The broadcast network evening newscasts on Tuesday night refrained from applying any ideological tag to the far-left group of lawyers, who represent terror suspects at Guantanamo and elsewhere, which filed a lawsuit against the NSA's program to eavesdrop on communications between terrorists abroad and people inside the U.S., but none hesitated to place a conservative label on those opposed to Oregon's assisted-suicide law (which the Supreme Court upheld). The network reporters avoided labeling the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which was founded by the radical-left William Kunstler, and whose President, Michael Ratner, declared last month: “Every American should be in political rebellion against the criminals now running this country."
On CBS, Wyatt Andrews related how, in ruling against the assisted-suicide law, former Attorney General John Ashcroft “was answering to conservatives pushing the Bush administration to protect life.” Andrews added: "This ruling also brought the first big case vote by the new chief justice, John Roberts, who sided with the conservative minority." But, without any labeling, John Roberts reported how “the NSA spying program was branded a violation of the Constitution by two civil liberties groups.” ABC's Lisa Stark pointed out how “the court's two most conservative members, Scalia and Thomas, disagreed” with the majority ruling. Anchor Bob Woodruff, however, had teased the newscast: "Two major civil rights groups sue to shut down the Bush administration's secret eavesdropping program." Pierre Thomas made those suing seem innocuous, relaying how the “attorneys, along with authors, scholars and Muslim support groups, claim unauthorized government eavesdropping will limit their ability to do their jobs." Over on NBC, Pete Williams noted how “Christian conservatives today called the ruling dangerous,” yet anchor Brian Williams announced how “today, civil rights lawyers filed the first lawsuit to challenge the government's program of monitoring the overseas phone calls of some Americans." (Transcripts follow.)
FNC’s Brit Hume on Monday night picked up on how, in trying to smear Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito as a bigot, Senator Ted Kennedy, in a quote showcased by many media outlets, read from what was really a satire. Hume noted how at the hearings last week Kennedy read this from a magazine published by Concerned Alumni of Princeton (CAP): “People nowadays just don't seem to know their place. Everywhere one turns, blacks and Hispanics are demanding jobs simply because they're black and Hispanic.” Hume informed his viewers: “But the magazine's editor at the time says the article was pure satire, a send-up of what liberals think conservatives think. He added quote, 'I think left-wing groups have been feeding Senator Kennedy snippets and he has been mindlessly reciting them,' unquote." As Tim Graham noted in a Friday NewsBusters item, in his ABCNews.com blog that day, Jake Tapper first reported how Dinesh D’Souza, the editor to whom Hume referred, had let him know that the 1983 piece in Prospect magazine was satire.
Last week, NBC, CNN and the Washington Post -- amongst many other outlets -- highlighted Kennedy’s reading of the quote, which he displayed on a board behind him, yet none, as far as I’ve observed, have offered any clarification. NBC’s Pete Williams featured the Kennedy soundbite on Wednesday’s NBC Nightly News and Thursday’s Today; CNN’s Bob Franken recited it himself on Thursday’s American Morning; and two Thursday Washington Post stories quoted Kennedy’s citation of the quote. (Rundown follows.)
NBC and ABC on Monday night gave time to short items on Al Gore's charge, leveled during a morning speech, that President Bush's “domestic surveillance” means he “has been breaking the law repeatedly and insistently." And MSNBC's Countdown led with it as host Keith Olbermann showcased a clip of Gore with his allegation before Olbermann insisted: "Just more old-fashioned partisanship? Not when it's Bob Barr joining Gore in the same complaint about NSA spying. Not when it's Arlen Specter calling for a full investigation." Seeing great import in the Gore-Barr alliance, Olbermann ruminated about how “the creations of the last two serious third political parties in this country define the cliche politics makes strange bedfellows.” Seemingly suggesting a potential repeat scenario, Olbermann recalled how in 1854 Republicans “started as a third party with disaffected Democrats abandoning their own sitting President and the Whigs, who had been in office until a year earlier, deserting en masse, putting aside their personal hatreds to create a one-issue party against slavery.”
NBC anchor Brian Williams relayed how “Gore made some of the toughest charges yet from a prominent Democrat. He called for an independent investigation of the NSA spy program which he called a threat to the very structure of our government." After a clip of Gore's declaration, “What we do know about this pervasive wiretapping virtually compels the conclusion that the President of the United States has been breaking the law [rising applause] repeatedly and insistently," Williams offered no contrary view and then passed along how "Al Gore noted that he gave the speech on Martin Luther King Day because Dr. King himself had been a victim of illegal domestic spying by the FBI." But in holding the FBI accountable for the “spying,” Williams obscured who was behind it: Liberal heroes Lyndon Johnson and Robert Kennedy. ABC anchor Elizabeth Vargas at least pointed out that while “Gore called for an independent counsel to investigate the program,” it's a policy “which the administration has said is, in fact, legal." (Transcripts follow.)
Interviewing liberal Republican Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter on Sunday’s This Week, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos devoted all of his questions about the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito, to chafing over his position on abortion and how he will make the Court “more conservative.” Stephanopoulos first asked: “You are pro-choice and you’re voting for Judge Alito. Does that mean you’re convinced he won't vote to overturn Roe v. Wade?” Next, Stephanopoulos worried that, unlike, Chief Justice John Roberts, Alito “wouldn't use the word 'settled law’ to describe Roe v. Wade. And despite your best efforts, he also wouldn't describe it as a 'super-super precedent,’ so he did seem to leave a lot of wiggle room there.” Stephanopoulos then pointed out the guidance offered by the New York Times: “The New York Times editorial page said that abortion rights supporters like you should not be able to support Judge Alito in good conscience. How do you respond?” In his fourth and last question on the hearings, before moving on to “eavesdropping,” Stephanopoulos fretted: “Isn't it very likely that now with Judge Roberts, and the likely confirmation of Judge Alito, that the Supreme Court is going to shift in a more conservative direction?” (Transcript follows.)
The media’s idolizing of Democratic Congressman John Murtha, who in November advocated withdrawing from Iraq, will continue on Sunday’s 60 Minutes, which will feature a segment on him and his supposedly prescient forecast that most troops will soon leave Iraq, by Mike Wallace, a journalist who has already made clear that he shares Murtha’s view of the war. In late November on FNC, Wallace contended that "Iraq is becoming a kind of Vietnam" and asserted that "we should never have gone into Iraq. We were sold a bill of goods." Back in 2004 at a Smithsonian forum, Wallace argued that “this is not, in my estimation, a good war” and declared that “it sure is not a noble enterprise.'"
Previewing, on Friday's CBS Evening News the Sunday 60 Minutes segment, Wallace bucked up Murtha’s credibility by touting how he “is a decorated veteran of both the Korean and Vietnam Wars. He was a Marine for 37 years, knows a lot about the military, been a Congressman for 32 years, so he knows a bit about politics, too.” And “based on all of that, he told us that most American troops will be out of Iraq a lot sooner than we think." The brief excerpt from the Sunday 60 Minutes piece focused on Murtha’s prediction that by the end of the year the “vast majority” of troops will be out of Iraq. Wallace relayed: “Murtha told us that mounting pressure from constituents in this election year will force the Congress to pass his withdrawal plan or something like it to bring the troops home." I’d bet the full 13-14 minute version on Sunday night, which is previewed on CBSNews.com, will include a lot more admiration for Murtha and his cause. (Transcripts of the CBS Evening News story, as well as Wallace’s comments about Iraq, follow.)
CBS’s Gloria Borger on Thursday night applied a disparaging and misleading description to Concerned Alumni of Princeton (CAP), providing only the assessment that the group “fought against admitting women and minorities to the school,” when the group, at least on the minority front, just wanted all those admitted to meet the same academic standards. (One wonders if when Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign gets going journalists will show such concern for her support of the sexist Wellesley College.) But Borger also, unlike the ABC or NBC evening newscasts, highlighted a “liberal” former law clerk for nominee Samuel Alito who denounced Democrats: “They are smearing a man of honor and integrity and I am, quite frankly, ashamed of my party at this time."
After Borger’s story, CBS Evening News anchor Bob Schieffer turned to the Chicago Tribune’s Jan Crawford Greenburg who warned that “there's little question” that Alito “would move this court to the right” since “Justice O'Connor provided the critical fifth vote with liberals on key social issues like abortion, religion, affirmative action, and the death penalty.” A confused Schieffer seemed to suggest that Alito alone could threaten Roe, or not: "Well, do you say that he might overturn Roe v. Wade, the key decision on abortion? That's not what you're saying?" Greenburg maintained that “Roe is not at stake with this nomination. Five justices on the court now would uphold Roe.” Framing the issue as one of abortion “rights,” not extending protection of the unborn, Greenburg predicted: “What is more likely is that he would be more willing than Justice O'Connor to allow states to restrict abortion, put greater regulations on the abortion right." (Partial transcript follows.)
All three broadcast network evening shows on Wednesday night highlighted Mrs. Alito crying at the Senate confirmation hearing for her husband Samuel, as Republican Senator Lindsey Graham apologized for character attacks on her husband by left-wing Senators. Citing the breakdown, CBS’s Gloria Borger suggested the emotional outburst “may be the picture that people really remember from these hearings,” and she asked: “The question is whether the Democrats took this a step too far today?" But ABC adopted as fact the liberal Democratic allegations about the supposedly bigoted agenda of Concerned Alumni of Princeton (CAP). World News Tonight anchor Elizabeth Vargas referred to Alito’s “membership in a controversial group opposed to women and minorities at his college.” The subsequent report from George Stephanopoulos highlighted a soundbite of Democratic Senator Richard Durbin describing CAP as one which “would discriminate against women and minorities." Stephanopoulos relayed how Democrats “say the group was notorious for its discriminatory agenda when Alito listed it in his 1985 job application for the Reagan Justice Department. So notorious that prominent Princeton alumni like Senate Republican Leader Bill Frist had publicly disavowed it."
