A Newsweek article written by Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball currently posted at MSNBC.com once again offered the view that the Bush administration lied to journalists about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq to justify the March 2003 invasion:
“Oct. 19, 2005 - The lengthy account by New York Times reporter Judy Miller about her grand jury testimony in the CIA leak case inadvertently provides a revealing window into how the Bush administration manipulated journalists about intelligence on Iraq’s nonexistent weapons of mass destruction.”
To bolster their view, Isikoff and Hosenball cited the opinion of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace:
“The assertion that still-secret material would bolster the administration’s claims about Iraqi WMD was ‘certainly not accurate, it was not true,’ says Jessica Mathews, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who coauthored a study last year, titled ‘A Tale of Two Intelligence Estimates,’ about different versions of the NIE that were released. If Miller’s account is correct, Libby was ‘misrepresenting the intelligence’ that was contained in the document, she said.”
Yet, like many journalists that have used CEIP as a reference, Isikoff and Hosenball neglected to inform their readers that CEIP wasn’t always so convinced about the absence of WMD in Iraq. In fact, Eric Pfeiffer of National Journal’s “Hotline” wrote about this very issue in a January 2004 op-ed for National Review:
On Saturday, millions of Iraqis walked with determination to the polls to vote for a new constitution. The turnout was high. The violence was down dramatically from the triumphant elections of January. But the network found all this boring. On the night before the historic vote, ABC led with bird-flu panic. CBS imagined Karl Rove in a prison jumpsuit. NBC hyped inflation.
They say that news is a man-bites-dog story. In the Middle East, how common is a constitutional referendum? Have they had one in Egypt? Saudi Arabia? Syria? Jordan? Until the last few years, the phrase "Arab constitutional democracy" sounded like a pipe dream or an oxymoron. But today the reporters can only kvetch. NBC’s Richard Engel growled online that the new constitution was "a deeply flawed document, peppered with religious slogans, and leaves plenty of room for Shiites and Kurds to govern themselves." Engel says Iraqis disagree on the constitution, but "with the daily pressures of the insurgency, power cuts and lawlessness, there might not be enough time to start over before this country and the people lose hope -- along with many of their lives."
When Cindy Sheehan showed up outside of President Bush's Crawford, TX ranch in August, it was, to a certain degree, understandable that there would be some press coverage. She was there, the media was there, there wasn't a lot to write about. But the coverage was weak and biased in almost all cases, carrying her message uncritically, with no evaluation of who she was or what she was saying. The attitude seemed to be that she lost her son, she was criticizing the President, so she was credible and newsworthy, no matter what else there was in her views and attitudes. Indeed, I noted at the time how the Associated Press was acting as a PR firm for Sheehan, as opposed to an actual news organization.
ABC anchor Elizabeth Vargas set up a Tuesday World News Tonight story, about Saddam Hussein's trial set to start Wednesday, by noting how “many Iraqis are eager to see him in the docks, finally held accountable for atrocities committed by his regime.” But then came the inevitable “but,” as in: “But already, human rights groups are worried about the fairness of the trial.” In the subsequent story, reporter Jim Sciutto in Iraq devoted most of his piece to how Iraqis are angry at Hussein and glad he's going on trial. Sciutto quoted one man who argued that “he should be tortured the same way he tortured the people.” Sciutto, however, ended with the concern earlier highlighted by Vargas: “Human rights groups doubt the former dictator will get a fair trial, with five inexperienced judges unable to resist pressure for swift justice, and his legal team with little time to answer the charges.”
A little bit on CBS's story, and a full transcript of the ABC story, follow.
In a mostly nice interview with the Vice President's wife this morning, Today co-host Katie Couric had to go from Lynne Cheney's new book on history to current events, the touchy investigation of White House staff telling reporters about Valerie Plame's CIA job, with all liberal media eyes currently on the Vice President and his staff. This is NOT how she interviews Hillary Clinton. Asked Couric: "Let me ask you real quickly about what's going on, what's making history right now and obviously there's this investigation into the CIA and I know you're not at liberty to discuss it but John Tierney in the New York Times wrote about the fact that this is just really hardball politics at work. Do you think that's the case? That it's, it's more of a political thing that's going on rather than a legal issue?" Mrs. Cheney declined to answer. She also asked Mrs. Cheney to address the possibility that "there might be sexism at work" in criticism of Harriet Miers. Mrs. Cheney disagreed. Let's just pick one example of Katie Couric interviewing Hillary Clinton and skipping the scandal beat.
From 1979 until 2003, Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq. He was a brutal dictator, a head-of-state who waged war on his neighbors and his own people. He ruled over his people with an iron fist, utilizing torture and murder as weapons of statecraft. The coalition that ejected him from Kuwait in 1991 left him in power, at extreme cost to thousands more Iraqis. He supported terrorism in Israel, paying the families of Palestinian suicide bombers. He provided safe haven for Abu Abbas and other international terrorists.
Well, he's finally going to be put on trial for his crimes, and what is the first concern of the NY Times? That he might not get a fair trial.
There’s been much debate since America liberated Iraq some 31 months ago concerning whether or not this nation could ever become a true democracy. The events of the past couple of days indicate that this region is taking quite well to an American-style government, and that it’s party officials have quickly learned that if you don’t like the results of an election, just get an attorney to file some complaints demanding a recount.
Of course, as one would expect, America’s press are eating this up. For instance, the Associated Press reported:
“BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraq’s electoral commission said Monday it intended to audit an ‘unusually high’ vote count from most provinces in the country’s landmark referendum on the draft constitution.”
“The electoral commission’s statement came as Sunni Arab lawmaker Meshaan al-Jubouri claimed fraud had occurred in Saturday’s election — including instances of voting in hotly contested regions by pro-constitution Shiites from other areas — repeating earlier comments made by other Sunni officials over the weekend.”
All three broadcast networks filed reports concerning these fraud allegations on their respective evening news programs, including “The NBC Nightly News”: “In Dialah, one Sunni politician said there were 39,000 yes votes, even though there are only 36,000 registered voters.” Sounds a lot like media reports from Ohio after last November’s elections in America.
What follows is a full transcript of NBC’s report, along with a video link.
***Update*** NBC’s “Today Show” jumped on the election fraud bandwagon this morning. Campbell Brown said, “Election officials in Iraq are counting votes again." Video Link.
Does the Associated Press take sides against the U.S. military when reporting in Iraq? You decide. In a story today describing retaliation for a roadside bomb that killed five American soldiers on Saturday, the ABC/AP story titled, “U.S.: 70 Insurgents Killed in Airstrikes,” opens:
U.S. helicopters and warplanes bombed two villages near the restive city of Ramadi…
The “restive” city of Ramadi? My dictionary defines that word as “uneasy or fidgety.” Hardly the way to describe a rat’s nest of terrorist activity; one that even UPI said is “exploding with violence”. The story continues:
Less newsworthy than a baseball game, and in any case, just another "potentially divisive event." That's the back-of-the-hand treatment the Today show gave the apparent approval of the Iraqi constitution in this weekend's referendum.
Katie Couric opened Today by touting a tropical storm in the Caribbean, the travails of Rove and Libby and the White Sox's victory. Not a word about the Iraqi referendum.
That didn't come until a few minutes into the show, during the news recap, and even then NBC reporter Mike Boettcher tried to put the worst possible face on matters. After finally acknowledging that "Iraq does indeed appear to have a new constitution," Boettcher wasn't so sure this was good news.
"The question now," he somberly asked, "is whether the document will unite or divide Iraq?" Boettcher went on to describe the impending trial of Saddam Hussein as "another potentially divisive event," i.e., along with the 'yes' vote on the constitution.
With The recent Iraq election turning out to be better than anyone had expected, the Associated Press has decided to do its best to drag everyone back down to reality. The only problem here for the AP is the reality they seek to push is their own.
A New York Times article placed prominently on the front page of Sunday’s print edition, written by Dexter Filkins and John F. Burns, played down the success of Saturday’s vote in Iraq concerning that nation’s constitution, and suggested that turnout was lower this time than during January’s elections:
“On Saturday in Baghdad, streets were noticeably bare of pedestrians, polling centers were less busy, and voters exhibited little enthusiasm.
“‘I sense that the turnout will be lower this time,’ said Zainab Kudir, the chief poll worker at the Marjayoun Primary School in a predominantly Shiite neighborhood in Baghdad. ‘People feel their needs have not been met. There is no security. There are no jobs.’"
Yet, after many other media outlets reported that turnout was going to surpass January’s final tally, Filkins and Burns posted this at the Times website just moments ago:
Allen Pizzey did a piece on the “CBS Evening News” on Saturday about the voting in Iraq. In it, he suggested that Shiites only voted for the new constitution because their leaders told them to. And:
“Despite how well the day went, the grim reality is that the democratic process has done little to improve these people’s lives. Throughout the day, the voting, and now the counting, has been done without the benefit of electricity, because the insurgents blew up the power-lines again.”
I guess democracy in America had no value until Edison invented the light bulb.
A follow-up, with Friday morning coverage, to the Thursday night NewsBusters posting, “Shocked, Just Shocked Network Reporters Hype 'Staged’ Bush Event with Troops,” which detailed how the NBC Nightly News LED with the supposed scandal and how the other networks devoted full stories to it. The network obsession, with the ordinary preparation for a presidential event involving nervous participants, continued on Friday morning. Plugging upcoming stories at the top of Good Morning America, ABC’s Charles Gibson referred to “an embarrassing, staged photo-op.” Diane Sawyer soon cited the event as a “new embarrassment” for the administration and reporter Claire Shipman asserted that “an embarrassing White House blunder lifted the veil on the Bush administration's meticulously managed photo-ops." With “WAS TALK WITH TROOPS SCRIPTED?” plastered on-screen, NBC’s Today made the incident its story of the day as Katie Couric announced: "On Close-Up this morning, is the Bush administration using staged events to sell the war in Iraq?”
Over on CNN’s American Morning, co-host Miles O’Brien insisted to Major General Rick Lynch in Iraq that the participating soldiers were “coached.” Though Lynch repeatedly denied the soldiers were told what to say, O’Brien stuck to his claim they were “coached,” citing how the Pentagon official told them, “here's what he's going to say, here's what you might want to say in response, right?" Lynch maintained that “those soldiers yesterday were giving their opinion." To which an oblivious O’Brien replied: “Well, I guess it's too bad, if that's true, that people would have another impression this morning, because of the way they were coached." But the best O’Brien could come up with was how the Pentagon’s Allison Barber suggested how to segue to another soldier for an answer and that “a few smiles wouldn't hurt back here on the TV.” When news reader Carol Costello wondered: "Is anything spontaneous in politics, really? I don't think so," O'Brien heralded a left-winger: "Jeez. Dennis Kucinich, maybe?" O'Brien also had the gall to contend that “truth be told, if they were not coached, they would have said things that the administration would have liked to hear, I'm convinced. Because they are, you know, these troops are gung ho about their mission. And so it's a shame that they have cast this cloud." Wow, that’s chutzpah given it was O’Brien and the media which cast the “cloud.” (Full transcripts follow.)
Published just hours apart, but by journalists separated by thousands of miles and a huge cultural divide, articles at the Boston Globe and al-Jazeera concerning the voting just finished in Iraq had striking similarities in their views. In fact, the tenor of both reports was quite negative.
The key points raised in the al-Jazeera article were:
“In what the American President George W. Bush claims to be another milestone on Iraq’s road to democracy, Iraqi headed to polling stations today to give a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the proposed draft constitution, expected to further divide the country into three mini-states.”
In the midst of the feeding frenzy concerning contentions that the video teleconference between President Bush and soldiers stationed in Iraq was staged (video link to follow), most of America’s media forgot to tell the public what actually happened during the event. In fact, there was a lot of great news offered by these soldiers that has largely gone unreported as a result.
For instance, as reported by Gerry Gilmore of the American Forces Press Service:
Just before 5pm EDT Friday, during The Situation Room's review of blog postings, CNN's Jacki Schechner recited examples of blog sites critical of the media's hyping of the so-called “staged” live tele-conference Thursday between President Bush and soldiers in Iraq. With a shot of the NewsBusters posting, “Shocked, Just Shocked Network Reporters Hype 'Staged' Bush Event with Troops” on screen, Schechner relayed: “From NewsBusters, this is a group site that was put together to combat what they call the liberal media bias, saying there is nothing wrong with figuring out 'who should answer which question' or telling soldiers, who aren't familiar with media interviews, to 'take a breath' before answering.”
In a deliciously ironic twist of fate, shortly before airing a segment aimed at embarrassing the Bush administration by suggesting that it had staged a video conversation between the president and soldiers in Iraq, the Today show was caught staging . . . a video stunt.
In the Bush/Iraq segment, Today screened footage indicating that prior to engaging in a video conversation with President Bush, soldiers on the ground in Iraq were given tips by a Department of Defense official.
But the only advice that the official was shown as giving was a suggestion to one solider to "take a little breath" before speaking to the president so he would actually be speaking to him. It was also stated that some of the soldiers practiced their comments so as to appear as articulate as possible. But there was no indication, or even allegation, that the soldiers were coached as to the substance of their comments or in any way instructed what to say.
As Brent Baker noted last night, the networks were far more excited about the supposed scandal of the administration having “a staged event” where the President talked by satellite with soldiers serving in Iraq. (Speaking of “staged,” how often do you think Brian Williams or Bob Schieffer sit down in the anchor chair and just wing it?)
Andrea Mitchell pretty much gave it away on Thursday’s Nightly News, allowing that “Many administrations, Democrat and Republican, stage-manage events. And often the news media ignore the choreography.” But the networks didn’t want to “ignore the choreography” yesterday, because it didn’t fit their spin. Mitchell preferred to expose what she called “a rare look behind the curtain of a White House trying to sell an increasingly unpopular war.”
If the Iraq war is “increasingly unpopular” — and polls suggest it is — one reason may be because the broadcast networks have heavily skewed their news agenda toward the bad news coming out of Iraq: car bombings, U.S. casualties, terrorist attacks, squabbling among Iraqi politicians, etc., etc.
I just finished a study of every Iraq story aired on the three broadcast network evening newscasts this year, from January 1 through September 30, nearly 1,400 stories. (More)
Thursday's NBC Nightly News led, yes led, with how, as anchor Brian Williams put it, President Bush had that morning conducted “a staged event" via satellite with ten U.S. soldiers and one Iraqi soldier in Iraq. “Today's encounter was billed as spontaneous,” Williams intoned. “Instead, it appeared to follow a script.” Andrea Mitchell warned that “the troops were coached on how to answer the Commander-in-Chief” and, indeed, not until two minutes into her three-minute story -- after showing clips of how a DOD official had told the soldiers the questions Bush would ask -- did Mitchell note how “the White House and at least one of the soldiers says the troops weren't told what to say, just what the President would ask." So, the answers were not staged. The soldiers, naturally nervous about appearing on live TV with the President of the United States, were simply told who should answer which question and to “take a breath” before answering. Scandalous! Over video of Bush on the aircraft carrier, Mitchell went on to remind viewers of how “this isn't the first time this administration used troops to help sell the Iraq war.” But she also admitted a media double-standard: “Many administrations, Democrat and Republican, stage-manage events and often the news media ignore the choreography.”
ABC's World News Tonight also devoted a full story, though not the lead, to the media-generated controversy. Terry Moran contended that “the fact that this was so carefully choreographed...shows just how urgently the White House wants not just a success on the ground in Iraq, but a PR success at home for this embattled President." Over on the CBS Evening News, anchor Bob Schieffer opined that “unfortunately for the President, after satellite cameras caught administration aides rehearsing the soldiers beforehand, Democrats dismissed the whole thing and said the troops deserved a lot better.” Lara Logan managed to cover other material in her story and uniquely showcased a soldier who told CBS: "The truth is that everything that was said was meant to be said, though it may have sounded scripted in some places. Nerves kick in, for one. Two, everyone puts their thoughts together. You put it down, you go over and over it a hundred times."
