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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teacher at a Cupertino, California public school, is prevented by school administrators from selecting passages from historical documents for his students that reinforce his belief that the US is a strictly Christian nation; in return, many media representatives accuse his school district of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in school textbooks to support his beliefs, Williams began giving his students selected passages from a number of historical documents, including William Penn’s “Frame of Government in Pennsylvania,” the Delaware State Constitution, George Washington’s prayer journal, and President Bush’s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
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
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
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]
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]
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]
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 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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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]
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
President Bush says in an interview, “torture is never acceptable, nor do we hand over people to countries that do torture.” [Grey, 2007, pp. 214, 360]
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]
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]
Fox News senior anchor Brit Hume and Fox analyst William Bennett both make the false claim that former President Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted to replace Social Security with private accounts. In fact, Roosevelt, who implemented Social Security, was in favor of “voluntary contributory annunities” to supplement Social Security benefits, but never proposed replacing Social Security with private money. Hume and Bennett both support President Bush’s plan to partially “privatize” Social Security; Bush himself has asserted, equally falsely, that Roosevelt supported privatization. On Fox’s political talk show Hannity and Colmes, Bennett tells viewers: “Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the guy who established Social Security, said that it would be good to have it replaced by private investment over time. Private investment would be the way to really carry this thing through.” That same evening, Hume tells his audience: “In a written statement to Congress in 1935, Roosevelt said that any Social Security plans should include, quote, ‘Voluntary contributory annuities, by which individual initiative can increase the annual amounts received in old age,’ adding that government funding, quote, ‘ought to ultimately be supplanted by self-supporting annuity plans.’” Hume fails to point out that Roosevelt was not talking about “supplant[ing]” Social Security with any “self-supporting annuity plans,” but instead was talking about a different fund that provided pension benefits to Americans too old (in 1935) to contribute payroll taxes to Social Security. In 1935, Edwin Witte, the director of the Committee on Economic Security, told Congress flatly that voluntary accounts were intended as a “separate undertaking” meant to “supplement” the compulsory system, not replace it. [Media Matters, 2/4/2005] Days before the Fox broadcasts, Roosevelt’s grandson James Roosevelt Jr., a former Social Security associate commissioner, noted that “Bush invoked the name of my grandfather… as part of his campaign to privatize Social Security,” and added, “The implication that FDR would support privatization of America’s greatest national program is an attempt to deceive the American people and an outrage.” [Boston Globe, 1/31/2005] Liberal pundit Al Franken calls on Hume to resign over his historical distortions; MSNBC host Keith Olbermann calls Hume’s statements “premeditated, historical fraud,” and Roosevelt Jr. says that “outrageous distortion… calls for a retraction, an apology, maybe even a resignation.” [Media Matters, 2/18/2005] Influential conservative blogger Glenn Reynolds will acknowledge that Roosevelt was not advocating for the privatization of Social Security, instead noting that Roosevelt’s plan “would have involved, essentially, a sort of government-supplied 401k plan.” [Glenn Reynolds, 2/4/2005]
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]
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).
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
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]
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).
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 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).
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
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]
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]
Rumors spread in the Arab-dominated western Iranian city of Ahwaz that the government is considering the forced migration of Arabs to Iran’s northern provinces. The rumors are based on a letter purportedly written by Iran’s vice president, Muhammad Ali Abtahi. [Al Jazeera, 4/17/2005; BBC, 4/19/2005] The Iranian government claims the letter was fabricated by “foreign agents,” and aimed at exploiting ethnic tensions to create civil unrest. [Xinhua News Agency (Beijing), 5/26/2005] The Popular Democratic Front of Ahwazi Arabs in Iran, however, insists the letter is authentic and represents the regime’s long-standing objective to forcibly relocate Arabs. The controversial letter results in clashes between police and ethnic Arabs in Ahwaz. Although Arabs dominate Ahwaz, they account for only three percent of Iran’s total population. [Al Jazeera, 4/17/2005; BBC, 4/19/2005]
The ‘Kill Bush’ T-shirt as sold on CafePress. [Source: WorldNetDaily (.com)]Rush Limbaugh’s monthly e-mail newsletter, the “Limbaugh Letter,” includes the charge that “mainstream Democrats” endorse calls to assassinate President Bush and for the suicide of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.
'Kill Bush' T-Shirts, Wishes that Bush Had Been Aborted - Limbaugh tells his readers, “Dingy Harry Reid [D-NV, the Senate Minority Leader] and those absolute wimps have nothing positive to offer anybody in this country. They’re doing nothing but trying to instill fear and loathing, forming coalitions (i.e. their new bosom buddies MoveOn.org) built on seething hatred and rage. That is why it was no real surprise when CafePress.com began selling a yellow T-shirt with a red gash and the slogan, in big words, “Kill Bush.” The whole message was, “For Gods [sic] Sake, Kill Bush, Save the United States and the Rest of the World.” This was the same website that earlier posted a T-shirt for sale with the message, “Dear Tom DeLay, Please Commit Suicide. Sincerely, Everyone.” The same left-wing inhumanity was on display last year when [Democratic Senator] Hillary Clinton spoke at the pro-abortion ‘March for Women’s Lives.‘… [P]lacards held by the marchers read: ‘If Only Barbara Bush Had Choice;’ ‘Barbara Bush Chose Poorly;’ and ‘The Pope’s Mother Had No Choice.’ As I said, no shocker. This is the mainstream of the Democratic Party and their wacko voters and supporters.” [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 177-178] (CafePress removed the “Kill Bush” shirt after receiving numerous complaints; after removing it, the online store noted that CafePress “is an automated service” and “[h]ate related materials are a violation of its terms of service…” [WorldNetDaily, 4/13/2005] Washington, DC, artist Christopher Goodwin created the Tom DeLay shirt and marketed it on CafePress. He removed the listing after a week, during which he was the only one to buy a shirt and he received numerous complaints about the shirt being in poor taste. But before removing the listing, his shirt was the subject of an article on the conservative Drudge Report, after which he received a torrent of angry e-mails—and six more shirt sales. [Washington City Paper, 4/15/2005] )
Exaggerating Differences, Drawing Extreme Conclusions - Authors Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella will later observe, “This is an in-group rhetoric seeking to reinforce the views of a like-minded audience eager to draw extreme conclusions about Democrats. The strategy capitalizes on tendencies scholars of in- and out-groups have repeatedly observed: that members of a group exaggerate their differences with out-groups, believing out-group members to be rather homogeneous and in-group members less so, and believing members of out-groups to be less human than those in the in-group. Studies also show that people in one group think that the attitudes of an opposed group are more extreme than they actually are…” Jamieson and Cappella argue that Limbaugh’s “in-group” of listeners and readers, often agitated by what the authors call “visceral” language and emotion, has less trouble believing that the “out-group,” Democrats, would solidly back such extremist calls for presidential assassinations and coerced suicides, than would a more disparate group of political observers. “Flooded by the evocative cascade,” they will write, “the reader is likely to grant the implications in the ambiguously referenced (Is Senator Clinton the object of the same left-wing inhumanity or the sentiments expressed in the placards at the rally?) bridging inference (“the same left-wing inhumanity”) and conclude that Hillary Clinton abetted, if she did not outright endorse, the notion that the incumbent president and the pope should have been aborted and the incumbent president killed. At the same time, the audience is unlikely to challenge the conclusion that the T-shirt statements reflect the Democratic mainstream… If these are the sentiments of the Democratic mainstream, then, of course, the Democratic Party is the home of ‘wacko voters and supporters.’” [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 177-178]
Entity Tags: CafePress (.com), Christopher Goodwin, Hillary Clinton, Barbara Bush, George W. Bush, Joseph N. Cappella, Tom DeLay, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, MoveOn (.org), Rush Limbaugh, Harry Reid
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism
The Bush administration announces plans to spend $3 million on supporting “the advancement of democracy and human rights” in Iran. The State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor says it expects to award between three and 12 grants ranging from $250,000 to $1 million to educational institutions, humanitarian groups, nongovernmental organizations, and individuals. [US Department of State, 4/8/2005; Associated Press, 4/11/2005] Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Mohammad Javad Zarif, says the plan is “a clear violation” of the 1981 Algiers Accords which prohibits the US from intervening “directly or indirectly, politically or militarily in Iran’s internal affairs.” [Islamic Republic News Agency, 4/11/2005]
Anti-abortion activist Eric Rudolph, who has pled guilty to bombing abortion clinics (see January 16, 1997 and January 29, 1998), a gay and lesbian nightclub (see February 21, 1997), and the 1996 Olympics (see July 27, 1996 and After and October 14, 1998) in a series of court proceedings, releases an 11-page “manifesto” that explains the rationale behind his bombing spree. In the document, which the Associated Press terms “[a] sometimes-rambling, sometimes-reflective” statement, Rudolph writes that he considers himself a “warrior” against abortion, which he calls murder, and the US government, which he charges with permitting the “slaughter” of “innocent babies.” Rudolph will receive four life sentences without parole in return for the prosecution removing the death penalty from consideration (see July 18, 2005). He has also alerted authorities to a large stash of explosives he created while hiding in the mountains of western North Carolina.
Abortion Providers, Lawmakers 'Legitimate Targets' in 'War' - The “holocaust” of abortion is his driving impulse, Rudolph writes in his statement. Anyone who supports or allows abortion, he writes, is an enemy deserving of death. “Because I believe that abortion is murder, I also believe that force is justified… in an attempt to stop it,” he writes, “whether these agents of the government are armed or otherwise they are legitimate targets in the war to end this holocaust.… Abortion is murder. And when the regime in Washington legalized, sanctioned, and legitimized this practice, they forfeited their legitimacy and moral authority to govern.”
Rationale for Bombing Olympics - Rudolph also writes that the Olympic bombing was envisioned as the first in a weeklong campaign of bombings designed to shut down the Olympics, held in Atlanta, and embarrass the US government as a result. He had hoped to use high-grade explosives to shut down the Atlanta power grid and force the termination of the Olympics, but was unable to procure the explosives, and calls the results of his bombing a “disaster.” He writes: “In the summer of 1996, the world converged upon Atlanta for the Olympic Games. Under the protection and auspices of the regime in Washington, millions of people came to celebrate the ideals of global socialism. Multinational corporations spent billions of dollars, and Washington organized an army of security to protect these best of all games. Even though the conception and purpose of the so-called Olympic movement is to promote the values of global socialism, as perfectly expressed in the song Imagine by John Lennon, which was the theme of the 1996 Games even though the purpose of the Olympics is to promote these despicable ideals, the purpose of the attack on July 27 was to confound, anger, and embarrass the Washington government in the eyes of the world for its abominable sanctioning of abortion on demand.”
Racist, Homophobic Views - In the document, Rudolph attacks homosexuality as an “aberrant” lifestyle, and blames the government for condoning it. He denies holding racist or anti-Semitic views [Associated Press, 4/13/2005; Associated Press, 4/14/2005; CNN, 4/19/2005] , though his ex-sister-in-law Deborah Rudolph told reporters that Rudolph believed abortion was part of a plot to undermine the white race; she said, “He felt like if woman continued to abort their white babies, that eventually the white race would become a minority instead of a majority.” Others have said that Rudolph told them he believed the Holocaust never occurred. [CNN, 6/15/2002]
'Worse to Him than Death' - After Rudolph’s guilty plea, Deborah Rudolph says of the prospects of his life in jail, “Knowing that he’s living under government control for the rest of his life, I think that’s worse to him than death.” [Associated Press, 4/13/2005] Rudolph, Prisoner No. 18282-058, will be incarcerated in a tiny cell in the Federal Correctional Complex in Florence, Colorado, colloquially known as the “Supermax” facility. Rudolph lives on “bomber’s row” along with Ted Kaczynski, the so-called “Unabomber” (see April 3, 1996), Islamist terrorist Ramzi Yousef (see February 7, 1995), “shoe bomber” Richard Reid (see December 22, 2001), and Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). After his imprisonment, he releases a statement that reads in part, “The talking heads on the news [will] opine that I am ‘finished,’ that I will ‘languish broken and unloved in the bowels of some supermax,’ but I say to you people that by the grace of God I am still here—a little bloodied, but emphatically unbowed.” [Orlando Weekly, 8/24/2006]
Gareth Peirce, who acted as solicitor for three of the men acquitted in the ricin plot trial (see April 8-12, 2004), says that “there was a great deal that this country was led to believe in that in part caused it to go to war on Iraq, erected on the basis of an alleged major conspiracy involving ricin.” He adds: “[W]ithin 48 hours, Porton Down knew that ricin had not been found. If enormous public concern and fear has been generated, then the responsibility clearly of the Government is to reassure people that it was in fact a false alarm, that no poisons were found. But at no stage has any public correction been made.” Kamal Bourgass’s lawyer, Michel Massih, dismisses the charges as “utter nonsense, complete and utter fantasy… one could simply buy weed killer or rat poison from a shop in Britain.” Bourgass received a life sentence for the murder of DC Stephen Oake (see June 29, 2004). Massih further states: “[I]t is around the time of the build-up to the war in the Middle East. You have a scenario which is almost begging for there to be something… then on January 8 this rubbish comes out. The lies Bourgass told the police were almost forced upon him… they were the lies of a seriously frightened man… fanciful, silly lies. Asked about a black bag discovered in the flat in which the recipes were hidden, Bourgass claimed he had found it in the street in Brixton. Asked why he had kept it, he replied ‘because I’m stupid.’ This was not a cunning plot; this man was knee-jerking.” Suggestions for Bourgass’s motives include poison forgery for hoax purposes and targeting of the Jewish community in north London. Although no motive was clearly established at trial, it was made clear that Bourgass had acted alone. [Guardian, 4/15/2004] Journalist Duncan Campbell of the Guardian, called as an expert witness during the trial, says of the affair: “[W]e have all been victims of this mass deception. I do not doubt that Bourgass would have contemplated causing harm if he was competent to do so. But he was an Islamist yobbo on his own, not an al-Qaeda-trained superterrorist. An ASBO [Anti-Social Behavior Order] might be appropriate.” [Guardian, 4/14/2005]
The White House attempts to explain the apparently illegal refusal to allow citizens who may disagree with President Bush to attend his rallies and public events (see February 3, 2005, March 22, 2005, and March 21, 2005) by alleging that bands of liberal protesters are conspiring to disrupt those events. “There is an active campaign underway to try and disrupt and disturb his events in hopes of undermining his objective of fixing Social Security,” says White House spokesman Trent Duffy, referring to Bush’s recent swing through the US to whip up public support for his plans to privatize Social Security. “If there is evidence there are people planning to disrupt the president at an event, then they have the right to exclude those people from those events.” Others disagree. Representative Marilyn Musgrove (R-CO) says through a spokesman: “He is the president, and regardless of affiliation, everybody should have the opportunity to go and see the president. It shouldn’t be the job of anybody to make sure the crowd is 100 percent sympathetic.” White House officials counter that all they are doing is attempting to prevent threats and disruptions. If they believe an individual will attempt to disrupt an event, they say, they will have that person removed before anything occurs. Linda Coates, a Fargo, North Dakota city commissioner who was prevented from attending a February Bush rally when her name turned up on a “blacklist” maintained by the White House, says the Bush administration is going far beyond protecting Bush from hecklers and security threats. “These events are clearly so carefully crafted that they can’t be considered ‘open forums’ anyway,” Coates says. “They are pep rallies. This is a new thing in terms of having an administration that tries to have absolute tight control on public perception of events and of reality.” American Enterprise Institute political analyst John Fortier says the tightly controlled events are part of the Bush administration’s “permanent campaign.” He adds: “I don’t know if it is working, but I don’t fault it too much that these rallies aren’t open forums for debate. When the president goes out to the country, it’s meant to be on his turf.” Diana DeGette (D-CO) says that the strategy isn’t working. “In politics, the best way to win support for a controversial policy is to sell it to people who are still undecided,” she says. “It appears that this White House has so little confidence in the president’s Social Security privatization plan, however, that administration officials are not allowing even undecided Americans into the president’s events.” Duffy denies that Democrats or other possible Bush critics are denied access to Bush’s rallies and events, but refuses to give details about how citizens are screened or chosen to ask questions of Bush during these events. Duffy does say: “There are steps being taken to ensure the president has a degree of order at these events. I think the president of the United States deserves to have a level of respect when he holds town meetings or any other forum.” In previous events, prospective attendees were:
turned away for wearing T-shirts supporting Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry;
pressured to volunteer for the 2004 Bush presidential campaign;
told to fill out questionnaires asking for names, addresses, Social Security numbers, and pledges of support for the president;
preemptively banned due to membership of Democratic organizations;
and quizzed as to their support for Bush and his policies.
Mark Udall (D-CO) says through a spokesman: “The president would be better served if he were to listen to dissenting views at these town hall meetings. It would probably help him make the changes he needed to better his policy on Social Security.” [Fox News, 4/22/2005]
While Christopher Hill, the Bush administration’s new chief envoy to Southeast Asia, is overseas trying to shore up relations with North Korea, President Bush undermines Hill by publicly insulting North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il. Kim “is a dangerous person,” Bush says. “He’s a man who starves his people. He’s got huge concentration camps. And… there is concern about his capacity to deliver a nuclear weapon. We don’t know if he can or not, but I think it’s best, when you’re dealing with a tyrant like Kim Jong Il, to assume he can.” In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will note that while Bush’s allegations against Kim are largely true, to publicly insult him is to make it that much more difficult to persuade the dictator to give up his nuclear weapons (see August 2003). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 243]
Bill James. [Source: Michael-in-Norfolk (.com)]Bill James, a Mecklenburg County (North Carolina) commissioner, sends a fiery email in response to fellow commissioners’ announcement that they would advocate for the county’s provision of domestic partner benefits for gay couples. James, a Republican, writes in part: “You really think that a pool of people (homosexuals) where 45 percent of them eat feces from the rear end of another male is ‘normal’? If you do, you are frankly nuts. A lifestyle where one of their past times is buying gerbils and hamsters from the pet store and cramming them up their rears in an activity called feltching? A group of people who like to urinate on their partners and call them ‘golden showers’? Where one of the honored members of the Gay Alliance is an organization called the ‘Man-Boy Love Association’ that promotes sex with underage boys? That behavior is worthy of protection? That behavior is worthy to be taught in our schools? To our children? You are one sick ‘Independent, white, married-heterosexual, Presbyterian’ if you do.” James cites what he says are “unimpeachable” statistics “proving” his claims, and cites Robert D. Raiford, a news reader and editorial commentator on the local comedy morning radio show John-Boy and Billy, as the source of the statistics. He goes on to claim that the US Centers for Disease Control in 1972 found that 50 percent of male homosexuals have had over 500 different sexual partners, and cites other statistics that he says proves 73 percent of male homosexuals are pedophiles, and 15 percent practice bestiality. Progressive blogger Pam Spaulding reprints the email the next day, and states that James’s “statistics” are inaccurate. [Pam Spaulding, 4/30/2005] James will not apologize for his comments, and in 2009 will insult another commissioner over the loss of her son to AIDS (see December 17, 2009).
President and Mrs. Bush enjoy a laugh at the Correspondents’ Dinner. [Source: MSNBC]The highlight of the annual White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner (an annual fete where, as author and media critic Frank Rich will write, “reporters suck up to people in power [and] clamor to rub shoulders with… C-list celebrities”) is the scripted comedy stylings of First Lady Laura Bush. The media will report that Mrs. Bush “steals the show” with her jibes at her husband. She “interrupts” President Bush as he is beginning his address to the assemblage; Rich will write that her move “prompt[s] the ballroom full of reporters to leap to their feet and erupt in a roar of sycophancy like partisan hacks at a political convention.” She tells a risque joke involving her husband, a horse, and masturbation, receiving roars of adulation. The entire act is carefully scripted and staged, but reporters gush over it in the next morning’s news, even as they acknowledge it for the public relations stunt it truly is. “We truly saw the real Laura Bush,” one reporter writes. Others write of Mrs. Bush’s “most humanizing populist riff, [her] affection for the runaway new television hit Desperate Housewives,” but few note that her press secretary later acknowledged that Mrs. Bush had never actually seen an episode. Rich wonders at the reception such a performance, featuring off-color masturbation jokes and lies about television-watching habits, might have received from conservative journalists had the performer been named Hillary Clinton. “The press corps’ eagerness to facilitate and serve as dress extras in what amounted to an administration promotional video,” Rich will write, “was a metaphor for just how much the reality-based community had been co-opted by Bush’s own reality over the past four years.” [Associated Press, 5/1/2005; Rich, 2006, pp. 174-175]
Jordanian journalist Fuad Hussein publishes a book that extensively quotes Saif al-Adel, who is believed to be al-Qaeda’s current military commander and possibly lives in Iran (see Spring 2002). Al-Adel claims: “Abu Musab [al-Zarqawi] and his Jordanian and Palestinian comrades opted to go to Iraq.… Our expectations of the situation indicated that the Americans would inevitably make a mistake and invade Iraq sooner or later. Such an invasion would aim at overthrowing the regime. Therefore, we should play an important role in the confrontation and resistance. Contrary to what the Americans frequently reiterated, al-Qaeda did not have any relationship with Saddam Hussein or his regime. We had to draw up a plan to enter Iraq through the north that was not under the control of [Hussein’s] regime. We would then spread south to the areas of our fraternal Sunni brothers. The fraternal brothers of the Ansar al-Islam expressed their willingness to offer assistance to help us achieve this goal.” [Bergen, 2006, pp. 120, 361-362] He says “the ultimate objective was to prompt” the US “to come out of its hole” and take direct military action in an Islamic country. “What we had wished for actually happened. It was crowned by the announcement of Bush Jr. of his crusade against Islam and Muslims everywhere.” [New York Times Magazine, 9/11/2005] Al-Adel seems to have served as a liaison between al-Qaeda and al-Zarqawi, and mentions elsewhere in the book that his goal was not “full allegiance” from al-Zarqawi’s group, but “coordination and cooperation” to achieve joint objectives. [Bergen, 2006, pp. 120, 353-354]
Congress passes a law clarifying and expanding its earlier ban on government propaganda. The new law bans the use of federal money to produce any news story (see March 2005) that does not openly acknowledge the government’s role in producing and slanting that story. The new law dramatically restricts the ability of the federal government to produce and disseminate fake news stories (VNRs—see March 15, 2004 and May 19, 2004) in local news broadcasts. [Savage, 2007, pp. 173]
The Evergreen Freedom Foundation, a conservative activist organization in Washington state, sends a three-page letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales urging the Justice Department to investigate US Attorney John McKay (see October 24, 2001) for misconduct. The foundation charges that McKay “has committed malfeasance by systematically refusing to act on evidence of election fraud delivered to his office.” The foundation, along with several Republican leaders in Washington state, say that McKay willfully ignored complaints of election fraud in the hotly contested 2004 governor’s race between Christine Gregoire (D-WA) and Dino Rossi (R-WA—see December 23, 2004 - January 12, 2005). McKay opened an investigation, but did not empanel a grand jury to investigate further (see January 4, 2005, Late 2004 or Early 2005 and Late 2004). McKay will later say that his office found no grounds for the voter fraud allegations: “We had lots of instances of incompetent handling of an election. What we didn’t find was a criminal act.” The director of that group’s voter integrity project, Jonathan Bechtle, later says that he believes his group’s complaint was forwarded to the Justice Department office that oversees US Attorneys, but will say, “I couldn’t get any information out of them as to the conclusion.” [Washington Post, 3/19/2007; Iglesias and Seay, 5/2008, pp. 133]
Outgoing Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith, one of the key architects of the Iraq occupation, is bemused by the fact that, despite his predictions and those of his neoconservative colleagues, Iraq is teetering on the edge of all-out civil war. He has come under fire from both political enemies and former supporters, with Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) accusing him of deceiving both the White House and Congress, and fellow neoconservative William Kristol accusing him of “being an agent of” disgraced Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (see November 6-December 18, 2006). Feith defends the invasion of Iraq, calling it “an operation to prevent the next, as it were, 9/11,” and noting that the failure to find WMD is essentially irrelevant to the justification for the war. “There’s a certain revisionism in people looking back and identifying the main intelligence error [the assumption of stockpiles] and then saying that our entire policy was built on that error.” Feith is apparently ignoring the fact that the administration’s arguments for invading Iraq—including many of his own assertions—were built almost entirely on the “error” of the Iraqi WMD threat (see July 30, 2001, Summer 2001, September 11, 2001-March 17, 2003, Shortly After September 11, 2001, September 14, 2001, September 19-20, 2001, September 20, 2001, October 14, 2001, November 14, 2001, 2002, 2002-March 2003, February 2002, Summer 2002, August 26, 2002, September 3, 2002, September 4, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 8, 2002, September 10, 2002, September 12, 2002, Late September 2002, September 19, 2002, September 24, 2002, September 24, 2002, September 28, 2002, October 7, 2002, December 3, 2002, December 12, 2002, January 9, 2003, February 3, 2003, February 5, 2003, February 8, 2003, March 22, 2003, and March 23, 2003, among others).
Cultural Understanding Did Not Lead to Success - Feith says he is not sure why what he describes as his deep understanding of Iraqi culture did not lead to accurate predictions of the welcome the US would receive from the Iraqi people (see November 18-19, 2001, 2002-2003, September 9, 2002, and October 11, 2002). “There’s a paradox I’ve never been able to work out,” he says. “It helps to be deeply knowledgeable about an area—to know the people, to know the language, to know the history, the culture, the literature. But it is not a guarantee that you will have the right strategy or policy as a matter of statecraft for dealing with that area. You see, the great experts in certain areas sometimes get it fundamentally wrong.” Who got it right? President Bush, he says. “[E]xpertise is a very good thing, but it is not the same thing as sound judgment regarding strategy and policy. George W. Bush has more insight, because of his knowledge of human beings and his sense of history, about the motive force, the craving for freedom and participation in self-rule, than do many of the language experts and history experts and culture experts.”
'Flowers in Their Minds' - When a reporter notes that Iraqis had not, as promised, greeted American soldiers with flowers, Feith responds that they were still too intimidated by their fear of the overthrown Hussein regime to physically express their gratitude. “But,” he says, “they had flowers in their minds.” [New Yorker, 5/9/2005; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 228-229]
Former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge admits to further problems with the terror alert system. In defense of his administration of the Department of Homeland Security, he says that Administration decisions to raise the threat level were sometimes unjustified by evidence and unsupported by his department. “More often than not we were the least inclined to raise it,” says Ridge. “Sometimes we disagreed with the intelligence assessment. Sometimes we thought even if the intelligence was good, you don’t necessarily put the country on [alert].… There were times when some people were really aggressive about raising it, and we said, for that?” Ridge had previously disagreed with Attorney General John Ashcroft on the communication of threat information to the public. These comments mark the first time that dissension among the Homeland Security Advisory Council, a panel made up of business representatives, academic leaders, and security experts appointed by President Bush, is discussed with the press. Reform of the terror alert system is under review by current Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff. Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse says “improvements and adjustments” may be announced within the next few months. [USA Today, 5/10/2005] As of 2007, no such announcement have been made.
The House of Representatives, as part of its trimming of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)‘s proposed $31.8 billion appropriations for 2006, cuts the $136,000 allocated for a liaison to Hollywood. The DHS had planned to pay former actress Bobbie Faye Ferguson, a veteran of such television shows as The Dukes of Hazzard and Designing Women, to work with Hollywood producers and scriptwriters to generate films and television shows that would portray the department in a positive light (see March 8, 2005). DHS spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said of Ferguson’s position, “This is a similar function that numerous other federal agencies possess, and is necessary in helping those in multimedia make their projects as accurate as possible.” One example Roehrkasse gave was the propensity for some movies to inaccurately refer to the Immigration and Nationalization Service (INS), which is now part of DHS. But Marilyn Musgrave (R-CO) is unconvinced by Roerhkasse’s arguments, noting that the DHS should not be spending its money on Hollywood projects. “We should direct this money to actually help the people who respond and save lives,” she says. “The people of this country have high expectations about their security after being violated on 9/11.” Musgrave successfully proposes that the salary for Ferguson be redirected to funding state and local disaster teams. [Salon, 5/18/2005]
President Bush, on a tour to promote his administration’s proposals to privatize Social Security, tells an audience in Greece, New York, “See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda.” [White House, 5/24/2005] Washington Post reporter Dan Froomkin calls the line “a revealing ad-lib.” [Washington Post, 5/25/2005] Author and media critic Frank Rich later notes that “catapulting the propaganda” does not have the desired effect in this instance: “Support for his plan actually declined as his tour played out, and it was dead on arrival in a Congress his party controlled.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 197]
The 2005 NPT Review Conference, held once every five years to review and extend the implementation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (see July 1, 1968), is an unusually contentious affair, and the US is at the center of the imbroglio. After the 2000 NPT Review Conference (see Late May, 2000), the US, under George W. Bush, refused to join in calls to implement the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT—see September 10, 1996). The US’s recalcitrance is, if anything, magnified five years later. Many representatives of the NPT signatories focus their ire upon the US, even though two signatories, Iran and North Korea, are, in author J. Peter Scoblic’s words, “violating either the spirit or the letter of the treaty” in developing their own nuclear weapons. Other nations send their foreign ministers to the conference, and in turn the US could have been expected to send Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. (In 1995 and 2000, the US had sent, respectively, Vice President Al Gore and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to represent the US.) Instead, the US sends State Department functionary Stephen Rademaker. Not only is Rademaker’s lesser rank a studied insult to the conference, Rademaker himself is an ardent conservative and a protege of arms control opponent John Bolton. Rademaker enters the conference prepared to use the forum to browbeat Iran and North Korea; instead, he finds himself defending the US’s intransigence regarding the CTBT. The New Agenda Coalition, made up of Brazil, Egypt, Ireland, Mexico, South Africa, Sweden, and New Zealand—all allies of the US—focuses on “the troubling development that some nuclear-weapon states are researching or even planning to develop new or significantly modify existing warheads,” a Bush administration priority (see May 1, 2001 and December 13, 2001). “These actions have the potential to create the conditions for a new nuclear arms race.” Even Japan, usually a solid US ally, says that all nuclear-armed states should take “further steps toward nuclear disarmament.” Canada, the closest of US allies both in policy and geography, is more blunt, with its representative saying, “If governments simply ignore or discard commitments whenever they prove inconvenient, we will never build an edifice of international cooperation and confidence in the security realm.” And outside the conference, former British Foreign Minister Robin Cook lambasts the US in an op-ed entitled “America’s Broken Unclear Promises Endanger Us All,” blasting the Bush administration for its belief that “obligations under the nonproliferation treaty are mandatory for other nations and voluntary for the US.” For his part, Rademaker says just before the conference, “We are not approaching this review conference from the cynical perspective of, we are going to toss a few crumbs to the rest of the world, and, by doing that, try to buy goodwill or bribe countries into agreeing to the agenda that we think they should focus on rather than some other agenda.” In 2008, Scoblic will interpret Rademaker’s statement: “In other words, the administration was not going to engage in diplomacy even if it would encourage other states to see things our way—which only meant that it was quite certain they never would.” [United Nations, 5/2005; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 277-280]
’Life rune’ flag flown by National Vanguard. [Source: Kevin Alfred Strom]An analysis by a progressive watchdog organization, the Southern Poverty Law Center, concludes that the neo-Nazi National Alliance is moribund, ineffective, and being fatally riven by internal power struggles. Once a leading organization of the neo-Nazi, white supremacist right, the Alliance has, the SPLC reports, “lost almost all of its key leaders [and] most of its income and its prestige. Its chairman recently stepped down under fire. And, with a hemorrhage of followers flowing into other groups, the Alliance’s dues-paying membership has plunged to under 200 people, less than a seventh its size just three years ago.”
Death of Founder Triggered Crisis - The problems began in July 2002 when the National Alliance’s founder and leader William Pierce (see 1970-1974 and 1978) died unexpectedly (see July 23, 2002). Pierce was replaced by Erich Gliebe. Gliebe was disliked almost from the time he took over the organization, and further alienated members by inviting strippers to pose for an Alliance calendar, paying himself far more than other staffers, routinely lying to his followers, and wrecking businesses that the organization used to help fund it.
Parade of Charges and Resignations - In August 2004, David Pringle, the organization’s popular membership coordinator, resigned after releasing an essay that charged Gliebe and Alliance COO Shaun Walker of mismanagement and financial fraud. “The days of Erich Josef Gliebe telling people to ‘keep quiet’ about internal problems because ‘our enemies’ might exploit the situation are over,” Pringle wrote. “In the last year, ‘our enemies’ have not made disastrous decisions that have cost us most of our cash savings. Our leaders have. Our enemies have not caused us to lose more than half of our rank-and-file membership and almost two thirds of our organizational revenue in the last year. Our leaders have.” Gliebe and Walker were derided by Alliance members, who called then the “Dues Brothers” and accused them of everything from wasting Alliance money to outright theft. In November 2004, almost the entire North Carolina chapter, one of the Alliance’s strongest contingents, quit en masse. In December 2004 the coordinator of a Washington State chapter quit, calling the Alliance’s leadership “unethical.” In January 2005, the coordinator of a Tennessee unit quit, saying he had “lost faith” in the Alliance. Members of a New Jersey chapter lambasted Gliebe when he addressed their unit, accusing him of consorting with former Playboy model and lap dancer Erika Snyder and questioning his “moral character” (a similar controversy plagued another white supremacist organization, Aryan Nations, when its aging leader, Richard Butler, was found to have been “consorting” with a Latina porn star—see November 2003). The Alliance promptly ejected two prominent members, Robert Minnerly and Internet radio host Hal Turner, who led the questioning of Gliebe. In April 2005, former Alliance member Jamie Kelso, who is well connected in the white supremacist community (see March 1995), posted on the Internet, “The revolt against misrule by two people at the top that began when David Pringle resigned in protest… has now expanded to what must be over 90 percent of us.”
Power Struggle - Kelso’s words were given credence when on April 11, Gliebe and Walker cancelled the organization’s semi-annual leadership conference after learning that a prominent member, probably Alliance radio host Kevin Alfred Strom, was planning on publicly confronting Gliebe during the conference. Three days later, Strom transferred ownership of the Web site of the Alliance’s National Vanguard Books to Palladian Books in Virginia, a firm owned by Strom and his wife. Strom was ejected from the Alliance two days later, followed by a number of other prominent Alliance leaders, including April Gaede, whose daughters comprise the neo-Nazi rock band “Prussian Blue.” Pringle wrote on April 16, “At this point, every single NA unit is in disarray and open revolt.” A day later, most of the Cincinnati unit announced that it would no longer pay dues to the national headquarters, and on April 18, a large group of “rebels” published a “historic declaration” criticizing Gliebe and Walker, demanding Walker’s demotion and asking Gliebe to give up ownership of several of the Alliance’s enterprises and put them in the hands of an expanded board. The “rebels” included Strom and 140 key activists and unit members (by April’s end, that number swelled to over 230). Gliebe responded by dissolving the entire executive board, calling it a “springboard” for a “power play” by his enemies. On April 24, Gliebe accused Strom and others of attempting a “coup” against him and of targeting him with what he called “a massive smear campaign” orchestrated by “our enemies.” A day later, Gliebe stepped down as chairman “to devote more time to family matters,” leaving Walker as de factor chairman of the Alliance. Strom had already announced the formation of a rival organization, the National Vanguard, to be run by himself and other former Alliance members.
National Vanguard, Possible Reorganization - By June 2005, National Vanguard had formed some 15 chapters around the country, but some knowledgeable observers say Strom is too interested in money and lacking in leadership. Gliebe still controls the Alliance’s Resistance Records (see Late 1993), the organization’s West Virginia compound, and other assets, and some efforts to reorganize the Alliance are apparently underway. The SPLC concludes: “What is certain is that the Alliance, for the most part, is a hollow shell. It has lost almost all its well-known leaders, and its prestige has never been lower. Its moneymaking operations, National Vanguard Books and Resistance Records, are no longer making a profit.” One Internet forum poster may have summed the entire situation up, the SPLC reports, in saying: “Gliebe can’t kill the NA. It’s already dead.” [Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2005]
Entity Tags: David Pringle, Richard Girnt Butler, Aryan Nations, Shaun Walker, Southern Poverty Law Center, William Luther Pierce, Resistance Records, April Gaede, Robert Minnerly, National Vanguard, Erich Josef Gliebe, National Vanguard Books, Erika Snyder, Palladian Books, Jamie Kelso, Kevin Alfred Strom, National Alliance, Harold Charles (“Hal”) Turner
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism
The virulently anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After) begins picketing the funerals of American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, displaying signs such as “God Hates Fags” and “Fag Navy” that insult both homosexuals and soldiers. The church says that God is punishing America for tolerating homosexuality and persecuting the church. The church even claims that God chose to use improvised explosive devices—IEDs—to kill American soldiers because of an August 1995 attack on the WBC compound by someone wielding a small explosive device. Fred Phelps, the leader of the WBC, tells Fox News: “God is visiting the sins upon America by killing their kids with IEDs… and the more the merrier. Seventeen hundred so far, to 17,000. We will be ecstatic about [further deaths].” The first funeral picketed by the WBC is that of Corporal Carrie French of Boise, Idaho, who was killed on June 5 in Iraq. Phelps says of French and other slain soldiers, “Our attitude toward what’s happening with the war is [that] the Lord is punishing this evil nation for abandoning all moral imperatives that are worth a dime.” In 2006, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) will observe: “As a result of his amazing vitriol, Phelps has managed to do something few others have—unite Americans from the far right all the way over to the liberal left. Several anti-gay organizations have wondered aloud if he was some kind of plant designed to sully their cause. Be that as it may, the funeral picketing has prompted a number of patriotic groups to create motorcycle escorts to shield mourners from the Phelps crew, and to drown out their anti-gay chants with their engines. Numerous municipalities are weighing laws to prevent funeral pickets. But nothing has stopped Phelps, whose message, ‘Thank God for Dead Soldiers,’ remains unchanged.” [Southern Poverty Law Center, 4/2006; Global Oneness, 2011; Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012] In 2006, Phelps will say, “Military funerals are pagan orgies of idolatrous blasphemy where they pray to the dunghill gods of Sodom and play taps to a fallen fool.” [Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012]
On the heels of a speech by President Bush that stated the US government was obtaining court authorizations for each of its domestic surveillance activities (see June 9, 2005), the White House releases a “fact sheet” making the government’s case for its compliance with the law and the efficacy of its actions in “safeguarding our homeland.” The sheet claims: “The judicial branch has a strong oversight role in the application of the Patriot Act. Law enforcement officers must seek a federal judge’s permission to wiretap a foreign terrorist’s phone, track his calls, or search his property. These strict standards are fully consistent with the Constitution. Congress also oversees the application of the Patriot Act, and in more than three years there has not been a single verified abuse.” [White House, 6/9/2005] Bush made almost identical claims a year before (see April 19-20, 2004). Former AT&T senior technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009 and May 2004), who helped install the equipment used by the National Security Agency (NSA) and his firm to intercept foreign and domestic Internet communications (see January 16, 2004), will later say that Bush’s insistence that the administration gets court orders before wiretapping communications is false. AT&T, on behalf of the NSA, was monitoring “billions of messages a second,” Klein will write, all without court orders. [Klein, 2009, pp. 47-48]
In a Columbus, Ohio, speech praising the USA Patriot Act (see October 26, 2001), President Bush claims that when US government agencies wiretap anyone’s phones or email communications, they do so with a court order. Bush says: “Before the Patriot Act, agents could use wiretaps to investigate a person committing mail fraud, but not to investigate a foreign terrorist. The Patriot Act corrected all these pointless double standards—and America is safer as a result. One tool that has been especially important to law enforcement is called a roving wiretap. Roving wiretaps allow investigators to follow suspects who frequently change their means of communications. These wiretaps must be approved by a judge, and they have been used for years to catch drug dealers and other criminals. Yet, before the Patriot Act, agents investigating terrorists had to get a separate authorization for each phone they wanted to tap. That means terrorists could elude law enforcement by simply purchasing a new cell phone. The Patriot Act fixed the problem by allowing terrorism investigators to use the same wiretaps that were already being using against drug kingpins and mob bosses. The theory here is straightforward: If we have good tools to fight street crime and fraud, law enforcement should have the same tools to fight terrorism.” [White House, 6/9/2005] Bush made almost identical claims a year ago (see April 19-20, 2004). The same day as Bush makes his speech, the White House issues a fact sheet making the same claims (see June 9, 2005). Former AT&T senior technician Mark Klein (see July 7, 2009 and May 2004), who helped install the equipment used by the National Security Agency (NSA) and his firm to intercept foreign and domestic Internet communications (see January 16, 2004), will later say that Bush’s insistence that the administration gets court orders before wiretapping communications is false. AT&T, on behalf of the NSA, was monitoring “billions of messages a second,” Klein will write, all without court orders. [Klein, 2009, pp. 47-48]
Jed Babbin. [Source: The Intelligence Summit]Three days before a group of military analysts are taken to Guantanamo by the Pentagon for an orchestrated “tour” (see June 24-25, 2005), one planning e-mail from Pentagon official Dallas Lawrence gives weight to the belief that the tour was arranged to prepare the analysts to deliver scripted talking points before the cameras (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Lawrence notes the importance of scheduling the Guantanamo trip to ensure that an analyst for the American Spectator, Jed Babbin, can participate: “He is hosting a number of radio shows this summer. I would have to think he would have every member of Congress on to talk about their trip together—a definite plus for us looking to expand the echo chamber.” Babbin will respond with a Spectator article lambasting Democratic critics of Guantanamo, and will be given an invitation to appear on Bill O’Reilly’s Fox News talk show. Pentagon public relations official Lawrence Di Rita is quite pleased by Babbin’s work, and in an e-mail to other Pentagon officials, says: “We really should try to help [Babbin]. He is consistently solid and helpful.” [Salon, 5/9/2008]
CNN analyst Donald Shepperd. [Source: New York Times]With criticism of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility reaching new heights, new allegations of abuse from UN human rights experts, Amnesty International receiving plenty of media exposure for calling the facility “the gulag of our times” (see May 25, 2005), and many calling for the facility’s immediate closure, the Pentagon counters by launching the latest in its propaganda counteroffensive designed to offset and blunt such criticism (see April 20, 2008). The Pentagon and White House’s communications experts place a select group of around ten retired military officers, all who regularly appear on network and cable news broadcasts as “independent military analysts,” on a jet usually used by Vice President Dick Cheney, and fly them to Cuba for a carefully orchestrated tour of the facility. [New York Times, 4/20/2008]
A Four-Hour Tour - During the three-hour flight from Andrews Air Force Base to Cuba, the analysts are given several briefings by various Pentagon officials. After landing, but before being taken to the detention facility, they are given another 90-minute briefing. The analysts spend 50 minutes lunching with some of the soldiers on base, then begin their tour. They spend less than 90 minutes viewing the main part of the Guantanamo facility, Camp Delta; in that time, they watch an interrogation, look at an unoccupied cellblock, and visit the camp hospital. They spend ten minutes at Camp V and 35 minutes at Camp X-Ray. After less than four hours in Guantanamo’s detention facilities, they depart for Washington, DC. [Salon, 5/9/2008] This is the first of six such excursions, all designed to prepare the analysts for defending the administration’s point of view and counter the perception that Guantanamo is a haven for abusive treatment of prisoners. During the flight to the facility, during the tour, and during the return flight, Pentagon officials hammer home the message they want the analysts to spread: how much money has been spent on improving the facility, how much abuse the guards have endured, and the extensive rights and privileges granted to the detainees.
Producing Results - The analysts provide the desired results. All ten immediately appear on television and radio broadcasts, denouncing Amnesty International, challenging calls to close the facility, and assuring listeners that the detainees are being treated humanely. Donald Shepperd, a retired Air Force general, tells CNN just hours after returning from Guantanamo, “The impressions that you’re getting from the media and from the various pronouncements being made by people who have not been here in my opinion are totally false.” The next morning, retired Army General Montgomery Meigs appears on NBC’s flagship morning show, Today, and says: “There’s been over $100 million of new construction [at Guantanamo]. The place is very professionally run.” Transcripts of the analysts’ appearances are quickly circulated among senior White House and Pentagon officials, and cited as evidence that the Bush administration is winning the battle for public opinion. [New York Times, 4/20/2008]
Donald Shepperd, on the June 24 CNN broadcast. [Source: CNN]Within hours of returning from a Pentagon-sponsored “fact-finding” trip to the Guantanamo detention facility (see June 24-25, 2005), CNN military analyst Don Shepperd, as planned (see June 25, 2005), extolls the virtues of the Pentagon’s handling of detainees on a lineup of CNN news broadcasts. As per his most recent briefing, he does not mention the case of Mohammed al-Khatani (see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003), who has suffered extensive brutality at the hands of his captors. Instead, his “analyses” are so uniformly laudatory that, as commentator Glenn Greenwald will observe, they are “exactly what it would have been had [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld himself written the script.” After returning from his half-day visit, he participates in a live telephone interview with CNN anchor Betty Nguyen. He opens with the observation: “I tell you, every American should have a chance to see what our group saw today. The impressions that you’re getting from the media and from the various pronouncements being made by people who have not been here, in my opinion, are totally false. What we’re seeing is a modern prison system of dedicated people, interrogators and analysts that know what they are doing. And people being very, very well-treated. We’ve had a chance to tour the facility, to talk to the guards, to talk to the interrogators and analysts. We’ve had a chance to eat what the prisoners eat. We’ve seen people being interrogated. And it’s nothing like the impression that we’re getting from the media. People need to see this, Betty.… I have been in prisons and I have been in jails in the United States, and this is by far the most professionally-run and dedicated force I’ve ever seen in any correctional institution anywhere.” Shepperd watched an interrogation, and he describes it thusly: “[T]hey’re basically asking questions. They just ask the same questions over a long period of time. They get information about the person’s family, where they’re from, other people they knew. All the type of things that you would want in any kind of criminal investigation. And these were all very cordial, very professional. There was laughing in two of them that we…” Nguyen interrupts to ask, “Laughing in an interrogation?” and Shepperd replies: “In the two of them that we watched. Yes, indeed. It’s not—it’s not like the impression that you and I have of what goes on in an interrogation, where you bend people’s arms and mistreat people. They’re trying to establish a firm professional relationship where they have respect for each other and can talk to each other. And yes, there were laughing and humor going on in a couple of these things. And I’m talking about a remark made where someone will smirk or laugh or chuckle.” In another CNN interview three days later, Shepperd reiterates and expands upon his initial remarks, and says of the detainees: “[W]e have really gotten a lot of information to prevent attacks in this country and in other countries with the information they’re getting from these people. And it’s still valuable.” CNN does not tell its viewers that Shepperd is president of The Shepperd Group, a defense lobbying and consulting firm. [CNN, 6/24/2005; Salon, 5/9/2008]
Retired Air Force General Donald Shepperd, a CNN news analyst, returns from a “fact-finding” trip to Guantanamo Bay (see June 24-25, 2005) prepared to provide Pentagon talking points to CNN audiences. Shepperd is remarkably candid about his willingness to serve as a Pentagon propagandist, writing in a “trip report” he files with his handlers, “Did we drink the ‘Government Kool-Aid?’—of course, and that was the purpose of the trip.” He acknowledges that “a one day visit does not an expert make” (Shepperd and his fellow analysts spent less than four hours touring the entire facility, all in the company of Pentagon officials), and notes that “the government was obviously going to put its best foot forward to get out its message.” He adds that “former military visitors are more likely to agree with government views than a more appropriately skeptical press.” Shepperd also sends an e-mail to Pentagon officials praising the trip and asking them to “let me know if I can help you.” He signs the e-mail, “Don Shepperd (CNN military analyst).” Shepperd’s e-mail is forwarded to Larry Di Rita, a top public relations aide to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Di Rita’s reply shows just how much control the Pentagon wields over the analysts. Di Rita replies, “OK, but let’s get him briefed on al-Khatani so he doesn’t go too far on that one.” Di Rita is referring to detainee Mohammed al-Khatani (see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003), who had been subjected to particularly brutal treatment. Shepperd will, as planned, praise the Guantanamo detainee program on CNN in the days and hours following his visit to the facility (see June 24-25, 2005). [Salon, 5/9/2008] He will say in May 2008: “Our message to them as analysts was, ‘Look, you got to get the importance of this war out to the American people.’ The important message is, this is a forward strategy, it is better to fight the war in Iraq than it is a war on American soil.” [PBS, 5/1/2008]
Portion of Pentagon e-mail discussing Meigs/Jacobs strategy session. [Source: Salon] (click image to enlarge)Two supposedly “independent” military analysts who are participating in the Pentagon’s Iraq propaganda campaign (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) take part in Pentagon-hosted media strategy sessions to maximize the efficacy of the Pentagon’s propaganda onslaught regarding the Guantanamo Bay detention facility (see July 5, 2005). Retired General Montgomery Meigs and retired Colonel Jack Jacobs (who will be praised in 2008 by NBC’s Brian Williams for his independence—see April 29, 2008) take part in a session that is documented in an internal Pentagon e-mail. Suggestions in the Jacobs/Meigs session include providing information and photographs to all network presidents; not scheduling prime-time press conferences for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld; only make Rumsfeld available to the press after priming reporters with information and photos, and ensuring that press questioning take place in places in which Rumsfeld is comfortable; and providing an “exclusive” report or analysis to the Washington Post. Both Meigs and Jacobs are routinely touted as “independent analysts” by MSNBC; both are shown to be quite reliable in providing Pentagon talking points by the Pentagon’s tracking system (see 2005 and Beyond). [Salon, 5/9/2008]
Gordon Cucullu. [Source: The Intelligence Summit]“Independent military analyst” Gordon Cucullu, a former Green Beret, is an enthusiastic participant in the Pentagon’s Iraq propaganda operation (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond). Cucullu has just returned from a half-day tour of the Guantanamo detention facility (see June 24-25, 2005), and is prepared to give the Pentagon’s approved message to the media.
Talking Points Covered in Fox Appearance - In an e-mail to Pentagon official Dallas Lawrence, he alerts the department to a new article he has written for conservative Website FrontPage, and notes that he has appeared on an early-morning broadcast on Fox News and delivered the appropriate talking points: “I did a Fox & Friends hit at 0620 this morning. Good emphasis on 1) no torture, 2) detainees abuse guards, and 3) continuing source of vital intel.” [Salon, 5/9/2008]
Op-Ed: Pampered Detainees Regularly Abuse Guards - In the op-ed for FrontPage, entitled “What I Saw at Gitmo,” he writes that the US is being “extraordinarily lenient—far too lenient” on the detainees there. There is certainly abuse going on at Guantanamo, Cucullu writes—abuse of soldiers by the detainees. Based on his three-hour tour of the facility, which included viewing one “interrogation” and touring an unoccupied cellblock, Cucullu says that the detainees “fight their captors at every opportunity” and spew death threats against the soldiers, their families, and Americans in general. The soldiers are regularly splattered with “feces, urine, semen, and spit.” One detainee reportedly told another, “One day I will enjoy sucking American blood, although their blood is bitter, undrinkable.” US soldiers, whom Cucullu says uniformly treat the detainees with courtesy and restraint (see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003), are constantly attacked by detainees who wield crudely made knives, or try to “gouge eyes and tear mouths [or] grab and break limbs as the guards pass them food.” In return, the detainees are given huge meals of “well-prepared food,” meals which typically overflow from two styrofoam containers. Many detainees insist on “special meal orders,” and throw fits if their meals are not made to order. The level of health care they are granted, Cucullu says, would suit even the most hypochondriac American. Cucullu writes that the detainees are lavished with ice cream treats, granted extended recreational periods, live in “plush environs,” and provided with a full array of religious paraphernalia. “They are not abused, hanged, tortured, beheaded, raped, mutilated, or in any way treated the way that they once treated their own captives—or now treat their guards.” The commander, Brigadier General Jay Hood, tells Cucullu that such pampered treatment provides better results than harsher measures. “Establishing rapport” is more effective than coercion, Hood says, and, in Cucullu’s words, Hood “refers skeptics to the massive amount of usable intelligence information [the detainees] produce even three years into the program.” In conclusion, Cucullu writes, the reader is “right to worry about inhumane treatment” at Guantanamo, but on behalf of the soldiers, not the detainees. [FrontPage Magazine, 6/27/2005]
The Pentagon, tracking every bit of media coverage provided by the “independent military analysts” who are part of its Iraq propaganda program (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond), is particularly pleased with the results of its half-day tour of Guantanamo for selected analysts (see June 24-25, 2005). Its tracking (see 2005 and Beyond) finds that Lieutenant Colonel Gordon Cucullu (see June 27, 2005) receives the most coverage during the almost two weeks after the tour, followed by Major General Donald Shepperd (see June 24-27, 2005). In all, the analysts made 37 media appearances. They emphasized the following talking points:
Prisoner/Guard Abuse -
“Most abuse is either toward US military personnel and/or between prisoners.”