In fact, a founder of the group, William Rusher, told National Review Online that CAP was simply “a group of alumni who were concerned over various liberal tendencies that had developed in the Princeton administration." A member of the group, former New Jersey Superior Court Judge Andrew Napolitano, now an FNC contributor, told FNC’s John Gibson late Wednesday afternoon that it was not “anti-integrationist, anti-feminist,” but instead “was a traditional, conservative mainstream organization.” Napolitano added that the group’s magazine, from which Senator Ted Kennedy read to smear Alito with guilt by association, had as its editor a woman as well as a man who was a native of India. (More from Napolitano, as well as transcripts of the ABC and CBS stories, follow.)
At an event in Louisville, Kentucky Wednesday afternoon, President George W. Bush said that “I expect there to be an honest debate about Iraq” and he urged people to be “mindful about what messages out of the country can do to the morale of our troops.” He went on to “welcome the voices of people saying, you know, ‘Mr. President, you shouldn't have made that decision,’ or, you know, ‘you should have done it a better way,’” but castigated those who say “‘he lied.’ Or, ‘they're in there for oil.’ Or ‘they're doing it because of Israel.’ That's the kind of debate that basically says the mission and the sacrifice were based on false premise.”
But on Wednesday’s World News Tonight, Martha Raddatz centered an entire story around, in response to the question of “How can people help on the war on terror?", this soundbite from Bush: "One way people can help as we're coming down the pike in the 2006 elections, is remember the effect that rhetoric can have on our troops in harm's way." That was all viewers heard from Bush -- nothing about how he was specifically admonishing politicians against derisive “Bush lied/war for oil/blame the Jews” hate speech. Nonetheless, Raddatz then moved to discredit Bush’s point by highlighting how “Marine Corps reservist Andrew Horne, a two-time Iraq veteran and now a congressional candidate” asserted that “the President is attempting to limit debate about the war because it is not going well." Horne then denounced Bush for trying to censor the very kind of “honest” analysis Bush specifically said was within bounds: "I don't think, you know, honest criticism damages morale at all, you know. When I was there, it didn't damage my morale one bit."
Raddatz recited how nine of eleven Iraq war vets running for Congress are Democrats, before she wrapped up: "The Republicans are clearly worried about some of these candidates and the war in Iraq, or the President wouldn't keep making these speeches, Bob." Co-anchor Bob Woodruff then endorsed her spin: "Good point.” (Transcripts follow.)
ABC led Tuesday’s World News Tonight by touting an “exclusive” story from Brian Ross -- an interview with one of the sources for the December 16 New York Times story which disclosed an ongoing secret operation to monitor communication by people inside the U.S. with terror suspect abroad. "Tonight, the whistleblower who spent decades spying for the U.S.," co-anchor Bob Woodruff teased before co-anchor Elizabeth Vargas joined in with an ominous-sounding warning: "He says millions of American may have been monitored illegally. An ABC News ‘Exclusive.'" Three times ABC championed the man as a “whistleblower,” never once suggesting less pure motives, and Ross didn’t raise any questions about damage the leak may have caused.
Woodruff announced: “Targeted by the probe,” of who leaked the secret knowledge, “is a former NSA official who now wants to tell Congress exactly what he knows about the surveillance program.” Ross identified him as Russ Tice and relayed how "Tice now says some of those secret black world programs run by the NSA were operated in ways that violated the law." Ross also passed along how “Tice told ABC News he was one of the Times' dozen anonymous sources" for the “story of the NSA eavesdropping without warrants.” But instead of showing any concern for the disregard of secrecy, as the two sat in an eerily dark setting, Ross empathized with Tice’s plight: "Are you concerned you could be prosecuted and sent to prison for talking to the New York Times and talking to us today?" Not until the very end of the story did Ross note how "Tice lost his job last May after the NSA revoked his security clearances citing psychological concerns.” So, he may just be a disgruntled ex-employee with an axe to grind, not a heroic “whistleblower.” (Transcript follows.)
UPDATE, 1:45am EST Wednesday: Cynthia McFadden introduced the Nightline version of the Ross story by hailing Tice’s “candor,” as she fretted about how he “may now face a government investigation” because of it. In the slightly longer piece, Tice insisted he did not divulge any classified information to the New York Times and Ross noted how Tice reported that intercepting al Qaeda communication has been “a huge success,” so he pressed Tice about “what’s wrong with” the effort to listen in when it could “stop terror attacks?” (Details below.)
CBS’s Gloria Borger was so intent on tying Tom DeLay to Jack Abramoff that she “obtained” -- meaning someone with an agenda gave to her -- a very blurry C-SPAN video which she trumpeted on Monday’s CBS Evening News: "In this 2003 videotape of a convention of College Republicans obtained by CBS News, Jack Abramoff all but called Tom DeLay his hero." After running a clip of Abramoff declaring that "Tom DeLay is who all of us want to be when we grow up," Borger, as if a public official can control who praises him, ran video of Abramoff giving DeLay a hug as she charged: "Now the cozy relationship between the lobbyist and the leader has left DeLay without a top job in the House and left Republicans scrambling to keep their majority.”
