsel’s Office, William Kelley, D. Kyle Sampson, Richard Klingler, Roy Blunt, US Department of Justice, Todd P. Graves, Sam Graves
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The Joint Chiefs of Staff publish a classified draft document, the Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations, laying out the rationale for the US’s use of nuclear weapons. It includes the possibility that nuclear weapons could be used during preemptive assaults on nations (see January 10, 2003) or even non-national organizations such as al-Qaeda. The draft states that nuclear weapons can be used:
Against an adversary intending to use WMD against US, multinational, or allies’ forces or civilian populations;
In the event of an imminent attack by biological weapons that only nuclear weapons can safely destroy;
To attack deep, hardened bunkers containing chemical or biological weapons or the command and control infrastructure required for the adversary to execute a WMD attack against the United States or its allies;
To counter potentially overwhelming adversary conventional forces;
For rapid and favorable war termination on US terms;
To ensure the success of US and multinational operations.
In essence, the document gives a green light for the US military, as ordered by President Bush, to use nuclear weapons under almost any circumstances, against much less powerful adversaries. Author J. Peter Scoblic will write: “The Bush administration was blurring, if not erasing, the line between conventional and nuclear weapons and lowering the threshold at which the nation would go nuclear, proposing an array of tactical uses for weapons that were supposed to only be used in strategic conflicts. The Bush Pentagon was effectively acknowledging that the United States might use nuclear weapons first, against a nonnuclear state, before any hostilities had taken place.” The document actually replaced the term “nuclear war” with “conflict involving nuclear weapons” because the first phrase implies that both sides in a conflict were using nuclear weapons, and in all likelihood any nuclear weapons deployed under the conditions envisioned in the document would only be American. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 180-181]
Steven Bradbury, the acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), issues a finding that the government’s use of “video news releases” (VNRs—see March 15, 2004 and May 19, 2004) is not propaganda and therefore not illegal. The VNRs might be “covert,” he writes, since the government actively misled viewers as to their source, but they are not “propaganda,” since they merely explain government programs and facts, and do not espouse a political point of view. Because OLC opinions are legally binding, Bradbury’s “advisory opinion” effectively precludes White House and other agency officials from being prosecuted for authorizing the VNRs, and the practice continues. The General Accounting Office (GAO) rejects Bradbury’s finding and continues to insist that the VNRs are unethical and illegal. [Savage, 2007, pp. 172-173] Two months later, Congress will prohibit the government’s use of VNRs (see May 2005).
Justice Department official Kyle Sampson (see 2001-2003), now the deputy chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see February 15, 2005) as well as the Special Assistant US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, sends an email to Gonzales’s successor, senior White House counsel Harriet Miers. Sampson is responding to a late February request for recommendations for firing US Attorneys in case the White House decides to ask for resignations from a “subset” of those officials (see February 24, 2005 and After). In the email, Sampson ranks all 93 US Attorneys, using a set of three broad criteria. Strong performers exhibit “loyalty to the president and attorney general” (see January 9, 2005). Poor performers are, he writes, “weak US Attorneys who have been ineffectual managers and prosecutors, chafed against administration initiatives, etc.” A third group is not rated at all. US Attorney David Iglesias of New Mexico (see October 18, 2001, 2002 and November 14-18, 2005 ) and Kevin Ryan of the Northern District of California (see August 2, 2002) appear on the list as “recommended retaining.” Gonzales has approved the idea of firing some of the US Attorneys.
Denoted for Firing - US Attorneys listed for possible firing are: David York of the Southern District of Alabama; H.E. “Bud” Cummins of the Eastern District of Arkansas (see January 9, 2002 and April or August 2002); Carol Lam of the Southern District of California (see November 8, 2002); Greg Miller of the Northern District of Florida; David Huber of the Western District of Kentucky; Margaret Chiara of the Western District of Michigan (see November 2, 2001); Jim Greenlee of the Northern District of Mississippi; Dunn O. Lampton of the Southern District of Mississippi; Anna Mills S. Wagoner of the Middle District of North Carolina; John McKay of the Western District of Washington state (see October 24, 2001, Late October 2001 - March 2002, and January 4, 2005); Kasey Warner of the Southern District of West Virginia; and Paula Silsby of Maine. Sampson sends a revised listing later this evening with two more names indicated for possible firing: Thomas B. Heffelfinger of Minnesota and Steven Biskupic of the Eastern District of Wisconsin. Sampson says he based his choices on his own personal judgments formed during his work at the White House and the Justice Department, and on input he received from other Justice Department officials. He will later testify that he cannot recall what any specific official told him about any specific US Attorney. He will call this list a “quick and dirty” compilation and a “preliminary list” that would be subject to “further vetting… down the road” from department leaders. [US Department of Justice, 2005 ; US Department of Justice, 2/15/2005; Washington Post, 3/12/2007; US Department of Justice, 3/13/2007 ; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; Talking Points Memo, 2011] Days later, a Federalist Society lawyer will email Mary Beth Buchanan, the director of the Executive Office of US Attorneys, with a recommendation for Lam’s replacement (see March 7, 2005).
Later Recollections - In the 2008 investigation of the US Attorney firings by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General (see September 29, 2008), Gonzales will tell investigators that he supported the concept of evaluating the US Attorneys’ performance to see “where we could do better.” Gonzales will say that he instructed Sampson to consult with the senior leadership of the Justice Department, obtain a consensus recommendation as to which US Attorneys should be removed, and coordinate with the White House on the process. Gonzales will say that he never discussed with Sampson how to evaluate US Attorneys or what factors to consider when discussing with department leaders which US Attorneys should be removed. Sampson will say that he did not share the list with Gonzales or any other department officials, but will say he believes he briefed Gonzales on it. Gonzales will say he recalls no such briefing, nor does he recall ever seeing the list. Then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey and then-Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis will tell OIG investigators about their discussions with Sampson. Comey will recall telling Sampson on February 28, 2005 that he felt Ryan and Lampton belonged in the “weak” category, and will say he may have denoted Heffelfinger and another US Attorney, David O’Meilia, as “weak” performers. Comey will say that he was not aware of Sampson’s work with the White House in compiling a list of US Attorneys to be removed. He will say that he considered his conversation with Sampson “casual” and that Sampson “offhandedly” raised the subject with him. Margolis will recall speaking briefly with Sampson about “weak” performers among the US Attorneys in late 2004 or early 2005, but recall little about the conversation. He will remember that Sampson told him about Miers’s idea of firing all 93 US Attorneys (see November 2004), and agreed with Sampson that such a move would be unwise. Margolis will recall Sampson viewing Miers’s idea as a way to replace some US Attorneys for President Bush’s second term, an idea Margolis will say he endorsed. He was not aware that political considerations may be used to compile a list of potential firings. He will recall looking at a list Sampson had of all 93 Attorneys. He will remember citing Ryan and Lampton as poor performers, as well as Chiara. He will remember saying that eight other US Attorneys might warrant replacement. Sampson will tell OIG investigators that he received no immediate reaction from Miers to the list, and will say he did not remember discussing the basis for his recommendations with her. As for McKay, though Washington state Republicans are sending a steady stream of complaints to the White House concerning McKay’s alleged lack of interest in pursuing voter fraud allegations (see December 2004, Late 2004, Late 2004 or Early 2005, January 4, 2005, and January 4, 2005), Sampson will claim to be unaware of any of them and say he would not have used them as justification to advocate for McKay’s termination. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]
Entity Tags: Carol C. Lam, Kevin Ryan, Anna Mills S. Wagoner, Margaret M. Chiara, Bush administration (43), Paula Silsby, Steven M. Biskupic, Alberto R. Gonzales, US Department of Justice, Thomas B. Heffelfinger, John L. McKay, Jim Greenlee, Mary Beth Buchanan, Harriet E. Miers, James B. Comey Jr., David C. Iglesias, D. Kyle Sampson, David Huber, David Margolis, Kasey Warner, David York, David O’Meilia, Executive Office for US Attorneys (DOJ), Greg Miller, Dunn O. Lampton, H.E. (“Bud”) Cummins III
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The Army decides not to prosecute unnamed soldiers for killing an Iraqi detainee and attempting to cover up the death. The soldiers were stationed at Forward Operating Base Rifles near Al Asad, Iraq. In January 2004, several soldiers assaulted an Iraqi detainee. One lifted the detainee up from the floor by placing a baton under his chin, fracturing the detainee’s hyoid bone and causing his death. The soldiers were charged with negligent homicide, and with additional charges of conspiracy and making false statements. Apparently, the soldiers receive nothing more than written letters of reprimand and counseling. The officer completing the Commander’s Report on the offense writes, “Soldier should not be titled for any offense.” The detainee’s name is not revealed to the public. [US Department of Defense, 3/5/2005 ; American Civil Liberties Union, 5/2/2006]
The Justice Department is sent a letter, apparently via surface mail, that, according to a department control sheet, “request[s] an investigation into the voting irregularities and the certification of the Washington State 2004 election” (see December 23, 2004 - January 12, 2005, December 29-30, 2004, January 7, 2005, January 24-28, 2005, February 4, 2005, and March 5, 2005). The sender of the letter is redacted from the control sheet. The letter is marked as received on March 10. On March 15, the letter is referred to the Civil Rights Division “for component response,” and referred to several other bureaus within the department, including the Offices of the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General. The Civil Rights Division sends a reply on March 24, 2005. The reply is not included in the documents later released by the Justice Department. [US Department of Justice, 6/21/2007 ]
In an e-mail to a variety of Pentagon officials, an unnamed lieutenant colonel exults that the Pentagon’s Iraq propaganda operation using military analysts to promote the administration’s war policies is producing a “big payback.” He then writes, “There are about 50 retired military analysts that are part of this group… these are the folks that end up on FOX, CNN, etc. interpreting military happenings. These calls are conducted frequently and offer HUGE payback… these end up being the people who carry the mail on talk shows.” [Salon, 5/10/2008]
The Seattle Times reports that Washington State Democrats believe the White House is behind the efforts to force a recount in the November 2004 governor’s race. Christine Gregoire (D-WI) defeated Dino Rossi (R-WI) after a recount gave Gregoire a narrow victory (see December 23, 2004 - January 12, 2005). Since then Rossi and Washington State Republicans have demanded new recounts or even a new election (see December 29-30, 2004). In January 2005, they filed a lawsuit to overturn the election results, alleging voter fraud tainted the vote (see January 7, 2005, January 24-28, 2005, and February 4, 2005). The FBI and US Attorney John McKay have investigated the allegations of voter fraud and found them groundless (see December 2004 and January 4, 2005), though state Republicans have been displeased with those findings (see Late 2004 or Early 2005, Late 2004, and January 4, 2005). As the lawsuit wends its way through the courts, Democrats tell reporters that the evidence being brought to bear by state Republicans in the lawsuit is worthless. One party attorney says their list of alleged illegal voters would end up as toilet paper “in an outhouse on Blewett Pass” on the mountain highway route that leads to the Chelan County courthouse, where the case will be heard. However, solicitations sent by Washington State Democratic Party chairman Paul Berendt say the White House, led by deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, is pushing the GOP lawsuit. Berendt’s letter warns of “guerrilla tactics” by “right-wing attorneys” and “extremist operatives” who are “meticulously crafting a case to unseat Christine Gregoire.” Berendt stands behind the letter, saying: “[W]e believe this, too. We believe that Rove is in regular contact with people here.” Rossi spokesperson Mary Lane confirms that the Rossi campaign is regularly updating the White House on the case, saying: “They’re interested in what’s going on.