The first half-hour of today's Early Show featured a brief anchor read by Hannah Storm on the 1,998th and 1,999th American deaths in Iraq, followed two segments later with a Bill Plante segment on the Valerie Plame leak investigation (sandwiched between was an obituary for civil rights icon Rosa Parks who died yesterday). At the end of Plante's piece, he suggested the upcoming 2000-fatality benchmark is just the cherry on top of the problems the White House is having with the Miers nomination and the Plame investigation:
Adding to the President's problems, of course, the fact that the U.S. death toll in Iraq will soon pass 2000, and that links directly back to the argument at the heart of the leak investigation, the justification for the war. Hannah?
Yet the particular political tussle which sparked the leak and hence the investigation---the assertions of Valerie Plame's husband Joseph Wilson--- has since been discredited or severely questioned in a bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report, a fact Plante doesn't mention but was reported prominently at the time, including Susan Schmidt of the Washington Post on July 10, 2004:
The Iraqis have approved their new constitution, but the AP is not real happy about it. Look how quickly they go from good news to bad news in this report:
Draft Constitution Adopted by Iraq Voters
Iraq's constitution was adopted by a majority in a fair vote during the country's Oct. 15 referendum, as Sunni Arab opponents failed to muster enough support to defeat it, election officials said Tuesday. A prominent Sunni politician called the balloting "a farce."
The U.S. military also announced the deaths of two Marines in fighting with insurgents last week in Baghdad, bringing the number of American service members killed in the war to 1,999.
It's almost as though they used the news of the vote as an excuse to rerun the combat death numbers.
I'm on the road this week, but a quick take from this morning's Today.
As it did the day after the Iraqi referendum, Today buried the story today that, with tabulations completed, 78% of Iraqis voted in favor of adopting the proposed new constitution.
At least 10 x more time was accorded to yet more car bombings in Baghdad, Hurricane Wilma and storms in the Northeast. Even the story of some stranded dolphins merited several times more airtime than the Iraqi vote, not to mention some sympathetic tongue-clucking by Katie.
Peter Baker and Jim VandeHei of the Washington Post pulled no punches in their front-page article this morning about the challenges currently facing President Bush:
“Rarely has a president confronted as many damaging developments that could all come to a head in this week. A special counsel appears poised to indict one or more administration officials within days. Pressure is building on Bush from within his own party to withdraw the faltering Supreme Court nomination of Harriet Miers. And any day the death toll of U.S. troops in Iraq will pass the symbolically important 2,000 mark.”
Rarely? I guess 9/11 doesn't count, for regardless of what happens this week, it’s got to be a cakewalk by comparison to the days following the first attacks on this country since Pearl Harbor.
My colleague, NBC analyst Geoff Dickens, earlier noted the Today show ruminating on the 2000 casualty-benchmark which may soon be reached in Iraq. CBS's Early Show also featured a story on this theme in their first half-hour. Unlike the Today show, however, the casualty story was not linked with unrelated political stories like the Plame investigation, indeed, the Early Show treatment of that came in the next half hour. Another difference: the Early Show's Syler did ask for positive news (see portion in bold below), from Baghdad-based correspondent Kimberly Dozier on the constitution referendum:
Rene Syler in New York Early Show studio @ 0708 EDT: "In Iraq, the US military approaches a painful milestone. Nearly 2000 American troops have been killed since the war began. Again, today, insurgents are on the attack. CBS News correspondent Kimberly Dozier is live in Baghdad. Good morning, Kim."
After running down all the bad news for the Bush administration on the CIA leak case and front and Harriet Miers fronts Katie Couric and Tim Russert bagged on Bush for Iraq. Couric, completely ignoring the historic election in Iraq just one week ago, instead chose to highlight the expected 2000th death while Russert used Brent Scowcroft to pit father (George Sr.) against son (George W.)
The following is the conversation that took place during the 7:00am hour:
Shortly, the 2,000th death of an American serviceman or woman will occur in Iraq. That will generate an orgy of coverage in the American press on how “deadly” the war is. Sidebars will suggest that citizens are becoming “increasingly doubtful” about the conduct of the war. This Newsbusters article denounces that coverage as dishonest, in advance.
I wrote on 24 April, 2004, that the War on Terror is the LEAST bloody war in the history of the United States, measured by deaths per month. This is true going back to the Revolutionary War, even though the nation’s population then was only 1 percent of what it is today. (In impact on the population, every death in the Revolution was equivalent to about 100 deaths today.)
Many Americans that are truly concerned about bias in the media fear that what is reported by the press will immediately be accepted as fact by the citizenry regardless of accuracy. This morning on ABC’s “This Week,” Democratic National Committee chairman Howard Dean cited the opinion of an ABC News correspondent, Martha Raddatz, as evidence that rampant fraud occurred in the recent Iraq referendum (video link of Raddatz's comments to follow):
Dean: Secondly, on "Washington Week" this week Martha Raddatz from ABC said she had recorded on tape I believe that she saw a gentleman come in, fill out seven ballots, yes, yes, yes and stick them all in the box. If that's what we're fighting for in Iraq, we don't belong there.
After the momentous elections in Iraq that approved the constitution and produced a higher voter turnout than in America, you'd think the media would want to give the events more coverage.... Actually, at this point I'm not surprised, nor are many regular readers at NewsBusters.
Victor Davis Hanson writes in National Review that with no bad news to report from Iraq, the "race riot" in Toledo was needed to keep bad news in front of the public. And what better bad news than neo-Nazis causing outraged "civil rights activists" to steal TVs?
