Flashback: Network TV Uproar In 2004 At 'Poor Taste' of Brief 9-11 Images in Bush Re-Elect Ads

As the networks come to the defense of the idea that the Obama re-election campaign would devote a 30-second chunk of its new "Forward" video spiking the football that Osama bin Laden was killed at Obama's orders, it's worth remembering these same networks were all busy on March 4, 2004 lamenting that the Bush campaign aired two ads that had a few seconds of 9/11 images.

On MSNBC, Countdown's Keith Olbermann proclaimed about the collapsed World Trade Center towers briefly pictured, "Quote: 'It's as sick as people who stole things out of the place.' Some firefighters, some families of the victims of 9/11, protesting President Bush's new campaign ad." While Brian Williams now stars in the Obama video, the networks then were beating the anti-Bush drums:

"Using these 9/11 images is already drawing political fire from Senator John Kerry and outrage among some victims' families; 'a slap in the face,' says one widow, 'of the murders of 3,000 people.'" – ABC reporter Kate Snow on Good Morning America, March 4.

The firefighters union says in a statement that it was a cheap trick to use even fleeting images of the real events of 9/11."
- ABC's Diane Sawyer to Karen Hughes on Good Morning America, March 4. Sawyer did not mention that the same firefighters group has endorsed John Kerry and is actively campaigning on behalf of his presidential campaign.

"But you know this is one of those things where images can make or break a candidate. Could this turn into another 'Mission Accomplished?'"
- CBS's Harry Smith to Hughes on The Early Show on March 4, referring to the banner placed behind the President on the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln as he congratulated the crew for their successful role in the military coalition that liberated Iraq.

"One September 11th widow told the [New York] Daily News this morning she was offended by the use of 9/11 images in these ads, saying quote, 'After three thousand people were murdered on his watch, it seems to me that takes an awful lot of audacity. Honestly, it's in poor taste.' What's your response to that?"
- NBC's Katie Couric to Bush campaign adviser Karen Hughes on the March 4 Today. Couric skipped quotes in the same article from 9/11 relatives who support Bush.

"President Bush today began running the first television advertisements of his re-election campaign, and already they are drawing heavy criticism, including some from families of 9/11 victims. Political opponents, 9/11 families, and others are accusing the President of doing something he insisted he would never do: Exploit a national tragedy for political gain." – CBS Evening News anchor Dan Rather, March 4.

"Some critics are calling the ads the height of election-year hypocrisy, pointing out that President Bush was quick to use 9/11 to build up his image. At the same time, he is refusing to cooperate fully with the commission investigating the attacks on America." CBS Evening News reporter John Roberts, March 4.

"This is not the first time Mr. Bush has been accused of using the 9/11 attack for political gain. In May of 2002 the White House was criticized for allowing congressional Republicans to use a picture of the President on Air Force One speaking to the Vice President just hours after the attacks on New York and Washington. Political analysts say the President is once again walking a fine line."
- David Gregory on the March 4 NBC Nightly News.

As Brent Baker summarized the Bush ads (with just seconds of clips) at the time:

The scenes in question in the two ads are very brief. In one, with moving music playing, text on screen reads: "A test for all Americans" followed by "Then...a day of tragedy." Under the latter, the ad shows a full screen of the WTC outer wall with a flag in front, then a scene of firefighters carrying a flag-draped casket takes over one-third of the screen on the right, and then the left image is replaced by a man raising flag outside of any 9-11 scene.

In the second ad, the announcer says: "Some challenges we've seen before. And some were like no others." During a portion of those words, for barely a second, viewers see a flag flying in front of the WTC building wall. Both ads have the images surround by fuzzy, fading in black borders, so the images are relatively small.

By contrast, the Obama video's endzone-dancing (about Osama, about Al-Awlaki, and about winding down the Iraq war) features ABC's George Stephanopoulos, ABC's Martha Raddatz, and NBC's Brian Williams all providing handy Obama-boosting clips from the newscasts last year.

Raddatz hailed al-Awlaki's killing on ABC with the words "Another huge victory in the War on Terror." These are words she never used in the Bush era.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis