I will always have a soft spot for NBC reporter Michelle Kosinski. After all, it was Michelle's Canoe-Gate stunt that got my NewsBusters career off to a nice start. Michelle was back on the weather beat on this morning's Today show. And once again she made a weather-related allegation that strained credulity.
As we know, in MSM-land all extreme weather events from the very hot to the very cold are somehow the result of global warming. Michelle's topic this morning was the record-breaking cold and heavy snows that have swept the nation's mid-section. She reported from a very cold and snowy Springfield, Illinois [snow in Springfield on the first full day of spring - haha, we get it]. But somehow, Michelle managed to parlay this unusually cold and wintry weather into the threat of . . . increased hurricane activity, which of course is the result of unusually warm weather in the tropics.
Was it David Gregory, or an SNL parody of a biased liberal MSMer? The topic on this morning's Today show was whether media coverage of Iraq has presented a distorted picture. Under the circumstances, you might have thought Gregory would have feigned some facsimile of fairness. But his very first question to James Carville advanced the theory that . . . President Bush is a liar.
Asked Gregory: "Is the problem for this president and top administration officials that the public doesn't believe what they say anymore?"
Like a top point guard, Laura Ingraham tenaciously fought through the Gregory-Carville double-team to make her case. She pointed out that NBC and the Today show expended huge resources to cover the Olympics and even to answer the question "Where in the World is Matt Lauer?" She suggested that they devote some of the same resources to broadcast the Today show directly from Iraq, that they accompany troops, speak with US and Iraqi military personnel and with villagers and see the reality on the ground.
On the third anniversary of the Iraq war, the Today show ran a generally predictable segment assessing successes and failures and looking to the future. To be sure, former Clinton administration official Wendy Sherman insisted that the President needs to start "telling the truth." And Gen. Barry McCaffrey thought that not deploying what he considered to be an adequate number of troops was a huge mistake. And yes, former Bush admin spokesman Dan Senor was more sanguine.
But when it came to revealing Today's bias, most telling were the three man-in-the-street interviews.
The first was a man who expressed support for the Commander-in-Chief, if not for the war per se, and hoped for the mission "to go through as smooth as possible, with as many, with the least number of lives lost as possible."
Have a look at the chart at the bottom and answer one simple question: what's the biggest gasoline-price story over the last six months? Sure looks as if it was the way gasoline prices nose-dived about 80 cents from September to November. Remember all those MSM stories highlighting the plunge? Neither do I.
But let market fluctuations push prices up about fifteen cents in the last month, and you can be sure that the MSM will start bemoaning 'soaring gas prices.'
As you can see from the screen capture, the Today show was at it this morning. In fact, as Today had to admit, we currently are enjoying "the biggest oil inventory in seven years," which normally would keep prices down. If there's a culprit in this scenario, perhaps we can thank those folks at Archer Daniels Midland and their friends in Congress who have forced ethanol down our throats and gas tanks.
When does healthy reportorial reserve cross the line into cynicism? Today's coverage this morning of Operation Swarmer, the counter-insurgency offensive in the Samarra region of Iraq, illustrates the issue.
NBC's skepticism was as clear as the legend that appeared on-screen throughout the segment: "Were Iraqi Targets Hit?" Surely it is appropriate to ask and try to answer how effective a military operation has been. But in openly wondering whether any targets were hit, Today perhaps comes close to labelling the operation a sham.
Questions about NBC's motives were only heightened when immediately following the Samarra segment, Today ran a piece, narrated by White House antagonist-in-chief David Gregory, which posed the question: "Politics of War: Can Bush Overcome Iraq?"
You'd think that of all days, they'd be believers over at Today this morning. After all, they were blessed with presidential poll numbers for which they were surely praying. Numbers so low that Matt Lauer, Tim Russert et. al could spend an extended first segment reveling in them.