… We talk to them about it.” However, “[t]here’s certainly no Karl Rove pulling strings.” White House spokesperson Ken Lisaius says no one in the Bush administration is involved in the lawsuit, telling a reporter: “As reluctant as I am to comment on an inflammatory fund-raising piece, those are just not the facts. The White House is not directing any sort of strategy for the Rossi campaign and to suggest otherwise is to suggest someone is not very well informed.” Berendt points to the Rossi campaign’s use of Washington, DC, attorney Mark Braden as chief counsel; Braden spent 10 years as chief counsel to the Republican National Committee. Berendt says his party uses local attorneys. He also cites Rove’s 1994 involvement in the case of an Alabama state Supreme Court election, in which Rove fought for a recount claiming that the election had been “stolen.” The Times writes: “There are parallels to the current dispute here over the governor’s election. In both cases, Republicans held a news conference with the parents of a military voter to question whether overseas ballots were handled properly. Republicans in both states filed a lawsuit that named a long list of public officials as respondents. Both held rallies; business groups financed media campaigns.” Rove’s candidate eventually won (see Early 1994 - October 1995). Berendt says that Rove was also behind failed attempts to force recalls of Republican Secretary of State Sam Reed and Democratic King County Councilman Dow Constantine. Berendt writes, “We know what they’re doing, and we’re going to tell the world that it’s the Bush team, with the Bush tactics, and Karl Rove pulling the strings that’s trying to defeat us.” [Seattle Times, 3/5/2005]
Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, Dino Rossi, Christine O. Gregoire, Bush administration (43), Dow Constantine, John L. McKay, Mark Braden, Mary Lane, Seattle Times, Paul Berendt, Sam Reed, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ken Lisaius
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2004 Elections
The media learns that the Department of Homeland Security has hired former actress Bobbie Faye Ferguson to serve as its liaison to Hollywood’s movie and television industries. Ferguson, who has performed similar duties for NASA for seven years, is reviewing some 14 movie, television, and documentary projects. If she approves a script or idea, DHS will offer advice and technical help to the directors, producers, and actors in portraying what USA Today calls “the nation’s homeland defenders.” Ferguson, interviewed while touring the California-Mexico border, says: “I’ve had dozens and dozens of inquiries. It’s always been a topic they’ve been interested in, but more so now.” Last year DHS provided guidance for the production of The Terminal, a thriller starring Tom Hanks as an immigrant stranded at a New York airport; it has also provided assistance to the television shows CSI: Miami and NCIS. At least six other governmental agencies, most notably the Defense Department, have long employed liaisons between themselves and the film and television industries. But some have long held that agencies such as the Pentagon have used Hollywood as a vehicle for showing the federal government in positive fashions. Each branch of the military has offices in Hollywood; the military has provided assistance in film and television projects since the creation of the Defense Department in 1947. Homeland Security spokesman Brian Roehrkasse says Ferguson will help “give the public a better understanding of how the department… protects the country.” Keith Ashdown of Taxpayers for Common Sense says the money is not a wise use of taxpayer dollars: “Agencies pay for public relations and spin to make the public like them more, but it doesn’t mean it’s a good expenditure.” [USA Today, 3/8/2005] Two months later, the House of Representatives will cut Ferguson’s $136,000 salary from DHS’s 2006 budget (see May 18, 2005).
Passengers associated with the pro-monarchist group Azarakhsh (Lightning) stage a long-planned sit-in on a Lufthansa plane at the Brussels Airport in Belgium. Several passengers demanded to be heard, one saying that “We want the European Union to remove the Islamic leaders from Iran.” Several claim to be members of Anjomane Padeshahi, another pro-monarchist group that wants to restore the country’s royal Pahlavi family. The German magazine Der Spiegel says it had received a letter from the group denouncing torture in Iran. The group promises more activity, possibly within Iran, in the near future. [Deutsche Welle (Bonn), 3/11/2005; BBC, 3/11/2005; Reuters, 3/12/2005; Reza Pahlavi II website, 6/10/2005]
Stations such as Los Angeles’s KABC-TV routinely re-edit graphics to fit their own formatting. The graphic on the left was part of a VNR produced by a private firm; on the right is KABC’s edited graphic. [Source: PRWatch (.org)] (click image to enlarge)An investigation by the New York Times reveals that the government’s use of “video news releases,” or so-called “fake news” reports provided by the government and presented to television news viewers as real news (see March 15, 2004), has been used by far more government agencies than previously reported. The Times report finds that VNRs from the State Department, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and the Agriculture Department are among the agencies providing VNRs to local television news broadcasters. Previous media reports focused largely on the VNRs provided by the Department of Health and Human Services to tout the Bush administration’s Medicare proposals. The Times finds that “at least 20 federal agencies, including the Defense Department and the Census Bureau, have made and distributed hundreds of television news segments in the past four years.… Many were subsequently broadcast on local stations across the country without any acknowledgement of the government’s role in their production.… [T]he [Bush] administration’s efforts to generate positive news coverage have been considerably more pervasive than previously known. At the same time, records and interviews suggest widespread complicity or negligence by television stations, given industry ethics standards that discourage the broadcast of prepackaged news segments from any outside group without revealing the source.”
VNRs Presented as Actual News - While government VNRs are generally labeled as being government productions on the film canister or video label, the VNRs themselves are designed, the Times writes, “to fit seamlessly into the typical local news broadcast. In most cases, the ‘reporters’ are careful not to state in the segment that they work for the government. Their reports generally avoid overt ideological appeals. Instead, the government’s news-making apparatus has produced a quiet drumbeat of broadcasts describing a vigilant and compassionate administration.” The VNRs often feature highly choreographed “interviews” with senior administration officials, “in which questions are scripted and answers rehearsed. Critics, though, are excluded, as are any hints of mismanagement, waste or controversy.”
Benefits to All except News Consumers - The Times explains how VNRs benefit the Bush administration, private public relations firms, networks, and local broadcasters: “Local affiliates are spared the expense of digging up original material. Public relations firms secure government contracts worth millions of dollars. The major networks, which help distribute the releases, collect fees from the government agencies that produce segments and the affiliates that show them. The administration, meanwhile, gets out an unfiltered message, delivered in the guise of traditional reporting.” News viewers, however, receive propaganda messages masquerading as real, supposedly impartial news reports.
Ducking Responsibility - Administration officials deny any responsibility for the use of VNRs as “real” news. “Talk to the television stations that ran it without attribution,” says William Pierce, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services. “This is not our problem. We can’t be held responsible for their actions.” But the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has disagreed, calling the use of government-produced VNRs “covert propaganda” because news viewers do not know that the segments they are watching are government productions (see May 19, 2004). However, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Justice Department (see March 2005) have called the practice legal, and instructed executive branch agencies to merely ignore the GAO findings.
Creative Editing - The Times gives an example of how seamlessly government-produced propaganda can be transformed into seemingly real news segments. In one segment recently provided by the Agriculture Department, the agency’s narrator ends the segment by saying, “In Princess Anne, Maryland, I’m Pat O’Leary reporting for the US Department of Agriculture.” The segment is distributed by AgDay, a syndicated farm news program shown on some 160 stations; the segment is introduced as being by “AgDay’s Pat O’Leary.” The final sentence was edited to state: “In Princess Anne, Maryland, I’m Pat O’Leary reporting.” Final result: viewers are unaware that the AgDay segment is actually an Agriculture Department production. AgDay executive producer Brian Conrady defends the practice: “We can clip ‘Department of Agriculture’ at our choosing. The material we get from the [agency], if we choose to air it and how we choose to air it is our choice.” The public relations industry agrees with Conrady; many large PR firms produce VNRs both for government and corporate use, and the Public Relations Society of America gives an annual award, the Bronze Anvil, for the year’s best VNR.
Complicity by News Broadcasters - Several major television networks help distribute VNRs. Fox News has a contract with PR firm Medialink to distribute VNRs to 130 affiliates through its video feed service, Fox News Edge. CNN distributes VNRs to 750 stations in the US and Canada through its feed service, CNN Newsource. The Associated Press’s television news distributor does the same with its Global Video Wire. Fox News Edge director David Winstrom says: “We look at them and determine whether we want them to be on the feed. If I got one that said tobacco cures cancer or something like that, I would kill it.” TVA Productions, a VNR producer and distributor, says in a sales pitch to potential clients, “No TV news organization has the resources in labor, time or funds to cover every worthy story.” Almost “90 percent of TV newsrooms now rely on video news releases,” it claims. The reach can be enormous. Government-produced VNRs from the Office of National Drug Control Policy reached some 22 million households over 300 news stations. And news stations often re-record the voiceover of VNRs by their own reporters, adding to the illusion that their own reporters, and not government or PR employees, are doing the actual reporting.
Office of Broadcasting Services - The State Department’s Office of Broadcasting Services (OBS) employs around 30 editors and technicians, who before 2002 primarily distributed video from news conferences. But in early 2002, the OBS began working with close White House supervision to produce narrated feature reports promoting American policies and achievements in Afghanistan and Iraq, and supporting the Bush administration’s rationale for invading those countries. Between 2002 and now, the State Department has produced 59 such segments, which were distributed to hundreds of domestic and international television broadcasters. The State Department says that US laws prohibiting the domestic dissemination of propaganda don’t apply to the OBS. Besides, says State Department spokesman Richard Boucher: “Our goal is to put out facts and the truth. We’re not a propaganda agency.” State Department official Patricia Harrison told Congress last year that such “good news” segments are “powerful strategic tools” for influencing public opinion. The Times reports that “a review of the department’s segments reveals a body of work in sync with the political objectives set forth by the White House communications team after 9/11.” One June 2003 VNR produced by the OBS depicts US efforts to distribute food and water to the people of southern Iraq. The unidentified narrator condluded, “After living for decades in fear, they are now receiving assistance—and building trust—with their coalition liberators.” OBS produced several segments about the liberation of Afghan women; a January 2003 memo called the segments “prime example[s]” of how “White House-led efforts could facilitate strategic, proactive communications in the war on terror.” OBS typically distributes VNRs through international news organizations such as Reuters and the Associated Press, which then distribute them to major US networks, which in turn transmit them to local affiliates.