Two days earlier, CBS suggested the GOP is in a “panic.” On Saturday’s CBS Evening News, just hours after DeLay announced his decision to not seek reinstatement as House Majority Leader, anchor Thalia Assuras asked reporter Gloria Borger: "So is there panic in the Republican Party?" Borger, who in her preceding lead story had described DeLay as "a brash, often uncompromising conservative," affirmed the thesis forwarded by Assuras: "I would have to say there is some panic, an awful lot of nervousness in the aftermath of this Jack Abramoff scandal..." (More in Monday’s MRC CyberAlert. Full transcript of Borger’s Monday story follows.)
ABC anchor Elizabeth Vargas approached Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter from the left in a taped interview played on Monday’s World News Tonight. She described the fairly liberal Pennsylvanian as “a moderate Republican” before empathizing with him over Alito’s apparent position that the Constitution does not provide a right to abortion: “How bothered are you by comments that he's made in 1985 in memos, saying that there is not a constitutional right? The Constitution does not protect the right to have an abortion?" Vargas pointed out to Specter how “you are one of a handful of pro-choice Republicans” and wondered: “But if you get the sense in these hearings that Judge Alito would overturn or weaken Roe versus Wade, would that make him unqualified if your opinion?" When Specter insisted that “there are no extraordinary circumstances to warrant filibustering Judge Alito,” a seemingly astounded Vargas blurted: "None?" Vargas also touted how Specter, a cancer survivor, “fights passionately for stem cell research." (Complete transcript follows.)
Tom DeLay’s ouster from the House leadership is the “one good thing that's come out” of the Abramoff scandal, CBS’s Andy Rooney declared Friday night during a live appearance on CNN’s Larry King Live. Asked by King about “the tapping of phones in the interest of national security,” Rooney called it “a disgrace, an absolute disgrace. And how the President has convinced himself or how the Vice President has convinced the President that this is a good thing to do, in the interests of American security, it's a disgrace." But when King suggested that “you think it's despots that do that in times of,” before King got to the word “war,” Rooney rejected King’s characterization of Bush: “Yes, they certainly do. I'm not willing to call President Bush a despot.” Rooney went on to regret how Bush gets bad information: “I don't know where he gets his information, but I don't think it's very good."
Journalists have eagerly passed along, and themselves formulated, complaints that President Bush is too isolated (ie Newsweek’s “Bush in a bubble”). But after, at his invitation, 13 former Secretaries of State and Defense came to the White House Thursday for a briefing on Iraq and a chance to give Bush and his top foreign policy officials their feedback, ABC anchor Bob Woodruff copied from a snide New York Times posting as he sneeringly stressed how “the dialogue was limited” since “the entire affair lasted just 40 minutes.” He added, as if it had some great import, that “we're told...that former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who has criticized the administration's handling of the war, did not say a word." To that tidbit, World News Tonight co-anchor Elizabeth Vargas chirped in: "Interesting."
Did the entire event really last just 40 minutes? The New York Times story posted Thursday afternoon simply referred to “an exceedingly upbeat 40-minute briefing to 13 living former Secretaries of State and Defense about how well things are going in Iraq.” Presumably, since news accounts related the advice given to Bush by several attendees, that was preceded and/or followed by time for comments. The Times story even later noted that Bush heard from the group for another ten minutes, followed by time with his advisers. I reviewed stories aired on all three cable news networks, as well as the AP and Washington Post postings, but none included any information about the length of the consultation. [Update, 8:30am EST Friday: In the story in the hard copy edition of Friday's Washington Post, Jim VandeHeireported that "Bush spent an hour" with the "prominent foreign policy voices."]
Woodruff, who read ABC’s short item from Israel, clearly took his cue from David Sanger’s New York Times story which was much snootier than articles posted elsewhere. (Comparisons follow.)
Howard Kurtz, in his Thursday Washington Post story on Ted Koppel’s decision to join the Discovery Channel, revealed a tantalizing tidbit in his tenth paragraph about who first reached out to Tom Bettag, the Executive Producer of Nightline until Koppel’s departure from ABC in November: “The first contact came on Dec. 1, the week after Koppel's last Nightline broadcast, when Don Baer, a Discovery executive vice president who previously worked in the Clinton White House, e-mailed and then called Bettag.” (Bettag and several others from Koppel's ABC crew will follow Koppel to Discovery.)
Indeed, after nine years at U.S. News & World Report, where he rose to Assistant Managing Editor, in 1994 Baer jumped to the Clinton White House to become the chief speechwriter for President Clinton, and was later elevated to Communications Director for the Clinton White House. Baer reportedly so admired Bill Clinton that he effused about how Clinton was “the moral leader of the Universe.” (Details follow.)
Displaying a hostility to President Bush and the Iraq war similar to that expressed by Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart, on Tuesday’s Late Show David Letterman went further than I’ve ever heard him in revealing his derision for President Bush’s decision to launch the Iraq war and contempt for anyone who dares to criticize Cindy Sheehan. [This node, first posted at 10:45pm EST Tuesday based on a limited video clip preview of the show, was updated and substantially revised at 2am EST Wednesday.]
Letterman normally tries to make the guest look as good and entertaining as possible. But he greeted FNC’s Bill O’Reilly with disdain. When O’Reilly urged an end to tagging Bush as a “liar,” scolded Cindy Sheehan for calling the insurgents “freedom fighters” and urged people to be “very careful with what we say" in disparaging others, Letterman took him to task: "Well, and you should be very careful with what you say also." Letterman demanded: "How can you possibly take exception with the motivation and the position of someone like Cindy Sheehan?" And he tried to discredit O’Reilly’s contention: “Have you lost family members in armed conflict?" When O'Reilly conceded that "no, I have not," Letterman castigated him: "Well, then you can hardly speak for her, can you?"
Letterman mockingly recalled: "The President himself, less than a month ago said we are there because of a mistake made in intelligence. Well, whose intelligence? It was just somebody just get off a bus and handed it to him?" Letterman demanded: “Why the Hell are we there to begin with?" When O’Reilly pointed out that the British, Russians and Egyptians also presumed Iraq had WMD, Letterman retorted: “Well then that makes it all right?" Turning unusually serious, Letterman soon lectured: “I'm very concerned about people like yourself who don't have nothing but endless sympathy for a woman like Cindy Sheehan. Honest to Christ. Honest to Christ." That prompted O’Reilly to contend: “No way a terrorist who blows up women and children is going to be called a ‘freedom fighter' on my program." To which Letterman fired back: “I have the feeling about 60 percent of what you say is crap.”
Exactly two weeks after ABC’s Terry Moran, on the December 19 Nightline, pounded away at Vice President Dick Cheney on the treatment of detainees and the eavesdropping story, an interview in which Moran condescendingly proposed to Cheney that the VP’s refusal to refute prisoner-abuse allegations and “surveilling Americans” by the Bush administration, left Moran ashamed of a country he would not want to “pass on” to his daughters, the Monday night broadcast delivered an obsequious session with Democratic Congressman John Murtha. Moran plugged the two-part segment : "Just ahead on Nightline, we'll have a Marine's lonely stand. Lawmaker John Murtha like you've never heard him before. Why this Vietnam combat vet says he'd never sign up for Iraq."
Jon Donvan, who conducted the taped interview in Murtha’s office, never challenged him as he touted Murtha’s “remarkable” comments and how his criticism of the Iraq war came “like a thunder clap” -- as if the media didn’t create the storm. But Donvan didn’t hesitate to try to discredit Murtha’s critics. Donvan contended that “the White House and its supporters set out immediately to smear Murtha's standing as an American” and insisted he’s “protected by his reputation from any smear campaign that wants to suggest he is anti-American or chicken because everyone knows that he is neither.” Donvan maintained that “Murtha's resume on defense is unassailable.” After Murtha agreed with Donvan’s proposition that it was “a wrong war to go into from the beginning," Donvan gushed: "It's very rare, very rare to hear anybody in politics come out and say 'I made a mistake.'”
Donvan also set up Murtha with a “chicken hawk” line of attack: "Do you think in the end that the enthusiasm for going to Iraq that the President had would have been different if, like you, he had actually ever seen combat? Or if Dick Cheney, like you, had ever actually seen combat or Rumsfeld or Wolfowitz or Feith, men who wanted to go to war and had never seen combat?” (Complete transcript, and a link back to Nightline’s hostility to Cheney, follows.)
Asked by Tim Russert to name the biggest story of 2005, on Sunday’s Meet the Press Jon Meacham, Managing Editor of Newsweek, lamented how President Bush’s incompetence on Katrina and Iraq has disillusioned the new generation about the great “positive” things government can do. Meacham fretted that the new “generation coming of political consciousness, they're coming to consciousness when there are many, many questions about the competence of the government in Katrina, the competence of the government in terms of intelligence.” But, he rued, “there's not the good part which happened in the '60s. There's not a civil rights movement. There's not a race to the moon, where things are, show what government can do in a positive way.” Meacham zeroes in on Bush as he bemoaned how Bush’s conduct “has raised a lot of questions about fundamental competence of the government, both abroad and at home, whether it's in Baghdad or in New Orleans." A conservative might see that as an unintended positive development.
Meacham was joined on the roundtable by New York Times columnist William Safire, Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson and NBC’s favorite historian, the left-wing Doris Kearns Goodwin, who chafed over how President George W. Bush has “taken the negative parts of his father about raising no taxes.” (Transcript excerpts follow.)
Interviewing General Peter Pace, from Iraq, on Sunday’s This Week, fill-in host Terry Moran pressed the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: "One of the concerns that people have right now, post-election, is that it's one thing in a democracy to learn how to vote, it's another to learn how to lose. Are you concerned at all, and is the United States prepared, for the potential of a civil war?" Pace assured Moran that is unlikely. Later in the day, on the CBS Evening News, after Kelly Cobiella reported from Iraq on Sunni dissatisfaction with the election results, anchor John Roberts put “civil war” into play: “Are we seeing the very first signs of a potential civil war here?"