“US military guards are regularly threatened by prisoners.”
“Some analysts stated there may have been past abuses at Gitmo but not now.”
'Prisoner Interrogations' -
“Interrogators are building relationships with prisoners, not torturing them.”
“We are still gaining valuable information from prisoners.”
Interrogations are very professionally run.”
'Quality of Prisoner Care' -
“Prisoners are given excellent treatment, including provision of any and all religious paraphernalia.”
“Special dietary requests are routinely granted.”
'Closing Gitmo' -
“Gitmo exceeds Geneva Convention requirements.”
“We should not close this facility and let dangerous terrorists out.” [Salon, 5/9/2008]
Time reporter Matthew Cooper agrees to testify before the grand jury in the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak investigation (see December 30, 2003 and July 13, 2005) after the source he has been protecting, White House political adviser Karl Rove, gives him a waiver dissolving their confidentiality agreement. Sources say that Cooper will identify Rove as a person who revealed Plame Wilson’s CIA identity to him. Cooper says he is prepared to remain “in civil contempt,” and ready to go to jail for defying the grand jury subpoenas, “because even though Time magazine had, over my objections, turned over my notes and e-mails to the special counsel under a court order, and even though the prosecutor has all that information now, I wanted—I was prepared to go and remain in civil contempt because I had given a word to my source for two years, which I have kept my word to that source today, for two years. This morning, in what can only be described as a stunning set of developments, that source agreed to give me a specific personal and unambiguous waiver to speak before the grand jury.” [New York Times, 7/7/2005] Cooper has not asked Rove for a waiver before, in part because his lawyer advised against it. Additionally, Time editors were worried about becoming part of such an explosive story in an election year. And Rove’s attorney, Robert Luskin, believed that contacting Cooper would have amounted to interfering with the ongoing court battle between reporter and prosecutor. [Los Angeles Times, 8/25/2005] Cooper adds, “It’s with a bit of surprise and no small amount of relief that I will comply with this subpoena.” Cooper refuses to publicly divulge the source he has been protecting, but a person briefed on the case confirms Cooper’s source as being Rove. [New York Times, 7/7/2005] Cooper did not speak to Rove directly on the issue. The waiver of confidentiality is the product of what the New York Times describes as “a frenzied series of phone calls” between Cooper’s lawyer Richard Sauber, Rove’s lawyer Luskin, and special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. Cooper views his case as substantially different from that of his New York Times colleague, Judith Miller (see July 6, 2005). Miller has consistently refused to testify, but Cooper has already testified once, describing conversations he had with White House aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby (see August 24, 2004). And while the New York Times has consistently supported Miller, Time magazine has been more equivocal, turning over documents to Fitzgerald that identified Rove as Cooper’s source. Cooper’s friend Steven Waldman, a former US News and World Report editor who has talked with Cooper in recent days, says, “The question that was on his mind, and this is my words, is: do you go to jail to protect the confidentiality of a source whose name has been revealed, and not by you but by someone else?” Still, Cooper resisted until he saw an article in the Wall Street Journal that quoted Luskin as saying, “If Matt Cooper is going to jail to protect a source, it’s not Karl he’s protecting.” That statement prompted a round of telephone discussions between Luskin, Sauber, and Fitzgerald, culminating in Cooper’s decision to testify. “A short time ago,” Cooper tells the court, “in somewhat dramatic fashion, I received an express personal release from my source.” [New York Times, 7/10/2005]
Entity Tags: Richard Sauber, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Karl C. Rove, Judith Miller, Matthew Cooper, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Valerie Plame Wilson, Robert Luskin, Steven Waldman, New York Times, Time magazine
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward gives an interview to NPR’s Terry Gross about the so-called “Plamegate” scandal. Woodward is dismissive of the entire imbroglio. “There was no nothing” to the story, he says. When “all of the facts come out in this case, it’s going to be laughable because the consequences are not that great.” Woodward does not divulge that he was perhaps the first reporter to have Valerie Plame Wilson’s name leaked to him (see June 13, 2003). Woodward’s dismissive attitude towards the affair is addressed by author and media critic Frank Rich, who writes in 2006: “The Wilsons were nobodies—not players, not part of the tight club to which Woodward and his blue-chip sources belonged. Yet, while Woodward was tone-deaf to the Watergate echoes in the Bush White House’s obsessive secrecy, in its detestation of the press, and in its flouting of the law, the parallels were striking to anyone outside the Beltway.” [American Prospect, 12/18/2005; Rich, 2006, pp. 181-182] In December, American Prospect reporter Todd Gitlin will write that Woodward “publicly and repeatedly sneered” at the Plame Wilson investigation. [American Prospect, 12/18/2005] Woodward says much the same things in private. In a conversation with his friend and former colleague Carl Bernstein around the same time as the NPR interview, he asks: “Why do you keep insisting this is important? I know something about this. There’s nothing there.” Woodward is deeply involved in writing his next book, Plan of Attack, and has little time or patience for what he considers a partisan non-scandal. Additionally, he and Bernstein are frequently together, conducting interviews for their recent book about their Watergate source, W. Mark Felt (see May 31, 2005), and often find themselves in conversations about confidential sources. Bernstein believes Woodward is ignoring something worth watching. “You don’t have this right,” he tells Woodward. “This thing is going to be huge. It will shine a light on the way Bush’s White House operates. It is going to expose the president and his campaign of disinformation.” [Vanity Fair, 4/2006]
On July 10, 2005, three days after the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), British Home Secretary Charles Clarke says the 7/7 bombers “simply came out of the blue.” Clarke and other British officials describe the bombers as “clean skins,” which is intelligence lingo for operatives completely unknown to the authorities. [Newsweek, 5/1/2007] As late as July 17, an unnamed British official tells the Telegraph: “There were no specific warnings at all, from any source. There was no information at all that could have prevented these attacks.” [Daily Telegraph, 7/17/2005]
David Gregory. [Source: TopNews (.us)]In light of the revelation that White House deputy chief of staff Karl Rove was a source for a reporter in the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see July 10, 2005), the White House press corps grills press secretary Scott McClellan unmercifully on the entire issue. Plame Wilson will reveal a modicum of sympathy for the beleaguered McClellan, whom she will note “endured what had to be one of his hardest days on the job as reporters competed to ask the next question.” The reporters are eager to pry information out of McClellan and are exasperated at his refusal to answer questions in any depth.
Fire Rove? - One of the most probing questions involves the White House’s promise to fire anyone involved in the leak (see September 29, 2003). Asked, “Does the president stand by his pledge to fire anyone involved in the leak of a name of a CIA operative?” McClellan responds that the White House is not going to comment on an ongoing investigation, an answer the gathered reporters find less than satisfactory. “Excuse me,” the reporter continues, “but I wasn’t actually talking about any investigation. But in June of 2004, the president said that he would fire anybody who was involved in the leak. And I just want to know, is that still his position?” McClellan continues to deflect the question with the standard “refusal to comment on an ongoing investigation” line. He also refuses to answer the direct question, “Did Karl Rove commit a crime?”
McClellan Cleared Rove, Others of Culpability - Another reporter, apparently NBC’s David Gregory, asks why McClellan told reporters that Rove, along with National Security Council staffer Elliott Abrams and the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, were definitely not involved in the leak. “[Y]ou said, ‘I’ve gone to each of those gentlemen, and they have told me they are not involved in this’—do you stand by that statement?” McClellan confirms he said that “as part of helping the investigation move forward on the investigation we’re not going to get into commenting on it. That was something I stated back near that time, as well.” The reporter calls McClellan’s response “ridiculous,” and says: “The notion that you’re going to stand before us after having commented with that level of detail and tell people watching this that somehow you decided not to talk. You’ve got a public record out there. Do you stand by your remarks from that podium, or not?” When McClellan says he will go into further detail “at the appropriate time,” Gregory interjects, “Why are you choosing when it’s appropriate and when it’s inappropriate?” McClellan begins, “If you’ll let me finish—” and Gregory cuts him off, saying: “No, you’re not finishing—you’re not saying anything. You stand at that podium and said that Karl Rove was not involved. And now we find out that he spoke out about Joseph Wilson’s wife. So don’t you owe the American public a fuller explanation? Was he involved, or was he not? Because, contrary to what you told the American public, he did, indeed, talk about [Wilson’s] wife, didn’t he?” McClellan continues to refuse to answer. Later in the conference, he is asked if “you will be consistent with your word and the president’s word that anybody who was involved would be let go?” McClellan says he “will be glad to talk about it at that point.”
Ordered to Stop Talking? - Another reporter, following up on Gregory’s relentless questioning, asks: “When did they ask you to stop commenting on it, Scott? Can you peg down a date?” McClellan answers vaguely, “Back in that time period.” The reporter then notes that “the president commented on it nine months later (see June 10, 2004). So was he not following the White House plan?” Again, McClellan refuses to answer. Another reporter tries a different tack, asking, “Can you walk us through why, given the fact that Rove’s lawyer has spoken publicly about this, it is inconsistent with the investigation, that it compromises the investigation to talk about the involvement of Karl Rove?” McClellan answers that “those overseeing the investigation expressed a preference to us that we not get into commenting on the investigative side while it’s ongoing.”
When Did Bush Know? - McClellan is asked bluntly, “When did the president learn that Karl Rove had—” to which McClellan interrupts with, “I’ve responded to that question.”