Ironically, in sowing some GOP dissent, Lauer even used the language of religion, suggesting the low numbers were "a blessing in disguise" for congressional Republicans because "they can look and say I don't have a popular president here, I can turn my back on that president." Remind Frist and Hastert not to invite you to the next GOP Unity Rally, Matt.
I thought the MSM is ardently opposed to the death penalty. Aren't these the same folks who wrung their collective hands at the prospect of poor Tookie Williams getting the needle? Sure, he murdered four people in cold blood and joked about it, but hey! - he wrote a children's book.
But, no! The Today show was distraught at the prospect that "the 20th hijacker" might have slipped the noose [or the needle]. They went so far as to play a clip from a family member of one of the 9/11 victims saying that "I felt like my husband had been killed again." Shades of that NAACP anti-Bush ad from 2000. See item #2 here of this MRC report.
Was this a news report, or a coming attraction for a new series about inter-generational love? Perhaps there's a third explanation: a not-too-subtle kiss blown in the direction of a soon-to-be new employer.
Amidst rampant speculation that Katie Couric might be leaving the Today show to anchor the CBS Evening News, Couric narrated a segment on this morning's Today on the occasion of Mike Wallace's announcement this week that he will be retiring from '60 Minutes'. If you think it's impossible to sustain a gush for five minutes, you obviously weren't watching Katie this morning.
Excerpts from Katie's paen to Wallace:
He "seems to succeed at everything except slowing down."
"Fearless and willing to ask anything."
"How do you stay so vibrant, so active, so alert and continue to work so hard?"
His departure "leaves big shoes for 60 Minutes to fill."
"His legend will never fade."
Back in the studio, when Matt Lauer observed that "at 88, he is astounding," Katie offered up the ultimate accolade:
Give Dem strategist Hillary Rosen high marks for candor.
It's been obvious for ages that from Medicare to Social Security to foreign policy, the Dems don't have anything that comes close to a hint of a suggestion of an outline of a constructive proposal.
Just the same, Democrats deny that the only thing they have to offer is fear itself. They claim they're being constructive, and keep promising to come forth, at a date certain, with specific proposals. It's just that the date somehow manages never to arrive.
It was thus curiously refreshing to hear a Democrat admit what everyone knows: the Dems have no policy and see no reason to offer one. The particular context was the war in Iraq. Interviewing Rosen on this evening's Hardball, Chris Matthews asserted: "I don't think your party [your party?] has a policy."
Bush and Murtha: same struggle! At least, that's apparently how Joe Biden sees it. The senator from Delaware, interviewed by Katie Couric on this morning's Today show, criticized the administration's withdrawal of 30,000 troops from Iraq, and claimed the president "is determined to get it down under 100,000 troops this year. He will be down to 30,000 next year."
Biden - bidding for headlines? - continued: "his plan and Murtha's plan are not that far apart."
Of course there's a world of difference between Bush's plans and those of Murtha. As recently as in a speech given yesterday, Pres. Bush reaffirmed the US committment in these terms: "Our goal in Iraq is victory, and victory will be achieved when the terrorists and Saddamists can no longer threaten Iraq's democracy, when the Iraqi security forces can provide for the safety of their own citizens, and when Iraq is not a safe haven for terrorists to plot new attacks against our nation."
It's not exactly news to the GOP base that John McCain is not one of them. But it was perhaps noteworthy to hear Chris Matthews, ostensibly a McCain man [at least when it comes to his preference among Republican presidential hopefuls], acknowledge that fact on this evening's Hardball. He might also have raised eyebrows on the other side of the aisle by ripping Democrats for their weakness on illegal immigration.
Speaking of the issues that were stressed at this past weekend's Republican coffee klatsch in Memphis, Matthews stated "all I heard was . . . no gay marriage, immigration - lock it up, stop illegals - keep cutting taxes and keep appointing conservative justices."
If you put stock in the actual results of the Memphis GOP straw poll, you've got things . . . Oz backwards. At least, that's Chris Matthews' view.
In Dorothy's adventure, the Wizard cautioned us to "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain." But this morning, Chris Matthews told us that the way to understand what happened in Memphis was to do just that - look behind the curtain at the Republican heavy-hitters lining up behind John McCain.
Interviewed by Matt Lauer on this morning's Today show, Matthews claimed:
"The big thing for McCain is the strength he showed not in the straw vote [where he finished at the bottom of the pack] but among powerful people. [Haley] Barbour, Lindsey Graham, Trent Lott and [J.C.] Watts all talked up McCain. I think McCain is building up strength."
Being an early-to-bed type, I taped SNL overnight and was playing it this morning when Good Morning America's Sunday show came on. Watching co-host Kate Snow's performance, I was tempted to double-check to make sure I hadn't inadvertently hit the VCR button in the midst of a parody of vacuous blonde MSMer.
The screen capture here is revealing. When it comes to posing prettily, Snow's a peppy pro. But when it came to substance, she revealed not merely a tired MSM bias, but a lack of preparation and perhaps an even more inherent flaw.
For starters, consider Snow's choice of sources. She began by citing the NY Times, and had as her expert guest John Dickerson of the left-leaning online magazine Slate.
Tonight's Hardball post-mortem special on the just-concluded Memphis straw poll of GOP presidential hopefuls was a treasure trove for political junkies.
One obvious conclusion: it was good night for Mitt Romney. As a northerner, someone from Massachusetts and a Mormon at that, finishing second in the South was a notable accomplishment.
But Chuck Todd of the Hotline suggested another headline:
"The biggest thing: we'll look back at this conference by saying this is when we found out that Haley became McCain's southern sherpa. He has made McCain bona fide. I think a Haley-McCain coupling from this weekend sends gigantic shock waves to Republicans."
As has been well-documented by Media Research Center [parent organization of NewsBusters], while MSMers are loath to label anyone or anything 'liberal,' they don't hesitate to brand various entities or individuals 'conservative' or 'right-wing.' Well, folks, I believe we have a new world record in the category.
On tonight's Fox News Watch, in the course of discussing the case of Colorado teacher Jay Bennish - who compared President Bush to Hitler - liberal [there, I said it] Neal Gabler managed to utter the term 'right-wing' four times . . . in 14 seconds. Yes, I checked it by my VCR timer.
Ellen Ratner doesn't just like John McCain. She doesn't even just love him. Nope. Ellen lov-v-v-v-v-e-s the person that FCC rules require us to describe as "the maverick senator from Arizona."
But the question arises: just how influential will Ellen's adoration be for Republicans choosing their 2008 presidential candidate? Can we imagine they will not be particularly swayed by the whims of a woman who openly rooted for the war in Iraq to go badly so as to damage President Bush politically?
Ratner boarded Navy man McCain's love boat in the course of this morning's 'Long and the Short of It' segment on Fox & Friends Weekend, in which the diminutive Ratner regularly squares off with lanky conservative columnist Jim Pinkerton. The topic was the GOP 'cattle call' currently occuring in Memphis, at which attendees are hearing from several of the 2008 Republican hopefuls and will participate in a straw vote.
If ever Congress might have thought it was in for some Perky-One praise, it was this morning. After all, the kids on the Hill had just dealt President Bush a humiliating defeat on the ports deal, while safeguarding our terminals from those fanatical furriners.
But - surprise! - Katie came not to praise Congress, but to bury it.
Interviewing Tim Russert, Couric quickly turned the talk to the fact that "only 5% of the cargo coming into this country is checked. It might be one of the biggest national security threats we face as a nation in terms of terrorist attacks."
Katie then unloaded her shot in the guise of a question about Congress:
"Do they look feckless and misdirected by obsessing so much on this [UAE] issue and not perhaps looking at the big picture?"
For some time now, Chris Matthews has played the leitmotif of a "second-rate second term" at the White House. When on this evening's Hardball he invited Margaret Carlson to whack the Bush pinata, there were embarrassing consequences for the toothy ex-Time editor, now languishing at Bloomberg News.