The Pentagon Channel and 'Hometown News' - In 2004, the Defense Department began providing The Pentagon Channel, formerly an in-house service, to cable and satellite operators in the US. The content is provided by Pentagon public relations specialists who produce “news reports” identical to those produced by local and national news broadcasters. And the content is free. The Pentagon Channel’s content is supplemented by the Army and Air Force Hometown News Service (HNS), a 40-man unit that produces VNRs for local broadcasters focusing on the accomplishments of “hometown” soldiers. Deputy director Larry Gilliam says of the service, “We’re the ‘good news’ people.” Their reports, tailored for specific local stations, reached 41 million households in 2004. But the service’s VNRs sometimes go beyond celebrating a hometown hero. Weeks after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, HNS released a VNR that lauded the training of military policemen at Missouri’s Fort Leonard Wood, where many of the MPs involved in the scandal were trained. “One of the most important lessons they learn is to treat prisoners strictly but fairly,” the “reporter” in the segment says. A trainer tells the narrator that MPs are taught to “treat others as they would want to be treated.” Gilliam says the MP report had nothing to do with the Pentagon’s desire to defend itself from accusations of mistreatment and prisoner abuse. “Are you saying that the Pentagon called down and said, ‘We need some good publicity?’” Gilliam asks the Times reporter. He answers his own question, “No, not at all.” [New York Times, 3/13/2005]
Congress Bans Use of Government VNRs - Two months after the Times article is published, Congress will ban the use of government VNRs for propaganda purposes (see May 2005).
Entity Tags: Brian Conrady, Transportation Security Administration, Richard A. Boucher, Reuters, Associated Press, US Department of Agriculture, US Department of Defense, US Department of Health and Human Services, AgDay, Army and Air Force Hometown News Service, William Pierce, US Department of Justice, US Department of State, Pentagon Channel, US Census Bureau, Pat O’Leary, David Winstrom, Fort Leonard Wood, Patricia Harrison, Bush administration (43), CNN, Fox News, Public Relations Society of America, Larry Gilliam, Office of Management and Budget, Office of National Drug Control Policy, Office of Broadcasting Services, Government Accountability Office, Medialink, New York Times
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
A scene of a US soldier aiming his weapon from the ‘Ramadi Madness’ videotapes. [Source: Miami New Times]The Palm Beach Post releases two undated videos from Iraq that the government had refused to release to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The videos, part of a set which will become known as the “Ramadi Madness” videos, were made by members of the West Palm Beach-based Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 124th Infantry Regiment, stationed in Ramadi in 2002 and 2003. The videos are divided into segments called, among other titles, “See Haj Run” and “Blood Clot,” and depict scenes of urban fighting and Iraqis being captured and detained by US forces. In 2006, the government will authenticate the videos as being genuine (see May 2, 2006). The videos combine to make an approximately 26-minute long “crude documentary,” according to the Post, “created by a couple of [Bravo Company] sergeants.” The films were examined by Army investigators, who eventually concluded that they showed “inappropriate behaviors” but nothing criminal. The Post describes the videotaped scenes as ranging “from routine to poignant to macabre.” One shows a US soldier moving the hand of a dead Iraqi truck driver to “make him say ‘Hi.’” Another shows two soldiers pretending to choke a third with a plastic handcuff. A snippet entitled “Haji Cat” shows soldiers feeding and cuddling a kitten, which they’ve named “Anthrax.” Another shows an injured Iraqi man being pulled from the sidewalk into a building by other Iraqis. A later video shows an Iraqi prisoner on the ground with his hands bound and an off-screen voice saying, “I don’t know what the [expletive] this guy did, but he is a bad guy”; another detainee is receiving medical treatment for a head wound and being told to “smile for the camera.” A small group of soldiers interrogates a detainee. One video shows a homemade bomb made with plastic explosives packed in a rusted oil can. The “Blood Clot” video shows a US soldier kicking a wounded Iraqi and explaining, “This [expletive] shot at me.” The video moves to a close-up of an Iraqi detainee’s gunshot wound, then shows a group of women being detained while an off-screen voice declares, “Bad women.” One of the more graphic videos is titled “Friends Don’t Let Friends Play with Explosives.” It begins with a camera shot of burned and dismembered corpses, with an off-screen voice saying, “There’s the crater,” and, “That’s what you get, [expletive].” A soldier points to human remains and pokes the remains across the ground with his foot. Voices are heard off-screen, saying, “Oh, that’s part of his skull,” “That’s where the guy got thrown against the wall,” and, “They were setting the explosive, and it blew up on them.” Finally, “That’s your brain on idiocy” is said as the camera focuses on another pile of remains. [Palm Beach Post, 3/13/2005; American Civil Liberties Union, 5/2/2006] The Army will not charge anyone over the actions depicted in the videotapes. [Associated Press, 3/4/2005]