According to Hanson, the events in Toledo looked "more like Iraq than Iraq" to MSM newsmakers.
"Something must be going on when the cable-news outlets could not whet their appetite for carnival-like violence and pyrotechnics in Iraq, and so diverted their attention to Toledo, where live streams of American looting and arson seemed to be more like Iraq than Iraq."
Fernando Díaz Villanueva in the Spain Herald came up with a mock news story that seems strangly familiar.
Around three hundred French civilians were murdered yesterday and an undetermined number were injured during the first hours of the American invasion of continental Europe. Most of the French victims were due to artillery shots coming from the American fleet that was trying to hit German fortifications on the coast before thousands of soldiers proceeded to land on several of the beaches. According to sources in the improvised hospital in the town of Saint Mere Eglise, the slaughter was worse than French and Germans anticipated. “We are dropping like flies” said an eye witness who preferred to remain anonymous. “The Americans came in killing like mad men, I never thought I would say this, but life was better with Adolf Hitler”......
"Unofficial sources connected to the Roosevelt administration admit the harshness of the intervention, which they say was based on information provided by Albert Einstien, a German scientist who sent a letter to the President in order to warn him of the possibility of the Nazis developing the ultimate weapon known as the “atom bomb.” The effect such weapon would be terrible and cause an unheard of number of victims. Just one explosion would kill thousands and devastate the atmosphere. Hitler has, on many occasions, denied having this “bomb,” something international inspectors confirmed while traveling in the Reich for two weeks.
"Shortly after the invasion started, cases of abuse against German soldiers captured after the landing have been reported. These abuses violate the Geneva Agreement on prisoners of war. In the meantime, rumors persist about supposed mistreatment the Germans are inflicting on the Central European Jews in the so-called “concentration camps,” but nothing has been proved yet."
Over at the letters page of Romenesko, former New York Times U.N. Bureau Chief Barbara Crossette complains about the conservative, anti-Kofi Annan agenda of Judith Miller:
Over the last year or so, Judith Miller also wrote a series of damaging reports on the "oil for food" scandal at the United Nations -- in particular, personally damaging to Secretary General Kofi Annan because the reports were frequently based on half-truths or hearsay peddled on Capitol Hill by people determined to force Annan out of office. At the UN, this was interpreted as payback for the UN's refusal to back the US war in Iraq. As a former NYT UN bureau chief [now retired] I have been asked repeatedly by diplomats, former US government officials, journalists still reporting from the organization and others why Times editors did not step in to question some of this reporting -- a lot of it proved wrong by the recent report by Paul Volcker -- or why the paper seemed to be on a vendetta against the UN. The Times answered that question Sunday in its page one report on the Miller affair. Ms. Run Amok had at least one very highly placed friend at the paper, and many Timespeople were afraid to tangle with her because of that.
The front of Wednesday's Sports section features a profile of Washington Wizards center Etan Thomas by Ira Berkow, "A Center Fakes Right, Goes Left, Speaks Out."
Berkow is proud of Thomas for speaking out against the Iraq war and Bush, stating that Thomas "spoke about his resistance to the war in Iraq and recited his poetry on the subject before hundreds of thousands of people at the Operation Ceasefire rally, held in the shadow of the Washington Monument....Thomas, 27, writes with passion about the necessity of education for young people, argues against the death penalty, laments teenage pregnancy and deplores the insensitivity, as he sees it, of the Bush administration toward blacks. He also skewers the gang mentality of some in the inner city."
Berkow quotes some of Thomas' poems ("The essence of their happiness/Cloaked in a web of lies/As far as their eyes can see/They're doomed.") and his even less coherent political diatribes: "Thomas has been active with causes involving the American Civil Liberties Union and the Congressional Black Caucus, and helped raise money and supplies for victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. 'Do you really think, had this been a rich, lily-white suburban area, instead of one mostly poor and black, that got hit, the administration would have waited five days to get food or water to those people?' Thomas said. 'When the hurricane hit in Florida, Bush made sure those people got those supplies the next day.'"
Incidentally, the far-left Nation magazine profiled Thomas over a month ago saying almost exactly the same thing.
The Times claims to like it when athletes speak out on politics -- but apparently, only when it's in an anti-Bush direction. When tennis star Jennifer Capriati wanted to support the troops by having Outkast's "Bombs Over Baghdad" played during the warm-up for one of her matches in Miami in March 2003, the NYT's liberal sportswriter Selena Roberts sniffed: "Politics aside, her logic was questionable. How uplifting is a song illuminated by such abrasive lyrics?"
In the field of media criticism, conservatives have taken up the idea of objectivity, of making a press presenting itself as objective live up to the pledge and give conservatives a chance. Liberals mock the idea of objectivity, creating a stick-figure caricature that objectivity means putting truth and falsehood side by side and not distinguishing between the two.
That would seem to be the kind of objectivity the Washington Post is presenting on the trial of Saddam Hussein. He is not presented as a mass-murdering, torturing dictator. It’s time for balancing perceptions. On the front page of the paper edition (and mysteriously missing from the front page of the website) is Jackie Spinner's report. Under a picture of Saddam, the headline reads: "Hussein: ‘I Don’t Acknowledge This Court’: Iraqi Defiant As Trial Opens and Then Recesses Until November." He’s just an "Iraqi"? We can’t even get a weaselly word like "Strongman"? (If I'd been in Baghdad, I'd have recommended they at least humiliate the tyrant with a Phil Spector courtroom Afro.)
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.”