MSNBC's Countdown with Keith Olbermann also led Thursday with the “staged” event and the AP distributed a story breathlessly headlined, “Bush Teleconference With Soldiers Staged.” But on FNC's Special Report with Brit Hume, Hume noted complaints the event was "not entirely spontaneous" before Carl Cameron pointed out that Bush posed an unplanned question to the Iraqi soldier. In the panel segment, Washington Times reporter Bill Sammon recalled how when “back in December” a soldier asked Rumsfeld about armor, a question that “had been planted by a reporter, I didn't hear any outcry from the press.” (UPDATE with CNN coverage and transcripts follow.)
Search as you may, it will still be difficult for you to find much good news about anything taking place in either Afghanistan or Iraq. It isn’t that positive news is in short supply. It is the “If it bleeds It leads” mentality of the mainstream media that keeps death and bombings in the headlines and relatively uplifting accomplishments banished to the inside pages of publications and almost always omitted from radio and television newscasts.
According to American military personnel communicating with friends and family, there is important progress being made all across Iraq. The problem is few correspondents will leave the security of Baghdad’s Green Zone to cover the events. Those who do write on significant accomplishments claim their stories get little attention by editors in the networks and newsrooms. The selective editing by those who control the content of news reports reflects a strong tendency by the media to tilt in favor of left-leaning ideas on the war.
NBC's Tim Russert proclaimed, "It's a year away but the Democrats are feeling almost giddy this morning," as he ran down the negative news from NBC's own poll. Matt Lauer opened this morning's Today show with a teaser for the Russert political analysis segment:
Lauer: "Then to Washington where it rains it really pours. President Bush says he doesn't look at the poll numbers. He might not want to. The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows his approval rating is at its lowest level ever. And there's some astounding numbers when it comes to African-Americans and their support for the President. Tim Russert's gonna be here and crunch those numbers in a little while."
During the media's coverage of Katrina the race card was played again and again so it's no surprise that Lauer and Russert led with the fruits of their labor.
Josh Rushing served as a Pentagon spokesman in Doha in 2003, during the first months of the invasion of Iraq. Now he is joining an all-English network owned by Al Jazeera. The new network, Al Jazeera International, is set to launch next year.
Joining him will be BBC veteran journalist Sir David Frost.
Rushing will report from the bureau in Washington and Frost will be in London.
Rushing was featured in "Control Room," a documentary about American efforts to create a positive image during the early stages of the war.
The former Marine, who quit the services to join Al Jazeera, did not like the Pentagon's reluctance to grant interviews to the news channel.
"I was struggling to get them interviews and access. This was the best way to address their Arab audience and we were blowing it because we thought they were critical."
The results of the most recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll were released last night, and pressrooms around the nation appeared to be pleased. “NBC Nightly News” reported it this way (video link to follow):
Tim Russert: Brian, not good news for George W. Bush's second term thus far. Only 39% of Americans approve his job. 54% disapproval. That 39% approval is the lowest in the five years of his presidency. And Brian, listen to this: Only 2%, 2% of African Americans in the United States approve of George Bush's handling of the presidency. The lowest we've ever seen in that particular measurement.
Sharyn Alfonsi was at it again on the “CBS Evening News.” In her ongoing tour of the country seeking poignant war stories, tonight she found a great one – twelve people protesting against the Iraq war in Birmingham, Alabama. She spoke with Vietnam war veteran, David Waters:
Alfonsi: Today at 59, Waters wants the U.S. out of Iraq and says he is not the only one.
Waters: Opposition to the war is definitely growing, yes.
Alfonsi: Even in the south?
Waters: Even in the south, yes.
Alfonsi: So we stopped by a weekly anti-war protest in Birmingham today, where we met Susan Mims, another Vietnam vet. But there's only about a dozen people here.
Alfonsi finished her report by saying, “The anti-war movement here is really nothing more than a murmur.”
Actually, with a population of 242,820, I’m not sure that twelve qualifies as a murmur.
What follows is a full transcript of this report, and a video link.