The Bush administration appoints veteran Bush adviser Karen Hughes as the undersecretary of state for public diplomacy. Her main job will be to craft an administration marketing and public relations policy that will reach out to the Islamic and Arab worlds, and to convince Muslims and Arabs that the US is indeed their friend (see August 2002). But Hughes is immediately granted six months of personal leave before facing Senate confirmation in the fall. And Hughes’s staff will include no Muslims. As a result, a high-level US official warns that “the gap between rhetoric and reality” will undermine the US’s credibility in its outreach program. Hughes’s deputy, Dina Powell, is not expected to take her position until at least May. The new initiative is at least partially sparked due to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report criticizing the administration for failing to develop a policy to improve the US image in the rest of the world. “[R]ecent polling data show that anti-Americanism is spreading and deepening around the world,” the report finds. “Such anti-American sentiments can increase foreign public support for terrorism directed at Americans, impact the cost and effectiveness of military operations, weaken the United States’ ability to align with other nations in pursuit of common policy objectives, and dampen foreign publics’ enthusiasm for US business services and products.” Another US official says the dearth of Muslims in the administration is worrisome. (Powell is Egyptian-American, but is a Christian, not a Muslim. The few officials of Arab descent in the Bush administration are, by and large, Christians.) “It’s very important for American Muslims to be involved, as they’re an important conduit to the wider Islamic world and they should be speaking out,” that official says. “But American Muslims generally feel they’re not included like other communities. We should be talking to them, as they have a lot of knowledge of the region.” Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says, “You can do Muslim outreach without Muslims and it doesn’t mean Dina Powell can’t be effective, but the administration has not made much effort to integrate Muslim Americans in this effort.” Carothers says many in the administration confuse public diplomacy with marketing. “There’s deep confusion within the administration about what public diplomacy means,” he says. “For some, it’s simply selling America’s image in the world. For others, it’s something deeper that has to do with creating a partnership between America and Muslim countries to replace the current antagonism.… The administration is convinced that if only the Muslim world understood us better they’d like us more, whereas many Muslims feel it’s precisely because they understand us that they’re unhappy.” [Washington Post, 4/18/2005; Rich, 2006, pp. 165]
Timothy Griffin, after being elected as a US representative in 2010. [Source: Politico]Timothy Griffin, a former Republican National Committee aide and a veteran Republican political operative (see October 26, 2004), learns that Kyle Sampson, deputy chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see February 15, 2005), has identified the US Attorney for Eastern Arkansas, Bud Cummins, as one of several US Attorneys who should be fired (see January 9, 2005 and March 2, 2005). Griffin, a lawyer who has twice attempted to secure that position for himself, learns of the news from Sara Taylor, the White House’s new director of political affairs (replacing Karl Rove, who still supervises all political issues from his new position as deputy chief of staff—see Late January 2005). Griffin is considering joining Taylor’s staff, but even before his hiring, he attends several “directors” meetings at the White House. After one of these meetings, Taylor shows him the list of US Attorneys slated for dismissal. The list includes Cummins. Taylor says she does not know why Cummins is on the list, but she believes it may be because he lost his sponsor, Senator Tim Hutchinson (R-AR), when Hutchinson lost his bid for re-election in 2002. Griffin joins Taylor’s staff, and shortly thereafter meets with White House counsel Harriet Miers, who also tells him that the White House is planning to fire Cummins. She asks Griffin if he is interested in the position, and he says he would like the job after completing a stint in the White House. Miers warns him that it might be difficult to have him approved for the position after having worked for the White House Office of Political Affairs. Miers, Rove, and Taylor discuss Griffin’s employment options through the rest of March. Miers tells Rove that she has considered making Griffin a political appointee in one of the two US Attorneys’ offices in Arkansas, or perhaps having Griffin replace the deputy director of the Office of Legal Policy at the Justice Department. Rove responds, “What about him for the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas?” Miers replies that such a move is “definitely a possibility” because the current US Attorney, Cummins, is going to be replaced. Miers tells Rove that Griffin has spoken with her about his desire for the slot, but for now he wants to stay with the White House. Taylor responds to the exchange by saying in part, “My fear is they end up putting him [Griffin] at Justice (which he does not want to do); it’s a year before he’s made US Attorney, if ever.” In another email, Taylor writes to Rove that Griffin “would love to be US Attorney—he’d love to come here in the meantime.” Griffin accepts the position of deputy director of political affairs at the White House, promising Taylor that he will stay in the position at least after the November 2006 election unless the US Attorney position opens up before then. For his part, Cummins, who is toying with the idea of leaving the position, speaks with Griffin periodically throughout the year about Griffin taking the position after Cummins resigns. Cummins will later say that he always assumed the choice as to if and when to resign would be his, and that he always assumed Griffin would get the job because he is so well connected politically. Griffin later says he never pushed Cummins to leave, but will tell Justice Department investigators (see September 29, 2008), “I was laying low.” Griffin will say that to his mind, Cummins’s removal and his own ascension to the post were two separate things. “I didn’t know why he was being fired,” Griffin will say, “but I knew that if he was going to be fired, then I wanted to be considered for that job.” Griffin, a member of the Army Reserve, will leave his White House position in August 2005 to serve as a Judge Advocate General officer in Iraq, and will stay in close contact with officials in both the White House and the Justice Department throughout his yearlong tour of duty. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]
Entity Tags: Harriet E. Miers, Bush administration (43), White House Office of Political Affairs, H.E. (“Bud”) Cummins III, US Department of Justice, Sara Taylor, J. Timothy Griffin, Karl C. Rove, Republican National Committee, D. Kyle Sampson, Tim Hutchinson