Dan Rather fawned over former President Bill Clinton, and giddily promoted Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid, in a new story for the New Year’s day 60 Minutes ostensibly focused on Clinton’s effort to get low-priced AIDS medicines into China. Rather pointed out how Clinton couldn’t take Air Force One on a trip to China, and wondered: “Do you miss it?" Clinton said he misses the workplace on it. Rather, looking bemused, followed up: "Do you, in some quiet moment, look forward to the time when maybe you fly on it in a different capacity, as First Husband?" Rather then trumpeted Geena Davis’ character on ABC's Commander-in-Chief: "We now have on television, we have a woman President of the United States. Is the country ready for a woman President, a real woman President as opposed to one on television?" CBSNews.com has posted a semi-transcript of the story, but by providing summaries of Rather’s inquiries, instead of a word-for-word transcript, the sycophantic nature of Rather’s exchange is obscured. (Transcript follows.)
Earlier in the story, Rather hit Clinton from the left on the prices charged by pharmaceutical companies: “Too strong, or not strong enough, to say there’s price-gouging on these AIDS medicines?” Clinton pointed out: "Their view is they're protecting their intellectual property." Rather wasn’t convinced: "Can you argue with anybody who says, 'well I think it’s price gouging’?” Clinton came around: “Well, in my mind, I think they could sell them for a lot less without losing money. I do think that."
Without identifying David Cole as the “legal affairs correspondent” for the far-left magazine The Nation, Friday’s World News Tonight on ABC featured his denigration of the probe into who leaked the secret eavesdropping story to the New York Times and his expert declaration that “the President of the United States violated a clear criminal prohibition on warrantless wiretapping.” Reporter Pierre Thomas described Cole as a “constitutional scholar” and the on-screen graphic read: "Prof Georgetown Univ Law School." Cole’s latest piece for The Nation calls Bush an “Emperor.” Thomas did balance Cole with former federal prosecutor David Schertler, but the former homicide prosecutor has no equivalent ties to right-wing politics and did not make a declaration about which side of the dispute is correct.
Substitute anchor Claire Shipman set up the story by mis-characterizing the surveillance of international contacts with those linked to terrorists: "Now to the administration's secret eavesdropping program in which the government monitors domestic conversations without a warrant.” Thomas highlighted how “some constitutional scholars say the NSA spying is illegal and that the New York Times article disclosing it is a public service. They say this investigation is retribution." Cole argued: “On the face of it, there were two crimes committed here. One, a leak by a government official, something that happens almost every day in Washington. The other, the President of the United States violated a clear criminal prohibition on warrantless wiretapping. Yet which one is being investigated?" (More from Cole in The Nation, as well as a full transcript of the ABC story, follows.)
Catching up with an item from last week, on the Christmas weekend edition of the McLaughlin Group which featured the show’s annual “Year-End Awards,” Newsweek’s Eleanor Clift named Cindy Sheehan her “Person of the Year.” Clift championed Sheehan’s negative impact on President Bush: “I give it to Cindy Sheehan, the Gold Star mother who gave the President a vacation from Hell and brought the war home in a way that it hadn’t been before and set the stage for the deceleration in the President’s poll ratings.”
In other categories, Clift assigned the “Best Spin” to the “shameless spin” from the Bush White House of “allowing the terrorists to kill thousands of Americans in Iraq so that they won’t kill thousands of Americans here.” For “Fairest Rap,” Clift forwarded: “The Bush administration misled us into war. They exaggerated the evidence they believed was true and left out all the caveats.” And for “Best Photo-Op,” Clift picked “President Bush trying to get out of a locked door. Wonderful metaphor for the trap he’s in in Iraq.”
Though Bob Schieffer introduced Wednesday's CBS Evening News by using loaded language as he pointed out how, “to protest the President's decision to continue spying on American citizens, a federal judge took the unprecedented step of resigning from the court that issues warrants in such cases,” an event also highlighted by ABC and NBC, unlike those networks, CBS White House correspondent John Roberts informed viewers how “the President got support today from an unusual quarter: Democrat Jane Harman, a key figure on the House Intelligence Committee.” He highlighted how she asserted that “I believe the program is essential to U.S. national security” and, in a slam at the leaker and the New York Times, that the “disclosure has damaged critical intelligence capabilities.” Schieffer, however, remained most interested in the resignation. After Roberts wrapped up his story, Schieffer marveled to him: “I want to go back to this federal judge resigning. I must say in all my years in the news business, I've never heard of a federal judge resigning in protest over anything.”
ABC held its “eavesdropping” coverage to an anchor-read brief, but one devoted to the judge, while in a full story on the Patriot Act and Bush's “decision to order spying inside the U.S. without a warrant,” NBC's Kelly O'Donnell highlighted the resignation. (Transcript excerpts follow.)
CNN on Tuesday afternoon gave credibility to the ruminations from a few hardcore leftists that President Bush should be impeached over authorizing, without prior court approval, eavesdropping on people within U.S. borders communicating with those abroad who have ties to al-Qaeda. Both Jack Cafferty and anchor Wolf Blitzer raised the subject during the 4pm EST hour of The Situation Room. Cafferty's question of the hour: “Do you think it's an impeachable offense for the President to authorize domestic spying without a warrant?” He set that up by insisting that “if you listen carefully, you can hear the word impeachment.” He asserted that “two congressional Democrats are using it, and they're not the only ones,” referring to how “Senator Barbara Boxer sent a letter to legal experts yesterday asking if they think the President's wiretapping of phone calls without a warrant is a quote, ‘impeachable offense,' unquote.” Cafferty cited the claims of John Dean and touted how Newsweek's Jonathan Alter “says that similar abuse of power was part of the impeachment charge brought against Richard Nixon in 1974.” (Tom Johnson filed a NewsBusters item on Alter's online rant.)