Changing the Subject - McClellan then calls on Raghubar Goyal of the India Times, who he is sure will ask a foreign policy question having nothing to do with Rove or Plame Wilson. He manages to keep the subject more or less off of Rove for the remainder of the conference. Plame Wilson will recall, “I almost felt sorry for McClellan, who was perspiring and had that deer-in-the-headlights look to him.” [White House, 7/11/2005; Wilson, 2007, pp. 223-227]
Change in Media Focus - After this press conference, as Plame Wilson will note, the press begins issuing far more skeptical reports on the leak and its investigation, depending less on White House spin about the Wilsons’ supposed culpability and zeroing in on the roles of Rove, Libby, and other White House officials. Plame Wilson will recall that for the first time, the pressure was easing off of them and being refocused onto the White House. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 227-228]
McClellan: Press Conference 'Brutal,' 'Humiliating' - McClellan will later characterize the press conference as “brutal.” He calls NBC’s Gregory “mocking” when Gregory asks whether he still stands by his old assertions of no involvement by Rove (see September 29, 2003), Lewis Libby (see October 4, 2003), and Elliott Abrams (see October 5, 2003). ABC’s Terry Moran is incredulous that McClellan would try to hide behind a refusal to “comment on an ongoing investigation.” McClellan will later write, “Eventually, long after leaving the White House, I came to see that standing in front of the speeding press bus in those days had much more to do with protecting the president and the White House from further political embarrassment than respecting the sanctity of the investigation.” McClellan will reflect that it was during this press conference, as he felt his “reputation crumbling away, bit by bit,” that he began to lose his “affection for the job.” He will write: “The ridicule I received that day and the following ones, though dispiriting and humiliating, was justified, given what I had previously said. Since my hands were tied (see July 10, 2005), about all I could do was go into a defensive crouch.” After the conference, McClellan receives a brief verbal apology from Rove. McClellan will write, “It’s clear to me, Karl was only concerned about protecting himself from possible legal action and preventing his many critics from bringing him down.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 260-261]
Entity Tags: Elliott Abrams, Joseph C. Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, David Gregory, Bush administration (43), Raghubar Goyal, Karl C. Rove, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Scott McClellan, Valerie Plame Wilson, Terry Moran
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward is harshly critical of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigation of the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see December 30, 2003). The investigation, he says, is “just running like a chain saw right through the lifeline that reporters have to sources who will tell you the truth, what’s really going on.” It is “undermining the core function in journalism.… We better wake up to what’s going on in the seriousness on the assault on the First Amendment that’s taking place right before our eyes.” Woodward does not mention that he is one of the reporters who was contacted by a Bush administration official about Plame Wilson being a CIA agent (see June 13, 2003); he has also withheld his knowledge of the case from special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and his own editors (see November 16-17, 2005). [Media Matters, 11/16/2005]
The press learns that conservative columnist Robert Novak, who outed CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson almost two years ago (see July 14, 2003), has been cooperating with the Plame Wilson leak investigation headed by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald. The news of Novak’s cooperation comes from attorneys familiar with his testimony. Novak’s lawyer, James Hamilton, refuses to comment. Novak, according to the sources, said that his Bush administration sources (see July 7, 2003, July 8, 2003, and July 8 or 9, 2003) did not identify Plame Wilson as a covert CIA official (see Fall 1992 - 1996). His use of the word “operative” to describe Plame Wilson in his column was his own formulation, he has said, and not the words of his sources. The lawyer for White House political strategist Karl Rove, Robert Luskin, has told reporters that Rove never told Novak or other reporters that Plame Wilson was a covert operative. Reporter Murray Waas writes: “Federal investigators have been skeptical of Novak’s assertions that he referred to Plame as a CIA ‘operative’ due to his own error, instead of having been explicitly told that was the case by his sources, according to attorneys familiar with the criminal probe. That skepticism has been one of several reasons that the special prosecutor has pressed so hard for the testimony of Time magazine’s [Matthew] Cooper (see July 13, 2005) and New York Times reporter Judith Miller” (see September 30, 2005). Investigators are also interested in telephone conversations between Novak and Rove, and other White House officials, in the days after the press reported the FBI was opening an investigation into the Plame Wilson leak (see September 29, 2003 and October and November 2003). And, in other testimony, a US government official told investigators that Novak asked him specifically if Plame Wilson had some covert status with the CIA. It is unclear who that official is or when he talked to investigators. [Murray Waas, 7/12/2005]
Time reporter Matthew Cooper testifies before the grand jury investigating the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see December 30, 2003 and July 1, 2005). [Washington Post, 7/3/2007] “I testified openly and honestly,” Cooper says after the session. “I have no idea whether a crime was committed or not. That is something the special counsel is going to have to determine.” [New York Times, 7/14/2005] Four days later, Cooper will write of his testimony for Time, though special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald told him he would rather Cooper remained silent. Cooper is under no legal obligation not to divulge his grand jury testimony. He will say that while grand juries are famously passive, ready to “indict a ham sandwich if a prosecutor asks it of them,” this one is unusually active. About a third of the questions he answers are from jurors, not prosecutors. Cooper testifies that in the week after Joseph Wilson’s now-famous op-ed disclosing the fraudulence of the Iraq-Niger uranium claims (see July 6, 2003), the administration had done something it rarely does: admit a mistake. It was admitting that it had erred in using that claim to advance its arguments for war with Iraq (see July 8, 2003). That was big news, and Cooper, having been at Time less than a month, was aggressively covering it. He was curious about the White House’s apparent efforts to smear Wilson, and called White House political adviser Karl Rove on July 11 to discuss the apparent smear campaign (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003). The jury is interested, and apparently amused, at Cooper’s choice of words regarding the status of his conversation with Rove: “double super secret background.” Cooper concludes, “So did Rove leak Plame’s name to me, or tell me she was covert? No. Was it through my conversation with Rove that I learned for the first time that Wilson’s wife worked at the CIA and may have been responsible for sending him? Yes. Did Rove say that she worked at the ‘agency’ on ‘WMD’? Yes. When he said things would be declassified soon, was that itself impermissible? I don’t know. Is any of this a crime? Beats me. At this point, I’m as curious as anyone else to see what Patrick Fitzgerald has.” [Time, 7/17/2005]
President Bush says he is withholding judgment on whether senior political adviser Karl Rove was one of the administration officials who leaked the identity of undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson to the press. Rove has been identified in court testimony as having disclosed Plame Wilson’s identity to two separate journalists, Robert Novak (see July 14, 2005) and Matthew Cooper (see July 6, 2005). Bush has said repeatedly that anyone identified as leaking Plame Wilson’s identity would be fired (see September 29, 2003 and June 10, 2004). He now says it would be wrong for him to discuss an ongoing criminal investigation. “I have instructed every member of my staff to fully cooperate in this investigation,” he says. “I also will not prejudge the investigation based on media reports.” Bush makes these statements with Rove literally sitting at his elbow. Rove’s attorney Robert Luskin indicates that Rove already told the grand jury of his conversation with Cooper (see July 17, 2003). “Rove has cooperated completely with the special prosecutor, and he has been repeatedly assured he is not a target of the investigation,” Luskin says. “Rove has done nothing wrong. We’re confident that he will not become a target after the special prosecutor has reviewed all evidence.” Rove’s supporters inside and outside the administration emphasize that Rove never told the reporter Plame Wilson’s actual name, nor mentioned her undercover status, but merely told Cooper that “Joseph Wilson’s wife” worked at the CIA. Critics note that it would take anyone a matter of moments to identify Plame Wilson as Wilson’s wife. Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee have asked Bush to revoke Rove’s security clearance. Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) says the issue of whether Rove actually broke the law is not the only issue. “We just don’t hold those working at the closest and highest levels to the president to a criminal standard and say, ‘If you have not committed a crime, show up for work tomorrow morning,’” he says. [New York Times, 7/14/2005] Days later, Bush will modify his earlier statements, saying that someone who has committed a crime would no longer work in his administration (see July 18, 2005).
A source from within the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak investigation confirms that White House political adviser Karl Rove had spoken with conservative columnist Robert Novak before Novak published his column identifying Plame Wilson as a CIA officer (see July 8, 2003 and July 14, 2003). Rove discussed Plame Wilson with Novak. However, according to the source, Rove first heard about Plame Wilson from Novak, as well as learning from Novak that she had played a role in recommending her husband, Joseph Wilson, for a trip to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from that country (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and July 6, 2003). According to the source, Novak, not Rove, initiated the conversation about Plame Wilson. It is not clear who revealed Plame Wilson’s identity to Novak, or whether Novak has identified that source to the grand jury. [New York Times, 7/15/2005; New York Times, 7/16/2005] In its reporting, the New York Times publicly reveals the July 8, 2003 conversation between Rove and Novak (see July 8, 2003). [New York Times, 7/15/2005] Novak has disputed Rove’s version of events, saying that Rove confirmed Plame Wilson’s identity to him and not the other way around (see October 7, 2003, February 5, 2004, and September 14, 2004).
One day after the New York Times revealed that Karl Rove was a source for the 2003 outing of CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2005), unnamed sources tell the New York Daily News that special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald is also examining the role of former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer in the leak. “Ari’s name keeps popping up,” one of the sources tells the Daily News. The press is not yet aware that Fleischer is, indeed, one of the White House officials who leaked Plame Wilson’s identity (see July 7, 2003, 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003), nor is it aware that Fitzgerald has offered Fleischer immunity in return for his testimony in his investigation (see February 13, 2004, June 10, 2004, and September 2004). Sources also note that Fitzgerald is focusing on Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff Lewis Libby, whom one source describes as “totally obsessed with [Joseph] Wilson,” the husband of Plame Wilson who angered the administration by publishing an op-ed debunking a key claim President Bush used to justify his decision to invade Iraq (see July 6, 2003). And, the sources say, Fitzgerald is keenly interested in a State Department memo revealing Plame Wilson’s identity (see June 10, 2003 and (July 15, 2005)). [New York Daily News, 7/15/2005] Author and blogger Marcy Wheeler, covering the Libby perjury trial in 2007, will write of her suspicions that the information to the Daily News was leaked by Rove, or someone close to him, to attempt to turn media attention away from himself and onto someone else. “Clearly, the behind-the-scenes media campaign was giving reporters fresh meat (in the form of Fleischer) to distract them from Rove,” Wheeler will write. Wheeler will note that while the media remains interested in Rove, the apparent distraction attempt will work, with media attention focusing on Fleischer and how the memo may incriminate him in the investigation. She will write, “The press, which just a day before had been in a frenzy reporting Rove’s demonstrable role in the CIA leak, had abruptly shifted its attention to chasing down a story implicating Fleischer and (to a lesser degree) [former Secretary of State] Colin Powell in unsubstantiated ways.” Wheeler goes on to observe: “The leak campaign against Fleischer served one other purpose, albeit a crafty one. Since Libby had told Fleischer of Valerie [Plame] Wilson’s identity in such a way that made it appear that Libby knew her identity was classified, Fleischer was a potential witness against Libby. Focusing suspicion on Fleischer would undermine his role as a witness if Libby were to face charges. The leaks about Fleischer and the [State Department] memo served several purposes: They distracted the press corps from validated revelations of Rove’s involvement; they provided an alternative source for the Novak leak and a provenance for that leak outside the White House; and they impugned a potential witness at a trial. All of this was possible because some journalists didn’t question what they were being fed by their unnamed sources.” [Marcy Wheeler, 2/4/2007]
Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward criticizes the investigation into the identity leak of CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson. Woodward does not mention that he is one of the reporters who was contacted by a Bush administration official about Plame Wilson being a CIA agent (see June 13, 2003); he has also withheld his knowledge of the case from special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and his own editors (see November 16-17, 2005). Woodward tells a CNN audience: “I’m not sure there’s any crime in all of this. The special prosecutor has been working 18 months. Eighteen months into Watergate we knew about the tapes. People were in jail. People had pled guilty. In other words, there was a solid evidentiary trail. I don’t see it here.… Well, it may just be politics as usual. I mean, [White House senior adviser Karl] Rove’s defenders say, look, the evidence is, and the evidence is, that he was saying Joe Wilson [Plame Wilson’s husband], who was criticizing the administration on weapons of mass destruction really had an ax to grind and got his job because his wife had worked at the CIA and recommended him, so there’s fuzziness to this.” [Media Matters, 11/16/2005]
The Bush administration reverses almost 30 years of US policy by announcing that it will “work to achieve full civil nuclear energy cooperation with India.” The US agrees to provide India with nuclear fuel, reactor technology, and dual-use goods that have both civilian and military applications. The US has been leery of such dealings with India because of its unsanctioned development of nuclear weapons (using US technology—see June 20, 1996 and May 11-13, 1998). Since 1998, the US has sanctioned India and backed a UN resolution demanding that India give up its nuclear program. In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will write, “Given that context, it was shocking that the Bush administration would renew Indian access to nuclear technology.” The deal violates the US’s commitments under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT—see July 1, 1968) and requires a fundamental rewrite of laws written specifically to constrain India’s nuclear ambitions. With the agreement, the US has turned India from a global “nuclear pariah” to a burgeoning full partner in the world’s “nuclear club.” The agreement is also guaranteed to inflame passions in Pakistan, India’s traditional enemy, which is, in Scoblic’s words, “nuclear-armed, jihadist-riddled, and politically unstable.” Pakistan is almost certain to step up its production of nuclear reactors and even weapons, a major concern considering that Pakistan is considered the nation most likely to provide nuclear technology to Islamist militants. State Department official Nicholas Burns explains that the US wants to “transform relations with India… founded upon a strategic vision that transcends even today’s most pressing security needs.” The US ambassador to India, Robert Blackwill, writes that the Bush administration decided to ignore the “nagging nannies” in the State Department who warned of the danger of nuclear proliferation. Many experts see the US as cultivating India to serve as a bulwark against Pakistan and Islamic radicalism, as well as a counter against the geostrategic maneuverings of China. Bush officials call it a “natural alliance,” and claim that arming a “democratic friend” with nuclear technology is worth the risk of unwanted proliferation. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 255-258] Two years later, the US will repeatedly sanction Indian entities for providing nuclear technology to, among other nations and organizations, Iran (see 2007).