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The bumper sticker that led to the removal of three people from the Bush campaign event. [Source: 9News (.com)]Three Denver residents are forcibly removed from a town hall meeting with President Bush after Bush security personnel observed their car had a bumper sticker reading “No More Blood for Oil.” The three obtained tickets for the invitation-only event through the office of Representative Bob Beauprez (R-CO). [ABC 7 Denver, 3/29/2005; Associated Press, 3/29/2005] One of the three, lawyer Leslie Weise, is stopped at the security checkpoint, asked for identification, and told to wait for the Secret Service to arrive. Eventually, Michael Casper, a White House staffer who is not a Secret Service member but is dressed in a dark suit and wears an earpiece and lapel pin, arrives and warns Weise that she has been “ID’d” and that if she has any intentions of causing trouble, she will be arrested. She then moves through the checkpoint and towards her seat. As is later ascertained by witnesses, Casper then consults with other White House event staffers who saw the bumper sticker and tell him that White House policy is to prevent anyone attending a presidential event if they disagree with Bush’s positions. Casper then prevents the three from taking their seats, and escorts them to the exit, putting his hand on the elbow of Weise’s fellow attendee, marketing coordinator Karen Bauer. [ABC 7 Denver, 3/29/2005; American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Colorado, 11/21/2005 ] The Secret Service denies any involvement in the incident: “The Secret Service had nothing to do with that,” says Lon Garner, special agent in charge of the Secret Service district office in Denver. “We are very sensitive to the First Amendment and general assembly rights as protected by the Constitution.” The Secret Service will mount an investigation [ABC 7 Denver, 3/29/2005; Associated Press, 3/29/2005] , and recommend that Casper be charged with impersonating a federal officer; the Justice Department will refuse to press charges (see August 8, 2005). The three will consider a lawsuit against the Bush administration alleging that their First Amendment rights were violated. According to another member of the group, Internet technology worker Alex Young, officials will tell them the next day that they were identified as belonging to an organization called “No Blood for Oil.” Young denies that any of the three belong to any such group, acknowledges that the car they take to the event had a bumper sticker with a similar phrase attached to its rear bumper, and says, “I don’t think a bumper sticker on a friend’s car should disqualify me from seeing the president.” The three belong to the Denver Progressives, described by a Denver ABC affiliate as a “political activist group.” Their lawyer, Dan Recht, says: “They hadn’t done anything wrong. They weren’t dressed inappropriately, they didn’t say anything inappropriate. They were kicked out of this venue and not allowed to hear what the president had to say based solely on this political bumper sticker. The very essence of the First Amendment is that you can’t be punished for the speech you make, the statements you make.” Americans United spokesman Brad Woodhouse says the Denver incident is just the latest and most egregious example of Bush officials’ heavy-handed attempts to suppress dissent and free speech. “They’re screening the people who are allowed to come and then they’re profiling them in the parking lot,” he says. “It’s quite extraordinary, and disappointing.” [ABC 7 Denver, 3/29/2005; Associated Press, 3/29/2005] Weise and Young will file a lawsuit over the incident (see November 21, 2005).
Entity Tags: Americans United, Dan Recht, Bob Beauprez, Denver Progressives, Brad Woodhouse, Alex Young, George W. Bush, US Department of Justice, Karen Bauer, Leslie Weise, Lon Garner, Michael Casper, US Secret Service
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
New Mexico residents who wish to attend a public relations event featuring President Bush are quizzed about their support of Bush’s policies before being given a ticket to the event. Staff members for Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) interrogate prospective attendees about their feelings towards Bush and his Social Security policies. David Alire Garcia of the Albuquerque Journal writes: “Welcome to the brave new world of over-the-top media manipulation. No critical questions, no spontaneity, nothing left to chance.” Domenici spokeswoman Shaye O’Donnell says that Democrats or others who might not support the president are still given tickets, though she later admits that she herself knows nothing about how tickets are distributed. Neither does Lisa Breeden, Domenici’s communications director, who says: “I really don’t know anything about this. If that happened, it was not done by our office. That would have had to have been through the White House, I guess.” According to Breeden, people who called the office asking for tickets were asked for names and phone numbers, and that information was passed to the White House advance team. The White House team then gave Domenici’s office a list of those who would be allowed to receive tickets. Breeden says a private political consultant handled the communications between the White House and Domenici’s office. [Washington Post, 4/4/2005]
Victoria Toensing. [Source: CNN via Media Matters]Lawyers for 36 media organizations file an amici curiae brief with the US Court of Appeals in Washington asking that it overturn a decision to compel reporters Matthew Cooper and Judith Miller to testify before a grand jury hearing evidence in the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak investigation (see February 15, 2005). The brief argues in part that neither Miller nor Cooper should be jailed because “the circumstances necessary to prove” a violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA) “seem not to be present here,” and therefore the trial court should be ordered to hold a hearing “to determine whether specific elements of the [IIPA]… have been met.” The request will be denied. One of the authors of the brief is Washington lawyer Victoria Toensing, who with her husband Joseph diGenova heads a law firm with deep ties to the Republican Party. (Toensing was a Justice Department official during the Reagan administration and helped write the IIPA.) Toensing will write numerous op-eds and make frequent television appearances denouncing the investigation (see November 3, 2005, February 18, 2007, February 18, 2007, and March 16, 2007), usually without revealing her ties to the case. [US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Court, 3/23/2005 ; Media Matters, 3/6/2007]