For two days, all parts of the American press have been reporting a "constitutional compromise" which has "gained the support of a main Sunni political party." With this compromise, it is expected that upwards of half the Sunnis (a 20% minority in Iraq) will support its new Constitution, and it will be ratified in the vote on Saturday.
All well and good. But hasn't anyone in the press recalled certain adventures of James Madison? (He was in all the papers.) We in the United States have been through exactly the same process. But NO ONE in the American press has, so far, remembered and mentioned that fact.
There was a bitter fight between the Federalists and Anti-Federalists in Philadelphia in 1787, whether we would have a new Constitution. And if so, what would be the powers of the new federal government. When the Constitution was submitted to Congress for its review, and afterwards to the states for their ratification, that same fight spilled out to the state capitols.
Does the MSM sense blood in the Bush administration water? That seems to be the case, judging from the breathtaking accusation that Katie Couric just leveled at it.
The context was Couric's interview of Chris Matthews on the subject of the investigation by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald into possible leaks in the Valerie Plame affair.
Matthews was hostile enough, musing whether the Bush administration "in defending themselves against the charge we went to war for a corrupt or bogus reason, that there wasn't any weaponry, a deal with nuclear weapons, did they break the law?"
But even that was insufficiently venomous for Katie's taste. She cut Matthews off peremptorily, interjecting:
"Yeah, and Chris isn't it more than just Iraq, doesn't it speak about the way this White House possibly operates?" Couric risibly sought a fig leaf of cover from what was clearly her own opinion by tacking on at the end of her question "in the minds of some."
Sharyn Alfonsi did a story on “The CBS Evening News” tonight that brought me to tears. Now, I don’t know whether the intention was to stoke anti-war sentiment, or just to show how children at Fort Benning, Georgia are coping with their parents being deployed to Iraq.
Frankly, I don’t care, for this was an absolutely heartrending segment that I think all Americans regardless of political leaning should watch.
MSNBC’s Chris Matthews led Monday’s Hardball by framing the Valerie Plame case around her husband Joe Wilson’s spin on the case, despite inconsistencies in his claims and how a much more innocent explanation is equally plausible -- that White House officials just wanted to explain why such a publicity-seeking critic, who claimed he was on a mission for the Vice President, would have been sent to Niger to check out whether Iraq sought uranium. “If you don't think this leak case matters,” Matthews intoned, “ask yourself what was the most frightening case you heard for going to war with Iraq? Probably it was that Saddam Hussein was buying uranium yellow cake in Africa to build nuclear weapons.” Matthews insisted that “the Vice President repeated with military precision, almost like a Gatling gun. Saddam Hussein, nuclear weapons. Saddam Hussein, nuclear weapons.” Matthews declared: “But it wasn't true. There's no evidence even now that Saddam tried to buy nuclear materials in Africa.” The British, however, maintain there is such evidence.
Matthews proceeded to provide the most nefarious interpretation of conversations between White House officials and journalists: “Did they try and kill the messenger? Did they use the enormous media power of the White House to discredit the ambassador, his mission and his wife at the CIA who suggested him for the mission? And in doing so, did they abuse the office and the power to which the President was elected? Did they break the law? Did they conspire to punish a critic of the war?”
After Monday's CBS Evening News showed a clip of a Marine recruit at Parris Island explaining that he volunteered because “I want to be fighting the evils that did what they did to us on September 11th," reporter Sharyn Alfonsi related how “all three of the recruits we sat down with say they enlisted because of September 11th.” Alfonsi, however, couldn't let such an apparent link between 9/11 and the war in Iraq go unchallenged and so she quickly admonished the naive recruits as she stressed how “politicians will argue whether the war and 9/11 are related” -- though she added that “clearly here, to these recruits, the two are inseparable."
Alfonsi's clarification about 9/11 connections came in an otherwise very positive story about three Marine recruits and their disappointment that more Americans are not closely following the war. Her piece was the first of a new series, “CBS News Road Tour: The Home Front,” which will take Alfonsi and her mini-van to Ft. Benning in Georgia on Tuesday. Full transcript follows.