Matthews tried his best to tee it up for Carlson:
"Margaret, I look at a pattern of events and they come out of people's mouths, conservatives, liberals, whatever: Katrina - competence question. That nomination for the Supreme Court, Harriet Miers, and now the ports issue. Is there a pattern of not being on base as we say in baseball, being caught off base by the President?"
Joe Scarborough had some tough stuff for both parties today. He revealed that Republicans believe they will lose the House of Representatives in 2006. But no thanks to the Dems, whose failure to exploit the political opportunity he ascribed to their being "stupid."
Scarborough's appearance with Matt Lauer on this morning's Today show capped a long segment themed "Has Bush Lost His Clout?" The answer was a resounding 'yes' in NBC's mind.
Today outlined a litany of presidential woe:
Being forced to accept changes to the Patriot Act to win its approval.
Action by Republicans in Congress to block the UAE ports deal.
Erosion of the president's "once ardent base."
Possibly being "forced to bend" on NSA surveillance.
A gloomy forecast for Iraq.
Dismal poll ratings.
Speaking of polls, NBC White House reporter Kelly O'Donnell only featured the results of polls showing Pres. Bush's approval ratings at or below 40%, ignoring major polls such as this one by the Washington Post/ABC that has the president above 40%.
Nina Burleigh burst on the national scene in 1998 when, as reported by MRC here, the former Time reporter famously said of Bill Clinton: "I'd be happy to give him [oral sex] just to thank him for keeping abortion legal."
Turns out the real culprit in the Colorado kerfuffle over the teacher who compared Pres. Bush to Hitler is . . . the student who complained about it. Just ask Matt Lauer.
Interviewing teacher Jay Bennish this morning, Lauer laid out this sympathetic scenario:
Lauer: "The family here, the student's family, didn't go to the school board with this tape."
Bennish: "They never contacted me."
Lauer: "They shopped it around to conservative media outlets and finally released it to one and created an uproar. On the tape you can hear Sean Allen [the student in question] asking you questions that seem to be egging you on a little bit. Do you feel you were set up?" (More of the transcript here with thanks to Geoffrey Dickens.)
Don't expect to see Chris Matthews and Hillary Clinton dining tête à tête any time soon. On this evening's Hardball, he described her as "Dukakis in a dress."
The comment arose in the course of his interview of House Majority Leader John Boehner. The topic was McCain. Boehner, perhaps with a grain of reluctance, labelled McCain a "good guy." But Boehner cut Matthews short when he floated a scenario in which the GOP would turn to McCain as its candidate "if you see Hillary coming, if it looks like she's got up a head of steam."
Boehner: "Wait a minute. You know, if ifs and buts and were candy and nuts, every day would be Christmas. I don't think she can win."
Give Katie Couric a Best Supporting Actress in the MSM production of "Doom & Gloom: the Iraq Story." Interviewing NBC military analyst Gen. Wayne Downing on this morning's Today Show, Couric was skeptical that Iraqi forces would ever be able to defend the country, underlined the view of a "vicious cycle" there, and darkly conjectured that civil war was only "a matter of time."
Couric noted reports that U.S. and British troops will pull out of Iraq by the spring of 2007, then stated: "The U.S. military denies those reports saying there is no time-table and U.S. troops will withdraw when the Iraqi forces can secure and defend that country."
I don't watch the network evening news shows. Really. But for whatever perverse reason, I decided to flip among ABC, NBC and CBS tonight, and hit some morally relativistic pay dirt. CBS Evening News equated attempted murder with the exercise of basic First Amendment freedoms.
Readers here are familiar with the incident in which the Iranian Mohammed Reza Taheri, with the reportedly admitted intent of avenging the mistreatment of Muslims, drove an SUV into a crowd on the campus of the University of North Carolina.
Introducing a segment on the incident, CBS stated: "It is the second skirmish over religion on campus in a few weeks."