Sandwiched between Cafferty's question and his reading of e-mail replies, Blitzer set up a live interview with Boxer on Capitol Hill: “Some Democrats now are raising the possibility that Mr. Bush's authorization of the plan may be an actual impeachable offense. Joining us now, one of the staunchest critics, Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer of California. Precisely, Senator Boxer, where do you stand on this very sensitive issue of impeachment?" Blitzer did, however, soon move on to challenging Democratic spin on the “domestic spying” matter. (Transcripts follow.)
In an interview conducted Sunday in Iraq with Vice President Dick Cheney, and shown on Monday’s Nightline, Terry Moran decided “to put this personally” and condescendingly proposed to Cheney that the VP’s refusal to refute prisoner-abuse allegations and “surveilling Americans” by the Bush administration, leaves Moran ashamed of a country he would not want to “pass on” to his daughters. Moran asked: “I'd like to put this personally, if I can. You're a grandfather. I'm a father. When we look at those girls and we think that the country we're about to pass to them is a country where the Vice President can't say whether or not we have secret prisons around the world, whether water-boarding and mock executions is consistent with our values, and a country where the government is surveilling Americans without the warrant of a court -- is that the country we want to pass on to them?" Moran followed up by declaring that thanks to administration policies, “it's not the America we grew up in" and he countered Cheney’s defense of tough anti-terror policies: "Even if it's changing who we are?"
Moran’s contention, that Cheney and Bush are changing America for the worse, came during a series of questions about prisoner treatment which Moran fired at Cheney as the two sat outside on stools at a military base in Iraq. Moran demanded: "Should American interrogators be staging mock executions, water-boarding prisoners?” Cheney answered: "I'm not getting into specifics. You're getting into questions about sources and methods and I don't talk about that, Terry." In mock indignation, Moran retorted, before Cheney cut him off: "As Vice President of the United States you can't tell the American people whether or not-" Moran also pursued questions about whether “the United States maintain secret prisons around the world?" And: “Does the International Red Cross have access to everyone in U.S. custody, as we are obliged?" (Transcript follows.)
Picking up on a front page New York Times story, “Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts,” the three broadcast networks led Friday night with the revelation, which animated the cable networks during the day, about how post-9/11 the NSA has monitored communication by a few thousand people in the U.S. in touch with those on al-Qaeda lists captured in Pakistan, or an expanding chain of those connected to that initial cache. Despite the limited focus on identifying sleeper agents before they could murder Americans, the networks treated the policy as a violation of the rights of all Americans. With “Big Brother” in front of a picture of President Bush, ABC anchor Bob Woodruff teased: “Big brother, the uproar over a secret presidential order giving the government unprecedented powers to spy on Americans." NBC's Brian Williams teased: "Government spying. Tonight, revelations of domestic eavesdropping on hundreds of phone calls by the federal government, part of top secret orders by President Bush after 9/11." Williams insisted that now “the questions begin about civil liberties and privacy and the protection of all of us.”
Though the White House maintains the policy is legal and congressional leaders as well as a federal judge were told about it in 2002, CBS characterized the policy as illegal. CBS anchor Bob Schieffer asked: "Has the government been using its spy satellites to illegally eavesdrop on Americans?” Schieffer then declared as fact: "It is against the law to wiretap or eavesdrop on the conversations of Americans in this country without a warrant from a judge, but the New York Times says that is exactly what the President secretly ordered the National Security Agency to do in the months after 9/11.” (Transcripts of the newscast leads, and some excerpts from the New York Times story, follow.)
The three broadcast network evening newscasts, particularly ABC and NBC, led Thursday night with glowingly positive spins on the election in Iraq. ABC's Elizabeth Vargas, the only anchor in Iraq, celebrated in her tease: “So much pride. So much joy. The chance at a better future.” She then led World News Tonight with how “millions of Iraqis went to the polls in unprecedented numbers. They did so to elect a parliament which will write a new constitution and elect a new government.” Remarkably, she pointed out how “the Bush administration set this process into motion nearly three years ago with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.” Campbell Brown, filling in for Brian Williams, teased NBC Nightly News: “A huge turnout. Millions casting their votes on a peaceful and historic day." She began her program by trumpeting: “It has been quite simply a remarkable day in Iraq, one that could have a real impact on the U.S. mission there. Millions of Iraqis all across the country lined up to cast ballots in today's historic elections. Even among Iraq's Sunni Arabs, as well as Shiites and Kurds, the turnout was heavy.”
Bob Schieffer suggested surprise at the success as he teased the CBS Evening News: “Iraq held an election and millions voted. It really happened, but what happens next?” Schieffer then delivered a positive, yet more muted than ABC or NBC, lead in which he described “one of the largest turnouts for a free election in the history of the Arab world.” (Transcripts follow.)