During a press conference, President Bush is asked if he still intends to fire anyone involved in the Plame Wilson leak, and if he is “displeased that Karl Rove told a reporter that Ambassador Joseph Wilson’s wife worked for the [CIA] on WMD issues.” Bush, described as looking “mildly annoyed,” responds, “We have a serious ongoing investigation here,” and adds: “[I]t’s being played out in the press. And I think it’s best that people wait until the investigation is complete before you jump to conclusions. And I will do so, as well. I don’t know all the facts. I would like to know all the facts. The best place for the facts to be done is by somebody who’s spending time investigating it. I would like this to end as quickly as possible so we know all the facts, and if someone committed a crime, they will no longer work in my administration.” The last line regarding a “crime” was carefully selected before the conference by White House communications director Dan Bartlett, who, press secretary Scott McClellan will later write, wanted to “redefine the terms of firing someone who might have been involved in the leak, specifically Karl.” The New York Times observes, “The remarks appeared to shift the standard for dismissal that has been expressed repeatedly over many months by Mr. Bush’s spokesmen—from promises to fire anyone who played a role in the disclosure, to Mr. Bush’s statement today that criminal conduct would have to be involved.” McClellan dutifully echoes the new phrase in his own press conference, “barely objecting that it did not square with what the president had previously committed to do” (see September 29, 2003 and June 10, 2004). “I think that the president was stating what is obvious when it comes to people who work in the administration: that if someone commits a crime, they’re not going to be working any longer in this administration,” McClellan tells reporters. “I think that you should not read anything into it more than what the president said at this point.” McClellan will later describe himself as “psychologically battered” by this point (see July 11, 2005). [New York Times, 7/18/2005; White House, 7/18/2005; New York Times, 7/19/2005; McClellan, 2008, pp. 262-263]
Accusations of Shifting Standards, 'Lowering the Ethics Bar' - Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says he is disappointed in what he believes to be Bush’s shifting stance. “The standard for holding a high position in the White House should not simply be that you didn’t break the law,” he says. Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) writes a letter to Bush charging that he has “significantly changed” his position, and that a president has “an affirmative obligation” to take quick action to protect national security secrets without waiting for a prosecution to run its course. [New York Times, 7/18/2005] Other Democrats charge that Bush has “lowered the ethics bar” for his administration. Representative John Conyers (D-MI) says: “It appears that an administration that came to office promising ‘honesty and integrity’ and to avoid ‘legalisms’ is now defining ethical standards downward. In this White House, apparently no aide will be fired or forced to resign unless and until the jail cell door is locked behind him.” [Associated Press, 7/18/2005]
Rove Held to Different Standard of Accountability, Say Experts - Some experts say that by insisting on waiting for a final legal verdict, Bush is setting a different standard of accountability for Rove than for other government employees. Elaine Kaplan, who headed the Office of Special Counsel from 1998 through 2003, says: “Government employees and officials who are negligent with classified information can lose their jobs for carelessness. They don’t have to be convicted of intentionally disseminating the information. Crime has never been the threshold. That’s not the standard that applies to rank-and-file federal employees. They can be fired for misconduct well short of a crime.” Beth Slavet, the former chair of the Merit Systems Protection Board, adds: “The government can fire a Civil Service employee if it can show, by a preponderance of the evidence, that it would ‘promote the efficiency of the service’ to do so. The person does not have to be guilty of a crime. You can be dismissed because you didn’t submit paperwork on time, you didn’t follow instructions, you repeatedly showed up late for work, or you yelled at supervisors and fellow workers.” [New York Times, 7/19/2005]
Anti-abortion extremist Eric Rudolph (see April 14, 2005), whose bombings cost the lives of two people and injured several more, receives four life sentences for his actions. He pled guilty to multiple bombings in return for the death penalty being removed from consideration. One of his victims, nurse Emily Lyons, calls Rudolph a “monster” and a “coward,” and says he deserves death for what he did (see January 29, 1998). Felicia Sanderson, whose husband was slain in the same bombing that maimed Lyons, tells the court: “I want to tell you there is no punishment in my opinion great enough for Eric Rudolph. When Eric Rudolph leaves this earth and has to face final judgment, I’m going to leave the final judgment in God’s hand.” For his part, Rudolph uses the sentencing hearing to lambast abortion clinics and the practice of abortions. The clinics deserved to be bombed, he says, because “[w]hat they did was participate in the murder of 50 children a week. Abortion is murder and because it is murder I believe deadly force is needed to stop it.… Children are disposed of at will. The state is no longer the protector of the innocence [sic].” The director of the Alabama clinic bombed by Rudolph says, “It gives me great delight to know you are going to spend the rest of your life sitting in an 8-by-12 box.” [Associated Press, 7/18/2005]
Former State Department official Marc Grossman, who has testified that he is one of the officials who divulged former CIA covert official Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity to former White House aide Lewis Libby (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003), tells reporters that former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s trip to Niger (see March 4-5, 2002) had nothing to do with Plame Wilson being Wilson’s wife, as many of Libby’s defenders assert. Grossman wrote a memo detailing Wilson’s trip to Niger (see June 10, 2003) that was given to Libby and other White House officials. Grossman, speaking anonymously, says: “It wasn’t a Wilson-Wilson wife memo. It was a memo on uranium in Niger and focused principally on our [the State Department’s] disagreement” with the White House. The memo noted, erroneously, that Plame Wilson helped engineer Wilson’s trip to Niger (see February 19, 2002, July 22, 2003, and October 17, 2003), but Grossman says it did not identify her as an undercover CIA agent, nor did it identify her as Valerie Plame, which was her maiden name and cover name at the CIA. Grossman says the fact that the CIA official and Wilson were a married couple was largely an incidental reference. [Associated Press, 7/20/2005] Grossman will be revealed as the anonymous source who speaks to reporters at this time in April 2006. [Truthout (.org), 4/14/2006]
Bloomberg News reports that Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, testified that he first learned of CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity from NBC bureau chief Tim Russert. Libby will make this claim a staple of his defense in his upcoming perjury trial (see January 16-23, 2007). He is referring to a conversation he had with Russert in July 2003 (see July 10 or 11, 2003). He testified to the claim when he was interviewed by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald as part of the Plame Wilson identity leak investigation (see October 14, 2003 and November 26, 2003). Russert has told FBI investigators that he did not tell Libby of Plame Wilson’s identity (see November 24, 2003 and August 7, 2004). Similarly, White House political strategist Karl Rove has testified that he learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from columnist Robert Novak (see September 29, 2003, October 8, 2003, and October 15, 2004). Novak has told investigators that he learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from Rove, CIA spokesman Bill Harlow, and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see October 7, 2003, February 5, 2004, and September 14, 2004). Fitzgerald has determined that both Libby and Rove may have deliberately lied to the FBI and to his investigations in making their claims (see October and November 2003). According to Rove’s attorney Robert Luskin, Rove told Fitzgerald’s grand jury that “he had not heard her name before he heard it from Bob Novak.” Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says that the White House should suspend Libby and Rove’s security clearances (see July 13, 2005), and that President Bush should fire anyone involved in the leak, presumably meaning Libby and Rove. [Bloomberg, 7/22/2005; Washington Post, 7/23/2005]
Entity Tags: Richard Armitage, Karl C. Rove, Charles Schumer, Bill Harlow, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Robert Luskin, Robert Novak, Valerie Plame Wilson, Tim Russert, Patrick J. Fitzgerald
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf says, “I am saying very clearly that al-Qaeda does not exist in Pakistan anymore.” The comment comes after new bombings that experts trace back to al-Qaeda in Pakistan. [BBC, 7/25/2005] In 2007, US intelligence will conclude that the leadership of al-Qaeda has slowly rebuilt itself in Pakistan’s tribal region (see July 11, 2007).
In the wake of the 7/7 London bombings earlier in the month (see July 7, 2005), it is revealed that at least some of the suicide bombers in that attack had trained in Pakistan’s tribal regions. For instance, Mohammad Sidique Khan, considered the head of the bomber group, trained in the tribal regions in 2003 and 2004 and met with al-Qaeda leaders. But on July 25, 2005, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf downplays such links. He says, “Our… law enforcement agencies have completely shattered al-Qaeda’s vertical and horizontal links and smashed its communications and propaganda setup.… It no longer has any command, communication, and program structure in Pakistan. Therefore it is absolutely baseless to say that al-Qaeda has its headquarters in Pakistan and that terror attacks in other parts of the world in any way originate from our country.” [Rashid, 2008, pp. 279, 442] Director of National Intelligence (DNI) John Negroponte will make those exact claims six months later (see January 11, 2007).
Arianna Huffington. [Source: Boston Globe]Liberal blogger Arianna Huffington slams the perception that New York Times reporter Judith Miller is, in Huffington’s words, “a heroic martyr, sacrificing her freedom in the name of journalistic integrity” by going to jail to protect her White House sources in the Plame Wilson leak investigation (see July 6, 2005). Huffington speculates that Miller is herself the source she is trying to protect. It was Miller, Huffington theorizes, who found out from “her friends in the intelligence community” that Plame Wilson was a covert CIA agent, and subsequently told White House official Lewis Libby of Plame Wilson’s CIA status. Miller’s motivation was to protect her own rapidly deteriorating reputation as a purveyor of manipulated and deceptive information to promote the Iraq invasion (see July 6, 2003 and July 25, 2003). “Maybe Miller tells [White House official Karl] Rove too—or Libby does. The White House hatchet men turn around and tell [reporters Robert] Novak and [Matthew] Cooper. The story gets out. This is why Miller doesn’t want to reveal her ‘source’ at the White House—because she was the source.… This also explains why Miller never wrote a story about Plame, because her goal wasn’t to write a story, but to get out the story that cast doubts on Wilson’s motives. Which Novak did” (see July 14, 2003). [Huffington Post, 7/27/2005] When Miller learns of Huffington’s article, via her lawyer Saul Pilchen, she is horrified. Pilchen, himself taken aback by Huffington’s vociferous and unsourced assertions (which Huffington called “a scenario” and not established fact), will later tell reporter Marie Brennan: “It was my first experience with the blog culture. It was astounding to me how little constraint the bloggers had. They were passing off speculation as fact, and it read to me like pure character assassination.” Miller considers the Huffington piece certainly mistaken, and possibly libelous. But, as Brennan will later observe, the discussion and debate generated by Huffington and many others in the “blogosphere” make it difficult for fellow journalists to defend Miller. Reporter Lowell Bergman, a Miller defender, will later tell Brennan that it quickly became clear that Huffington’s idea of Miller being part of a White House conspiracy “was a fantasy fed by the deep animosity of people toward Judy.… It was a surrogate for what they all wanted to do to the Bush administration.” [Huffington Post, 7/27/2005; Vanity Fair, 4/2006]
Washington Post editor and reporter Bob Woodward repeats the baseless claim that a 2002 report by former ambassador Joseph Wilson on attempts by Iraq to secure Nigerien uranium (see March 8, 2002) contradicted his 2003 New York Times op-ed criticizing the Bush administration’s use of the uranium claim to justify its invasion of Iraq (see July 6, 2003). The progressive media watchdog organization Media Matters will note that according to a Senate Intelligence Committee report (see July 9, 2004), “there appears to be no contradiction between the report and Wilson’s op-ed.… Wilson’s language [in the op-ed] closely echoes the Intelligence Committee’s description of his report.” Woodward says that according to Wilson’s 2002 report, “there were reasonable grounds to discredit” Wilson, and goes on to say that Wilson “had said something in his reports a year before that contradicted what he wrote in an op-ed piece in the New York Times.” Woodward also mocks the idea that anyone in the Bush administration wants to “trash” or “discredit” Wilson (see June 2003, June 3, 2003, June 11, 2003, June 12, 2003, June 19 or 20, 2003, July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, July 11, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, July 18, 2003, October 1, 2003, and April 5, 2006), and goes on to say that “there were reasonable grounds to discredit him.” [Media Matters, 8/1/2005] Woodward does not reveal that he himself was an early recipient of the White House’s leaked information that Wilson’s wife is a clandestine CIA officer (see June 13, 2003).