Associate White House counsel Dabney Friedrich, acting at the behest of her superior, White House counsel Harriet Miers, sends Kyle Sampson, deputy chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see February 15, 2005), an email asking him to confirm Miers’s understanding that the “plan” to fire and replace selected US Attorneys (see November 2004, November 4, 2004, Late December 2004, January 6, 2005, January 9, 2005, and March 2, 2005) is “to wait until each has served a four-year term. She was operating under the assumption that we would act to remove/replace right away.” Sampson replies that he, Friedrich, Miers, and Gonzales should discuss the matter, but he has recommended that the attorneys should be replaced “selectively” after their four-year terms expire. Sampson writes that to do otherwise might cause consternation among home-state politicians and “internal management trouble” within the Justice Department. Sampson emphasizes that he is expressing his views and not those of Gonzales. Friedrich replies with her agreement, and says she would be surprised to hear differently from either Miers or Gonzales. Little is said among the principals in the attorney-firing process for several months. The first expirations will not begin until November 2005, and according to a later Justice Department investigation (see September 29, 2008), Sampson will decide to “back-burner” the issue until later in the year. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 6/15/2009 ]
Dr. Michael Gelles, the head psychologist for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), says that torture and coercion do not produce reliable information from prisoners. Gelles adds that many military and intelligence specialists share his view. Gelles warned of problems with torture and abuse at Guantanamo nearly three years ago (see Early December, 2002 and December 18, 2002). And he is frustrated that Bush administration officials have “dismissed” critics of coercive techniques as weaklings and “doves” who are too squeamish to do what is necessary to obtain information from terror suspects. In reality, Gelles says, many experienced interrogators are convinced that torture and coercion do more harm than good. Gelles has extensive experience with interrogations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo, and notes that NCIS had interrogated Muslim terror suspects well before 9/11, including investigations into the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000) and the 1983 bombing of a Marine barracks in Lebanon (see April 18-October 23, 1983).
'Rapport-Building' - The best way to extract reliable intelligence from a Muslim extremist, Gelles says, is through “rapport-building”—by engaging the suspect in conversations that play on his cultural sensitivities. Similar techniques worked on Japanese soldiers during the height of battles during World War II (see July 17, 1943). Gelles says he and others have identified patterns of questioning that can elicit accurate information from Islamist radicals, but refuses to discuss them specifically. “We do not believe—not just myself, but others who have to remain unnamed—that coercive methods with this adversary are… effective,” he says. “If the goal is to get ‘information,’ then using coercive techniques may be effective. But if the goal is to get reliable and accurate information, looking at this adversary, rapport-building is the best approach.”
Conflict between Experts, Pentagon Civilians - Gelles describes a sharp division between interrogation specialists such as himself, and civilian policymakers at the Pentagon. Many government specialists, including fellow psychologists, intelligence analysts, linguists, and interrogators who have experience extracting information from captured Islamist militants, agree with Gelles that coercion is not effective, but top civilians in the Office of the Secretary of Defense disagree. Coercive interrogations try to “vacuum up all the information you can and figure out later” what is true and what is not, he says. This method jams the system with false and misleading data. Gelles compares it to “coercive tactics leading to false confessions” by suspects in police custody. Many at the Pentagon and elsewhere mistake “rapport-building” techniques for softness or weakness. Just because those interrogations are not humiliating or physically painful, Gelles says, the techniques are not necessarily “soft.” Telling a detainee that he is a reprehensible murderer of innocents is perfectly acceptable, Gelles says: “Being respectful doesn’t mean you don’t confront, clarify, and challenge the detainee when he gives the appearance of being deceptive.” On the other hand, coercive techniques induce detainees to say anything to make the pain and discomfort stop. “Why would you terrify them with a dog?” Gelles asks, referring to one technique of threatening detainees with police dogs. “So they’ll tell you anything to get the dog out of the room?” Referring to shackling prisoners in “stress positions” for hours on end, Gelles adds: “I know there is a school of thought that believes [stress positions] are effective. In my experience, I’ve never seen it be of any value.” Innocent suspects will confess to imagined crimes just to stop the abuse, Gelles says.
Other Harmful Consequences - Gelles also notes that coercive techniques undermine the possibility of building rapport with the prisoner to possibly gain information from him. And, he says, unless the prisoner is either killed in custody or detained for life, eventually he will be released to tell the world of his captivity, damaging America’s credibility and moral authority. [Boston Globe, 3/31/2005; Savage, 2007, pp. 217-218]
An employee of the watchdog organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) finds an unclassified draft of a document on the Defense Department’s Web site. The document proposes holding suspected Iraqi insurgents without trial in the same way that suspected Taliban and al-Qaeda members have been imprisoned at Guantanamo and other US detention facilities. When HRW publicly denounces the proposal, the Defense Department takes down its entire electronic library of unclassified documents, including hundreds of unrelated papers and memos. When the Pentagon eventually restores the library to public view, many of the documents have been purged. [Savage, 2007, pp. 103-104]
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