Former FEMA Director Michael Brown offered Chris Wallace and Fox News Sunday an exclusive this morning, and in return Wallace gave Brown a platform from which to tee off on the Bush administration and in particular on DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff and Homeland Security Advisor Fran Townsend. Wallace probed Brown's arguments on occasion, but largely gave Brown free rein.
Highlights from the Brown hit parade:
"I think we had dropped the ball long before Katrina hit in not doing the kind of catastrophic disaster planning that the federal government should have been doing."
"Secretary Chertoff's order for me to stay [in the operations center] in Baton Rouge is one of the tipping points that made this disaster worse."
And here we thought the MSM was biased against President Bush. Wrong! On this evening's Fox News Watch, reliable lefty Neal Gabler informed us that just the opposite is true. Turns out. . . the MSM has uncritically propagated an overly positive image of the president. Who knew?
Gabler's shocking revelation came in the course of a discussion of the recent Katrina revisionism. In particular, News Watch aired footage from an ABC interview from this past week in which the president made this frank acknowledgement:
"Here's the problem that happened in Katrina. There was no situational awareness, and that means that we weren't getting good, solid information from people who were on the ground, and we need to do a better job. One reason we weren't is because communications systems got wiped out, and in many cases we were relying upon the media, who happened to have better situational awareness than the government. And when you have the media [with] better situational awareness than the government, the American people are saying, 'Wait a minute. What is happening? How come the federal Government and state government and local governments couldn't do a better job of providing information necessarily so that people could react better?"
Who would have thought it?: in the crucial first half-hour of their respective shows this morning, Fox & Friends Weekend didn't cover the incident at the University of North Carolina in which an Iranian drove an SUV through a crowd, injuring five people - but the Today show did.
Interviewed by Today co-host Lester Holt, one of the students who was injured stated: "I personally think it was definitely, definitely intentional, for sure."
As the injured student described the incident, involving an SUV driven by recent UNC grad Mohammed Reza Taheriazar of Iran:
"I look up and i see a car coming through in the middle of campus, which is pretty odd to begin with. I keep walking. He's going really slow. It doesn't seem like he has any malicious intent. All of a sudden I just hear the car's engine rev. I look up and the car is right there coming right at me, about five feet from me. I ended up on the hood and luckily rolled off without serious injuries."
What got into Good Morning America? Each of the network shows ran its compulsory pre-Oscar segment this morning. But while Today was airing a bland piece on the freebies that celebrities in attendance get in gift bags, GMA's segment had a most unexpected angle, asking whether Hollywood has become too political - read 'liberal.' As Tim Graham has noted, Jon Stewart and George Clooney have denied that Hollywood suffers from any such bias, but GMA host Charlie Gibson acknowledged the slant frankly.
He framed it this way:
"Now we turn to the politics of the Oscars. We've talked a lot about the culture wars in America, the blue state/red state divide, the clash between more traditional moral values and more liberal points of view.
Is it just coincidence? Barely a week after new media from Rush Limbaugh [subscripton required] to this column found the Today show appearance of NY Times foreign-affairs maven Thomas Friedman noteworthy, Today had him back again this morning. Could the new media be driving news choices at the antique?
In any case, while the ostensible purpose of Friedman's appearance was to discuss President Bush's current trip to India, his most interesting comments came in relation to Iraq and by extension to the entire Middle East. His notion: the path from dictatorship to democracy in the region necessarily passes through a period of fundamentalist religious rule.
Is Chris Matthews rooting for civil war in Iraq? It's hard to interpret his words otherwise when, after asserting that officials in previous administrations and former President Bush had warned that going into Iraq would lead to civil war, Matthews observed:
"The problem is it took a little time for this to take shape."
"The problem," Chris?
Matthews' hoping for the worst was just the capper on the Bush-bashing fest he conducted with Matt Lauer on this morning's Today show. Those nature documentaries of vultures on the Serengeti plain have little on the way Matthews and Lauer went after President Bush's political bones.