Members of the special counsel’s investigation into the Plame Wilson identity leak learn that former White House official Lewis Libby and/or his attorney, Joseph Tate, may have tried to influence or discourage New York Times reporter Judith Miller’s testimony. Miller received information from Libby about Plame Wilson’s covert CIA status (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald and his staff learn from press accounts of possible witness tampering by either Libby, Tate, or both. It is known that Tate has discouraged Libby from giving Miller a waiver of confidentiality that would free her from her responsibility of protecting Libby as a source. Miller is currently in jail for refusing to testify in the investigation (see July 6, 2005). Upon learning about the potential tampering, Fitzgerald strongly urges attorneys for Miller and Libby to negotiate an agreement that would allow Miller to testify. (Libby will give Miller a waiver releasing her from their confidentiality agreement—see September 15, 2005). According to investigative reporter Murray Waas, because Fitzgerald is loathe to lose Miller’s testimony, and is unsure of what she might testify to, he will not aggressively pursue the possibility that Libby and/or Tate might have attempted to influence or discourage Miller’s testimony (see August 12, 2004 and After). However, the possibility of witness tampering does give further impetus to Fitzgerald’s inclination to bring criminal charges against Libby. Waas will write, “Potentially misleading and incomplete answers by Libby to federal investigators are less likely to be explained away as the result of his faulty memory or inadvertent mistakes,” according to his sources. A Justice Department official will tell Waas: “Both intent and frame of mind are often essential to bringing the type of charges Fitzgerald is apparently considering. And not wanting a key witness to testify goes straight to showing that there were indeed bad intentions.” [National Journal, 10/18/2005]
The Bush administration’s relentless public relations campaign to sell the Iraq war is falling flat, crushed under the weight of events, according to author and media critic Frank Rich. Its new marketing slogan—“As the Iraqis stand up, we’ll stand down”—leaves most listeners cold, according to surveys. When President Bush proclaims that “30 Iraqi battalions [are] in the lead” in the fighting, his words are disproven within hours, by statements from his own commanders to Congress that note the number of Iraqi battalions fighting alongside American forces has declined from three to one. Rich will put the facts into his own words: “750 soldiers were now ready to stand up on their own should America’s 140,000 troops stand down.” Bush officials also try to claim a victory by announding the death of “the second most wanted al-Qaeda leader in Iraq,” the “top operational commander of al-Qaeda in Baghdad.” The news makes little, if any, impact in the media or on the American citizenry. “He may not even be one of the top 10 or 15 leaders,” one Iraq expert tells reporters. Lastly, Bush officials’ lofty claims of stopping 10 al-Qaeda plots draw little besides scorn. According to Rich, Americans know by now that these so-called plots have been roundly debunked, proven either to be the same ones that have been endlessly trotted out over the years, far less substantial than originally reported, or merely lies. [Rich, 2006, pp. 198]
William Cowan. [Source: The Intelligence Summit]Fourteen Marines die in Iraq. Hours after their deaths, William Cowan, a retired Marine colonel and Fox News analyst (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond) who has grown increasingly uncomfortable with what he will later call the Pentagon’s “twisted version of reality” being pushed on analysts in briefings, telephones the Pentagon to advise officials that his upcoming comments on Fox “may not all be friendly.” He is then given a private briefing, quickly arranged by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s senior aides. But Cowan then tells Fox host Bill O’Reilly that it has been “a bad week” in Iraq, that many military officials he has talked to were “expressing a lot of dismay and disappointment at the way things are going,” and the US is “not on a good glide path right now” in Iraq. The repercussions are almost immediate. According to Cowan, he is “precipitously fired from the analysts group” for this appearance. The Pentagon “simply didn’t like the fact that I wasn’t carrying their water.” Cowan later recalls: “Suddenly, boom, I never got another telephone call, I never got another e-mail from them.… I was just booted off the group. I was fired.” Cowan will say that he and other analysts were given special access only “as long as they thought I was serving their purposes.… I drink nobody’s Kool-Aid.” The next day, the other analysts take part in a conference call with General James Conway, the director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, where he urges them not to let the Marines’ deaths erode support for the war. Conway is blunt, saying directly that the US citizenry is the main target of Pentagon propaganda. “The strategic target remains our population,” he tells them. “We can lose people day in and day out, but they’re never going to beat our military. What they can and will do if they can is strip away our support. And you guys can help us not let that happen.” An analyst chimes in, “General, I just made that point on the air.” Conway says, “Let’s work it together, guys.” [New York Times, 4/20/2008; Washington Post, 4/21/2008]
James Carville and Robert Novak, moments before Novak leaves the CNN set. [Source: CNN / Comedy Central]Conservative columnist Robert Novak storms off the set of CNN’s Strategy Session, apparently unwilling to discuss his outing of CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson (see July 14, 2003). Novak, discussing an unrelated matter with Democratic strategist James Carville, says, “Just let me finish what I’m going to say, James, please. I know you hate to hear me.” Carville says to host Ed Henry: “He’s gotta show these right-wingers that he’s got backbone, you know. The Wall Street Journal editorial page is watching you. Show ‘em you’re tough.” Novak stands up, saying, “Well, I think that’s bullsh_t, and I hate that.” He says to Henry, “Just let it go.” Novak then walks off the set. Later in the broadcast, Henry apologizes to viewers, saying: “I had told him in advance that we were going to ask him about the CIA leak case. He was not here for me to be able to ask him about that. Hopefully, we’ll be able to ask him about that in the future.” [Media Matters, 8/4/2005]
A photograph of Doug Hanks (left) attending a March 2005 protest of the removal of the Confederate Battle Flag in Charlotte. [Source: Pam's House Blend (.com)]A candidate for Charlotte, North Carolina’s city council drops out of the race after the press learns that he has posted over 4,000 comments to the white supremacist Web site Stormfront (see March 1995). Doug Hanks, seeking the Republican nomination for one of four at-large council seats, claims the postings were fictional and designed to win white supremacists’ trust as he researched a novel he was writing. He says the book was also meant to appeal to white supremacists. “I needed information for the book and some other writings I was doing,” Hanks tells a reporter. “I did what I thought I needed to do to establish myself as a credible white nationalist.” In one June 1, 2005 posting, he said that blacks should be treated like “rabid beasts.” Hanks says his self-published novel, called Patriot Act, takes themes from The Turner Diaries, (see 1978), an inflammatory “future history” novel that tells of a white supremacist overthrow of the US government and the genocidal extermination of minorities thereafter. On his Web site, he describes himself as a general contractor, author, model, and actor. Mark Pellin, the editor of the weekly Rhinoceros Times who interviewed Hanks, says Hanks never mentioned a book during their interview: “At no point did he indicate that it had anything to do with a persona he took on or was researching for the book. He tried to explain the quotes as they were for heritage, not hate.” Hanks continued posting on Stormfront well after the book was published. Hanks says: “I was asked to write a column here and there. But what I should have done when I began running for office was to separate the two. Unfortunately, it has blown up in my face.” [Pam Spaulding, 8/5/2005; Associated Press, 8/6/2005]
Camp Casey. [Source: Indybay (.org)]Antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan, of Vacaville, California, sets up “Camp Casey” three miles outside of President Bush’s Crawford, Texas ranch. Bush has come to his ranch for his yearly August vacation; Sheehan has come to demand a meeting with Bush to discuss the loss of her son, Casey, in Iraq. Sheehan chooses the date to coincide with the fourth anniversary of the briefing that warned Bush of Osama bin Laden’s intention to attack the US (see August 6, 2001). Camp Casey begins as a single pup tent in a ditch by the side of a dirt road, in which Sheehan intends to stay for whatever time it takes to secure a meeting with Bush. Author and media critic Frank Rich later writes that because Bush is so firmly ensconsced in the protective “bubble” that shields him from awareness of criticism, he and his top officials are blindsided by the media response to Sheehan’s lonely vigil. Casey Sheehan, who died in April 2004 a mere two weeks after his arrival in Iraq (see April 4, 2004), will become, Rich will write, emblematic of both “the noble intentions of those who volunteered to fight the war [and] also the arrogance, incompetence, and recklessness of those who gave the marching orders.”
Bush Refuses to Meet with Sheehan - Bush will refuse to meet with Sheehan and the increasing number of peace activists who gather at Camp Casey, causing him inordinate embarrassment (see August 12, 2005) as more and more reporters begin questioning his motives in refusing to meet with the bereaved mother of a fallen US soldier. Bush even ignores the advice of some of his public relations staffers and fellow Republicans, who ask him to reconsider, as Senator George Allen (R-VA) says, “as a matter of courtesy and decency.” Rich will write: “Only someone as adrift as Bush would need to be told that a vacationing president couldn’t win a standoff with a grief-stricken parent commandeering TV cameras and the blogosphere 24/7. But the White House held firm. In a particularly unfortunate gesture, the presidential motorcade, in a rare foray out of the vacation compound, left Sheehan in the dust on its way to a fundraiser at a fat cat’s ranch nearby” (see August 12, 2005). [Rich, 2006, pp. 193-196] Political analyst Charlie Cook says: “Anything that focuses media and public attention on Iraq war casualties day after day—particularly [something] that is a good visual for television, like a weeping Gold Star mother—is a really bad thing for President Bush and his administration.… Americans get a little numb by the numbers of war casualties, but when faces, names, and families are added, it has a much greater effect.” Republican strategist Kellyanne Conway agrees, saying: “Cindy Sheehan has tapped into a latent but fervent feeling among some in this country who would prefer that we not engage our troops in Iraq. She can tap into what has been an astonishingly silent minority since the end of last year’s presidential contest. It will capture attention.” University professor Stephen Hess says that Sheehan’s “movement… can be countered by a countermovement” and therefore negated, but “I think the president might have defused the situation if he had invited her in instantly.” Hess predicts that Sheehan will soon be targeted by Republican strategists in a counterattack (see August 11, 2005 and After).
Focus of Antiwar Movement - Camp Casey quickly becomes the focus of the American antiwar movement, with organizations such as MoveOn.org and Code Pink pitching in to help expand and coordinate the camp, and high-profile Democratic operatives such as Joe Trippi organizing support among left-wing bloggers. MoveOn’s Tom Mattzie says: “Cindy reached out to us.… Cindy is a morally pure voice on the war, so we’re trying to keep the focus on her and not jump in and turn it into a political fight.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/11/2005]
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Cindy Sheehan, Charlie Cook, Casey Sheehan, Bush administration (43), “Camp Casey”, Code Pink, George F. Allen, MoveOn (.org), Stephen Hess, Frank Rich, Kellyanne Conway, Joe Trippi, Tom Mattzie
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and White House deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin meet with antiwar protester Cindy Sheehan (see August 6, 2005 and After) for about 45 minutes. Sheehan, who has requested a meeting with President Bush during his vacation at his ranch in Texas, says she is not satisfied with the meeting with Hadley and Hagin. “I don’t believe his phony excuses for the war,” she says. “I want him to tell me why my son died (see April 4, 2004). If he gave the real answer, people in this country would be outraged—if he told people it was to make his buddies rich, that it was about oil.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/11/2005]
The Justice Department refuses to prosecute a White House event staffer who impersonated a Secret Service agent while improperly ejecting three people from a town-hall event featuring President Bush. The staffer will later be identified as Michael Casper (see March 21, 2005). The Secret Service recommended that Casper be prosecuted for impersonating a federal officer. The White House has refused to identify Casper, merely calling him a “White House volunteer.” US Attorney William Leone says: “Criminal law is not an appropriate tool to resolve this dispute. The normal give and take of the political system is the appropriate venue for a resolution.” Eight of Colorado’s nine US representatives have condemned the ejection. Marilyn Musgrove (R-CO), a longtime Bush ally, says, “I really do believe in free speech, and if you try to quell people it just makes them more determined.” [Los Angeles Times, 4/23/2005; OMB Watch, 8/8/2005]
Right-wing commentators react to the sudden media presence of antiwar activist and bereaved mother Cindy Sheehan (see August 6, 2005 and After) with vitriolic criticism. (Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write of his belief that the anti-Sheehan campaign is orchestrated from the White House: “The attack was especially vicious because there was little the White House feared more than a critic who had more battle scars than a president or a vice president who had avoided Vietnam.”) Weekly Standard writer Fred Barnes tells Fox News viewers that Sheehan is a “crackpot.” Right-wing bloggers begin spreading lurid, and sometimes false, stories of her recent divorce and the opposition Sheehan receives from some of her family members. Because some of the Camp Casey protesters showed the recent Iraq documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 (see June 25, 2004), many right-wing commentators and pundits accuse Sheehan of being a tool of documentary filmmaker Michael Moore. Conservative pundit Michelle Malkin accuses Sheehan and other bereaved family members opposing the war of using their losses to promote their ideological agenda, and calls them “grief pimps.” The American Spectator says Sheehan’s own peace organization, Gold Star Families for Peace, “seeks to impeach George W. Bush and apparently to convince the US government to surrender to Muslim terrorists.” Talk-show host Rush Limbaugh makes the extraordinary claim that Sheehan is making up the entire story of her son’s death (see April 4, 2004), claiming that her loss “is nothing more than forged documents—there’s nothing about it that’s real.” Rich later notes that what he calls “the Swift Boating of Cindy Sheehan” has “failed, utterly.” He will continue: “The hope this time was that we’d change the subject to Cindy Sheehan’s ‘wacko’ rhetoric and the opportunistic left-wing groups that have attached themselves to her like barnacles. That way we would forget about her dead son. But if much of the 24/7 media has taken the bait, much of the public has not.… The public knows that what matters this time is Casey Sheehan’s story, not the mother who symbolizes it.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/11/2005; Washington Post, 8/13/2005; New York Times, 8/21/2005; Rich, 2006, pp. 194-195]
The Bush motorcade drives past Camp Casey; Texas police officers stand between the motorcade and the camp. [Source: American Patriot Friends Network]President Bush and his motorcade drive past the growing camp of war protesters and peace activists nicknamed “Camp Casey” (see August 6, 2005 and After) without stopping, leaving the gathered protesters and bereaved family members literally in the dust. Bush is on his way to a fundraising barbecue expected to raise at least $2 million for the Republican National Committee. Camp founder Cindy Sheehan holds a sign that reads, “Why do you make time for donors and not for me?” The Associated Press reports, “It was unclear whether Bush, riding in a black Suburban with tinted windows, saw the demonstrators.” Bush has continued to refuse to meet with Sheehan and the others in Camp Casey, a makeshift camp three miles outside of his Crawford, Texas vacation ranch. The camp is attracting war protesters, peace activists, and bereaved family members who have lost loved ones in Iraq and Afghanistan. [Associated Press, 8/12/2005] The New York Times notes that in less than a week, Camp Casey has grown from one woman’s lonely vigil to a gathering of well over 100 protesters and family members, with visits from celebrities such as actor Viggo Mortensen and a full-time police presence. War supporters have blasted Sheehan and her companions, calling her everything from a traitor to a terrorist supporter, and arguing that the death of her son does not give her the right to criticize the war effort. Local supporters of Bush have suggested, among other things, that they unleash a gaggle of skunks on the camp to drive the protesters away; some have pretended to drive their pickup trucks into the crowds, and splashed protesters with mud as they revved their engines. [New York Times, 8/13/2005] Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write that the images of Bush’s motorcade ignoring Sheehan and the other protesters become embarrassing fodder for media comment and criticism. [Rich, 2006, pp. 194] The Times writes, “[Bush’s] five-week sojourn at his 1,600-acre ranch offers the protesters ample opportunity to camp out for extended periods in front of the national media at a time of sharp spikes in the casualties in Iraq, and as public polling data suggests the lowest support for the war since it began.” In a recent television ad paid for by her peace organization Gold Star Families for Peace, Sheehan said: “All I wanted was an hour out of his extended vacation time, but he’s refused to meet with me and the other military families. We just want honest answers.” [New York Times, 8/13/2005]
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