A couple of left-wing groups organized a small protest outside the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday to denounce imaginary “cuts” in spending on programs for the poor, but instead of properly labeling the protesters or pointing out how the “cuts” are nothing more than a slowing of the rate of long-soaring growths in the programs, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams saw non-ideological “religious activists” who were “arrested after a sit-in protesting a controversial Republican budget bill that will cut $42 billion from a range of federal programs, including health care for the poor and elderly, child care, student loans and food stamps."
Williams probably took his cue from AP reporter Elizabeth White, who led her dispatch by citing how “U.S. Capitol Police arrested 115 religious activists who were protesting a House Republican budget plan's cuts in social programs...” She described Jim Wallis, “the event's organizer,” simply as the “founder of the Christian ministry group Sojourners.” In fact, Sojourners, and co-sponsor Call to Renewal, are quite liberal. Even Wednesday's Washington Post, in a story previewing the protest, tagged Sojourners as a “liberal Christian journal.” Sojourners liked the AP story so much, they posted it on their Web site. (Lengthier transcripts, and an earlier example of NBC's hype of “cuts,” follow.)
The roundtable members Monday night on FNC’s Special Report with Brit Hume derided the premise of this week’s Newsweek cover story with President Bush on the cover inside a bubble. Inside the magazine, under the “Bush in the Bubble” headline, Evan Thomas and Richard Wolffe insisted: “Bush may be the most isolated President in modern history, at least since the late-stage Richard Nixon.”On FNC, Morton Kondracke contended “that this piece comes directly from the Washington establishment. ‘Bush is in a bubble that does not include us. We should be inside the bubble, all buzzing in Bush's ear.’” Kondracke contended that Bush talks to the people that he wants to talk to. But the people who he doesn't talk to is, you know, this Washington old guard that buzzes back to the press all the time." Mara Liasson of NPR rejected the premise of the article that Bush would act differently if only he talked to more people and suggested Newsweek was frustrated by a White House staff who “aren't inviting them in for long lunches where they bare their souls.”
Fred Barnes characterized the magazine’s take as a “hearty perennial...for journalism” and recalled how Newsweek had dismissed President Reagan’s White House as “The Detached Presidency." In fact, the September 7, 1981 Newsweek article was headlined: “A Disengaged Presidency.” But the first sentence of the story acknowledged the media’s lack of respect for Reagan and included the “detached” term: “For weeks the White House press corps has wondered and wisecracked about Ronald Reagan's detached style of leadership: his apparent unfamiliarity with some issues before him, his reliance on aides and campaign-style cue cards in dealing with Congressional power brokers and foreign leaders.” The piece, which carried Eleanor Clift’s byline, later charged: “Reagan's undemanding approach to his work can lead to embarrassing displays of inattention and ignorance.” (The discussion on FNC and how the Newsweek story also praised 41 for raising taxes, as well as an excerpt from the 1981 article, follow.)
NBC anchor Brian Williams raised a wide variety of issues with President Bush in interviews conducted through the day Monday, starting in the morning in the Oval Office and ending with a session following the President’s speech in Philadelphia. But in an interview conducted on Air Force One on the way to Philadelphia, and shown on Monday’s NBC Nightly News, Williams raised, in the guise of what he overheard someone wonder, the racist angle in the response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Williams proposed: “After the tragedy, I heard someone ask rhetorically, ‘What if this had been Nantucket, Massachusetts, or Inner Harbor Baltimore or Chicago or Houston?’ Are you convinced the response would have been the same? Was there any social or class or race aspect to the response?” Bush rejected the notion.
A September 9 NewsBusters item related, with video, how on the Daily Show on Comedy Central, Williams seemed to come dangerously close to endorsing the view that racism was behind the slow rescue of residents in New Orleans as he approvingly relayed how, a “refrain” he heard from “everyone watching the coverage all week,” was “had this been Nantucket, had this been Boston, Cleveland, Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, how many choppers would have-” At that point, audience applause caused him to cut off his sentence as he gestured toward the audience to cite affirmation of his point. Hard to imagine that if Williams heard the refrain, which is out there, that the hurricane’s destruction of abortion clinics in New Orleans shows it was meant as God’s punishment of sinful behavior in the city, Williams would have so willingly passed along that line of reasoning. (Transcript of the Williams-Bush exchange follows.)
NPR’s Nina Totenberg declared on this weekend’s Inside Washington that the House vote to extend the current tax rates on dividends and capital gains was “immoral” as she ridiculously claimed, in the face of ever-soaring entitlement spending, that Congress is cutting aid to the poor. Newsweek’s Evan Thomas backed her up, asserting that “we need to raise taxes...and who better to raise them on than the super-rich?" Totenberg argued of the tax rate extension vote: “I just think it's immoral to do that, not to mention fiscally irresponsible, when you're cutting people who have nothing -- from children off of Medicaid and mothers who depend on childcare losing the childcare and can't work. And then what do they do? Go back on welfare? I mean, it is, it's, I just think it's immoral." Columnist Charles Krauthammer tried to insert some rationality into the tax hike advocacy of Totenberg, Thomas and columnist Mark Shields, as he pointed ot that if the House position does not prevail and "you abolish" the current rate "you are essentially raising" taxes when that current rate expires in two years. (Transcript follows.)